The Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme

The Slate Quarry, Stromness

At the foot of the Black Craig is a slate quarry which was once very profitable.

Its use is first recorded in the Breckness Estate records in 1778, and the Statistical Account of 1795-1798 tells us that the slate quarry produced and sold 30 to 40,000 slates annually. They are described as being "strong, thick and large, last long, and are the best in this county". It was stated that more slates might be produced if more labourers could "be got".

Some records detailing the sale of the slates record that, in 1781, 3,000 slates were used in the new church at Holm and were carried there in five boats. In 1792 10,000 slates were required by Will Watt (proprietor of the quarry) for the houses of Corse. At one time most houses in Orkney were roofed using the slates, and even St Magnus Cathedral was covered in them.

 Slate quarry

Mr Watt made a tidy profit, with only the labour to pay for. Selling 30,000 slates at 10 shillings (50p) per 1,000 gave him an annual income of £15. In the account of 1842 the quarry is still doing well, but the author states that the slates were good but made for a "weighty roof". Other customers complained that the slates were expensive but small, and another complained of the cost of shipping the slates to the isles. The last recorded sale was in 1832 when David Petrie of Graemshall ordered 4 to 5,000 slates.

In 1839 it was recorded: "Slates are still taken from this quarry; but though they are better adapted to the climate than Easdale slates, they are in general not so much used, forming a rather weighty roof." It was further reported "they are not good enough for export". There are no known records after this date, so it is assumed that the quarry fell into disuse.