A History of Stromness Museum

Stromness Museum is the museum of The Orkney Natural History Society.

It was officially instituted on the 28th December 1837 for:

the promotion of natural science by the support of a museum and by any other means in its power […] with specimens in Natural History and Antiquities from any other quarter’.

The Society’s First Annual Report listed 118 ordinary members, who each paid an annual subscription of two shillings, a relatively small sum which allowed the membership to be accessible to all classes of society. Even with the modest subscription rate, at the first year of the Society’s existence, they reported that “the funds, so far from being embarrassed, have more than met the museum’s outlays”. The Society’s main cost at this time was the lease on the Museum’s first home, ‘Mrs Flett’s large room’ in 110 Victoria Street, next door to the Subscription Library. This space cost the Society two guineas per annum in rent and would be their base for the next seventeen years.

Stromness Museum booklet from 1963. Image © Stromness Museum.
Booklet from 1963. Image © Stromness Museum.

The Society then moved into temporary accommodation in the grand premises of Captain A. Flett’s Commercial Hotel at 69-73 Victoria Street. They had ‘a large and spacious room’, but it was soon clear that they would need a permanent home for their collections. With the support of the Magistrates and Town Council, the current premises at 52 Alfred Street were built in 1858. The Museum was officially re-opened on 29th December 1862, initially occupying the first floor only, with the Town Hall below.

In the 1920s the Town Hall was relocated, and offered an opportunity for expansion. The Society bought the Old Town Hall at public auction and were soon able to occupy the ground floor as well as the first, with the new gallery officially opened in February 1931 by the Lord Lieutenant of Orkney. The Museum expanded further in the 1990s, with the addition of the Pilot’s House (No.56 Alfred Street) to the rear of the main building. This was refurbished to house new displays, with new cases and displays in the first floor following soon after, but the Museum has retained its original Victorian character.

Now at over 160-years-old, the current building might again be need of some refurbishment!