Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing is the address/name of site. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing – see ‘About Listed Buildings’ below for more information.

Lerwick Town hall, Hillhead and Charlotte Street, Including Lamp Standards, Gatepiers, Boundary Walls and Railings, LerwickLB37256

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Shetland Islands
Planning Authority
Shetland Islands
HU 47488 41415
447488, 1141415


The building was designed by Alexander Ross and dates to 1881-3 with design alterations made during construction by John M. Aitken in 1882. It is a 2-storey, 5-bay symmetrical Gothic and Flemish Baronial style town hall, with crow-stepped gables, distinctive corner bartizans and a square-plan, battlemented clock tower to the rear (east) rising between a pair of 2-storey and attic wings. The building is set on an elevated site in Lerwick, facing west and is of stugged, squared and snecked sandstone with ashlar margins. There is a base course, moulded band courses and eaves course and finialled triangular roof vents. The entrance (west) elevation has an advanced central gabled entrance bay with a segmental-arched doorway and a 3-light corbelled oriel window above. Flanking this central bay is a pair of mullioned and transomed bi-partite windows at ground level and mullioned bi-partite windows with carved apron panels at the 1st floor. There is a rose window to the north gable and pointed-arched tracery windows at the 1st floor of the south gable. A linking corridor to Lystina House (see separate listing) lies to the east.

There are grey slates to the roof with fishscale pattern to the bartizans and there are some apex stacks. The 1st floor has stained glass windows to the hall and other windows are set in timber sash and case frames. Those to the west elevation at the ground floor have stained glass over 4-pane sashes.

The interior was seen in 2014. The late 19th century room layout is relatively little altered and many features of this date survive. The main hall on the first floor has an open timber roof with corbels and curved trusses. There are a number of significant stained glass windows in the building by James Ballantine & Son, dating to 1883 and Cox and Sons, Buckley & Co of London, dating to 1882. These include an outstanding series of narrative windows in the main hall, depicting several important figures in the history of Shetland from around 870-1469 and a rose window to the north wall with several coats of arms. There are further stained glass windows in the Council Chamber. There is timber panelling with quatrefoil design to the dado rail in the hall and some rooms. The central dog-leg stair has highly decorative metal balusters and a stained glass stair window depicting Lord Aberdour. There is some plain cornicing and large stone fire surrounds.

There is a low coped boundary wall with cast iron railings and pyramidal-capped gatepiers to the west and north elevations. Cast iron lamp standards with entwined dolphins and finialled lanterns are situated to the west of the entrance.

Statement of Special Interest

Lerwick Town Hall was built in 1881-3 and is by the Inverness architect Alexander Ross, with a clock tower designed by the local builder John M. Aitken, during its construction in 1882. Built in the Gothic Flemish style, it is a landmark and distinctive civic building in Lerwick and contains an exceptional series of secular stained glass windows by leading studios of the period which were conceived as integral to the interior design of the building. The building is little altered to the exterior and there is a significant amount of high-quality decorative detailing. The building was designed to face away from the sea towards the area of the town which was developed in the latter part of the 19th century and is a sign of the increasing prosperity of the town.

Of particular interest internally are the outstanding series of stained glass windows in the main hall by James Ballantine & Son, Edinburgh 1883 and Cox and Sons, Buckley & Co of London, 1882. In 15 separate window panels, they depict figures from the period of Shetland's history from around 870, when the Norwegian King Harald Harfagri conquered Shetland, to 1469, when the Shetland Islands were given to Scotland as part of the dowry for Princess Margaret of Norway in her marriage to James III of Scotland. The windows are important as a set of unaltered secular stained glass which remain highly relevant to their locality. Exceptional in their extent, they are rare both in the quality of workmanship and also in the subject matter.

The local contractor John M Aitken suggested a few changes to the original design of the building including adding some extra rooms and building a square-plan clock tower instead of the fleche that is illustrated Ross drawings, (Simpson 2008). These changes were approved and when it was completed the building contained the Council Chamber, the Burgh Courtroom with adjacent lock-up cells for males and females, a Magistrates retiring room and an integral strong room, and with the Main Hall on the first floor. The surrounding stone walls and gatepiers were completed in 1909.

The building opened in 1883 but the original contract had no provision for interior decoration. As the building was considered to be a showpiece for the burgh, a decorators committee was formed to ensure the resultant scheme was of a high standard. The main person responsible was a local merchant, Arthur Laurenson, who was also a keen student of Shetland history. He raised money from a number prominent citizens and stained glass was commissioned adopting the narrative theme of Shetland s history. The stained glass windows were restored in the 1980s and 90s. The hall was used as a dance hall during the Second World War. The building remains the headquarters of the Shetland Islands Council.

Alexander Ross (1834-1925) was based in Inverness and built extensively throughout the Highlands and Islands. He was particularly noted for his school buildings, and is thought to have designed around 450 of these. He also did much work for the Scottish Episcopal Church.

James Ballantine established his own firm of stained glass makers in 1837 and wrote the first Scottish booklet on the subject, A Treatise on Painted Glass , (1845). The windows at Lerwick are dated to the time when his son, Alexander, was in charge of the firm. James Ballantine won a competition to design some windows for the House of Lords in 1844, but Pugin redesigned these. The firm installed a scheme of windows in St Giles Cathedral from 1881.

Cox and Son were initially ecclesiastical furnishers who made windows from around 1860. In 1881 they merged with the firm of Buckley and Co and became Cox & Son, Buckley and Co. They were a popular and prolific London studio and their work can typically be found in churches around Britain.

Statutory address updated in 2014. Previously listed as Hillhead And Charlotte Street, Lerwick Town Hall, including Lamp Standards, Gatepiers, Boundary Walls and Railings .

Category changed from B to A and listed building record revised in 2015.



Canmore: CANMORE ID 1055

Ordnance Survey (Surveyed 1900, Published 1901), 25 Inches to the Mile Map Southampton: Ordnance Survey.

Manson, Dr, T.M.Y. (1984), Lerwick Town Hall; a Guide

Irvine, J.W. (1985), Lerwick, Lerwick, Lerwick Community Council, p165

Kjorsvik, L and Moberg, G. (1988) The Shetland Story, London, B.T.Batsford, p178.

Finnie, M. (1990), Shetland, An Illustrated Architectural Guide, Edinburgh, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, p27-8

Manson, Thomas (1991), Lerwick During the Last Half Century, Lerwick. Lerwick Community Council.

Gifford, J. Highlands and Islands, The Buildings of Scotland (1992), London, Penguin Books, p490.

Donnelly, M. (1997) Scotland's Stained Glass, Edinburgh, The Stationary Office.

Dictionary of Scottish Architects (accessed 03-09-14).

Simpson, C.H. (2008), Lerwick Town Hall, A Guide, Lerwick, Lerwick Community Council.

Other information courtesy of local residents and proposer (2014 and 2015).

About Listed Buildings

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Listing is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for buildings of special architectural or historic interest as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997.

We list buildings which are found to be of special architectural or historic interest using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Listed building records provide an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building which has been identified by its statutory address. The description and additional information provided are supplementary and have no legal weight.

These records are not definitive historical accounts or a complete description of the building(s). If part of a building is not described it does not mean it is not listed. The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site which is known as the statutory address. Addresses and building names may have changed since the date of listing. Even if a number or name is missing from a listing address it will still be listed. Listing covers both the exterior and the interior and any object or structure fixed to the building. Listing also applies to buildings or structures not physically attached but which are part of the curtilage (or land) of the listed building as long as they were erected before 1 July 1948.

While Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating listed buildings, the planning authority is responsible for determining what is covered by the listing, including what is listed through curtilage. However, for listed buildings designated or for listings amended from 1 October 2015, legal exclusions to the listing may apply.

If part of a building is not listed, it will say that it is excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest in the listed building record. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the 1997 Act. Some earlier listed building records may use the word 'excluding', but if the Act is not quoted, the record has not been revised to reflect subsequent legislation.

Listed building consent is required for changes to a listed building which affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The relevant planning authority is the point of contact for applications for listed building consent.

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Printed: 21/02/2020 04:12