Listed Building

The only legal part of the listing under the Planning (Listing Buildings and Conservation Areas) (Scotland) Act 1997 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. The further details below the 'Address/Name of Site' are provided for information purposes only.

Address/Name of Site

Kirkwall Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court and former Prison/Police Station, including boundary walls, gatepiers and railings, and excluding flat-roofed garage addition to south, Watergate, KirkwallLB46010

Status: Designated


There are no additional online documents for this record.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Local Authority
Orkney Islands
Planning Authority
Orkney Islands
HY 44941 10751
344941, 1010751


David Bryce, 1873; completed 1877 by John Bryce. 2-storey and attic, crowstep gabled court house in asymmetrical, plain Scots Baronial style with former prison, warden's house and police station wing adjoining to rear. The flat-roofed garage extension to south is not considered of special interest in listing terms at time of review.

Principal elevation to north is of stugged and coursed sandstone ashlar with polished dressings. Advanced entrance bay offset to left of centre with steps to moulded doorpiece with carved panel (dated 1877). Corbelled out above with gable head stack. Gabletted windows with rose-finials breaking eaves to right. Three salvaged 16th century tablets, two with the arms of Bishop Robert Reid and one with the arms of Bishop Edward Stewart, are set in the east and west gable heads.

Former prison/police office adjoins to west with a conical-roofed stair tower in the re-entrant angle. 2-storey, 5-bay block of squared and snecked sandstone rubble with chamfered reveals, long and short quoins, and corniced eaves course. Stone steps to entrance. Gabletted first floor windows with rose and thistle finial. 6-bay elevation to south with horizontal windows (former cells). Walled former exercise courtyard adjoins to east elevation.

The interior of the court house, seen 2014, has plain cornicing to hall and a plastered barrel vaulted ceiling to courtroom.

4-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows to court house. Predominantly 12-pane glazing in timber sash and case windows to former prison/police offices. Grey slate roofs with stone ridges and stone skews. Predominantly cast iron rainwater goods.

Low rubble boundary walls with ridged ashlar cope along Palace Road and Watergate Street. Square-plan ashlar gatepiers with pyramidal caps to Palace Road entrance with spear-headed cast iron railings.

Statement of Special Interest

Kirkwall Sheriff Court including former prison/police station is an important civic building in its local setting and a rare surviving example of a combined prison and court house, which was built at the tail-end of the first wave of court house building following the Sheriff Court Houses (Scotland) Act of 1860. The building is a late work of the eminent Scottish architect David Bryce (1803-1876) in a modest Baronial style and was completed by his nephew, John, in 1877 with some proposed features including a tower and attic storey omitted from the final design. On completion in 1877, the Kirkwall Court House was described in the Orkney Herald as being in 'the old Scottish style with slight ornamentation'.

In 1860 David Bryce was commissioned to survey the remains of Earl Patrick's Palace (Scheduled Monument) to the south of St. Magnus Cathedral, with a view to restoring it to function as the town hall and court house. The plan was eventually shelved due to a combination of factors including expense and prison authority concerns regarding the housing of a new prison within an old building. Plans for a new court house building in the grounds of the Earl's Palace were put forward by Bryce around 1873.

Bryce died on May 7th 1876 and his nephew, John Bryce, took over the commission. The building was opened on 27 August 1877. The building has more recently been refurbished with the former police office and prison block currently (2015) in use as a dental practice.

The development of the court house as a building type in Scotland follows the history of the Scottish legal system and wider government reforms. The majority of purpose-built court houses were constructed in the 19th century as by this time there was an increase in the separation of civic, administrative and penal functions into separate civic and institutional buildings, and the resultant surge of public building was promoted by new institutional bodies. The introduction of the Sheriff Court Houses (Scotland) Act of 1860 gave a major impetus to the increase and improvement of court accommodation and the provision of central funding was followed by the most active period of sheriff court house construction in the history of the Scottish legal system, and many new court houses were built or reworked after this date.

Court houses constructed after 1860 generally had a solely legal purpose and did not incorporate a prison, other than temporary holding cells. Exceptions to this were the more remote island locations including Kirkwall; Lochmaddy, North Uist; Stornoway in the Western Isles and Tobermory, Mull (see separate listings). The courts were designed in a variety of architectural styles but often relied heavily on Scots Baronial features to reference the fortified Scottish building tradition. Newly constructed court buildings in the second half of the 19th century dispensed with large public spaces such as county halls and instead provided bespoke office accommodation for the sheriff, judge and clerks, and accommodated the numerous types of court and holding cells.

The flat-roofed garage addition to the south is not considered of special interest in listing terms at the time of the review (2014-15).

Category changed from B to C, statutory address and listed building record revised as part of the Scottish Courts Listing Review, 2014-15. Previously listed as 'Watergate, Sheriff Court And Police Station, Including Boundary Walls, Gatepiers And Railings'.



Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland: CANMORE ID: 180903.

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1888, published 1882) Orkney, 25 miles to the inch. 2nd Edition. London: Ordnance Survey.

Kirkwall Library Archive. K8/6/2 (16 December 1874).

Orkney County Herald. 28 June 1876 and 29 August 1877.

Fiddes V. and Rowan A. (1976) David Bryce. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh. p.105.

Burgher L. (1985) Kirkwall Sheriff Court And Prison. (BArch seminar paper - Heriot-Watt University/Edinburgh College Of Art).

Burgher L. (1991) Orkney, An Illustrated Architectural Guide. Edinburgh: RIAS. p11.

Gifford J. (1992) Buildings Of Scotland: Highland and Islands. London: Penguin Books. p.334.

Historic Scotland (2014) Scottish Courts Preliminary Report at

The National Archives of Scotland. Guide to Sheriff Court Records at [accessed 02 September 2014].

Dictionary of Scottish Architects. Kirkwall Sheriff Court Buildings and police station at [accessed 02 September 2014].

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. Other than the name or address of a listed building, further details are provided for information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland does not accept any liability for any loss or damage suffered as a consequence of inaccuracies in the information provided. 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.

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Kirkwall Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court, principal elevation, looking west, during daytime on an overcast day.
Former Prison/Police Station at Kirkwall Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court, east elevation, looking west, during daytime on an overcast day.

Printed: 25/07/2024 10:12