LERWICK, a parish, sea-port, burgh, and market-town, and the county-town, in the Shetland Isles; containing 3284 inhabitants, of whom 2787 are in the town, 95 miles (N. E.) from Kirkwall, 126 (N. E. by N.) from Wick, 166 (N.) from Peterhead, and 272 (N. by E.) from Edinburgh. This place, which has long been celebrated as the resort of whale-ships, Dutch herring-boats, and numerous foreign and wind-bound vessels, originated in the seventeenth century, in connexion with the Dutch fishermen. Capt. Smith, however, who visited the islands in 1633, describes the harbour, but makes no allusion to the town, and in 1700 it contained not many more than 200 families. It is situated on the eastern shore of Mainland, opposite the island of Bressay, from which it is separated by the narrowest part of Bressay sound, otherwise called Lerwick harbour, and well known to mariners who navigate these seas as a secure roadstead in stormy weather. The town is built on a tract originally covered with deep peat-moss, called the Commonty of Sound, and consists of one principal street leading to the harbour, from which avenues or lanes branch off at different places. The most ancient houses are constructed without any regularity, projecting from the line of parallelism, and nearly meeting each other by their abutment. Many improvements, however, have been made within the present century; and several houses have been erected in a more modern style, and with a greater regard to order, by which the general appearance of the town has been much altered. The gradual increase of the population led to the cutting up of the peaty soil of the surrounding land, for the purposes of fuel, in consequence of which the ground exhibited a rocky or stony exterior; but the aspect of the vicinity has, since the year 1820, been rendered more attractive by the inclosure of a common of about forty acres, encompassing the town, and by its partition into thirty-one parks, most of which are under grass. Considerable portions, also, of adjacent land have been brought into useful and ornamental cultivation by resident gentlemen, at a great expense; and neat and elegant houses and cottages have been raised, which are surrounded by well laid-out grounds and small but flourishing plantations. Among these villas is that of Gremista, the occasional residence of Sir Arthur Nicolson. A fort, said to have been erected in Cromwell's time, is situated on an eminence at the northern end of the town, and serves for the protection of the harbour at its entrance in that part. It was thoroughly repaired in 1781, when it was named FortCharlotte, after Her Majesty, the consort of George III.; and it was garrisoned till the peace of 1783. For the defence of the southern entrance of the sound, a government road has been formed, commencing half a mile south from the town, and reaching to a promontory called the Knab: by this road, the transit of artillery or military stores can be effected at any time.
   The inhabitants are occupied partly in agricultural operations, and as shopkeepers and merchants, but chiefly in the ling, cod, and herring fisheries, the last of which engrosses considerable attention, though for some years it has not been attended with very great success. The ling-fishery, which continues from May to the middle of August, engages a few boats from this parish; and many sloops of small burthen are employed in the summer time in taking cod. To the herring-fishery, 174 boats were sent in 1839, chiefly from Lerwick. Independently of the fisheries, there is scarcely any traffic carried on beyond that arising from a good general mercantile business; and the only manufacture is that of various articles of hosiery, such as stockings and gloves, made by girls and women. A straw-plat manufactory formerly existed here; but it has long been discontinued. The making of herring-nets, however, which has been introduced into some neighbouring parishes, is considered, on account of the demand for the article, likely to be successful here, and is about to be commenced under the auspices of the leading residents. The general mercantile business transacted is very considerable; almost the whole exported produce of Shetland passes through the hands of the Lerwick merchants, and they import nearly all the groceries and manufactured goods used in the islands. The town contains a branch of the Union Bank of Scotland. Several schooners having accommodation for passengers are engaged in the coasting trade between Lerwick and Leith; it has a mail-packet to Aberdeen in winter, and steam communication with the Frith of Forth during summer. The exports are chiefly fish, butter, hides, tallow, calf and rabbit skins, and stockings; and the imports, coal, cloth, groceries, and grain. This being the seat of the custom-house, all Shetland vessels are registered here: the number belonging to Lerwick is about seventy, and their tonnage 2016 in the aggregate. The customs received at the port during the year 1844, amounted to £463. Several vessels have been built here by Messrs. Hay and Ogilvy, some of which are of 100 and 200 tons.
   This is the county-town of the Shetland Isles, and the sheriff-substitute of this division of the united sheriffdoms of Orkney and Shetland resides, and holds his courts, here. The foreign cod and herring fishermen assemble at Lerwick in great numbers; and by an act of the 48th of George III., it was made the rendezvous of the British deep-sea herring fishermen, who are inspected here previously to their engaging in the fishery. For the furtherance of this object, by the establishment of a resident magistracy, a royal charter was granted in January, 1818, erecting the town into a burgh of barony, by which the council is declared to consist of two bailies and nine councillors, to be elected every three years, on the first Thursday in September. The bailies and council, as well as the electors, or burgesses, must be proprietors or occupants of premises of the value of £10 per annum, and must all reside within the burgh. At the time of the passing of the late Municipal Corporations act, the rental of property within the burgh was estimated at £3600; and the number of persons resident whose rents in property or tenancy amounted to £10 and upwards, was fortyeight, of whom forty-one were burgesses, and the rest females or minors. The annual income of the corporation does not exceed £5, and the expenditure is about £15, the excess of the latter over the former being provided for by a voluntary assessment of the inhabitants, as the magistrates are not empowered to raise any taxes for the support of the municipal establishment. By the statute 35 George III. c. 122, the magistrates consider themselves vested with the jurisdiction reserved to independent burghs of barony under the statute 20 George II. c. 43, and with other powers within the burgh competent to justices of the peace. Weekly burgh-courts are held under the Small-debt act; and there are courts, when necessary, for the punishment of offences and the removal of nuisances. A treasurer is appointed by the magistrates and council; and a fiscal, peaceofficer, and town-crier by the magistrates alone. There being no local act, the inhabitants have adopted the general police act in regard to its provisions for cleansing, paving, and the supplying of water; and for these purposes they assess themselves in the sum of sixpence in the pound.
   The parish stretches along the coast, and measures about six miles in length, from north to south, and one mile in breadth. It is separated by the sea on the east and north-east from the island of Bressay, which here forms the harbour of Bressay Sound, at the northern extremity of which, not far from the shore, rises the dangerous rock called the Unicorn. The surface of the parish, as well as that of the surrounding country, is rocky and mountainous, the highest point reaching about 300 feet above the level of the sea; the soil on the elevated grounds is a deep peaty moss, and that of the arable land, which lies in patches along the sea-shore, light and sandy, and tolerably productive. The rocks consist of sandstone and conglomerate, and a quarry is in operation. The rateable annual value of the parish is £7006. It is in the presbytery of Lerwick and synod of Shetland, and in the patronage of the Earl of Zetland: the minister's stipend is £150 per annum, with an allowance of £8. 5. 9. for communion elements. Of these sums, £27. 15. 6. are derived from the bishopric rents of Orkney, £16. 13. 4. from the town of Lerwick, £23. 0. 8. from lands in the rural district, and £90. 16. 3. from the exchequer, under the Small-stipend act. There being neither manse nor glebe, a compensation of £50 per annum is paid by the heritors in lieu thereof. The church is a modern edifice, with a Doric front of hewn stone, and stands above the town, towards the northern extremity. The salary of the parochial schoolmaster is £34. 4. 8. per annum, with about £30 fees. The ruins of several chapels were recently visible at Gulberwick; but the only relic of antiquity of any note now remaining is a castle of Pictish origin, on a small island in a lake near Lerwick; and this is fast falling to decay.

A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. . 1856.

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