Hoy Kirk

The Hoy Kirk as it stands today was built in 1891-2. The black & white image shows the vestry at the back now home to the RSPB Moorland Discovery Room.

‘The old church was built in 1780. Having become delapidated a new one was built and opened in February, 1892. A manse was built in 1798, and in 1841 was said to be in good condition’.

J. Smith  Annals of the Church of Scotland in Orkney 1913

The pulpit boasts an unusual provenance, the panels are reputed to have come from a Spanish Armada wreck, although the carved date is later. The  date 1624 and initials H.M.S  are said to belong to the minister of the time.

‘There is, by the way, said to be a very fine oak pulpit in Hoy Church, which, according to tradition, is composed of oak obtained from the wreck of a Spanish man-of-war’.

John R Tudor The Orkneys and Shetland 1883

The cross above the pulpit is carved from wood which came from the wreck of HMS Vanguard.  In 1917, over 800 lives were tragically lost when HMS Vanguard suffered an internal explosion while she was anchored off Flotta. The cross was made by the late Harry Berry, local artist and Custom and Excise Officer. Harry Berry also made the grave for Betty Corrigall.

The pulpit is now at the back of the kirk and the building is used by the community for a variety of purposes – dancing, concerts, wedding receptions, meetings and of course as a heritage centre.

‘Here the scenery is more Highland in character than anywhere else in Orkney, and may well be termed awe-inspiring and grand. Over all towers the mighty mass of the Ward Hill of Hoy, 1,565 feet in height. It is the highest hill in Orkney, and rises so abruptly that its eastern face seems one immense scree that threatens to overwhelm the little crofts and houses nestling at its foot’.

Dr Hugh Marwick Orkney, The County Book Series 1951

Hoy & Graemsay Parish Succession of Rectors

1492 William Mudie

1544 Peter John Houston


 1570-74 Thomas Fleming 

1574-85 William Mudie

1585-94 Thomas Fleming

1598-1605 Thomas Fleming


1617-21 Andrew Dishington

1621-32 Henry Smythe

1632-4 Patrick Wemyss

1647-50 William Watson

1650-1 Orkney Ministers deposed for aiding Marquis of Montrose


1659-63 William Watson

1663-8 John Balvaird

1672-83 James Shanks

1683-96 James Strachan

1696-1712 Alexander Mair

1714-40 John Pitcairne

1742-96 Robert Sands

1796-1849 Gavin Hamilton

1850-77 Robert Watson

1877-79 John L Brown

1880-3 William John Thomson

1885-7 J Pillans McDougal

1888 James Patterson

1895-1937 J D Anderson

Researched by Tom Champagne.  For more detail see the Hoy Kirk History folder at Hoy Heritage Centre

In 2011 the great grandson of the last minister of the kirk came by.

Christopher Duncan Anderson and his wife Rachel were over from Australia touring around in their campervan. Christopher’s great grandfather is James Duncan Anderson born 1860, died 1937 and buried in the churchyard at the Bu.

Christopher and Rachel were amazed to meet Cathy Clark who remembered James Duncan Anderson and even had a teapot that belonged to him. She recalled that the minister used to give her a doll at Christmas.

This is from the ‘Annals of the Church of Scotland in Orkney’ by J. Smith 1907

‘1895 – One the recommendation of the Committee, the congregation elected and called the Rev. J.D. Anderson, missionary at Russnesss in Sanday, to be successor to Mr Paterson in the Parishes. In due course he was ordained and installed into the church and parishes of Hoy and Graemsay.’

Rev James Duncan Anderson lived at the Manse, now Burra House. He married Janet Hall. Their son Eric (Christopher’s grandfather) emigrated to Australia around 1920.

A few years after Rev Anderson’s great grandson came in, descendants of an earlier Hoy Kirk minister visited Hoy. Rev Gavin Hamilton, minister at Hoy Kirk from 1796-1849 (the old Kirk), baptised Arctic explorer Dr John Rae in 1813 and later, one of his sons married Marion Rae, sister of the explorer.

Rev Hamilton probably didn’t imagine that two centuries after his tenure that his great great granddaughter Andi Adams would visit Hoy parish. But then again he was not unfamiliar with the unexpected….

Mr Hamilton was disturbed by a loud squeaking, which commenced near his mill, and by degrees grew fainter and fainter. He advanced to the spot, and immediately perceived one of his pigs struggling vainly in the talons of an eagle, who was soaring away with his prey towards the Wart-Hill. There is at present a man living in Orkney, who was seized when a child by an eagle, and was carried a little distance: when the bird, becoming alarmed, dropped him, having but little injured him. Mr Hamilton was more successful in another instance, in inflicting punishment on one of these depredators. An eagle had so effectively entangled his claws in the back of a sheep, that he could not disengage himself, and afforded Mr Hamilton the opportunity of killing him with his stick.

(Source: Saturday Magazine Vol. 7, Supplement for August 1835)

For more on baby snatching eagles see here.

Read about the restoration of Hoy Kirk following the storm of ’52 and the community purchase here.

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