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Listed Building

The legal part of the listing is the address/name of site only. All other information in the record is not statutory.


Status: Designated


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  • Category: B
  • Date Added: 08/11/1974


  • Local Authority: Shetland Islands
  • Planning Authority: Shetland Islands
  • Burgh: Lerwick

National Grid Reference

  • NGRHU 47488 41415
  • Coordinates447488, 1141415


Alexander Ross, dated 1881-3 with design alterations by John M. Aitken. 2-storey, 5-bay symmetrical Gothic and Flemish Baronial town hall, with crow-stepped gables, distinctive corner bartizans and square-plan, battlemented clock tower to rear (east) rising between pair of 2-storey and attic wings. The building is set on an elevated site in Lerwick, facing west. Stugged, squared and snecked sandstone with ashlar margins. Base course, moulded band courses and eaves course. Finialled triangular roof vents. The entrance (west) elevation has an advanced central gabled entrance bay with segmental-arched doorway and a 3-light corbelled oriel window above. Flanking the 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 1st floor. There is a rose window to north gable and pointed-arched tracery windows at 1st floor of south gabled. Linking corridor to Lystina House (see separate listing) to the east.

Grey slates to the roof with fishscale pattern to the bartizans. Stained glass windows to hall at 1st floor. Other windows in timber sash and case frames. Those to west elevation at ground floor with stained glass over 4-pane sashes. Some apex stacks.

The interior was seen in 2014. The original room layout is relatively little altered with the main hall situated on the first floor, and many original features survive. There are a number of significant stained glass windows by James Ballantine & Son, dating to 1883 and Cox and Sons, Buckley & Co of London, dating to 1882. In the main hall is a series of narrative windows, depicting a number of significant figures in the history of Shetland, and a rose window with several coats-of-arms. Timber panelling with quatrefoil design to the dado rail in the hall and some rooms. The main hall has an open timber roof with corbels and curved trusses. Central dog-leg stair with extravagantly decorative metal balusters and stained glassed stair window depicting Lord Aberdour. Stained glass in the Council Chamber. Some plain cornicing and large stone fire surrounds.

Boundary wall, gatepiers and railings: low coped boundary wall with cast-iron railing and pyramidal-capped gatepiers to west and north elevations.

Cast iron lamp standards with entwined dolphins and finialled lanterns.

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. Built in the Gothic Flemish style, it is a landmark and distinctive civic building in Lerwick and contains an exceptional series of stained glass windows. The building is little altered in its exterior form and the amount of high-quality decorative detailing shows a desire to make this a building of quality in the expanding and increasingly prosperous Lerwick of the late 19th century. The building was designed to face away from the sea and the late 18th and early 19th century section of Lerwick, and towards the area of the town which was developed in the latter part of the 19th century and therefore focussed on the developing prosperity of the town.

Of particular interest in the building are the stained glass windows, by James Ballantine & Son, Edinburgh 1883 and some by Cox and Sons, Buckley & Co of London, 1882. The windows to the main hall illustrate the history of Shetland and are important as a set of secular stained glass which remain highly relevant to their locality and are considered rare both in the quality of workmanship and also in their 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 of civic governments and 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.

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



Ordnance Survey (Surveyed 1900, Published 1901) 2nd edition map, 25 inches to the mile, London, Ordnance Survey.

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

Irvine, J.W. (1985) Lerwick, Lerwick, Lerwick Community Council, p.165

Kjorsvik, L and Moberg, G. (1988) The Shetland Story, London, B.T.Batsford, p.178.

Finnie, M. (1990) Shetland, An Illustrated Architectural Guide, Edinburgh, Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland, p.27-8.

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

Gifford, J. (1992) Highlands and Islands, The Buildings of Scotland, London, Penguin Books, p.490.

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

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

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

Other information courtesy of local residents, (2014).

About Designations

Listed Buildings

We list buildings of special architectural or historic interest and these are selected according to criteria published in the, Annex 2, pp74-76.

The information in the listed building record gives an indication of the special architectural or historic interest of the listed building(s). It is not a definitive historical account or a complete description of the building(s). The format of the listed building record has changed over time. Earlier records may be brief and some information will not have been recorded.

Enquiries relating to works to listed buildings should be made to the local authority in the first instance. Listed building consent is required for works which a local authority considers will affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest and local authorities also decide if listed building consent is required.

Listing covers both the exterior and the interior. Listing can cover structures not mentioned which are part of the curtilage of the building, such as boundary walls, gates, gatepiers, ancillary buildings etc. The local authority is responsible for advising on what is covered by the listing including the curtilage of a listed building. For information about curtilage see

Legislation introduced on 1 October 2015 allows us to state that: an object or structure fixed to the listed building; any object or structure within the curtilage of the listed building; and, any part or feature of the listed building that is not of architectural or historic interest may be excluded from a listing. If part of your building is not listed under the new legislation, the part will be excluded in the statutory address and in the statement of special interest. The statement will use the word 'excluding' and quote the relevant section of the Historic Environment Scotland Act 2014. 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 current legislation.

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