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Boloquoy Steading, Sanday

A Category B Listed Building in North Isles, Orkney Islands

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Latitude: 59.2369 / 59°14'12"N

Longitude: -2.6545 / 2°39'16"W

OS Eastings: 362753

OS Northings: 1039107

OS Grid: HY627391

Mapcode National: GBR M4T9.SSD

Mapcode Global: XH8KZ.R3D5

Plus Code: 9CFV68PW+Q5

Entry Name: Boloquoy Steading, Sanday

Listing Name: Boloquoy Farm (including farmhouse, boundary walls, byre, and barn and stable range), Boloquoy grain mill to west, Little Boloquoy to east (including garden boundary walls), and barn/byre at Setter to

Listing Date: 8 December 1971

Last Amended: 24 September 2019

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407213

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB5907

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Cross and Burness

County: Orkney Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Parish: Cross And Burness

Traditional County: Orkney


A late 18th and 19th century farm on the west coast of Sanday. The central group of buildings includes a farmhouse, a detached double byre with turf and partially surviving straw thatched roofs and a long barn and stable range. To the west, there is a grain mill with a cast iron water wheel and internal milling machinery. To the east, there are two cottages at Little Boloquoy. To the south, there is a byre/barn range at Setter. The buildings are all of drystone rubble construction. They are in an open landscape of regular fields, bounded with drystone dykes, and there is a mill-pond to the south, and partially-surviving mill-lade.

The farmhouse (at HY 62727 39101) is a two-storey, three-bay, rectangular-plan house with an advanced, gabled porch to the south front. There is a single storey addition to the east gable with a boarded door. The windows are mostly nine-pane timber sash and case windows with top-hung upper lights. The building has a dashed render and a purple slate roof with a stone ridge, stone skews, and corniced chimney stacks on the east and west gables. The rainwater goods are predominantly cast iron. To the south, there are drystone rubble garden boundary walls with rubble coping stones and square-plan gatepiers with flagstone caps.

The byre (at HY 62753 39107) is to the immediate south of the farmhouse with a flagstone passage (or closs) between the two buildings. The byre has been extended with an extra stall added to the east end. Each stall has a two-leaf boarded door. The east gable has rounded corners. There is a turf thatched roof on the east stall, and the remains of a straw thatched roof on the west stall. Both have a projecting row of flagstones at the top of the wallhead. There is also remnants of netting and wire mesh as well as stone slabs (benlin stanes) along the eaves to secure the netting.

A long barn and stable range (at HY 62744 39102) is aligned north to south. Openings with boarded doors are irregularly arranged in the west elevation. The central section of the range, (built by 1879) has a flagstone roof and is lower in height than the flanking sections (built 1879-1901). The north section has a corrugated-iron roof and the south section has graded stone tiles, stone ridges and skews. Inside the northernmost byre (seen 2019) are five double wooden stalls along the east side and nine smaller stalls on the west side. The central byre contains seven double stalls along the east wall.

The grain mill (at HY 62596 39059) is 140 metres west of Boloquoy farmhouse, on the shore at Noust of Boloquoy. It is a two-storey, two-bay rectangular-plan mill and the north part is slightly taller and set back on the west side. The east elevation has a central boarded door, with a window to the left, and a boarded grain loft door above. There is a further small window just under the roof eaves in the taller part. The west elevation has a blocked doorway and a small window under the roof eaves. The remains of a large cast iron, eight-spoke undershot water wheel with timber paddles is fixed to the south gable. The roof has a stone ridge and skews, and a covering of grey slate. The wheel pit is stone-lined and the lade channel, which extends to the east, is concrete-lined. The interior (seen in 2019) retains its timber gear housing and cast iron mill machinery on the ground floor. There is a fixed, open timber stair to the upper level, which houses a threshing machine.

Two adjoining cottages at Little Boloquoy (at HY 62971 39163) are around 150 metres east of the farmhouse. The cottage to the east (right) has a single window and door and a purple slate roof, and the cottage to the west (left) has a central door flanked by windows. There is a roofless outshot (formerly a byre) adjoining the west gable. Both cottages have boarded timber doors and timber framed windows. The west cottage is partially roofless but retains some straw thatch and flagstones projecting at the wallhead. There are wide chimney stacks on the east and west gables. A drystone rubble wall encloses a rectangular garden to the south. The interior has not been seen (2019).

A detached byre/barn range at Setter (at HY 62803 38946) is around 100 metres south of Boloquoy farmhouse. It is a long, three-compartment byre (now largely roofless 2019) on ground that slopes away to the west towards the sea. The north elevation has a flat-arched central opening breaking the eaves, and a boarded door to the right. A small boarded entrance (either a mucking-out hole or a winnowing door) with flanking upright stone slabs is located to the left. The rear (south elevation) has three rubble-blocked former doorways. There are projecting flagstones at the wallhead eaves and some remains of a straw thatched roof. The interior was not seen (2019).

Historical development

There has been a farmstead at Boloquoy from at least the mid-18th century. Shortly before his death in 1750, sea captain John Fea of Clestran conveyed the lands and houses of Seatter (now Setter) and Boloquoy to another John Fea of Seatter (Orkney Herald).

Although the exact construction dates of the current buildings as described above are not known, the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map indicates that they were largely all in place by 1879. The footprints of the buildings are shown, together with the Boloquoy millpond, and the surrounding field enclosures and tracks or roads, while the Ordnance Survey Name Book (also 1879) describes Boloquoy as a 'neat farmhouse and steading'.

Late 19th century changes to the farm include extensions to the barn and stable range, a remodelling of the farmhouse itself, and the addition of the easternmost cottage at Little Boloquoy (2nd Edition Ordnance Survey, revised 1901).

Comparison between the 1901 Ordnance Survey map and the present arrangement of the buildings (2019) suggests there has been very little alteration to the farm complex since that date.

Boloquoy also had the last working threshing machine on Sanday, last known to be operative in 1998 (Scottish Farm Buildings Survey 1998). Boloquoy continued in use as a working farm into the early 21st century.

Statement of Interest

The Boloquoy farm buildings including associated buildings at Little Boloquoy and Setter meet the criteria of special architectural or historic interest for the following reasons:

Architectural interest


In their plan, design and use of traditional construction materials, the buildings at Boloquoy reflect vernacular building techniques of 18th and 19th century farm buildings, distinct to Orkney. Attributes such as the functional and narrow rectangular plan-forms, the small window openings, and the low, thick and irregular rubble walls are typical of such farms. The farmhouse itself has the appearance of an agricultural improvement period farmhouse, particularly by its symmetrical front elevation with evenly spaced openings and first floor windows set close to the roof eaves. Their overall survival and relative lack of alteration adds to the interest of the site.

The arrangement of the farm buildings, particularly the closely-knit parallel byres (adjacent to the farmhouse) with a paved passage between (known as a closs) and another range at right angles, is characteristic of Orkney farms. The survival of the associated mill, steading range and cottages adds further interest. The coursed random rubble drystone walling, evident in the byre south of the farmhouse, for example, and the rows of flagstones at the wallheads of several of the buildings, point not only to the local abundance of flagstone but also a set of long-established skills and traditions distinct to the region. The thickness of the walls ensured that they could support the weight of the roof, reducing the need for timber in the roof structure to a minimum.

Flagstone, supported by timber rafters, provided a lapped and seamed underlayer for turf or thatch, while the projecting stones (aisin stanes) at the eaves would also help shed water away from the buildings during rainfall. A thatch or turf covering helped to stop the flags cracking through frost, it insulated the building and lessened the chance of water ingress during heavy rain. The presence of this traditional roofing method, together with rare surviving segments of turf and straw thatch adds greatly to the interest of the building.

The roofs of the cottages at Little Boloquoy and the detached byre/barn at Setter have partially collapsed. However, enough of the historic fabric and form survives to show that it is characteristic of traditional roofing techniques in Orkney, and these buildings are an important part of the group of buildings at Boloquoy.

The grain mill is also a largely intact example of its building type retaining its wheel, gearing and remains of the associated lade.


Boloquoy Farm is located on the west coast of Sanday, the largest of the northern islands of Orkney. Sanday is noted for its low-lying topography, large expanses of sand and dunes, and open landscapes of improved, enclosed fields and scattered rural settlement.

The farm at Boloquoy is set away from the main road on land sloping towards the coast. The associated farm buildings survive largely in their 19th century forms, and the wider historic setting, which includes the millpond, lade, field walls and tracks, has not altered significantly. This contributes to an understanding of the farm within this landscape, adding to the special interest and historic character of the group.

The grain mill is located immediately beside the sea and is especially prominent against the shoreline in views from the main road. The place name here, 'Noust of Boloquoy', (Noust meaning boat-stance), evident on early editions of Ordnance Survey maps (1879, 1901) also indicates a long-standing relationship with the sea.

Archaeological remains of prehistoric date are also evident in this area, and material from a large round cairn to the west of the millpond was probably used to build the partially surviving mill dam during the 19th century (RCAHMS 1946: 41).

Historic interest

Age and rarity

The industrial and agricultural revolution of the mid-18th to 19th centuries (known as the Agricultural Improvement period), transformed the agricultural landscape of Scotland. Unusually, Boloquoy retains a dispersed, pre-improvement era settlement pattern (with 19th century additions to the existing pattern) rather than large-scale remodelling of the farm buildings on the ordered courtyard plan that is evident elsewhere on Sanday.

Thatched buildings often reflect pre-industrialised construction methods and materials. The survival of thatched buildings of this type into the 21st century is extremely rare. A Survey of Thatched Buildings in Scotland, published in 2016 by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), found that around 200 buildings with thatched or turfed roofs survive in Scotland. The detached byre at Boloquoy and cottage at Little Boloquoy is one of only six traditionally built farm or croft buildings in Orkney to retain a turfed and/or thatched roof (SPAB 2016: 285). Other examples are mostly concentrated at Rackwick on Hoy.

While farmsteads are not a rare building type in Orkney, the example at Boloquoy is of special interest for its group value, with each part adding to the interest of the whole. The grain mill is a particularly well-preserved example of its type, retaining its timber gear housing and cast iron mill machinery. Although the farmhouse and outbuildings have been altered to some degree, they continue to illustrate traditional building methods and pre-Improvement-era settlement, and the use of locally sourced materials. The very rare example of a turf and partially thatched roof is an important survival of pre-industrial farming and building methods in the Orkneys that adds to the special interest of this group as whole.

Social historical interest

At Boloquoy, the relationship between the buildings reflects the daily practice of farmers during the 18th and 19th centuries, and their design and materials forms important evidence for traditional methods of construction.

Orkney retained many Norse-influenced farming traditions and building methods well into the 19th century. The Orkney Islands were among the most comprehensively improved agricultural regions of the United Kingdom between 1840 and 1875 (Glendinning and Wade Martins 2008: 133-36). With some of the best conditions on the Orkney Islands for arable and livestock farming, much of the farming land on Sanday was improved by its principal landholding gentleman-farmers; the Duke of Balfour, the Earl of Zetland, Thomas Traill of Westove and Malcolm Laing. The smaller tenanted farms such as Boloquoy benefited from the new farming methods introduced from mainland Scotland, while also continuing to use traditional building methods and communal farm life.

Statutory address and listed building record revised in 2019. Previously listed as 'Sanday, Boloquoy Farm, including boundary walls, ancillary buildings, meal mill and farm cottages'.

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