The Lodberries

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The Lodberrie - Door as it was in 1987
The Lodberrie - Pier buildings
Lodberries viewed from the breakwater of the Peerie Dock
The alleyway found under Commercial Street 68.
Photo from Shetland Museum and Archives.

17th/18th century Lerwick slowly grew along the waterfront where merchants built their lodberries. These were houses and warehouses sitting on their own piers so that goods could be loaded and unloaded directly from the boats.

What is called The Lodberrie today is a fine group of houses and former warehouses at the southern end of Commercial Street dating back to the 18th century. It is the last example showing the original lay out of Lerwick's former lodberries. Most of the other old piers and pierhouses - especially to the north of Victoria Pier - lost their direct access to the water due to modern road developments like the Esplanade but the former harbourfront can still be detected taking a bird's eye view with Google.

The term lodberrie most probably developed from Old Norse hlað-berg, a projecting pier or (flat) rock where a ship is laden. <ref>Frans-Arne Stylegar, Oliver Grimm (2005), Boathouses in Northern Europe and the North Atlantic, International Journal of Nautical Archaeology 34 (2), 253–268.</ref> Within Lerwick, the muddy bay, there was at least one small stretch of solid coast which was used as a public landing <ref>Both Walter Scott in 1814 and the R L Stevenson in 1869 refer to it, with the young Stevenson calling it more precisely the "water-stairs beside the town-hall".</ref> and from which the name might be derived although for the 18th century's developments the meaning of "projecting piers" seem to be more appropriate. <ref>Look at the enlarged picture on the top right with man made walls reaching clearly below the high water mark.</ref>

Close to The Lodberrie, formerly known as Robertson's Lodberrie, after Bailie John Robertson , who was a joint agent for the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Steam Navigation Company (located at 20 Commercial Street) there are other lodberries:

  • Copeland's and Stout's Lodberries, 2-8 (even N°s) Commercial Street
  • Torrie's Lodberrie, 10 Commercial Street
  • "The Sea Door", including Murray's Lodberrie and Macbeath's Lodberries, 14 Commercial Street.

Although none of these remained virtually unscathed like the Category A listed, The Lodberrie. The whole ensemble provides a good impression of how Lerwick's waterfront may have looked like from the late 17th until the early 19th century.

Local folklore preserved some stories about smuggling as a more or less common practice related with the lodberries. Many a cask of Dutch gin which was imported to Shetland via Norway disappeared through conspicious "underground passages" before the merchants officially declared the imported goods to the customs officers. Such stories were fired when modern excavations and restorations showed the existence of such underground alleys under 68 Commercial Street at Eric Brown's cycle shop as well as under Solotti's, now Faerdie Maet, 42-44 Commercial Street [1].



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