Home
 About Orkney
 History
 Tradition
 Folklore
 Placenames
 Images
 Downloads
 About the Site
 Contact 
 Links 
 Search Site 
 Awards
 
  St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

Marwick's Hole - the Cathedral dungeon

"…that Marwick's Hole was a name of terror to the most hardened transgressors we have abundant proof."
B. H. Hossack - Kirkwall in the Orkneys

St Magnus Cathedral has the distinction of being the only cathedral in the British Isles with its own dungeon. This holding-pen, known as "Marwick's Hole" was in use as late as the eighteenth century.

The identity of the "Marwick" who gave his name to the chamber is not known. Was he in some way involved in its construction or use? Or perhaps one of the first occupants?

It is not clear when Marwick's Hole was actually created, but one source claims it dates from around 1540-1558 - the era of Bishop Robert Reid.

The chamber is found between the south wall of the choir and the south transept chapel.

Upon first glance the area seems unremarkable - merely another section of wall - but up above eye-level is a dark opening that betrays the existence of the prison.

"Many a time has the Cathedral echoed with the screams and imprecations of reluctant women and men on their way, short as it was, to the dreaded Marwick's Hole."
B. H. Hossack.

Originally the detention chamber was accessed from an upper chamber, the prisoners being deposited into Marwick's Hole via a chute.

"When an unfortunate was sentenced to imprisonment he glided gently from the hall of justice directly into his cell. Once in escape was impossible, and when the aperture was closed the unhappy occupant was in total darkness."
B. H. Hossack.

This method of imprisoning wrongdoers changed in later years. According to Hossack, in Kirkwall in the Orkneys:

"[the Protestant clergy] blocked the easy shoot, opened a door in the built up window, and from the south transept chapel, where they sit, send their prisoners round into the church and up a ladder into their cell."