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Related subjects: British Cities; Great Britain

Background Information

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Coordinates: 60.155°N 1.145°W / 60.155; -1.145

Lerwick is located in Shetland

 Lerwick shown within Shetland
Population 7,070 
OS grid reference HU474414
Council area Shetland
Lieutenancy area Shetland
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town SHETLAND
Postcode district ZE1
Dialling code 01595
Police Northern
Fire Highlands and Islands
Ambulance Scottish
EU Parliament Scotland
UK Parliament Orkney and Shetland
Scottish Parliament Shetland
List of places

Lerwick is the capital and main port of the Shetland Islands, Scotland, located more than 100  miles (160 km) off the north coast of mainland Great Britain on the east coast of the Shetland Mainland. Lerwick is about 210 miles (340 km) north of Aberdeen, 230 miles (370 km) west of Bergen in Norway and 230 miles (370 km) south east of Tórshavn in the Faroe Islands.

Lerwick, Shetland's only burgh, had a population of about 7,500 residents in 2010 and is the most northerly and most easterly town in Scotland (there are other large settlements more northerly in Shetland, most notable the village of Brae).

One of the UK's coastal weather stations is located at Lerwick.


Lerwick in relation to the rest of the Shetland Islands.

Lerwick is a name with roots in Old Norse and its local descendant, Norn, which was spoken in Shetland until the mid-19th century. The name "Lerwick" means bay of clay. The corresponding Norwegian name is Leirvik, leir meaning clay and vik meaning "bay" or "inlet". a town with similar name exist in south western Norway (Leirvik) and on the Faroe Islands as well.

Evidence of human settlements in the Lerwick area date back 3000 years, centred around the Clickimin Broch.

The first settlement to be known as Lerwick was founded in the seventeenth century as a herring and white fish seaport to trade with the Dutch fishing fleet. This settlement was on the mainland (west) side of Bressay Sound, a natural harbour with south and north entrances between the Shetland mainland and the island of Bressay.

This collection of wooden huts was burned to the ground twice; in the 17th century by residents of the then capital town Scalloway who disapproved of the immoral and drunken activities of the assembled fishermen and sailors, and again in 1702 by the French fleet.

Fort Charlotte was built in the mid 17th Century on Lerwick’s waterfront and permanent stone built buildings began to be erected around 'the fort' and along the shoreline. The principal concentration of buildings was in the ‘lanes’ area; a steep hillside stretching from the shoreline to Hillhead at the top.

Lerwick became capital of Shetland Islands n 1708. When Lerwick became more prosperous through sea trade and the fishing industry during the 19th century, the town expanded to the west of Hillhead. Lerwick Town Hall was built during this period of expansion.

The next period of significant expansion was during the North Sea oil boom of the 1970s when large housing developments were built to the north of Staney Hill (located in Lerwick) and to the south ( Nederdale and Sandveien).

Industry and economy

Lerwick is a busy fishing and ferry port. The harbour also services vessels supporting the offshore oil industry.

Notable buildings

Significant buildings in Lerwick include Fort Charlotte, Lerwick Town Hall, the Böd of Gremista, Shetland Museum and Archives and Clickimin Broch.


There are several churches in Lerwick, including:

  • Adam Clarke Memorial Methodist Church (a congregation of the Methodist Church of Great Britain).
  • Assemblies of God.
  • Baptist Church, Clairmont Place.
  • Congregational Church.
  • Emmanuel Christian Fellowship.
  • St. Columba's Church - one of three buildings of Lerwick and Bressay Parish Church (part of the Church of Scotland).
  • St. Magnus' Church, Greenfield Place (part of the Scottish Episcopal Church).
  • Eben Ezer Gospel Hall, Bretheren Church
  • St. Margaret's Roman Catholic Church.


Lerwick is served by the Tingwall Airport located a few miles away and Sumburgh Airport that is further south and flies all year to many UK destinations.

Northlink Ferries operate a daily overnight ferry service between Lerwick and Aberdeen, regularly calling in to Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands.

The Shetland Islands Council operate a ro-ro ferry service to Out Skerries and Bressay from a terminal in the centre of the town, and the Good Sheppard, Fair Isle's supply boat, regularly calls in to Lerwick's Hay's Dock.

Schools and education

Lerwick has three schools; Bell's Brae Primary School, Sound Primary School and Anderson High School.

Shetland College, a constituent partner institution of the UHI Millennium Institute, is also based in the town, offering degree-level education (among other further education courses) to locals who unsurprisingly find it difficult to study further afield (the next closest university-level institution is the University of Aberdeen, a twelve-hour boat journey away).

Hospitals and healthcare

The Gilbert Bain Hospital provides secondary care services to all of Shetland. The Lerwick Health Centre is situated across the South Road from the hospital.


Lerwick has strong ties with Scandinavian countries, particularly Norway (Lerwick has a friendship agreement with Måløy in Norway), and this is reflected in the street names of Lerwick (e.g. King Harald Street, King Haakon Street).


During the early 18th Century, in order to continue a reserved British Interest in the Islands, Queen Anne of England established the Title of Earl of Lerwick. Despite the title being created, it was never fully used until 1837 when it was institutionalized by the Office of Mormaer. The title, whilst still in existence, is no longer a peerage title, the holder of the title is not eligible to sit in the House of Lords and has no official ranking in the British System of Peerages. The current conveyor of the title is George Sneddon, 2nd Earl Lerwick. He does not reside in Shetland but does visit. He recently was aboard the Fred Olsen Ship, Boudicca, which was celebrated as the 1000th passenger ship to enter the harbour in Lerwick. The Earl does not represent Lerwick in anyway and has been referred to in publications as simply, Earl Sneddon.


Lerwick is the focus of most events in Shetland, including the largest of the annual Up Helly-Aa fire festivals.

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