Groatie Hoose, Kirkwall

Within the high walls at the rear of Tankerness House, the home of the Orkney Museum, is the unusual building called the Groatie Hoose.

Set as a focal point to the well manicured lawns and tended flower beds, the cone shaped roof on a square box like room appears to have been here for many years. However, the story behind this building involves pirates, a large fire and restoration.


The history behind this building starts in 1724 when John Gow, a pirate, acquired the vessel, known as the Caroline, somewhere off Santa Cruz.

Set in the grounds of Kirkwall Museum is the Groattie Hoose

Set in the grounds of Kirkwall Museum is the Groattie Hoose

Renamed ‘Revenge’, it carried out a number of attacks before arriving at Stromness, now called the called the ‘George’ in early 1725.

It was only a matter of time before the true identity of Gow, the vessel and the crew were revealed.

Rather than give themselves up to the authorities, Gow and his men decided to set out to successfully attack the Hall of Clestrain, the birthplace of the explorer John Rae.

Carrick house on Eday was to be the next target, however they ran aground and were arrested.

John Gow was taken to London were he was hung, twice, on the 11th of August, 1729


Contained within the hull of the Revenge was a large amount of volcanic stones used as keel ballast.

These stones were used to build a summerhouse for an Edinburgh lawyer and merchant James Traill who had retired to Orkney. His house, called the Gallery, was on Bridge Street.

James Traill became Provost of Kirkwall from 1730-33.

The Groattie Hoose, Kirkwall

The Groattie Hoose, Kirkwall

Seashells, known as European Cowries or locally as groatie buckies,  were used to decorate the spire.  This is where the name Groatie Hoose comes from.


Although James Traill had nine children, none of them survived childhood and the Gallery passed to his nephew John Traill of Westness upon his death in 1733.

Extensive renovation and building works were carried out on the property and garden.

The house remained in the family for over 100 years before being turned in to an hotel.

Gutted by fire in 1938, the main building was demolished and built over.

The Groatie Hoose remained until 2005 when it was moved brick by brick from Bridge Street to its present location.

Further information

Groatie House Warming

Pirate Gow – Orkney Boat Museum