It was Norse raisers who first named the landfall "Leir Vik" - "Muddy Bay" but it was another nationality centuries later which was to be the catalyst for the development of the harbour and town of Lerwick.
The crews of Dutch herring boats – busses - found the rich fishing grounds off Shetland in the 17th century and gathered each summer in the sheltered waters of Bressay Sound, coming ashore at the bay at Lerwick where initially a seasonal settlement grow up.
Fishing in various forms would dominate the life of the community for hundreds of years and today the modern industry is still a cornerstone of the way of life. Over the period, there have been booms and busts, but the fishing industry has, literally, always been at the heart of Lerwick.
Alongside the fishing boats, there eventually appeared sailing ships and steamers, cargo boats, mail ships, war ships, passenger ships, roll-on/roll-off ferries, oil-related vessels and drilling rigs, cruise ships and yachts as the port evolved over the centuries to accommodate changing times and new requirements and opportunities.
The oil and cruise industries have become additional, new features of the port since the second half of the last century.
Just as the creation of Lerwick Harbour Trust in 1877 provided an impetus for development, its successor, Lerwick Port Authority continues to add to the harbour’s history through its successful operation and continuing development.
View the history of Lerwick Harbour from different eras:
- Pre 1700
1263 Norse King, Haakon Haakonson, believed to have sailed into Bressay Sound 16th century Dutch herring fishermen begin visiting Bressay Sound. Development of Lerwick as seasonal settlement begins 1640 Dutch and Spanish warships fight battle in Bressay Sound 1653 English fleet anchors in Bressay Sound. Building of a fort started at Lerwick 1673 Dutch burn barracks and houses at Lerwick
- 18th Century
1702 French destroy Dutch herring fleet, which eventually recovers and is joined by other nations 1736 Post office at Lerwick, with trading vessels carrying mail 1760 Government awards first contract for mail deliveries by ship 1781 Fort Charlotte regarrisoned to defend against American ships during War of Independence 1792 Arthur Anderson born at Böd of Gremista – co-founder of P & O Line and “father” of the cruise industry
- 19th Century
1817 Ghillie’s Pier built on south foreshore. Other piers followed to accommodate merchants, along with docks at the northern end 1836 Summer paddle steamer service introduced between Scottish mainland and Lerwick 1842 Herring “boom” ends in financial disaster. Trade in dried fish and cod fishing increasing during 19th century, along with whaling 1858 Winter paddle steamer introduced to mainland, but proves unreliable 1861 Screw-driven vessel introduced on winter service to mainland 1875 Revival of herring industry begins, with mainland vessels using the port 1876 Decision taken to build steamer pier in area of Victoria Wharf as part of continuing harbour development 1877 Lerwick Harbour Trust formed by Act of Parliament 1881 Increase in sailings to mainland lets Shetland participate in fresh fish trade 1883 Major period of development begins, including Hay’s Pier, Albert Wharf. and Victoria Pier 1886 Vicotria Pier officially opened Late 1880s Slump in herring industry hits Lerwick 1890s Recovery in herring fishery includes introduction of auction system. Steam trawlers arrive in Shetland waters 1894 Shetland Times reports visits by cruise ship, St Sunniva,
- 20th Century
1900 Storm causes severe damage. Herring boom fuels development, transforming Lerwick as it handles vessels from Ireland, Scottish mainland, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. As many as 9,000 fishermen and fishworkers arrived in Lerwick for the season 1901 Fishmarket built at Freefield 1904 Work begins on new wharf - later named “Alexandra” and the location for a temporary fishmarket, opened 1906 1905 Herring boom peaks 1907 Permanent fishmarket opened 1914-18 Naval vessels and merchant ships call at Lerwick during WWI. Port becomes examination centre for neutral ships, as well as for escorting convoys and anti submarine patrols. On one day in 1917, 129 vessels in port 1915 Small boats’ harbour completed 1918 The post-war port requires major repair and improvement – and development to cope with the internal combustion engine! 1919 Herring sales resume after the war, with eventual decline in the 1930s 1921 Slipway opened at Malakoff’s yard 1928 The Mira is the first cruise ship noted in official port records 1939-45 Harbour has a key role as naval base in WWII, including support for Norway 1945 Period of post-war reconstruction begins at port, including re-organisation of the fishing industry and rebuilding of fleet 1951 Approval for extending/widening Victoria Pier and breakwater extension; widening of Esplanade; new transit shed, stores and offices 1955-60 Construction of extension to Victoria Pier and Albert Wharf 1959 Work begins on new covered fish market 1960 HM Queen the first reigning British monarch to visit port 1964 Oil-related seismic survey vessels arrive in Lerwick – first signs of oil “boom” 1960s/70s Harbour develops as a support base for the offshore oil and gas industry, with role continuing today 1960s Typically 150 Norwegian purse seiners fishing Shetland waters - many seek shelter at Lerwick 1966 First 4-yearly Round Britain yacht race visits in period of increasing tourism 1967 First Shetland purse seiner joins fishing fleet 1972 Lerwick Harbour Trust acquires 1,500 acre Gremista Estate 1972 Fred Olsen's company Norscot starts building Greenhead Base 1974 Work starts on Shell and BP supply bases at Holmsgarth 1974 Harbour limits extended 1975 New fish market completed 1977 P & O introduces roll-on/roll-off ferry on service to Aberdeen. New terminal opens. 1978 Contract awarded for new fishing harbour and second roll-off/roll-off ramp 1980 Agreement for joint venture with BP to develop Black Hill Industrial Estate 1981 Royal Yacht Britannia berths at recently completed Morrison Dock, with HM The Queen en route to inauguration of the Sullom Voe oil terminal 1983 Herring fishery reopens after seven year closure, with start of seasonal "klondyking" factory ships in port 1983 New marina completed 1984 Harbour Trust opens Shetland’s first four star hotel at port 1985 Harbour Trust becomes partner in new company, Shetland Pelagic Producers, with plans for factory at Lerwick 1986 HRH The Prince of Wales inaugurates the Harbour Trust oil rig, inspection, repair and maintenance base at Dales Voe 1987 Second passenger ferry introduced on Shetland-Aberdeen route to give six sailings per week 1987 First Bergen-Shetland annual yacht races visit Lerwick 1988 Harbour Trust acquires former oil supply base with Gremista Pier 1989 Shetland Catch opens pelagic fish factory at Lerwick 1990 First major dredging project to provide deepened channels at North Ness and north channel 1990 Harbour Trust moves into Albert Building 1991 Heogan Piers at Bressay added to Harbour's portfolio 1991 Shearers Quay developed 1993 Lerwick fishmarket extended and chilled 1994 "Klondyking" at Lerwick peaks with 692 factory vessel arrivals annually 1994 Heogan south jetty replaced 1995 Stewart Building completed on the waterfront 1995 Harbour Trust sells Shetland Hotel to concentrate on core business 1997-99 Quays at Greenhead rebuilt and deepended and landing berth built at Shetland Catch 1999 Lerwick Harbour Trust becomes Lerwick Port Authority
Host Port for The Cutty Sark Tall Ships Races
- 21st Century
2002 Ferry terminal replaced to suit new generation of passenger ferries 2003 Freight ferry marshalling area improved and new building provided 2003 Seasonal pontoons installed for visiting yachts at Victoria Pier 2003 Port Authority's Operations Centre built at Holmsgarth 2003 Port Authority's constitution modernised and executive members join the board 2006 New Pilot Vessel Knab delivered to replace 26-year-old predecessor 2007 First 1000Mile annual double-handed yacht race visits Lerwick 2007 Largest structure yet delivered by offshore industry to Lerwick for decommissioning 2008 Dredging and reclamation project largest capital project yet at the port 2009 Extension to fish market opened 2009 1000th cruise ship calls at Lerwick 2009 Harbour House rebuilt and new public toilets open 2009 First cruise call over 100,000 GT calls at Lerwick 2010 Announcement of intention to develop a new deep water decommissioning base at Dales Voe 2010 Introduction of new welcome ashore pavilion for cruise passengers 2010 Upgrade of berthing dolphin structure at Holmsgarth completed 2010 Harbour Revision Order granted for next phase of capital projects 2010 Contract award to create new Berth 7 at Greenhead Base and deepening of Berths 5 & 6 2011 Host Port and major sponsor of The Tall Ships Races 2011 2012 Greenhead Berth 6 completed 2012 Contract award to create new quays at Mair’s Yard and Greenhead Base (Berth 8) 2013 Mair's Quay completed 2013 Greenhead Berth 7 completed 2013 Three accommodation barges in port for Shetland Gas Plant 2013 Subsea contractor Technip based at Lerwick 2014 50th anniversary of oil and gas at Lerwick. 2014 Largest ship alongside – ‘Xiang Yun Kou’ a float-on/float-off heavy transport vessel. 2014 Contract awarded for £16.5M Holmsgarth North Jetty 2014 Six floating accommodation barges/vessels at Lerwick 2015 Contract awarded for £11.95M extension to Dales Voe Quay 2015 Contract awarded for new Vessel Monitoring System radars 2016 Record cruise ship arrivals at 79 2016 Dales Voe quay extension completed, strongest in UK 2016 Holmsgarth North jetty completed 2016 Vessel Monitoring system inaugurated and Port Control refurbished 2016
Albert Building office refurbishment, reception and main office moved to ground floor
First floor office refurbishment at Albert Building completed
Mair's Pier officially opened by Tavish Scott MSP
Mariner Field development supported from Lerwick
Buchan Alpha floating production unit delivered for decommissioning
Contract awarded to Tulloch Developments Ltd for a replacement fishmarket at Mair’s Quay
UK Government identify Lerwick as optimal location for Ultra-Deep Water Quay
Calum Grains appointed as Chief Executive and Alexander Simpson as Harbourmaster
First port in Scotland to receive ISO 45001 accreditation
New constitutional Harbour Revision Order granted modernising the appointments process for Board Members
Sandra Laurenson honoured with an OBE for services to the UK Ports’ industry
First decommissioning project from the southern North Sea received for dismantling
Covid-19 pandemic impacts result in reduced activity levels across all industries.
Land reclaimed for pelagic tenant interests at Arlanda
Replacement fishmarket opened at Mair’s Quay
New licensed quayside decommissioning pad completed at Dales Voe
World’s largest construction vessel arrived into Dales Voe to deliver Ninian Northern topside, the ports largest decommissioning project to date