Town Hall History

Stained Glass Windows

Marriage window july 2021 sml
The Marriage Window. Credit: SIC

The foundation stone for the Town Hall was laid in January 1882 and the building was formally opened in July 1883 but there there was no provision in the contract for stained glass in the hall windows, or any other decoration.

A “decorations committee” was formed, including local merchant Arthur Laurenson, who was a keen student of Shetland history and the Norse sagas.  He raised money from a number of prominent citizens to commission the exceptional stained glass windows, depicting Shetland's history from around 870 to 1469, when Shetland was given to Scotland as part of the dowry for Princess Margaret of Norway in her marriage to King James III of Scotland. 

The stained glass windows in the main hall were produced by Edinburgh-based manufacturer Ballantine and Son, and by Cox & Son, Buckley and Co, based in London.   The result of their skilled labours has produced windows that are considered to be among the best examples of secular stained glass in the UK and comparable with great civic buildings in cities elsewhere. 

The windows in the Main hall are as follows: 


The left-hand figure represents King Harald Harfagri, conqueror of Shetland in about 870; on the right is Rognvald, Jarl of Möre, to whom Harald offered the first Earldom. Rognvald waived the offer in favour of this brother Sigurd. The shield above represents the royal arms of Norway; below the figures are scenes depicting the landing of Harald in Shetland, and the investiture of Earl Sigurd.


The left hand figure represents Eystein, the third Bishop of Trondheim and ecclesiastical superior of the left-hand figure - William the Old, first Bishop of the Islands. William died in 1168. The shield above represents the arms of the Metropolitan See of Trondheim; below are scenes depicting the coronation of King Magnus Erlingsson of Norway in 1162, and the founding of St. Magnus Cathedral, during William’s bishopric.


The left-hand figure represents Olaf Tryggvisson, King of Norway who in 995 brought Christianity to Orkney and Shetland. The right-hand figure represents Thyra, a Swedish princess and the last of Olaf’s many wives.


The left-hand figure represents Magnus, a devout Christian and joint Jarl of Orkney and Shetland from 1103 to 1115 with his cousin Hakon. A quarrel led to the death of Magnus at the instigation of Hakon; in due time he was canonised, and later the cathedral of St. Magnus in Kirkwall was founded in his memory. The right-hand figure represents Harald Hardrada, King of Norway from 1046 to 1066, when he was killed during the battle of Stamford Bridge against King Harold of England, only three days before the Battle of Hastings.


The central light of this window represents Margaret, the ‘Maid of Norway’. She was born in1283, daughter of Erik King of Norway and his Queen, Margaret daughter of Alexander III King of Scotland. Betrothed to Prince Edward, heir to the throne of England, she died at sea on the way to Scotland to succeed to the Scottish Crown in 1290. Had she lived, the crowns of Scotland and England might have united in the 14th century.

The figure in the left-hand oriel sidelight represents Olaf the Saint, King of Norway from 1015 to 1030. His subjects revolted in protest against his severity, and he died fighting at the battle of Sticklestad in 1030. The figure in the right-hand sidelight represents Rognvald Brusisson who as a young man saved the life of King Olaf’s son Harald Hardrada. He became joint Earl of Orkney in 1035 with his uncle Thorfinn - a volatile arrangement, for disputes with Thorfinn eventually cost Rognvald his life.


The left-hand figure represents Hakon Hakonson the Old, King of Norway from 1227 to 1263. In that year he sailed west to revenge Scottish attacks on the Western Isles, but was repelled by the Scots at the battle of Largs, retreated to Orkney, and died there. The right-hand figure represents Rognvald, Earl of Orkney and Shetland from 1136 to 1158; known as Rognvald the Crusader after a vivit to Palestine, he was nephew of St. Magnus, and founder of the Cathedral in Kirkwall.


‘The Marriage Window’, as this is popularly known, contains figures representing Princess Margaret of Norway and her husband King James III of Scotland. Margaret was daughter of King Christian I of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Christian could not raise the money for his daughter’s dowry, and so his royal estates in Orkney and Shetland, together with the somewhat loose sovereignty over the islands in those days, were pledged to James instead. The money to redeem the pledge was not forthcoming, and the islands have remained part of Scotland ever since.


The Rose Window has as its centrepiece the Arms of the Burgh of Lerwick. Twelve concentric circles and two in the lower corners containin the arms of representative districts and cities of the Scandinavian Kingdoms. Clockwise from the top are the arms of Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, and Oldenburg; the civic arms of Oslo and Nidaros; the arms of Norway; the civic arms of Bergen and Tonsberg; the arms of Sleswig, Wendland, and Gothland. The left corner contains the Galley of Caithness, and the right corner the Galley of Orkney. The four lancet windows below bear the arms of the Shetland families of Cameron of Garth, Bruce of Sumburgh, Leask of Sand and Edmonston of Buness.