The Lairds of Skaill
Bishop Graham was a genial man and was married to the niece of the Admirable Crichton and had a large family of 9 children.
He was generous to the poor and accused of being too lenient to witches and lax on adultery and incest. These charges led to him being forced to resign his position in 1638 though he was able to retain his property. His family were able to retain the benefits of his interest in architecture: besides his official residence in the gracious Earl’s palace in Kirkwall, he had enlarged the properties Graemeshall, Breckness and Skaill. From his bishopric property and holdings of small farms in Sandwick and Stromness, he built an extensive estate in the name of his youngest son, John. Bishop Graham died in 1643, aged 78, and his son, John, became the 1st Laird of Skaill House (Breckness Estate). The estate has since been passed down through 12 generations of the same family, each Laird with their own interesting story and part to play in the history of the House.
The 7th Laird was William Graham Watt who served as Laird for 56 years. William Watt discovered Skara Brae after a storm in 1850 and excavated 4 houses in the Neolithic village. He was said to be a generous landlord and entertained liberally. Notably his guests included Lady Jane Franklin, wife of Sir John Franklin who had sailed from Stromness in 1845 on his fatal voyage to discover the North West Passage.
Colonel Henry William Scarth, the 11th Laird, was the last Laird to live in the house. Colonel Scarth lived at Skaill House with his family, and served with the Scots Guards in the First World War, supporting the White Russians. He was latterly Convenor of the Orkney County Council and Lord Lieutenant.
After the death of Colonel Scarth’s second wife, the estate passed to the present owner, Major Malcolm Macrae, the 12th Laird of Breckness. Major Macrae served with the Queens Own Highlanders before returning to Orkney to run the family farm. He inherited the house in 1991 and after 6 years of work the house was restored and opened to the public in June 1997.