Stromness Shopping Week is one of the longest established and most important events on Orkney's Social Calendar. The annual summer gala runs for a full week and includes a range of celbrations, activities, events, ceremonies, and parades. The Orcadian poet and novelist George Mackay Brown described Shopping Week as "our midsummer carnival".
The first Shopping Week in Stromness was held from July 18 to 23, 1949, as a gala designed to to bring summer trade to the local shops in Stromness, during a time of declining local business (hence the name "Shopping Week"). It was organised in just three weeks by the newly-founded Stromness and West Mainland Chamber of Commerce to attract shoppers to the burgh, and to celebrate the end of post-war austerity. The credit for the idea was given to Mr W.C. Howard who was said by The Orcadian newspaper to be the
"inspiration" behind the suggestion which was
"met with warm support."
That first year, there was no Shopping Week Queen, and the Provost, George Robertson, opened the event in front of a
"Welcome to Stromness" banner across Victoria Street. Nevertheless, 4,000 people turned out for the closing fancy-dress procession, led by Kirkwall City Pipe Band, with 900 flags bedecking the streets. Mr W. Towers, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, is reported to have said afterwards that members looked forward to holding
"an annual event somewhat similar to this."...
Today, the event is organised by the Shopping Week Committee of Stromness. The streets of Stromness are closed to traffic from as early as 9:00am to as late as midnight for each day of the gala.
On the Monday, the Shopping Week Queen is crowned at the grand Opening Ceremony by the previous incumbent. She is chosen for the week from local girls who are 18 years old that year. The Queen presides over all the events of the gala, including the Opening Ceremony, where she will release a flock of pigeons to indicate the start of the celebrations. She also acts as judge for all competitions. The Queen is escorted by an entourage of Page Boys, a Flowergirl, a Chauffeur, Attendants, and a Chaperone, as well as a Guard of Honour drawn from the visiting Pipe Band and local organisations. Later that Monday, the Shopping Week Queen might typically tour the harbour in a lifeboat, or ride through the streets of Stromness in a horse-drawn carriage.
In previous years, Shopping Week has seen RAF flybys, bungee jumping, a daft-raft race, sea rescue demonstrations, and round the town races. Regular associated events include sea-angling competitions and sailing regattas. Typical Shopping Week activities might include:
- A 10-foot tall Scottish giant,
- Pipe bands,
- Sports contests,
- Running and swimming races,
- Fancy-dress beer races,
- Three-legged races,
- Doughnut-eating competitions,
- A scavenger hunt,
- Children's parties and races,
- A Conjurer,
- History walks,
- Nostalgic museum exhibitions,
- Live music,
- A Ceilidh,
- Pavement art,
- Craft exhibitions,
- Flower shows,
- Pet shows,
- The Ladies Lifeboat Guild Teas.
The emphasis of the celebration is on family fun, with lots of sporting and novelty competitions, music, side-shows, children's entertainment, face-painting and fancy-dress. The week is brought to a close with a parade of themed fancy-dress floats and an open-air dance and firework celebration at Stromness pier.
May I advise anyone who happens to be in Orkney for Shopping Week to attend for at least one day; it really is tremendous fun!