The small promontory at the north end of Tingwall Loch, called Tingaholm, was the site of Shetland’s local parliament until the late 16th century. Things, from the Old Norse þing are the early assemblies found throughout Northern Europe as a result of our shared Norse heritage and many can still be identified by their thing, ting, ding or fing place names.
Shetland’s lawthing was an assembly where local people and officials tried offenders, interpreted the law, and enacted new legislation. Many other thing sites throughout Britain and Scandinavia occur wherever Norsemen settled and brought their laws. Although there are documents relating to meetings in Tingwall from 1307 onwards, the only reference to the thing meeting on the holm comes from a letter dated 1532. Officials are thought to have sat around a rough stone table on the holm, while delegates gathered on the slope below the church. During poor weather the thing probably met inside the church.
Tingaholm was once an islet entirely surrounded by water and accessed by a stone causeway. In the 1850s the water levels in the loch were lowered, and the holm evolved into its present form. By 1774 the stone seats had been ripped up in order to make space for grazing, but the remains of the causeway can still be seen today.
In the 1570s Earl Robert Stewart moved the thing to Scalloway, although the site was used once more in 1577 when over 700 Shetlanders came to make complaints against the local Foud, Lawrence Bruce, to royal commissioners from Edinburgh.
We are currently learning more about Tingaholm and local thing sites through participation in the THING Project - a three year transnational project funded by the Northern Periphery Program involving partners in Norway, Iceland, Faroe, Highland Scotland, Orkney, Shetland and the Isle of Man. The Northern Periphery Program aims to help peripheral and remote communities on the northern margins of Europe to develop their economic, social and environmental potential. The project has established a network to explore and promote the shared links between the Northern European Thing sites and develop sustainable business and tourism opportunities in each of the partner regions.
Find out more about the archaeology at Tingaholm (also called Lawting Holm) at:
The Assembly Project excavation report (http://www.khm.uio.no/prosjekter/assembly_project/pdf/Tingwall%20DSR%20small.pdf)