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Excavations of a German trading site at Gunnister Voe, Shetland


The site of Hagrie's Böd lies in the middle distance behind the ruins of the crofting settlement of Setter of Enisferth.
From the early sixteenth century, perhaps even from the second decade of the fifteenth century, ships from north Germany made there way across the north Atlantic to Shetland. The main item of trade for the Hanseatic traders was dried fish which was obtained at the trading places in Norway, Iceland, Faroes as well as the Northern Isles of Scotland and brought back to the northern German ports. The character of this trade has yet to be investigated in detail. Although the bare historical outlines of commerce are known, the details of the interaction between the merchants from northern Germany who spent three, four or five months trading fish with the people of the Northern Isles still remain obscure.


Hagrie's Böd lies on a rocky promontory projecting into the sheltered waters of Gunnister Voe.
The small trading site at Gunnister Voe in Shetland is one of the better documented trading sites. The right to trade at Gunnister Voe was granted to Simon Hagarskale of Hamburg in 1582, but revoked in 1603 because it was said that he had not always come there. This is evidently Simon Harriestede mentioned in Hamburg records as sailing to Shetland until 1625.
The trading site can be identified with the place known as Hagrie’s Böd in Gunnister Voe, a rocky promontory projecting into the voe. Immediately behind the promontory is beach with an enclosure which would have been suitable for landing boats bringing dried fish to exchange. The Hamburg ship would have been anchored out in the voe in deeper water.


Natascha Mehler planning the remains of the walls of Hagrie's Böd
Excavations by Queen’s University and Römisch-Germanische Kommission in September 2008 examined the site and revealed the surviving two walls of the böd or booth. However, deposits below the floor level contained pottery of the 18th or 19th century, suggesting the site had continued in use or, more probably, had been reoccupied when the adjoining crofts at the Setter of Enisferth were established. The building is shown as abandoned on 1881 Ordnance Survey plan, though the remains were evidently clear enough for the surveyors to map them.

The excavation is part of an on-going study of Hanseatic trade in Shetland by Mark Gardiner  and Natascha Mehler with Nigel Melton.