In 1882-4, Frances Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland described Bressay like this:
Bressay, an island, a sound, and a parish in the W of Shetland. The island lies along the E side of the sound, between Noss island and the Shetland mainland; is, in its central part, exactly opposite Lerwick; has a post office under Lerwick; and measures nearly 6 miles in length from N to S, and from 1 to 3 miles in breadth. Its coast is rocky, and its surface indented, tumulated, and otherwise diversified. Ander Hill on its E side, and Beacon Hill near its southern extremity, are its highest grounds-the former a ridge of at least 400 feet in altitude, the latter a somewhat conical summit of 724 feet. ...
Some caverns perforate its coast; and one of them admits a boat for a considerable distance, but has never been thoroughly explored. Several natural arches also are in the southern part of the coast, and can be traversed by boats in favourable weather; one of them is called the Giant's Leg. Old Red sandstone is the prevailing rock; and, in the form of flag and roofing stone, is quarried for exportation. An ancient standing stone is in the interior, and serves as a landmark to ships approaching the sound. There likewise are remains of several ancient chapels. On 23 Aug. 1879 the ill-fated Atalanta training-ship stranded on Bressay island, but was got off the morning following. The sound is coextensive in length with the island; has a medium width of fully a mile; affords, in most parts, excellent anchorage; serves, in its west centre, as the harbour of Lerwick; is so screened, from part to part, by little headlands and by windings of the coast on either side, as to enjoy ample shelter; possesses the advantage of being easily accessible at both ends; and has a lighthouse erected in 1858 at a cost of £5163, and showing every minute a red and white revolving light, visible at the distance of 15 nautical miles. A sunken rock, called the Unicorn, lies on the outside of its N entrance. The ancient parish of Bressay comprised the islands of Bressay and Noss; and the present parish comprehends also the ancient parishes of Burra and Quarff. The several portions of it, beyond Bressay island, are noticed in our articles on Noss, Burra, House, Hevera, Papa, and Quarff. There are six principal proprietors. In the presbytery of Lerwick and synod of Shetland, Bressay is divided ecclesiastically into a parish of its own name (living, £187) and the parliamentary parish of Quarff. Bressay church (370 sittings) was built in 1815, and that of Quarff (320 sittings) in 1829. There are also a U.P. and a Baptist church on Burra; whilst Bressay and Quarff public schools and Burra Society school, with respective accommodation for 120,25, and 67 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 114,28, and 62, and grants of £33,19s. 7d., £9,7s. 3d., and £47,16s. Pop- (1801) 1330, (1831) 1699, (1871) 1854, (1881) 1768, of whom 850 belongs to Bressay q. s. parish.
A Vision of Britain through Time includes a large library of local statistics for administrative units. For the best overall sense of how the area containing Bressay has changed, please see our redistricted information for the modern district of Shetland Islands. More detailed statistical data are available under Units and statistics, which includes both administrative units covering Bressay and units named after it.
GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Bressay in Shetland Islands | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time.
Date accessed: 27th May 2016
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