Gow’s Folly

Gow's Folly

Gow’s Folly

Gow’s Folly was once cursed by generations of wagoners and hauliers, an odd looking little building with the stone spire in the middle of a busy goods yard. Nobody knew or cared about its origins and it was threatened with demolition on several occasions. Thanks to the Kirkwell Community Council this odd looking building has been saved and in 2005 was moved to Tankerness House Museum Gardens, Broad Street, Kirkwall, Orkney.

Gow’s Folly was built nearly 300 years ago by a wealthy merchant to celebrate the capture and hanging of the notorious Pirate Gow who had terrorised merchant shipping and led the British Navy a merry dance, only to be betrayed on home ground by his close friend.

Gow had changed his name to Mr Smith and the Ship’s name changed to The George. He and his crew eluded the authorities for many years,  but eventually with a price on their heads, it was only a matter of time before some of the crew decided to cut their losses and turn Gow in to the authorities in the hope of earning some leniency for themselves.

Gow’s luck run out. Heading up through Orkney’s North Isles, he’d overestimated his old friendship with James Fea on Eday and underestimated the tides and currents. When he ran aground on the Calf of Eday, Fea made a citizen’s arrest and arranged for a man-of-war to collect the pirates and drop off the reward money. Gow’s request to his one-time friend to at least do him the courtesy of shooting him dead wasn’t complied with. It took two attempts to hang John Gow.

For handing over the infamous pirate John Gow, James Fea received 800 guineas and a third of the Revenge and its cargo. He gave the ship’s ballast to his friend James Traill to build a folly in his townhouse garden, to show off that this was all that remained of the notorious pirate ship.

Gows Folly or the Groattie House (from the Groattie Buckie shells that decorate the roof) is reputedly built from the volcanic ballast stones from Pirate Gow’s ship – The Revenge.

Read more about John Gow here >


About Amanda Moffet

I run www.scotclans.com with Rodger Moffet. Live in Edinburgh and love travelling around Scotland gathering stories.

View all posts by Amanda Moffet →

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2 thoughts on “Gow’s Folly

  1. Deanna Norma Reti

    My Name is Deanna Norma Reti from Wellington NZ and My late Grandad was Phillip Henry Gow His daughters were Deenlee How and Juney Gow.Deenlee was my Late Mother and Juney Was my Late Aunty. I hope to Hear from someone who is Related please


    Hi , I’ve traced my family tree back to Scotland and the two Menzies that were forced to work on GOW’S ship after over running the –SARAH OF GLAGOW’ , I’m trying to find more information on these two – Hugh and John Menzies, our tree goes back to the Menzies Castle.
    Thank you —Ray DAWE


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