On the 27th January 1826, thirty gentlemen, interested in the prosperity of the County of Orkney, held a meeting in Kirkwall.
Mr. Samuel Laing of Papdale stated that the object of calling the meeting was to establish a society for promoting improvements in husbandry and other branches of industry in the county and that this society be called The Orkney Club.
Mr. Laing was elected president and Mr. James Baikie of Tankerness and Mr. William Traill of Woodwick were elected vice presidents. Mr. Charles Shirreff was elected secretary and treasurer. A library committee and billiard committee were also established.
For some time prior to 1892, the Orkney Club members met in a room in the St. Ola Hotel which was (and is) situated on the Kirkwall harbour front. The hotel was owned by Mrs Mary Geddes, whose late husband had been a chemist in the town. The hotel had a bar and billiard room. Bar business was so good that she did not need to run the premises as a hotel and in 1892 decided to have the present Orkney Club building erected (just two doors away from the hotel) for the use of the members and for her own residence.
Mrs Geddes sold the hotel to a publican "fae sooth" who was under the impression he was purchasing a good going business. He felt cheated when the Orkney Club members moved with Mrs Geddes to their new club house and refused to pay her the balance of the price of the St Ola Hotel. The resulting dispute was settled out of court when she accepted a final payment of £230.
Records show that the Orkney Club paid Mrs Geddes £12pa for rent and £38pa for gas, coal and cleaning. The building at that time consisted of a reading room, billiard room, toilet and caretaker's accomodation. In 1910 the Orkney Club members bought the premises from Mrs Geddes.
1992 - Some club members celebrate 100 years in the club building
By this time the club was more of a social meeting place for members than a society for local industries. Members, all male, met for tea, lunches and to play bridge, snooker or billiards. The reading room sported a wide selection of magazines purchased by the club and books were borrowed from an Edinburgh library. No females, other than staff, were permitted on the premises.
In the 1920s, electricity was installed (for the princely sum of £34) and a drinks licence obtained. A small bar was created from which drinks were served in the reading room. This latter development did much to improve the club's finances which were flagging at the time.
The club then remained largely unchanged until well after World War 2. Electric heating was installed in the 60's and in the late 70's the now unused caretaker's quarters were converted into a lounge bar. Further refurbishment work was completed in the 1980s which included the construction of an extension to house new toilets, a kitchen and a games room for pool, darts and functions.
By this time members were allowed to invite female guests into the club although they were not permitted into the reading room or billiards room. Finally, after a surprisingly heated debate at a specially convened EGM in January 1994, a motion was passed permitting female members.
The Orkney Club is presently facing up to the challenges of the 21st century. Modern home entertainment (such as multi-channel TV and the internet), the smoking ban imposed in 2006, the low cost of drink in supermarkets and a general change in lifestyle for many people have seen the club having to work hard to remain in profit. This it does by hosting functions (sometimes for outside bodies), organising darts, pool and snooker competitions and social events such as quizzes, food nights, video horse racing, live music nights and more.
The Orkney Club remains a vibrant institution. It has an active management committee with a membership of around 250 men and women and aims to continue serving its members and guests well beyond its 200th birthday in 2026.