Brough Lodge: a remarkable site on the Shetland island of Fetlar Brough Lodge

About Brough Lodge

Archive photo of Brough Lodge Zoom Archive photo of Brough LodgeBrough Lodge in Fetlar was built in 1825 by Arthur Nicolson. The house was built on the site of an earlier "Haa" house, believed to be the section known as the workshop that forms part of the frontal façade, though nothing is really known about the earlier building. Brough Lodge was in the Nicolson family until fairly recently.

Arthur Nicolson who built Brough Lodge was a merchant in Lerwick. He acquired the lands in Fetlar in 1805 as part of a debt owed by Andrew Bruce of Urie who had died in 1803. Arthur Nicolson lived at the Haa of Urie, a little over a mile to the northeast of Brough Lodge, for a time before building commenced at Brough. Surprisingly for such an important building on a small island, there is practically no oral tradition about the building of Brough Lodge. This is unusual as local workmen were most likely employed.

What is known is that Arthur Nicolson travelled a lot throughout Europe during the early 1800s. It seems likely that he found his "blueprint" for Brough Lodge in the architecture he found in places like France, Switzerland, Italy and elsewhere, as well as borrowing various classical design elements. What is obvious is that Brough Lodge is really quite unique. Shetland has no other building like it.

In a letter dated August 4th 1818, W Scott Burn writing to Arthur Nicolson says, "I should much like to see this habitation of yours with its delightful prospect, and sunny beach. I have already formed several conjectures as to what it will be like, and am much puzzled to understand whether it is of Grecian, Indian, Chinese or Gothic architecture..." Arthur Nicolson was touring Europe at the time and the architectural design of Brough Lodge had yet to be finalised.

The building materials for Brough Lodge started to arrive in Fetlar around the end of 1818 when Arthur Nicolson had returned from his European tour. In a letter from William Hay, a merchant in Lerwick, to Arthur Nicolson dated November 30th 1818, he says: "The lead for your ridges arrived the very day you left town, and the present is the first opportunity I have of sending it north." The letter goes on to mention that he had included more lead ridging than was originally ordered as he did not know "the particular lengths of your Pavilion ends..." This refers to the chapel, built at the northern end of the frontal façade.

The Pavilion, or chapel, on a snowy day. Photo courtesy of Fetlar Museum Trust. Zoom The Pavilion, or chapel, on a snowy day. Photo courtesy of Fetlar Museum Trust.

After the last Lady Nicolson moved out of Brough Lodge in the 1970s, the house lay empty and started to deteriorate. In the late 1980s, Shetland Archives was given permission to remove any valuable documents from the house. They removed over a quarter of a ton of extremely valuable papers pertaining to the estate and to Shetland that dated back to the late 1500s.  Find out more about the history of Brough Lodge.

Front elevation with Chapel Zoom Front elevation with Chapel

In 1997 Brough Lodge Steering Group was formed, which was largely a sub-committee of Fetlar Museum Trust. The group then looked at the possibility of moving ownership from private hands into a Trust status. A Trust was subsequently formed out of this group. It was called Brough Lodge Trust. This Trust is currently in the process of finalising funding for a phased renovation process. The vision for the complex states that: "Brough Lodge, a category A-listed site, will be carefully restored and converted to serve as a mixed-use commercial venue."  Find out more about the Vision for Brough Lodge.


Brough Lodge is located in the northwestern part of the island of Fetlar. It stands a mile or so south from the inter-island ferry terminal. Driving from the terminal in through the island, it is the imposing tower, built on the site of an Iron Age broch, and one of the few follies to be found in Shetland, that first catches the eye. The complex that is Brough Lodge lies a short distance further to the southwest, facing towards the sea and the island of Yell beyond.  Find out more about Fetlar.

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