10.3 Settlement

The post-medieval period is one where archaeologists can gain a much better idea of the structure of society and how that might be reflected in the settlement record, which ranges from the castles and mansions with their policies and designed landscapes to the humblest abode of the mailer or cottar. There is an opportunity here to assess how people got by at the lowest position on the social scale and to discover the buildings they lived in.

Although the Highlands contains a wealth of surviving post-medieval rural settlement, interest in this resource has been relatively recent, and the study of elite settlement had previously dominated the discussion of post-medieval archaeology from the 1960s. Apart from the work of Fairhurst and a few others, it was only in the early 1990s that there was a resurgence of interest in what came to be known as Medieval or Later Rural Settlement in Scotland (MoLRS). A statement of current research which usefully covers not just Highland case studies but also studies from elsewhere in Scotland, England and Wales is provided by Atkinson et al (2000). The Conference Proceedings Medieval or Later Rural Settlement in Scotland: 10 years on (Govan 2003) provided a key summary of work up to that time. MoLRS was renamed the Historic Rural Settlement Group (HRSG), and they produced a useful Research Framework for Historic Rural Settlement Studies in Scotland (Dalglish and Dixon 2008), which provided context for previous research, and recommendations for future research.

Since then, there have been three developments: a revival of academic interest, more developer-funded work and, most significant of all, the rise in community archaeology and survey which has seen many surveys undertaken and some excavation. These three developments are not entirely separate: there has been a fair amount of cross-over. 

Settlement evidence in the Highlands is diverse in this period, including isolated rural buildings and shielings, townships, burghs and villages, some planned and some with a more organic evolution, and a few urban centres as well as special focus communities such as the spa town at Strathpeffer. This regional variation is poorly reflected in much of the literature which tends to paint the region as a monoculture. There is much scope for investigating regional variations.

Three black and white photographic postcards of an old fashioned town. They are arranged in a vertical row of three. The top photo shows a village square, with a car parked in the middle of a wide road and large white and black buildings lining the pavement. The middle picture is a hotel building, with many gables and bay windows seen from the road. The bottom image shows a large hotel in the background, and in the forefront two small buildings, one with a glass, sawtooth roof and the other with one large gable over the doorway. Many people are seated on benches between the two smaller buildings.
Old postcards showing the spa town at Strathpeffer. Courtesy of Stewart Cameron.

10.3.1 Landscape and Settlement

10.3.2 Buildings

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