10.3.2 Buildings

Captain Burt, a government rent collector associated with General Wade, gave a vivid description of pre-improvement Highland dwellings in the early 1700s, both in Inverness and rural settings, providing a number of illustrations as well (Burt 1754). Surviving buildings or parts of buildings from the early post-medieval period are dominated by examples of elite houses, with few other structures surviving from this period.

It is fortunate that in the Highlands a large number of later buildings survive in various states of preservation. Studies of Highland buildings are found in a number of sources including gazetteers and surveys (Stell 1986; Gifford 1992, Beaton 1992; 1994; 1995; 1996; Miers 2008) and publications focussing on specific types of buildings such as farms (Glendinning and Wade Martins 2009), churches (Chapter 10.6), doocots (Beaton 2008) or structures with industrial functions (Chapter 10.5; Hume 1977; Watson and Bruce 2018). The Highland Buildings Historic Trust has been active in recording and repairing a number of key buildings, rural and urban. The Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group provides a context within which to place the Highland material .

The Caithness Redundant Buildings inventory (Wright 2008) is wide ranging and a model for other areas, assessing issues of merit. It noted that the vernacular heritage in Caithness is unique and a diminishing resource that is currently at risk. Some of the building types are unique to the area. The report made 50 detailed recommendations on ways to publicise and promote this heritage. It highlighted the fact that the current legal protections by listing often miss key buildings.

Crofthouse at Nethertown, Stroma (c) Andrew PK Wright (2008: 66)

Building materials were varied, including stone and turf, with the latter being far more difficult to discern in surviving evidence (Noble 2003). The experimental work at the Highland Folk Museum has provided valuable insights into the use of turf including the time needed to cut, collect and repair this material (Noble 1983). Documentary sources can also shed light on turf use, for example by showing its use in Nairn-shire into the 1800s (Oram 2011b, 9; Davidson et al 2016). While commonly viewed as a cheap and available building material, work by David Taylor (2019) has shown that even turf was not an inexhaustible source.

Horizontal picture of two long, rectangular houses made of turf and thatched roofs. The structure in the foreground has green, grass and turf covered walls, a small, open wooden door and a brown, curved roof of thatch, which covers two thirds of the walls, and slopes down to the ground at the ends. Towards the west side of the building, the roof changes to a dark brown/black peat, with turf on top, and exposed stone walling. The two buildings are separated by a small stone wall, with a wooden gate. The second building is out of focus, but resembles the first building, with the dark peat roofing covering the whole house.
Thatched houses at the Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore. ©Susan Kruse

Many buildings were constructed using timber crucks (Dixon 2019), with some examples still surviving. Many ruinous stone buildings retain evidence of the slots. Further attention should also be paid to the life span of buildings, and the differing replacement needs of structural elements. Ideally such work should be combined with documentary and environmental analysis showing availability of different species of wood and other organic building materials. In areas without much timber, other materials were needed; at Brotchie’s Steading in Caithness rare whalebone crucks survived (MHG46260; Holden et al 2008; Case Study Brotchie’s Steading).

Black and white photograph of a drystone and cruck roofed building. The building is rectilinear, constructed with neatly arranged, square and rounded stones. The top of the wall is uneven and has been effected by erosion and exposure. The roof supports can be seen as four sets of posts, which each meet in the centre at a point. On the far side, a partial roof of thatch can be seen, which has also been heavily degraded.
The ‘cruck’ frame construction of a roof at Cuaig, Applecross, Ross-shire, 1971. ©National Museums Scotland

More research is required to document the size and shape of cruck couples to support the roof, the sources of sawmilled timber, the move from earth or clay mortar to lime mortar and the introduction of new materials such as tar and canvas, corrugated iron, and concrete. There are detailed questions around, for instance, the availability of machine-made windows and doors which could be shipped from the west of Scotland.

The potential for dendrochronology is starting to prove itself, as analysis is providing not only detailed dating for felling, but also information on whether timber was local or imported. Many samples have been taken and stored and are awaiting further technical advances to allow for the dating of samples with fewer rings. Such sampling should take place as a matter of course when old buildings are renovated or excavated.

Eaderloch CrannogLpine13441549 terminus post quem 1550Native timberMHG4296; Mills et al 2017
Castle GrantB&Spine13931512 tpq 1512Native timberMHG15426; Mills et al 2017
Foulis CastleERpine16101690 tpq 1690Native timberMHG8948; Mills et al 2017
Wardlaw MausoleumERpine15921721 tpq 1721Native timber; crypt hatch boardsMHG39898; Mills et al 2017
Killiehuntley Farm CottageB&Spine16291730 felled 1730Native timber; cruckMHG18202; Mills et al 2017
Off Galmisdale Bay, EiggEiggoak15571744Shipwrecked boat; American timberMHG30701; Crone 2016
Storehouse of FoulisERpine16731747 felled 1747Native timberMHG8949; Mills et al 2017
The Doune, RothiemurchasB&Spine14791745 tpq 1750Scandinavian timberMHG15393; Mills et al 2017
Fort GeorgeIpine14921744; 1350-1764Imported timber (Belarus and Karelia)MHG15618; Mills 2008
Unprovenanced (in Highland Folk Museum) pine15581771 felled 1771Native timber;Mills et al 2017
Badden Cottage, KincraigB&Spine17041801 felled 1771, 1801Native timber; cruckMHG4425; Mills et al 2017
Morilemor Farm, TomatinIpine16441779 felled 1779Native timber; cruckMHG16115; Mills et al 2017
AultvaichERpine16621778  felled c. 1800Native timber; cruckMHG21643; Mills et al 2017
Belladrum SteadingIpine17421838 tpq 1838Native timberMHG15457; Mills et al 2017
Killiehuntley Farmhouse pine17811846 tpq 1846Native timberMHG58341; Mills et al 2017
MacRobert House, KingussieB&Spine17241848 felled 1849Native timberMHG15387; Mills et al 2017
96 [92] High St, Grantown-on-SpeyB&Spine17751852 tpq 1852Native timberMHG24793; Mills et al 2017
Table 10.2  Post-medieval timbers dated by dendrochronology in the Highlands

Roofing materials varied. Many buildings were thatched, but it is clear there were variations in materials and styles (Noble 2003, 49). Slates were used for more affluent buildings, and flagstones were used in Caithness where the material was readily available. The use and abandonment of pantiles needs further research, with few surviving buildings in the Highlands still having pantile roofs. Rural Buildings Elite and Modern Housing Public Buildings

Leave a Reply