Elite and Modern Housing

In the late medieval to early post-medieval period, tower house castles were the main elite structure (see Chapter 9.3.4; Oram forthcoming c; forthcoming d). A number survive in the Highlands (Meldrum 1975; Stell 1986; Gifford 1992, 48ff; Alston 1999, 148ff). Current architectural and archaeological work at Fairburn, Easter Ross (MHG7784), because the castle is being renovated into holiday accommodation, shows the complexity of many of these buildings, and the work will also focus on the areas around the tower (Tom Addyman pers comm). Many tower houses show evidence of reworking and adaptation of medieval structures. See for example Castle Sinclair Girnigoe, Caithness (MHG417; Case Study Castle Sinclair Girnigoe).

Aerial view of Freswick Castle, Caithness, a 17th century tower house with 18th century additions. ©HES

Tower-house castles give way to mansion houses in the 17th and 18th centuries with many fine examples throughout the Highlands (McKean 2001; MacKechnie 2015). Elite castles of the 19th century harked back to mock medieval castles (Scottish Baronial architecture), with again numerous examples in the region (Gifford 1992, 50ff). Prolific 19th century architects working in the Highlands include Alexander Ross and Andrew Maitland (http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk). In the 19th century the Highlands also saw new construction of hunting and fishing lodges, as the region became a playground of the rich (Wightman et al 2002; Miers 2017).

Estates included more than the elite dwelling and often had extensive gardens (Brown 2012); in the Highlands, HES has designated 49 Garden and Design Landscapes dating to this period. Estates also had stables, gatehouses, kennels, laundries and estate cottages, and there is scope for more detailed investigation of these structures in Highland estates. Most large estates had icehouses for refrigeration, sometimes requiring damming of water courses or the building of ponds.

Maudlin (2009) has focused on the introduction of ‘improved’ houses in the 18th and early 19th centuries; became the standard format for farmhouses, cottages and planned villages and were a key element in the Improvement movement. Built as a symbol of modernity, they provide a link between the more elitist classical house and the era of Victorian prosperity. There is, however, much scope for uncovering the chronology and geography of the ‘improved’ Highland house.

Less attention has been paid to urban and village buildings. Abertarff House, the oldest house in Inverness, was built in 1593 as the town house of the Lovat Frasers (MHG3851; Gifford 1992, 201). Later villas were built in all towns by the more affluent, with good examples in Inverness, Nairn and Strathpeffer (Gifford 1992, 71). Other remains of early housing in villages includes Townlands Barn, Cromarty (MHG8807), originally a 17th century laird’s house, and the subject of a feasibility study by the Highland Historic Buildings Trust. The Trust has also investigated buildings in other Highland villages.

Abertarff House, Inverness. ©Martin Briscoe

Council housing was built in many settlements from the 1930s. Also of interest is the housing erected by the Forestry Commission, such as at Contin, along with those constructed by the Hydro-electric board, aluminium companies or any wartime housing, all little studied. There are also survivals of housing without electricity or water, though they are often not recognised or legally protected.

Admiralty Cottages, Invergordon.


Case Study: Castle Sinclair Girnigoe

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