Statement of Special Interest
Old Burnside Cottages is a pre-Improvement farm dwelling that has been altered and continues to show its 17th or 18th century origins. It is of a type once prolific across the central region of Scotland but now extremely rare. It shows traditional building methods and the use of locally sourced materials. Features of particular interest include the thatched roof, the running levels and the organic plan form which responds to the natural features of the site. It is among a relatively small number of traditional buildings with a surviving thatched roof found across Scotland.
Forming part of a group of three surviving thatched buildings in the west end of Rait, the setting of Old Burnside Cottages is unusually well-retained. As one of the few remaining examples of a fermtoun (a grouping of various farm buildings which pre-dated the agricultural revolution of the 18th and early 19th centuries), the settlement pattern which survives at Rait is significant.
Age and Rarity
Rait, or Rett is first shown on Pont s map of the late 16th century but the area has been occupied since prehistoric times, with remains of an Iron Age hill fort surviving to the southeast of the village (SM7251). The local economy was based on farming and the cottage industry of weaving. The village developed on the boundary of two neighbouring estates divided by a burn, with Fingask to the north and Annat or Rait to the south (Melville, p.103).
Old Burnside Cottages is thought to date from the 17th or early 18th century and first appears on the Threipland Estate map of 1784, with a footprint similar to that of the current building. It is shown as part of the small settlement of Rait with a number of other long linear buildings straggling the line of the burn and dispersing towards the east.
A plan of Rait from 1807 shows that the present garden area to the south was divided up into rectilinear plots of small holdings or gardens. This is in contrast to the lang rigs that were common in planned settlements such as Abernethy.
Although there is some loss of individual buildings, Ordnance Survey Maps (published 1867, 1901 and around 1966) show that the overall layout, plan form and extent of the settlement, has not significantly altered since the latter-half of the 19th century. In particular the group of buildings at the west end of the settlement has remained remarkably intact.
The settlement pattern of Rait takes the form of a pre-agricultural improvement fermtoun, which is a communal farm settlement containing several tenant farmers dwellings and outbuildings. The buildings of a fermtoun were either arranged in a seemingly random cluster, or as at Rait, they took a linear form following a feature such as a burn or road (Walker 1981, p.202). As this type of agricultural settlement was normally altered beyond recognition during the agricultural improvements of the 18th and 19th centuries, Walker states that the survival of a fermtoun is very rare within Scotland (1981, p.203). Other surviving examples are Tullicro in Perth and Kinross and Auchendrain in Argyll and Bute. Auchendrain is now a museum.
Rait was one of a number of small settlements that dotted the original Perth to Dundee road, and followed the contour line along the western edge of the floodplain of the River Tay. This road was replaced in the 18th century by a turnpike road to the east, which later evolved into the current A90 trunk road (Rait Conservation Area Appraisal, p.2). This disconnection from an important road link partly serves to explain why the settlement pattern and individual traditional buildings have survived to such an unusual extent at Rait.
The use of thatch as a roofing material on traditional dwellings has a long tradition in Scotland. Thatched buildings are often single storey cottages or crofts and traditionally built, reflecting pre-industrial construction methods and materials. The survival of this building type into the 21st century is extremely rare. A Survey of Thatched Buildings in Scotland, published in 2016 by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), found that there were only around 200 buildings with thatched roofs in Scotland. Those that retain their traditional vernacular character, including plan forms and construction techniques, may be of special interest in listing terms.
The industrial and agricultural revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries transformed areas of the central, southern and eastern regions in a very short period of time. As a result relatively few thatch buildings survive here, with approximately 30 remaining within Perth and Kinross (SPAB, p.293-354). Improvements in transport during the 19th century, with the introduction of railways making the transport of materials to formerly rural areas cheaper and more accessible, had a significant impact on the use of thatch. In some places this led to the mixing of skills and styles between regions with thatchers serving wider and wider areas. By the end of the 19th century in central, southern and eastern Scotland the majority of buildings were no longer thatched. The tradition did endure in some towns and rural areas such as Rait, possibly due to the availability of skilled thatchers or a preference for the style.
Old Burnside Cottages is an example of farm or weaver s cottages, which have been restored and altered but it continues to show 18th and 19th century building methods and materials and retains its thatched roof. It has a number of features demonstrating its pre-Improvement origins, such as the fluid plan form, running levels, rounded northwest corner and projecting footings. The addition of dressed stone and brick chimneys and the insertion of casement and sash and case windows, are typical features of 19th century improvements.
A building type once prolific across central, southern and eastern Scotland, the survival of pre-Improvement era farm buildings is now extremely rare. The interest of Old Burnside Cottages is enhanced by the survival of other buildings of a similar period in Rait.
Architectural or Historic Interest
The interior was seen in 2017. The interiors of these traditional cottages were often simple. Many of them have been refurbished and historic features no longer survive.
The interior fabric and finishes at Old Burnside Cottages largely date from the late-20th century. Some earlier fabric may remain behind more recent insertions, such as the deep central wall that separates the eastern and western halves, but this has not been seen.
Old Burnside Cottages has a long and thin rectangular-plan which is skewed at the west end to follow the line of the road and burn. The long narrow footprint is a typical plan form of traditional farmstead buildings, as the expense of suitable timbers for the roof, restricted the depth that could be spanned. Walker states that the organic plan form of Old Burnside Cottages, which responds and bends to the line of the surrounding natural features, is a typical characteristic of pre-Improvement vernacular buildings (1981, p.202). The cottage is orientated with the principal elevation facing south, in order to take full advantage of the natural light, while the back fronts onto the burn. The survival of this irregular footprint is of interest.
The footprint of the building has remained largely unchanged, apart from the removal of small timber and corrugated metal abutments to the gables. The Ordnance Survey maps (published 1901 and around 1966) show that during the early or mid 20th century, a small piended and thatched extension was added to the rear of the cottage. This was removed during the 1970s work.
Internally the layout has been altered with the removal and slapping through of internal gable walls, and by the insertion of stud partitions. However, this has not significantly impacted upon the overall character of the building. The change in floor levels between the eastern and western parts of the building are retained. This may indicate that the eastern part once functioned as a byre, as the alignment with the downslope would have helped with drainage.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
Old Burnside Cottages has largely been constructed and repaired using traditional materials and methods which are characteristic of traditional farmstead settlements in the central region of Scotland. The interest of these vernacular buildings is discussed in the Regional Variations section below.
Distinctive vernacular features include the reeded thatch roof, the small window openings and the use of rubble stone from the nearby area in the construction of the walls. The simple local nature of such a building meant that it could be altered to suit changes in building methods, the availability of materials and the needs of the tenants. This is reflected in the series of alterations which have been carried out over the centuries.
The thickness of the walls and the running levels of the wall heads and roof at Old Burnside Cottages are typical features of traditional farmstead buildings throughout Scotland. The height of the wall heads were established by using a perpendicular staff, which means that the eaves and roof rise and fall with the natural undulations and features of the land (Walker 1981, p.202). Old Burnside Cottages follows the gentle eastward slope of the site, which would have provided natural drainage and suggests that the eastern half of the building may have originally used as a byre. Due to the spread of agricultural improvements, it remains unclear as to whether the settlement of Rait would have had byre dwellings by the 18th century.
Evidence uncovered during the survey and restoration works of the 1970s showed that the house is of an early construction date, predating the 19th century (Walker 1981, p.205). The building would have once had a narrower footprint and the walls would have originally been constructed of turf, wattle, mud or clay, over the rubble stone footings and corners, which comprised rounded field boulders. Remnants of these footings and corners survive at Old Burnside Cottages and they are a common feature of pre-19th century vernacular buildings.
The walls were then later built up using locally available river-washed boulders set into clay, which in this case, would have required the use of shuttering. Walker states that the method used at Old Burnside Cottages was very unusual, as the larger boulders were carefully placed against the outer face but the smaller stones were simply dropped into the tempered clay in the centre of the wall and were not bound (1981, p.205).
Openings have been added in the main elevations and enlarged to give the present appearance of an Improvement period cottage. The red brick and ashlar stone chimneystacks are late 19th or early 20th century additions and replaced earlier gable hearths and hanging lums. The western part of the roof and the front wall were partially demolished and reconstructed as part of the 1970s works.
The large stones evident on the west gable, mark the original southwest corner of the building. Such stones were often used to protect vulnerable corners from passing traffic. Their presence suggests that there was once a route from the west, passing between Old Burnside Cottages and the neighbouring Weaver s Cottage (LB11632).
During the 1970s works, turf beamfilling was also found along the wallheads of Old Burnside Cottages, and this was a common feature in vernacular buildings of the late-18th century (Walker 1981, p.205). Other traditional construction features were uncovered, including the rounded form of the internal gable, the apex which was built of alternating layers of stone and turf, and the remains of former hanging lum chimney fixings. The internal gables were largely removed during the late 20th century renovation works.
The changes and improvements at Old Burnside Cottages are of interest. They show how the building has been altered to accommodate improvements in agriculture and living standards, as well as changes in the availability of materials and the development of construction techniques. Alterations to the internal layout and finishes do not significantly impact on the overall authentic character of the building.
While authenticity of material can be an important factor in assessing the significance of thatched buildings, those which have been repaired over time (perhaps with new roofing material or rethatched) can also be listed. The retention of the overall traditional character of vernacular buildings is therefore important in determining their special architectural or historic interest.
The overall appearance of Old Burnside Cottages is that of 17th or 18th century farm cottages that have been altered in the 19th century as part of the Improvement period. It retains a number of important features which are characteristic of the pre-Improvement period, including the projecting footings, the rounded northwest corner and the running levels of the wall heads. The survival of this thatched farmstead informs our knowledge and understanding of vernacular building traditions within the central region.
Rait is located between Perth and Dundee in the Braes of Carse, an area of gently rising land between the floodplain of the River Tay and the Sidelaw hills (Rait Conservation Area Appraisal, p.2). The village, which is a designated conservation area, rises gently from east to west following the Rait Burn. The picturesque setting is characterised by a backdrop of agricultural land, hills and woods, whilst trees and hedges enclose boundaries and frame views (Rait Conservation Area Appraisal: p.10).
Old Burnside Cottages, with the adjacent Weaver s Cottage (LB11632) and Fernbank (LB11630), are the only thatched buildings to remain within Rait. Located at the west end of the settlement, on the southern bank of the Rait Burn, the buildings are an integral part of the historic core of the village.
Old Burnside Cottages is situated just to the south side of Rait Burn, with a large garden area located to the south, on the opposite side of the road which runs along the south elevation. The immediate setting is relatively well-retained as there has been no development in the west part of Rait since at least the mid 19th century (Ordnance Survey 1st Edition, surveyed 1861). There are a number of other vernacular buildings within the settlement, including Cruikies Neuk (LB11658), Braehead (LB11657), The Sheiling (LB11656) and the old churchyard (LB11654) and church (SM5613).
The overall layout and group of buildings in Rait, which straddle the line of the burn, has remained remarkably unchanged since at least the early 19th century. The west end of Rait is of particular interest as it takes the form of a pre-agricultural Improvement fermtoun (a group farm settlement containing several tenant farmers dwellings and outbuildings). Glendinning and Wade note that the survival of such a group is extremely rare as such settlement patterns were normally completely erased during the agrarian improvements of the 18th and early 19th centuries (p.11). This group of buildings in Rait is therefore of special interest.
Construction of the 18th century turnpike road to the east gradually isolated the settlement and this serves to explain why the historic character, setting and layout of Rait has been protected.
The design and construction of the building, the method of thatching and the thatching material used was a distinctly localised practice. The best examples of local vernacular buildings will normally be listed because together they illustrate the importance of distinctive local and regional traditions.
The central region of Scotland is fairly well protected from the extreme weather prevailing in the Highlands and Islands. Consequently thatched roofs did not require heavy duty fixings to keep the thatch in place. Most thatches were pegged into position, which involved bunches of straw being placed onto the roof in courses. One or two split wood pegs would be pushed through the holding band to secure the thatch in place. This method was usually carried out over a turfed underlay. (Scotland s Thatched Buildings, p.27)
In Perth and Kinross timber skews have been used to contain the thatch at the gable ends and concrete to hold the thatch in place at the ridge. Concrete ridging is found elsewhere in the Lowlands and Fife but the use of timber skews is virtually unheard of outside of the central region. (Scotland s Thatched Buildings, p.27)
The replacement of thatch roofs with stone slates or tiles began gradually from the mid-17th century. However, the use of thatch remained the mainstay of 17th -19th century rural settlements in Scotland. The original thatching material at Old Burnside Cottages would likely have been oat straw, as this was the common material within this area, and also across much of Scotland. The Tay reed beds were planted in the 18th century and owing to the proximity of Rait to the River Tay, it is likely that reeds have a long history of being used in the rethatching of Old Burnside Cottages. The thatch itself has been renewed in recent decades, as is regularly required, and it was reinstated using traditional techniques and Tay reeds.
Walker notes that the ridge would have originally been turf, however the current use of concrete capping was a common method employed in Angus and East Perthshire from the mid-19th century onwards (1981, p.203). The use of timber skews is largely unique to the central region (Scotland s Thatched Buildings, p.27). Originally the roof would have been piended and later became pitched when the gables were built. The roof structure was not seen (2017).
Close Historical Associations
There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2017).
Statutory address, category of listing changed from C to B and listed building record revised in 2019. Previously listed as Glenview, Rait (including MacLavin Block) .