Statement of Special Interest
Fernbank is a pre-Improvement farm dwelling which 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 traditional timber roof structure 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 Fernbank 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 highly 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, 1939, p.103).
Fernbank 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 rear ground behind the buildings 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 grouping of buildings at the west end of the settlement, which was dominated by weaving and farm worker's cottages such as Fernbank, 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 crofthouses 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 were only around 200 buildings with thatched roofs in Scotland. Those which 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 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.
Fernbank is an example of a farm cottage, which has been partially altered but displays 18th and 19th century building methods and materials and retains its thatched roof. It retains a number of features demonstrating its pre-Improvement origins, such as the plan form, rounded corners and projecting footings. The addition of red brick chimneys and the insertion of fixed 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 Fernbank 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 finishes within Fernbank are largely 20th century replacements. Some early fabric may remain behind more recent insertions, such as the deep central wall which separates the eastern and western halves, but this has not been seen.
The roof structure is of special interest as the materials and techniques displayed indicate that it is of some age.
Fernbank has a long and thin rectangular plan which is slightly skewed at the east end to follow the line of the road and burn. The long narrow plan is a typical plan-form of traditional farmstead buildings throughout Scotland, as the expense of suitable timbers for the roof, restricted the depth which could be spanned. Walker states that the organic plan form of Fernbank, which responds and bends to the line of the surrounding natural features, is a typical characteristic of pre-Improvement vernacular buildings (1981, p.202). It is therefore of particular interest. The cottage is orientated with the principal elevation facing south, in order to take full advantage of the natural light, while the back fronts the lane and the burn.
The footprint of the building has remained largely unchanged, apart from the removal of small abutments to the gables. Internally the layout has been altered with 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
Fernbank has been constructed and renewed using traditional materials and methods which are characteristic of traditional farmstead settlements in the central region of Scotland. Such features include the reeded thatch roof, the small window openings and the use of rubblestone 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 at Fernbank 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). Fernbank 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.
Walker states that surviving features, such as the rounded corners, the projecting footings and the presence of some slightly concave walls, indicate that Fernbank has origins in the 17th or early 18th century (1981, p.206). It is likely that the original walls would have been built of turf, wattle, mud or clay, over the rubblestone footings and corners which comprised of rounded field boulders (Walker 1981, p.203). The walls were then later built up using locally available rubblestone, clay mortar and lime. Openings have been added and enlarged to give the present appearance of an Improvement period cottage. The red brick chimneystacks are late 19th or early 20th century additions and likely replaced earlier gable hearths and hanging lums.
The changes and improvements at Fernbank 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, or its ability to convey its historical or architectural importance.
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 Fernbank is that of a 17th or 18th century farm cottage that has been altered during the 19th century and the Improvement period. It retains a number of important features which are characteristic of the pre-Improvement period, including the projecting footings, the rounded corners 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).
Fernbank, with the adjacent Weaver's Cottage (LB11632) and Old Burnside (LB11631), 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.
Fernbank is situated on an elevated site, overlooking a large garden plot to the south, with the burn and lane to the rear. 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 grouping of the 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 grouping 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 grouping 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 2018, 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 2018, 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 Fernbank 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 Fernbank. 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 present roof structure, although not thought to be original (as this would likely to have been cruck-framed), is of some age. Displaying traditional methods of cutting, shaping and joining, it is of particular interest.
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 A and listed building record revised in 2019. Previously listed as 'Mr. Lawrence (Thatcher), Rait "Fernbank"'.