Statement of Special Interest
472b South Lochboisdale is a rare example of a once prolific building type across Na h-Eileanan Siar. The building is a largely complete and remarkably unaltered example of a mid to later 19th century Hebridean-type thatched cottage, showing traditional building methods and materials of Na h-Eileanan Siar. Notable features include the thick rubble walls and the turf and thatched roof with weighting stones and netting.
It is one of only 54 buildings or groups of buildings in Na h-Eileanan Siar that are known to retain an intact thatched roof, and is among a relatively small number of thatched buildings across Scotland. It is an important part of the built heritage and the historic character of the Uists
Set on the southern banks of Lochboisdale in the southeast of South Uist the cottage retains its historic settling as part of a mid to later 19th century small scale rural crofting settlement. The cottage is part of a group of mid to later 19th century cottages that retain their traditional form. Together these buildings provide valuable insights into the social and economic changes that occurred in South Uist under the estate management of the Gordons of Cluny from around the mid-19th century.
Age and Rarity
South Uist is the second largest island in the Outer Hebrides. The island was owned by the Clanranalds from the 1370s until 1838, when it was sold along with Benbecula, to Colonel Gordon of Cluny. The family owned the island until 1944.
The population of South Uist underwent substantial change under the ownership of the Gordons with the emigration of nearly 3000 people and the relocation of many others around the island. This movement of people reached its peak between 1850 and 1854 (Miers, p.337).
On William Bald's 1805 Plan of South Uist the area of South Lochboisdale is shown with three small clusters of buildings along the banks of the Loch. One of the clusters is located to the northwest of the Evat Lochs in the area where the cottage at 472b South Lochboisdale now stands. This map shows that there was a pre-improvement period settlement at South Lochboisdale in the early 19th century. Due to the scale of the map it cannot be determined whether the cottage at 472b South Lochboisdale was part of this settlement during this period.
From around the mid-19th century under the ownership of the Gordons, large grazing and arable farms were laid out and let in South Uist. The majority of farms were on land that had previously been occupied by tenants in townships and settlement clusters, predominantly on the fertile west side of the island. A merchant's house with a pier and surrounding farmland was built in the northeast of South Lochboisdale around the early to mid-19th century (South Lochboisdale, Boisdale House and Post Office, LB18743). However the undulating and rocky landscape of the rest of the district, including the area now occupied by 472b South Lochboisdale, was not laid out for large scale farming. The existing settlement clusters in this area appear to have been split into small crofts for lease around the mid-19th century.
The Ordnance Survey Name Book describes South Lochboisdale in 1877 as a large district under the ownership of John Gordon Esq. of Cluny. It notes that, apart from a farm which contained a house and offices with slated roofs, the rest of South Lochboisdale was leased by small crofters whose houses were thatched and in bad repair (OS1/18/12/99, p. 99).
A small rectangular structure in the approximate location of where 472b now stands is shown on the six-inch 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1878, published 1881). Three other buildings, one with an attached enclosure, are shown to the northwest.
Under the ownership of Lady Gordon Cathcart from the 1880s to the early 1920s, farms on South Uist began to be broken up as the demand for increased land and fair rents increased amongst crofters. The Aberdeen Press and Journal reported in 1887 that a hearing for the disposal of the township at South Lochboisdale was soon to be held. The article described the area at that time as a township of eighteen 'very small crofts' lying along the south shore of the loch.
The passing of the Crofters Holding (Scotland) Act in 1886 also gave crofters security of tenure for the first time. These events in the late 19th century had an effect on many crofthouses in South Uist, the majority of which were traditionally built cottages, as they were improved, abandoned or rebuilt on new crofts. In South Lochboisdale the layout of the settlement and the number of cottages within it remained remarkably unchanged during this time.
On the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1901, published 1904) the building in the location of 472b South Lochboisdale is shown with the same footprint as the previous map. One of the two nearby structures shown on the 1st Edition Map, has been demolished.
The 1969 Ordnance Survey map (1: 2,500) shows the building within a small enclosure of land. The cottage is shown with the same footprint as it exists today (2018).
An image of the exterior of the cottage from 2000 shows the owner, Dòmhnall Aonghais Bhàin, standing outside the building (CANMORE SC 989343). The roof of the cottage appears to have been recently rethatched with a continuous marram ridge. The cottage has been unoccupied since the death of Dòmhnall Aonghais Bhàin in 2000 and was added to the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland in 2016.
The use of thatch as a roofing material has a long tradition in Scotland. Thatched buildings are often single storey cottages or crofthouses, which are traditionally built, reflecting pre-industrial construction methods and materials. While the practice of thatching had started to recede by the early 20th century, traditional thatched buildings were still being built in the Highlands and Islands, and in a few sparse rural communities on the mainland up until the Second World War in much the same way as they were always built.
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.
Of the thatched buildings remaining in Scotland 54 of these are located in Na h-Eileanan Siar. 19 thatched buildings survive in the Isle of South Uist, the highest number of any island in Na h-Eileanan Siar (SPAB, pp.568-618).
Many of the thatched buildings remaining in Na h-Eileanan Siar have undergone alterations in the 20th century to adapt them for modern needs. 472b South Lochboisdale is remarkable in that it has not been the subject of substantial additions or renovations. A relatively large amount of its mid to later 19th century fabric survives. The cottage retains a significant number of elements of traditional construction and materials relevant to South Uist. (See Regional Variations section below.)
Architectural or Historic Interest
The interior of this cottage has not been seen and therefore has not been assessed.
Miers noted in 2008 that a livestock tethering ring hangs from the wall of the kitchen (2008, p 350). It is not known if this remains.
472b South Lochboisdale has a plan form typical of thatched vernacular buildings of Na h-Eileanan Siar with a narrow-bodied, thick-walled rectangular form.
The cottage was built facing an easterly direction to allow rough weather to hit the back of the house, where there are minimal openings. This is a typical feature on Na h-Eileanan Siar.
It is common for traditional cottages to have been altered by the addition of porches and extensions as the needs and uses of these vernacular buildings changed. The footprint of the 472b South Lochboisdale has not been extended and appears unchanged from that shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance survey map. The lack of alteration to the footprint of the building is therefore rare and the survival of its plan form is of interest.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
472b South Lochboisdale is constructed and repaired using materials and methods that are characteristic of this part of Scotland. The interest of these vernacular buildings is discussed in the Regional Variations section below.
While authenticity of material can be an important factor in assessing the significance of thatched buildings, buildings 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 thatch itself was renewed in 2002, as is regularly required, and it was reinstated using traditional techniques and materials. The marram thatched roof has been netted and weighted down with stones. These stones are held in place with wire along the eaves and around the chimney stacks. The roof structure itself was not replaced as part of this work and is likely to be historic fabric.
The exterior of the cottage appears to have undergone a remarkably small amount of alteration since the later 19th century. The window to the left of the front door has been replaced and two chimneystacks have been added. These alterations show how the building was altered in the 20th century to accommodate improvements in needs and living standards. The overall appearance of the cottage is that of a late 19th century thatched building. It retains a number of important features which are characteristic of Na h-Eileanan Siar, including a timber roof structure with turf underlay and marram thatch secured with weighting stones and netting and whitewashed rubble walls. Its survival of 472b South Lochboisdale is important as it informs our knowledge and understanding of vernacular building traditions in Na h-Eileanan Siar.
The cottage at 472b South Lochboisdale is located on the southern edge of Lochboisdale, a district at the southeast of the Isle of South Uist.
The cottage is set back some distance south from the road that runs by the southern edge of the Loch and is accessible only by foot. The landscape is undulating and rocky and rises up behind the cottage at the south. There has been no development in the immediate vicinity of the cottage and its historic setting in a rural landscape is well retained.
The location and setting of crofthouses provides information about changing settlement patterns and agricultural land use. The cottage 472b South Lochboisdale is located towards the east of South Uist in rocky landscape with hills and uneven ground. Unlike many settlements in the more fertile west of the island, the area around 472b South Lochboisdale was not laid out as large farms during the estate developments by the Gordons in the 19th century. The settlement appears instead to have been divided into small crofts that covered the landscape in an informal layout. The scattered, small scale nature of the settlement at South Lochboisdale demonstrates how traditional styles of settlement survived into the later 19th century in areas unsuitable for large scale farming.
There has been some development in the wider area in the late 20th or early 21st century with the construction of some single-storey houses. The scattered, unplanned layout of the settlement around the bay of South Lochboisdale has however remained remarkably unchanged since the later 19th century (1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed 1878, published 1881).
The cottage at 472b South Lochboisdale is part of a group traditional cottages located to the west of the Eavat Lochs in South Lochboisdale. These include a traditional rubble built cottage to the north of 472b South Lochboisdale, a thatched cottage on the opposite side of the road at 472 South Lochboisdale and Byre and Shed (LB18746) and a thatched cottage at 466 South Lochboisdale (LB18744). The remains of a number of other traditional 19th and early 20th century rubble-built cottages and outbuildings can be seen around the settlement of South Lochboisdale. The survival of this group of cottages contributes to the historic setting of 472b South Lochboisdale.
The setting of the cottage contributes to the interest of the building in listing terms.
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.
Traditional thatched cottages of Na h-Eileanan Siar are usually single-storey, low-profile buildings. In the Uists the cottages typically had a room at each end of the building with a small room in the middle. They also typically had a chimney on each end wall. They were shorter than those on Lewis, because the byre was not part of the property but in a separate outbuilding. The interior of 472b South Lochboisdale is known to follow this standard arrangement (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, 2019).
The low form, thick battered rubble walls and its rounded thatched roof, with netting and weighting stones of 472b South Lochboisdale, is typical of this region in protecting against Atlantic storms and sand blasts. The walls of these vernacular buildings would have been constructed with a central earth and rubble core between stone walls that were built from locally sourced stone gathered from the land. Their thickness ensured that they could support the weight of the roof, reducing the need for timber (which was scarce in the area) in the roof structure to a minimum.
The limited availability of timber in this area meant that roof trusses were valuable and likely to be maintained and reused. The roof trusses of 472b South Lochboisdale are visible from the exterior. The roof structure itself was not replaced as part of 2002 roof works and is likely to be historic fabric.
472b South Lochboisdale shows the Uist-style of cottage with the thatched roof sitting on the outer wall and the thatch material hanging slightly over the edge of the wall. This allows the rainwater to run off away from the gap between the double wall construction, therefore keeping the loose rubble that sits within the thick walls dry. The piended roof is typical of Hebridean cottages as it offers wind resistance against strong Atlantic weather.
The thatched roof is constructed from locally sourced marram grass, and fitted according to traditional techniques. The use of marram grass, applied in the randomly laid-on style is typical due to its pliability and wind resistance. The thatch is weighted by stones attached to wire netting over the top of the thatching material.
Close Historical Associations
Associations with nationally important people or events, where the structure or appearance of the building is also of some quality and interest, can be taken into account when listing a building. The association must be authentic and significant. The building should also reflect the person or event.
The cottage is recorded as being the home of local Bard Dòmhnall Aonghais Bhàin (1926-2000) up until his death in 2000 (Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland).
Dòmhnall Aonghais Bhàin, whilst arguably not a nationally important person, was a significant figure in South Uist. He wrote poetry about the island and is celebrated for his contribution to 20th century Gaelic literature.
Statutory address, category of listing changed from B to A and listed building record revised in 2019. Previously listed as '472 South Lochboisdale'.