Statement of Special Interest
Ruisgarry barn and byre is a rare 18th and 19th century agricultural complex, with elements of possibly earlier domestic use associated with Norman Macleod of Berneray. The barn is considered to be the oldest building on the island.
The buildings retain a large amount of their historic fabric and character indicating their previous uses. The scale of the barn, which has been raised in height, means it is a particularly striking in the local area. The byre shows more traditional Berneray building methods and styles such as the low profile form, and the marram thatched roof with netting and weighting stones atop a driftwood frame and turf divots.
They are among only 54 buildings or groups of buildings in Na h-Eileanan Siar that are known to retain an intact thatched roof, and among a relatively small number of thatched buildings across Scotland.
The setting of these buildings with the walled enclosure, the nearby Macleod's Well, and the ruins of a late 19th century farmhouse contributes to its historic character and interest. The survival of the barn and byre provides valuable insights into the agricultural, cultural and social history of Berneray from the 18th to the 20th centuries. These traditional thatched buildings are an important part of the built heritage and historic character of the Uists.
Age and Rarity
The island of Berneray is one of 15 inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides. The island came into the possession of the Macleods of Harris and Dunvegan in the 14th century. The Berneray Macleods descended from this branch of the family. In 1633 Sir Norman Macleod of Berneray, third son of the 15th Macleod Chief, was granted a lifetime rent of Berneray (Miers, p.314). By the mid-18th century, Donald Ruadh Macleod improved the land and the kelp industry boomed. The island was sold to the 5th Earl of Dunmore in 1834. Intense cultivation and an influx of people cleared from other islands, meant settlements such as Ruisgarry became very overcrowded.
The decline of the kelp industry, a succession of poor harvests, and the potato famine of 1846-51 led to a reduction in the number of crofts and large scale emigration and forced removal from crofts occurred (Rowe, p.162). As a result, the population of Berneray declined during the later 19th and 20th centuries and crofting and cottar families turned to earning alternative livings.
The barn and byre are shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1878, as part of a group of three neighbouring buildings, of which only the barn and byre now survive. The barn and byre were contained by a walled enclosure to the south of the complex. The current footprint of the barn and byre has not altered significantly, and remains the same on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey (revised in 1901). The only notable variations to the setting is the addition of a late 19th century farmhouse to the east of the barn and byre complex.
The barn and byre complex is thought to date from the 18th and 19th centuries but may be on the site of an earlier agricultural complex (Miers, p.320). The site is believed to be associated with the former house of the Macleods of Berneray. There is a tablet above the central door of the barn inscribed: "Hic natus / est illustris ille / Normannus Macleod de Berneray / eques auratus" (Here is born the illustrious Norman Macleod (c.1606-1705) of Berneray, distinguished knight) (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Macleod's birthplace is believed to actually have been 20 yards further north of the present building (Miers, p.372).
In the 20th century, the barn was known locally as the teampull or temple. It is also known locally as Macleod's gunnery or Macleod's armoury, presumably because of its narrow ventilation slits and its association with Norman Macleod (Miers, p.320). The barn is considered to be the oldest building on the island, and its fabric is made up of 18th and 19th century elements (Explore North Uist, Macleod's Gunnery).
The listed building record, written in 1971, records the barn as being covered in corrugated iron, but possibly thatched previously. It is thought the building was raised in height in the 19th century (Miers, p.320). The barn has been roofed in corrugated iron since at least the 1930s (Calum Ban MacKillop and the Macleod Gunnery), with a corrugated roofed porch to the northeast elevation, and a thatched byre. The listed building record states there is a roofless addition on the northwest gable. This was repaired and thatched sometime between 1971 and 2009 when the barn was inspected (Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland). This suggests the barn was in use until the late 20th or early 21st century.
The use of thatch as a roofing material 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 barn and byre show elements of traditional construction and materials relevant to Berneray, for example marram thatched roofs secured with netting and rubble-built walls. The use of corrugated iron for the barn roof shows the building remained in use, and the survival of the thatched roofs further shows that marram thatching remained a common material in some rural areas of the Highlands and Islands well into the 20th century. (See 'Regional variations' below.)
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 form 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 and 14 are on Berneray (SPAB, pp.500-526).
The barn and byre are significant because they form part of an agricultural complex that was in use from the 18th century onwards, possibly even earlier. The retaining wall, and the remnants of the iron-roofed rubble porch on the northeast elevation of the barn show the former use of this complex of buildings.
Ruisgarry Barn and Byre is an early example of its building type showing traditional building materials and methods relevant to Berneray. It is the only partially thatched large agricultural complex on Berneray. Its survival, and the rarity of its scale, within its immediate setting, makes this group of buildings important.
Architectural or Historic Interest
The interior was not seen and it has not been taken into account in this assessment.
The barn and byre have rectangular plan forms typical of thatched vernacular buildings of Na h-Eileanan Siar. Their narrow-bodied, thick-walled rectangular forms suggest the barn may have previously been used as a dwelling. It is thought the barn was raised in height in the 19th century (Miers, p.320) which makes this a significantly different partially-thatched building on Berneray. The barn previously had a rubble porch on the northeast elevation with a corrugated iron roof of which only the walls now remain. This, and the thatched addition to the northwest gable, show slight changes in plan form. Variations in construction was common across Na h-Eileanan Siar due to each individual's preference, ability to build and the availability of materials, as well as the changing needs of the occupants themselves.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
Ruisgarry barn and byre has been constructed using traditional 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 simple, local nature of these buildings meant that they could be altered to suit changes in building methods, the availability of materials and the needs of those using the buildings. This is reflected in the series of alterations which have been carried out over time, including the addition of a rubble porch and the addition to the northwest gable.
The thatch itself has been renewed, as is regularly required, and it was reinstated using traditional techniques and materials. The thatch renewal likely dates from the late 20th century. It is also thought that the main roof of the barn was thatched prior to the use of corrugated iron, as such, thatch may survive underneath and this therefore increases the interest of this building. The barn's appearance has further significance, compared with other vernacular buildings of this area of Ruisgarry, because it is the only partially-thatched, two-storey building with unusual narrow windows or ventilation slits and a retaining rubble wall.
The overall appearance of the barn and byre is that of an agricultural complex made up of 18th and 19th century elements, possibly with earlier features. It retains a number of important features which are characteristic of Na h-Eileanan Siar, including marram thatched roofs with weighting stones and netting, and thick rubble walls.
The Baile area of Ruisgarry is situated at the eastern tip of Bays Loch. Baile can be translated as village (Hebridean Connections), and is characterised by a cluster of cottar's homes dotted around Port Ludaig. There is a well, known as Macleod's well, to the southwest of the group of buildings, outside of the enclosure. Its name suggests it may have an association with the buildings through the Macleod family. The grouping of these buildings enhances our understanding of the functional relationship of a croft, and the historical progression of this area. Ruisgarry was, and remains, the largest settlement on Berneray.
The land parcels surrounding the barn and byre reduced in size between 1878 and 1901 (as shown on the 1st and 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey maps), and a building to the west of the barn and byre complex is no longer there but may once have formed part of a larger grouping of agricultural buildings. However, the layout of these vernacular buildings at Baile has remained remarkably unchanged since the turn of the 20th century.
The immediate setting of the barn and byre is well-retained. There are a number of other vernacular buildings that have thatched roofs, or remnants of thatched roofs, within the settlement of Baile and the wider Ruisgarry Conservation Area. These include the renovated Berneray Hostel and its annexe (LB46103), and a group of three cottages close-by (LB46104 and LB46105).
The location and setting of agricultural buildings provides information about changing settlement patterns and agricultural land-use. The barn and byre are situated in their own small plot of land enclosed by a retaining wall next to an uninhabited late 19th century farmhouse within the Ruisgarry Conservation Area.
The number of vernacular buildings that survive within the Ruisgarry Conservation Area is unique in comparison to the rest of the Na h-Eileanan Siar and Scotland as a whole. They are an important part of the Uists built heritage, showing cultural, ethnological and agricultural trends in this part of Scotland.
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 crofthouses of Na h-Eileanan Siar are usually single-storey, low profile buildings, often divided into three compartments. The barn is different in that it is a taller building, with narrow upper windows and ventilation slits. Its rubble wall construction and marram thatched addition, with netting and weighting stones, is typical of this region in protecting against storms and sand blasts. The thatch is presented in a rounded form over an angular roof structure as is common in Na h-Eileanan Siar. The walls of these buildings would have been constructed from locally sourced stone, gathered from the land, and the thatch would have been locally sourced marram grass from the Hebridean machair.
The byre also shows building techniques of Na h-Eileanan Siar including thick wallheads and the use of driftwood for the roof structure. Its marram thatched roof shows the materials made use of what was available, such as bricks for netting weights. The driftwood-frame of the roof may date from the 19th century. Both the barn and byre have stone gabled ends rather than the rounded roof style common on Berneray. The survival of this group of buildings is important as it informs our knowledge and understanding of vernacular building traditions of Na h-Eileanan Siar.
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 barn and byre have a close association with, Norman Macleod. Whilst arguably not of national importance, Macleod was a significant person in the area. Sir Norman Macleod of Berneray (c.1606-1705) was a Royalist Army Officer who marched with the Scottish army under Charles II into England in 1651, suffering great losses at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651. During Charles II's exile, Macleod brought supplies of arms and ammunition from The Hague back to Scotland. It is unknown whether this is the origin of the name 'Macleod's Gunnery'.
Statutory address, category of listing changed from B to A and listed building record revised in 2019. Previously listed as 'Berneray Risgary [sic] Barn and Byre'.