Halligarth House is an unusual Unst house consisting of two detached but interlinked three-bay, single storey and attic houses running parallel to one another. The 1832 back house sits behind the slightly larger front house of 1839. The two houses are connected via a flat-roofed linking block. It is located at Baltasound on the east coast of Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Islands. The house is situated within enclosed grounds in open landscape with a woodland walled garden and adjoining family burial enclosure to the northeast. Halligarth was the home of several generations of an important Shetland family of botanists, doctors, conservationists and authors.
The front house is symmetrical with a crenellated flat-roofed porch (added around 1927) flanked by windows. There are a pair of flat-roofed dormers breaking the wallhead. To the northeast gable is a single storey, pitched roof extension (added around 1860). The southwest and northeast gables of the back house are notable for their unusually angled window openings at attic level. The house as a whole has predominantly 4-pane timber sash and case windows. It has broad, gable-end chimney stacks and is roofed with grey slates.
The interior, seen in 2018, retains much of its 19th century character and room plan. There are boarded timber doors, moulded timber fire surrounds, timber shutter and simple beaded timber surrounds and cornicing in most rooms. The back house is slightly smaller with stone flags in the ground floor kitchen area and a straight staircase. The front house has a dog-leg stair with timber handrail and turned banisters. Most ground floor rooms have simple timber panelled ceilings and timber dado rails. There is a privy within the flat-roofed linking block.
The woodland garden to the northeast is square-plan, surrounded by a rubble boundary wall. There is a pedestrian gate to the southwest side and an opening in the northwest into a rectangular-plan, family burial enclosure. The enclosure contains a large number of 19th and 20th century gravestones, wall plaques and markers relating to the Edmondston-Saxby family including wall, some with decorative cast-iron surrounds. The house sits within a large rectangular-plan rubble wall enclosure extending southeast towards Buness House (see LB17478).
Statement of Special Interest
Halligarth House is a good example of a relatively unaltered house of its type and date in Shetland. The linked front and back house arrangement is unusual in the context of Unst, more commonly associated with grander properties on the Scottish mainland. The castellated porch of the front house is a characteristic of Shetland cottages of the 19th and early 20th century, of which Unst has a notable variety. The local historical associations between Halligarth and successive generations of the Edmondston-Saxby family are well documented and are directly reflected in the unusual form of the property. The enclosed landscape including the woodland garden to the north east of the property is also of interest as the most substantial early tree plantation on the island and the most northerly example in Britain.
Age and Rarity
Halligarth was built as a family home for naturalist and ornithologist Dr Laurence Edmondston on the estate land of nearby Buness House (LB17478) which was owned by his brother Thomas Edmondston.
The back house was built in 1832, probably incorporating fabric from an earlier cottage on the site. As the family increased in size a second, slightly larger house was built in 1839 immediately in front of the old one with a single-storey, flat-roofed passageway block connecting them. The 50m square walled garden was built to shelter a large variety of trees and to attract birdlife to the house. The house and wooded garden enclosure to the northeast are shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1878) occupying the same footprint as they do in the present landscape. Laurence's daughter married Henry Saxby and Halligarth remained in the ownership of the Edmondston-Saxby family until the late 20th century.
Shetland houses of the period from 1800 to 1850 tend to be either small, single storey crofthouses or larger farmhouses or factor's houses associated with a landowner's estate. Halligarth is unusual in that it does not fall into either category, but does reflect Shetland building traditions of the period. The back house has a relatively long and low profile, typical of vernacular Unst Houses of the period.
Buildings erected before 1840 which survive predominantly in their original form may be listed. While Halligarth House is not a rare building type or architecturally distinguished, its rarity as a largely complete and little altered example of a 1830s house in Shetland is of interest in listing terms. The unusual plan form of two separate but linked houses built parallel to one another is distinctive, particularly in the context of Shetland. The enclosed landscape, including the most northerly woodland copse in Britain, is also of unusual. The historical link between Halligarth and successive generations of the Edmondston-Saxby family are well documented (see Close Historical Associations below) and add to the interest of the building in listing terms.
Architectural or Historic Interest
The interior, seen in 2018, retains much of its 19th century character and early room plan. The largely complete survival of period fittings and fixtures in both the back and the front house, including staircases, timber fireplaces and flagstone floors, add to the interest of the building in listing terms.
The plan form of parallel back and front houses forming a larger property is unusual in the Shetlands. The two separate but interlinked houses retain traditional plan forms that reflect their slightly differing building dates, room layout and dimensions. The front house is of similar proportion, with a slightly deeper plan and of slightly greater height.
This type of linked plan form arrangement tends to be used when a simple house is recast in a grander style. Most houses that have been extended in this way are physically joined, with a roof valley formed between the two phases of construction. In the case of Halligarth, the two houses are set a few metres apart with a flat-roofed linking passage between them. This method of expansion is less common. One other known example of this type of link on Shetland, on a notably grander scale, is 'The North Haa' (LB5560) at West Sandwick, Yell. The method may have been used to avoid damage caused by rainwater gathering at the valley between the two roof pitches.
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
Notwithstanding the unusual plan-form (see Plan form above) Halligarth is a largely typical example of an Unst House from the earlier half of the 19th century. The survival of its component parts is of interest in listing terms.
The house is located a short distance from the shore of Baltasound on Unst, the most northerly of the Shetland Islands. It is situated within its own grounds and largely retains its setting, with walled garden to the northeast, allowing the property to be understood in its early 19th century context. Halligarth is aligned with Buness House (LB17478) to the southeast on the shore of Baltasound.
A late 20th century house to the immediate southwest has some impact on the setting of the house, but the landscape and neighbouring environment of the house has otherwise not changed significantly from that shown on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map.
The Edmondston-Saxby family burial enclosure adjoining the walled woodland garden also adds to the setting of the house (see Close Historical Associations below). The trees within the walled garden are the largest on the island and the only substantial group.
Both sections of the house adhere to Shetland building traditions of the earlier 19th century. The earlier back house has a long and low profile, typical of vernacular Unst Houses of the period. The castellated porch is one of the many variations of porches found on Unst, where there tends to be a greater variety of forms than in the rest of Shetland.
Close Historical Associations
Halligarth has close historical associations with people of local importance. The fabric of the house and its garden and woodland setting is directly reflective of the persons associated which adds to the building's special architectural or historic interest.
Halligarth is closely associated with the pioneering Edmondston-Saxby family of naturalists, conservationists, authors, and artists. More than 20 members of the family were born and raised at Halligarth between 1832 and 1994.
The association is directly evidenced through the extension of the house during the 1830s and the family burial enclosure to the northeast of the house. The development of the wooded copse within the walled garden, originally planted with around one hundred different species of trees and shrubs, created an environment in which to educate and enthuse a young family.
The house was built for Dr Laurence Edmondston (1795-1879) who developed his study of ornithology and the natural history of Shetland here. He was conservation-minded in his approach, and his work informed a number of nationally significant ornithological works including A History of British Birds, Indigenous and Migratory by William MacGillvray (1840).
His father was Arthur Edmondston (1775-1841), a surgeon, natural historian and author of A View of the Ancient and Present State of Shetland (1809). Among the large number of talented offspring were Jessie M E Saxby (1842-1940), one of Shetland's most gifted and prolific author-poets whose works explore Shetland folklore, language and the island's Viking past. Among many published works was The Home of a Naturalist, written with her brother Biot (named after the famous French physicist Jean-Baptiste Biot who stayed with the family in 1817). The book recounts their life at Halligarth. Eldest son Thomas (1825-1846) was a talented botanist who was first to identify rare arctic-alpine plants on Unst. By the age of nineteen he had published The Flora of Shetland and was elected to the professorship of botany and natural history at Anderson's College, Glasgow. He was accidently killed at sea in 1846 during a surveying expedition. Prior to sailing, Charles Darwin had written to him with a list of specimens to collect from the Galapagos Island.
Halligarth attracted notable visitors from both the scientific and artist communities. In the field of botany and natural sciences Sir William Jackson Hooker (1785-1865), his son Dr William Dawson Hooker (1816-1840) and Sir Edward Forbes (1815-1854) all attended Halligarth. Artistic and literary audiences included poets, sculptors, architects and authors. A nephew of Napoleon visited the house while studying the old Scandinavian-Shetland dialect. This environment of visiting intellectuals combined with the Edmondston's liberal approach to educating their large family was significant.
Statutory address, category of listing changed from C to B and listed building record revised in 2018. Previously listed as 'Baltasound, Halligarth House, including walled garden and graveyard'.