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Easthouse Crofthouse including barn, Duncansclate, West Burra

A Category A Listed Building in Shetland Central, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.0623 / 60°3'44"N

Longitude: -1.3405 / 1°20'25"W

OS Eastings: 436816

OS Northings: 1131026

OS Grid: HU368310

Mapcode National: GBR R214.GGV

Mapcode Global: XHD3P.YBFY

Plus Code: 9CGW3M65+WQ

Entry Name: Easthouse Crofthouse including barn, Duncansclate, West Burra

Listing Name: Easthouse Crofthouse including barn, byre, pigsty, henhouse and unroofed cottages to south and southwest, Duncansclate, West Burra

Listing Date: 19 September 1997

Last Amended: 25 September 2019

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 352626

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB18562

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Tingwall

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: Shetland Central

Parish: Tingwall

Traditional County: Shetland

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A mid-19th and early 20th century Shetland croft complex comprising crofthouses, barn, byre, pigsty and henhouse. It was repaired and restored in 2003 using traditional materials and Shetland vernacular construction methods where possible, by Malcolmson Architects of Scalloway for use as the premises of the Burra History Group and as a local heritage centre. All the buildings are low, narrow and roughly rectangular in plan. They are built in rubble stone and painted and have vertically-boarded timber doors. The restored crofthouse, byre and adjoining pigsty have thatched roofs.

On the east side of the croft is a three-bay house (possibly dating from the mid-19th century) with a turf and straw thatched roof with netting and weight-stones (linkstanes), and two thatched chimney stacks on the ridge. A cast iron skylight (gligg) is located just above the eaves. The near-central doorway is flanked by four-pane timber-framed fixed-light windows set close to the eaves.

Adjoining the rear of the house and running parallel to it is a smaller 'back house' (built around 1913) with a tarred felt roof. Immediately adjacent to the west wall of the back house is a detached former barn with a corrugated metal roof and roof lights.

To the north is a detached two-bay, former byre (probably early 20th century) with a thatched roof. The former byre has a thatched former pigsty adjoining the east gable and a lean-to henhouse with a corrugated metal roof adjoining the west gable.

The interiors, seen in 2017, have been largely remodelled for use as a heritage centre. The house retains an open fireplace at the south end and a timber-lined box flue within the roof space at the north end. The roof structure has been lined with pine boards. There are exposed sections where the twisted rope or 'simmens' securing the thatch against the rafters are visible.

To the south is an early 20th century, near-symmetrical, single storey three-bay, unroofed cottage (HU 36810 31010) and a mid-19th century single storey, roughly rectangular-plan, unroofed cottage (HU 36800 31012) immediately to the west.

The 20th century cottage has a cement-rendered gabled porch with a vertically-boarded timber door flanked by narrow sidelights and a fanlight in the gablehead. Four-pane timber sash and case windows (with no glazing) flank this entrance. The rear (north) elevation has a lean-to addition. There are rendered and coped chimney stacks on each gable. Attached to the east of the 20th century cottage are the remains of two rubble walls in front of an outbuilding, which has rubble walls and a mono-pitched roof.

2.2 Historical development

Easthouse is shown at 'Duncansclett' on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1877). Duncansclett is described in the Ordnance Survey Name Book from 1878 as consisting of 'a few small farm houses with gardens attached' and that it is the 'property of Ms Scott of Scalloway'.

The exact date of the croft buildings that survive here is not known. On the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed in 1877) Easthouse is shown as three adjoining rectangular-plan ranges, orientated north to south, in the location of the crofthouse, the 'back house' and the barn. A separate smaller outbuilding to the north is shown, in the location of the current pigsty.

On the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map of 1901, the footprint of the central range is slightly shorter whereas the easternmost range appears to have increased in size. Information from the Burra Heritage Society indicates that the back house was built around 1913, but it may have used fabric from the previous building in this location.

The unroofed cottage immediately to the south and its attached outbuildings are not shown on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map. There are a variety of buildings in this location shown on the 1st and 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map. The previous listed building record (written in 1997), dates this cottage to the early 20th century, but it may have reused or incorporated fabric from the early buildings on this site.

Photographs from the early 1970s show that the general appearance of most of the buildings has not altered significantly (Shetland Museum Archives, Photo Library). The south cottage is shown with a tarred, pitched roof (Photo 00376). The adjoining wall to the east of the cottage has a gable head but there is no roof. This is described in the listed building record as a ruinous wing enclosing a yard. This is roughly in the location of a long, rectangular plan building running south to north shown on the 1st and 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey Maps. These walls are likely to be the remains of an earlier building.

The unroofed cottage immediately to the west of this cottage is shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, in largely the same footprint as it exists today.

The buildings were vacated in the 1980s. The Burra History Group, formed in 1996, began renovating the stone cottage as their premises and heritage centre. The work, carried out in 2003 and featured on the BBC television programme 'Restoration', focused on the evolution of the croft during its working lifespan rather than recreating the buildings as they would have been in the earlier 19th century.

Statement of Interest

Statement of Special Interest:

The group of croft buildings at Easthouse is a rare example of a 19th century croft, with 20th century buildings showing its development and continued use. Once a prolific building type across the highlands and the northern islands of Scotland, these vernacular buildings are now extremely rare. The buildings have been altered and restored, but retain a significant proportion of their historic fabric and plan form. Notable features include the thick rubble walls and thatched roofs showing traditional building methods.

It is one of only five buildings or groups of buildings on Shetland that are known to retain an intact thatched roof and is among a relatively small number of thatched buildings across Scotland.

The remains of the cottages to the south are also of interest in listing terms as part of a close-knit group of croft buildings. The level of survival of the group provides valuable insights into cultural and agricultural trends among Shetland's farming communities during the 19th century.

Architectural interest


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 show the importance of distinctive local and regional traditions. Easthouse Crofthouse buildings are constructed and repaired using materials and methods that are characteristic of this part of Scotland.

Traditional croft buildings of Shetland are usually single storey, low profile dwellings made up of two or three rooms. The low form, thick and irregular rubble walls with gabled ends is typical of the region in protecting against Atlantic storms. The walls are constructed from undressed flagstone that is likely to have been gathered from surrounding land. Their thickness ensured that they could support the weight of the roof, reducing the need for timber in the roof structure to a minimum.

Easthouse Crofthouse buildings have a plan form arrangement of parallel and interconnected buildings common to Shetland crofts of the 18th and 19th centuries. The expense of suitable roof timber, particularly in Shetland where timber was scarce, restricted the depth which could be spanned, resulting in a narrow rectangular plan.

The buildings would be purposely built to make use of the natural topography of a site and reduce the effects of extreme weather conditions. The buildings are arranged in close proximity. The animal enclosures are in detached buildings, whilst the barn and back house are interconnected and directly accessed from the house.

It is common for these traditional cottages to have been altered by the addition of porches and small extensions, as can be seen on the early 20th century cottage to the south, and the back house. The degree of the survival of the buildings' 19th century footprint, with each component still discernible and without any significant additions or losses, is exceptionally rare and adds to its interest.

The interiors of these traditional cottages were often simple. Many of them have been refurbished and the survival of historic fixtures is rare. The interiors at Easthouse Crofthouse have been mostly renewed to function as a heritage centre and exhibition space. Some traditional fixtures survive and these add to the interest of the building.

Before the importing of building materials became more widespread towards the end of the 19th century, the thatch was secured with an intricate underlayer of twisted straw ropes or 'simmens'. This method has been purposefully left on display as part of the interior decorative scheme, showing traditional building practices.

The thatch does not overhang the wallhead and follows a low-profile curving shape. This reduces wind noise inside the building and limits the effects of extreme weather conditions, by allowing wind to pass over the structure and reducing the risk of damage. The thatched is netted using fishing net which wraps around the lums and has been used across the ridge and tied to stones that sit just above the eaves. The thatch at the Easthouse Crofthouse is also unusual in that it also taken around the chimney stacks and continues across the ridge. Once a traditional technique, this is one of four known surviving examples using this method in Scotland.

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.

A significant proportion of the house, barn and other fabric survived after the buildings ceased to be used during the 1980s. The house and associated structures were restored in 2003, using locally sourced materials and traditional methods of construction where possible. The straw thatch itself has been renewed, as is regularly required. The replacement thatch was reinstated using traditional Shetland thatching techniques. The buildings as a whole largely retain their traditional character and a significant proportion of their historic fabric.

The cottages to the south have lost a degree of fabric, including their roofs and windows. Whilst the interior of these buildings has not been seen, it is unlikely that historic decorative schemes or fixtures survives. The condition of a property is not a factor in the evaluation unless it detracts significantly from the architectural or historic interest so that it can no longer be defined as special. In this case the walls largely survive complete to wallhead and enough of the historic fabric and form survives to show that it is characteristic of Shetland vernacular building traditions. It also remains part of a close-knit group of similar buildings.


The location and setting of crofts can provide valuable information about changing settlement patterns and agricultural land-use. Easthouse is a prominent building in the area, as it is the first building visible on the brow of rising land when approaching Duncansclate from the north. The front of the crofthouse looks eastward over the West Voe waters towards East Burra and Shetland Mainland.

The small crofting settlement of Duncansclate (or Duncansclett) consists of a number of farm dwellings with ancillary structures and garden enclosures, dating from the mid-19th century. The footprint of these buildings can be seen on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map. A number of these earlier buildings survive as roofless shells and together they show the 19th century scattered settlement pattern. Similar scale crofting settlements in the immediate area are at Papal and Bannaminn.

Some of the earlier dwellings have been remodelled, retaining earlier rubble fabric and plan forms, and the settlement pattern here is interspersed with some later 20th century residential and agricultural development. These changes to the immediate setting are not considered to impact significantly on the interest or character of the Easthouse Crofthouse.

Historic interest

Age and rarity

Crofts are agricultural smallholdings, tending to average about five hectares in size, to fulfil the requirements of one family, or crofter. A typical traditional Shetland croft consisted of a simple arrangement of stone buildings including sheds for livestock, barns and sometimes a kiln. The simple construction methods, without the need highly specialist tools and the use of locally sourced building materials, allowed remodelling to suit the changing needs of the inhabitants over time. This form of subsistence living based around the basic need for shelter, seasonal livestock and crop management, changed little in Shetland for many hundreds of years. Substantial elements of traditional, pre-improvement farming patterns and building techniques survived until the 1880s and in the more remote areas and islands into the 20th century.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the farming landscape of Shetland had been comprehensively altered by a wide range of factors including improved transportation links, changes in agricultural legislation, and the importing of standardised building materials from mainland Scotland. Many 19th century crofthouses in Shetland were either rebuilt, substantially reworked or abandoned by 1960.

The use of thatch as a roofing material has a long tradition in Scotland. Thatched buildings are often single storey cottages or crofthouses reflecting pre-industrialised construction methods and materials. The survival of thatched buildings of this 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 there 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.

Easthouse Crofthouse is one of only five buildings, or groups of buildings, known in Shetland to have an intact thatched roof (SPAB, p.384-398). The one other thatched croft is the Shetland Crofthouse Museum at Southvoe (LB5413), which was restored in the 1970s to reflect the living conditions of a typical Shetland croft during the mid-19th century and earlier.

The former croft buildings at Easthouse are an exceptionally rare and largely complete example of a 19th century Shetland croft settlement with 20th century buildings showing its development and continued use. The buildings show traditional building methods and a closely interrelated plan form. It is one of very few croft settlements that survive in Shetland which retain such a degree of their pre-industrial character.

The remains of the cottages to the south are also of interest in listing terms as part of a close-knit group of croft buildings.

Social historical interest

While crofting remains an important aspect of Shetland life, the survival and completeness of the former croft buildings at Easthouse are important in showing a 19th century Shetland croft settlement and its continued use and development into the early 20th century.

Statutory address, category of listing changed from B to A and listed building record revised in 2019. Previously listed as 'West Burra, Duncansclate, Easthouse Croft, including Cottages, Barn, Hen House, Pigsty, Lamb House and Skeo'.

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