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11 Rubha Ghaisinis, Uibhist a Deas / 11 Rhughasinish, Isle of South Uist

A Category A Listed Building in Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas, Na h-Eileanan Siar

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.3856 / 57°23'8"N

Longitude: -7.2987 / 7°17'55"W

OS Eastings: 81732

OS Northings: 845214

OS Grid: NF817452

Mapcode National: GBR 89C6.9QV

Mapcode Global: WGW49.VMMG

Entry Name: 11 Rubha Ghaisinis, Uibhist a Deas / 11 Rhughasinish, Isle of South Uist

Listing Date: 24 April 1985

Last Amended: 18 April 2019

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 352875

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB18740

Building Class: Cultural

Location: South Uist

County: Na h-Eileanan Siar

Electoral Ward: Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas

Parish: South Uist

Traditional County: Inverness-shire

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Description

11 Rhughasinish is a single-storey, roughly rectangular-plan, rubble-built Hebridean-type cottage, dating to around the mid to later 19th century. The roof is thatched and the rubble walls of the cottage have squared corners and are limewashed. The limewash has largely been removed on the front (east) elevation. The window openings are small and deeply recessed. The cottage is in an exposed coastal location in Rhughasinish at the northeast of South Uist.

The front elevation has an entrance to the left and a window to the right. The entrance opening has a stone lintel above, there is no door and a timber gate has been fixed across it (2017). A single row of stone capping is visible on top of the rubble walls on the west elevation. The south elevation and west elevations have single window openings. The south elevation also has a rubble and concrete chimney stack.

The window in the front (east) elevation is a three-pane timber casement. The window in the west elevation is a four-pane timber casement and the window opening in the south elevation has no window frame.

The roof is thatched in marram grass and has a continuous marram ridge. The roof is entirely netted, including across the ridge with wire mesh. The netting is weighted along the eaves by stones that have been secured to the netting by a continuous piece of thin rope passed through the holes in the net. The netting is weighted down the sides of the chimney stack to the south by metal tubes, secured to the netting with the same thin rope.

The interior was seen in 2017. The cottage is divided into two rooms and is currently unoccupied. There is a range cooker in the kitchen against the southern wall. The ceiling is uncovered and the wooden roof trusses as well as the turf covering beneath the thatch can be seen. The cottage has an exposed earth floor.

Statement of Interest

11 Rhughasinish is an exceptionally 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 late 19th to early 20th century crofthouse, showing traditional building methods and materials of Na h-Eileanan Siar. Notable features include thick rubble walls and a 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. This cottage is part of the built heritage and the historic character of the Uists.

Set in a remote, exposed location on the northeast coast of South Uist the cottage retains its historic settling as part of a later 19th century rural crofting settlement. The cottage provides 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 Rhughasinish at the northeast of the island is shown undeveloped with no cultivated land or houses. This was the case for most of the eastern side of South Uist in the earlier 19th century as the land on this side of the island is less fertile than the west and has a rocky shoreline.

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 west side of the island. This led to the displacement of large numbers of tenants who moved and settled elsewhere on the island or emigrated. It is during this period that the settlement at Rhughasinish was established.

11 Rhughasinish is shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1878, published 1881) as a small rectangular structure. By the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1901, published 1904) the building is shown as a small rectangular structure with a square addition at the northwest. On the 1969 (1: 2,500) Ordnance Survey map this square addition is no longer there and the footprint of the cottage appears as it does today (2018).

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.578-618).

Many of the thatched buildings remaining in Na h-Eileanan Siar have been renovated in the 20th and 21st century. 11 Rhughasinish is remarkable in that it has not been the subject of substantial additions or renovations and a significantly large amount of its late 19th to early 20th century fabric survives. It shows elements of traditional construction methods and materials relevant to South Uist (see Regional Variations section below.)

Architectural or Historic Interest

Interior

The interiors of these traditional cottages were often simple. Many of them have been refurbished and the survival of historic fixtures is rare. The cottage at 11 Rhughasinish is rare in that it has not undergone substantial refurbishment in the 20th or 21st century. As a result features such as the exposed earth floor and the traditional timber roof structure survive.

A cooking range, which remains against the southern wall by the chimney, may have been added around the mid-20th century.

Plan form

11 Rhughasinish has a rectangular plan form typical of thatched vernacular buildings of Na h-Eileanan Siar. The thick battered walls are typical of this building type in that they sit low to the ground. The cottage was purposely built facing an easterly direction to allow rough weather to hit the back of the house where there are minimal openings, a common feature on Na h-Eileanan Siar.

The cottage has two rooms and is entered directly into the kitchen space. This simple division of interior spaces is typical of traditional 19th century cottages in the Uists.

It is common for these traditional cottages to have been altered with the addition of porches and extensions as the needs of occupant changed. While a small structure can be seen at the northwest corner of the cottage on the 2nd Edition Ordnance survey map this no longer remains. The current footprint of the building corresponds to 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

11 Rhughasinish 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.

Many traditional cottages in Na h-Eileanan Siar have had their roof structure replaced during renovation. The retention of the timber roof structure at 11 Rhughasinish is therefore very important as it informs our knowledge and understanding of vernacular building traditions in Na h-Eileanan Siar. The cottage also retains a significant amount of historic fabric in its thick rubble walls.

The thatch itself has been renewed in recent decades, as is regularly required, and the thatch has been applied using traditional techniques and materials. The marram thatched roof has been netted and weighted down with stones. These stones are held in place with rope along the eaves and around the chimney stacks.

The cottage has been slightly altered during the 20th century by the addition of a chimney stack and the replacement of the window on the front elevation. These alterations show how the building was altered and adapted in the 20th century to accommodate improvements in living standards. These alterations make-up a relatively small amount of the building's fabric and 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.

Setting

11 Rhughasinish is in an exposed location on the northeast coast of South Uist, about a mile east of the public road between Benbecula and Howmore.

Miers describes Rhughasinish as one of the best examples of a remote crofting settlement in South Uist (2008, p 340). The cottage is by the coast, surrounded by land which is used for crofting. It is located some distance from any access roads and is only accessible by foot. There has been no development in the immediate vicinity of the cottage and its historic setting in a rural open landscape is well retained.

There has been some development in the wider area in the late 20th or early 21st century with the construction of a road around part of the bay as well as some houses. The scattered, unplanned layout of the vernacular settlement around the coast at Rhughasinish has however, remained remarkably unchanged since the later 19th century (1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed 1878, published 1881). The remains of a series of 19th and 20th century rubble stone cottages can be seen around the edge of the coast to the west. A group of other 19th and early 20th century vernacular buildings also remain within the wider settlement of Rhughasinish. These include renovated thatched cottages at Ronald's Cottage, 16 Rhughasinish (LB52487), Rhughasinish John MacKillop (LB18741) Rhughasinish Flora MacLeod's Cottage (LB19907) and an uninhabited thatched cottage around the bay to the west. The survival of this group of cottages contributes to the historic setting of 11 Rhughasinish.

The location and setting of crofthouses provides information about changing settlement patterns and agricultural land-use. The cottage, which dates to the early settlement of Rhughasinish in the later 19th and early 20th century, demonstrates how schemes for estate improvements affected population distribution in South Uist. As estate owners laid out farms which displaced settlements predominantly on the west of South Uist, some of the population moved to previously undeveloped areas of the island. The scattered, small scale nature of the settlement at Rhughasinish also demonstrates how traditional styles of settlement continued to be used in newly settled areas of South Uist in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Regional variations

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. 11 Rhughasinish is divided into two compartments, comprising a main house compartment and a bedroom. It broadly follows the typical Uist arrangement, but without the small central room. As a result the footprint of the building is shorter than other Uist cottages of a similar date, and the building does not have a window to the left of the main entrance which is unusual.

The low form, thick battered rubble walls and its rounded thatched roof, with netting and weighting stones of 11 Rhughasinish, 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 rubble walls of the building differ slightly from other cottages in Rhughasinish such as Ronald's Cottage in that it has squared angles rather than curved corners. Slight variations in construction was not unusual due to individual's preference, ability to build and the availability of materials.

The roof trusses, which are visible from the interior, are supported on the walls and this is typical of Na h-Eileanan Siar. 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 11 Rhughasinish may date from the re-roofing of the cottage in the late 19th or early 20th century, or they could have been reused from elsewhere. They are of some age and show traditional building techniques. As the roof structure has been wholly replaced in many renovated cottages, the survival of the roof structure in this cottage is of interest.

11 Rhughasinish 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 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 hangs over the eaves and is weighted by stones attached to wire netting over the top of the thatching material. The piended roof is typical of Hebridean cottages to limit the effects of extreme weather conditions, by allowing wind to pass over the structure and reduce the risk of damage.

Close Historical Associations

There are no known associations with a person or event of national importance at present (2018).

Statutory address, category of listing changed from B to A and listed building record revised in 2019. Previously listed as '11 Rhughasinish'.

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