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Sangar Crofthouse, with threshing barn, windmill tower, kin and byre, Rapness, Westray

A Category A Listed Building in North Isles, Orkney Islands

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Latitude: 59.259 / 59°15'32"N

Longitude: -2.8642 / 2°51'50"W

OS Eastings: 350824

OS Northings: 1041707

OS Grid: HY508417

Mapcode National: GBR M498.0NQ

Mapcode Global: XH8KQ.0JHQ

Plus Code: 9CFV745P+J8

Entry Name: Sangar Crofthouse, with threshing barn, windmill tower, kin and byre, Rapness, Westray

Listing Name: Sangar Crofthouse including adjoining threshing barn, windmill tower, kiln and byre, and detached house to southeast, Rapness, Westray

Listing Date: 30 March 2001

Last Amended: 10 April 2019

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 395431

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB48010

Building Class: Cultural

Location: Westray

County: Orkney Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Parish: Westray

Traditional County: Orkney

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Sangar is a late-18th or early 19th century single-storey, roughly rectangular-plan crofthouse with a threshing barn, windmill and circular-plan kiln with a turf roof adjoined to the northeast, and a former byre adjoined to the southwest. The barn has largely intact threshing machinery. The buildings have flagstone rubble walls, gabled ends and step down in height following the sloping ground. There are flagstone roofs on the threshing barn and the stable/byre. The former house has a corrugated asbestos roof.

The southwest elevation of the crofthouse has a central entrance with a boarded timber door, flanked by small window openings, each with single-pane, fixed timber frames. The byre also has a timber door. The threshing barn has an entrance in each side with a boarded timber door. Apart from this door, the northeast elevation has no other openings. The windmill tower supports a hollow timber post containing a cast iron drive shaft, and surmounted by a timber top-shaft and sail hub. A slightly tapering, circular-plan kiln with a turf covering adjoins the northeast gable of the barn.

The threshing machinery in the barn (seen in 2000) remains in place (information from owner, 2018) including the drum, spur gearing and timber brake wheel and levers. The byre (seen in 2000) has stone slab stall divisions.

To the east and at right angles to this range is a later detached house (now roofless) of mid-19th century date. It has rubble walls with gabled ends, each with a chimneystack. The flagstone and turf-covered roof has collapsed in recent years (2018). The entrance in the southwest elevation is offset to the right of centre, and there are windows to the right and outer left. There are no openings in the other walls. The interior is thought to retain evidence of timber internal partitions, three box-beds and fireplaces (seen in 2001). A small rubble lean-to with a flagstone roof adjoins the southeast gable.

Statement of Interest

Sangar is an exceptionally rare and largely complete 19th century Orkney croft, comprising a crofthouse with an adjoining byre, a threshing barn, a windmill tower and a kiln. These vernacular buildings were once prolific across Orkney, but are now extremely rare. The wind-powered threshing machine is the most complete surviving example of its building type in Scotland.

Sangar shows traditional 19th century construction methods and materials and stepped, linear plan form. Notable features include the thick rubble walls with minimal openings, flagstone roofs and a kiln with a rare surviving thatched roof. The buildings retain a significant amount of historic fabric and have not been significantly altered or extended.

The later house to the east is an integral component part of this croft complex. It shows the development of the croft and the improvements in living standards of the crofter.

Age and Rarity

Sangar is a largely intact croft complex including a wind-powered threshing machine. It is located towards the southeast end of the island of Westray, Orkney. It is not currently known when a croft first occupied the site. The croft is marked as 'Sanquhar' and shown in its present footprint on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1879. The lack of chimney stacks on the gables of the crofthouse indicates that the building was built before 1830-1840, when flues in the gable end were typical (Newman, 1991). Sanquhar was the inherited property of Thomas Traill of Holland (1822-1896) at that time (Ordnance Survey Name Book 1879-1880, p.275).

Wind-powered threshing machines were developed on Orkney during the latter part of the 19th century. Douglas et al, in their survey of Scottish Windmills (completed in 1984) recorded ten examples of wind-powered threshing machines, surviving to an identifiable degree, on the islands of Westray and Papa Westray. They shared characteristics and a degree of standardisation in both dimensions and their style of construction. They were generally built in low-lying, open areas of high wind and limited opportunities for water power (Douglas et al, p.4). Such was their efficiency and suitability to the local crofting system several examples continued in use until the mid-20th century. Another listed example on Westray, with the same design to the windmill base at Sangar, is part of the croft at Swartaback (see separate listing LB48013). No threshing machinery or kiln is known to survive here.

Douglas et al (p.42) stated that Sangar's wind-powered threshing machine with windmill tower, gearing and machinery was the most complete example of this windmill type in Scotland. Only its sail arms and sails are missing. This wind-powered threshing machine at Sangar was known to the last one in operation on the island of Westray, It was in use until 1950, when the farmer, Mr Seater, retired (Douglas et al, p.42).

A traditional Orkney croft complex was typically a linear arrangement of single-storey, stone buildings with associated outbuildings including livestock sheds, barns and sometimes a kiln. Crofting settlements fulfilled the individual and communal needs of the community. Buildings would be built using long-established and simple construction methods, without the need for highly specialist tools.

Kilns were common on small crofts but surviving examples are now rare. They were used to dry the grain for grinding and sometimes also the grain for the next year's seed (processes particularly relevant in regions with short moist summers). The kilns were also used to dry malt as part of the process of making ale. The circular, tapering kiln at Sangar has a traditional turf covering which adds to its interest.

A croft was often a component of a larger farming settlement or 'ferm toun'. This form of subsistence living based around the basic need for shelter, seasonal livestock and crop management, changed little in Orkney for many hundreds of years, prior to the agricultural improvements and industrialisation of the 19th century. By the late 19th century, a more widespread and scattered formation of settlement and arrangement of outbuildings became more common.

The decline of local vernacular building traditions in the later 19th century was largely due to advances in agricultural mechanisation and improved transport links. The gradual evolution of crofting settlements took place throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as improved agricultural methods were adopted in Orkney, but at a significantly slower pace in comparison to mainland Scotland. Substantial elements of traditional, pre-improvement farming patterns and building techniques survived in the more remote areas and islands, into the 20th century. Traditional croft buildings continued to be built. The move away from subsistence living caused a dramatic change, and the farming landscape of Orkney and the highlands of Scotland generally was comprehensively reorganised.

By the end of the 20th century, the farming landscape of Orkney had been comprehensively altered by a wide range of factors. These included improved transport links, changes in agricultural legislation and the importing of standardised building materials from mainland Scotland. Many pre-1900 crofthouses were either rebuilt, substantially reworked or abandoned by 1960.

The use of thatch as a roofing material has a long tradition in Scotland. Thatched and turf-roofed buildings are usually single storey cottages or crofthouses reflecting pre-industrialised construction methods and materials.

The survival of traditional turf-covered roofs into the 21st century is 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 or turfed roofs in Scotland. The survey records seven buildings in Orkney that remain thatched or turfed. At least three further examples in Rackwick have come to light as part of the Thatched Buildings Listing Review 2017-19.

Pre-agricultural improvement period crofthouses that largely retain their traditional 19th century character, are increasingly rare in Orkney. Sangar Crofthouse is an exceptionally rare survival and largely complete complex of traditional Orkney croft buildings, including a crofthouse with adjoining threshing barn and windmill tower, circular kiln with turf covering and byre. These buildings show a number of elements that are typical of 19th century vernacular building traditions and construction methods in Orkney (See Regional Variations section below). The windmill and associated threshing machine is the most complete example of this windmill type, and is the last operational example in Orkney (Douglas et al, p.42).

The cottage is a later but integral part of this croft complex. It shows the development of the croft and the improvements in living standards of the crofter.

Architectural or Historic Interest


The interiors of traditional crofthouses and cottages were often simple. Many of them have been refurbished and the survival of historic fixtures is rare. The principal interest of the interior at Sangar is the survival of the wind-powered machinery in the threshing barn including a timber drum and brake wheel, spur gearing and levers. This exceptional survival adds significantly to the interest in listing terms.

The interior of the late 18th/early 19th century crofthouse has not been seen and has not been assessed.

The listed building record, written in 2001, describes timber internal partitions, three box beds and fireplaces in the interior of the later detached house. As the roof of this building has collapsed, the level of survival of these features are not currently known.

Plan form

The croft buildings at Sangar are typical of thatched vernacular buildings. The crofthouse and its associated byre were usually adjoining in a long, linear pattern on sloping ground, almost reflecting the Norse longhouse. The byre end would be on lower ground for drainage of animal waste.

The expense of suitable roof timber, particularly in Orkney where timber was scarce, restricted the depth which could be spanned, resulting in a narrow rectangular-plan form.

The building would be purposely built to make use of the natural topography of a site and reduce the effects of extreme weather conditions. The thick stone walls, sit low to the ground reducing the likelihood of damage to the roof by strong coastal winds. Openings are predominantly on the southwest side of the building.

The barn has two opposing doorways to create a wind tunnel when both were opened. This allowed 'winnowing' to take place indoors in bad weather. Winnowing separates the grain from the chaff so that the heavier grain falls to the ground while the finer, unwanted chaff blows out through the doorway. This is a traditional part of the milling process and adds to the plan form interest.

It is common for these traditional cottages to have been altered by addition of porches and small extensions. The footprint of the building is largely unchanged from that shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1879). The degree of survival of the building's early footprint, with each component still discernible and without any significant additions or losses, is exceptionally rare and adds to its interest.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

The Sangar Crofthouse and associated buildings are constructed 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 (perhaps with new roofing material or rethatched) can also be listed. The retention of overall traditional character is therefore important in determining architectural or historic interest.

Sangar largely retains its traditional exterior character and a significant proportion of its historic fabric, including the most complete wind-powered threshing machine in Orkney.

The building has lost some historic fabric, including the loss of the windmill sails and the collapse of the roof to the later house to the east. The previous listed building record, written in 2001, describes this roof as an underseamed flagstone roof with the remains of a turf covering. Remnants of this roof remains in the cottage. 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 enough of the historic fabric and form survives to show that it is characteristic of 19th century Orkney vernacular building traditions and a largely complete example of a croft complex in Orkney.


The location and setting of crofts provide information about changing settlement patterns and agricultural land-use. Westray is one of the northernmost islands in Orkney. Topographically, it is flat and is largely crop-based farming. The low-lying surrounding land and relative lack of nearby water sources resulted in the development of wind-powered threshing machines on Westray and Papa Westray (see also Regional Variations section).

The Sangar croft buildings are situated prominently at a crossroads less than 1km from the ferry pier at Rapness. The arrangement of the buildings, and the wider surrounding landscape, remains largely unchanged from that shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1879. The level of survival of these croft buildings help us understand about land-use and the development of farming communities in Orkney in the 19th century.

Regional variations

The design and construction of the building, the method of roofing and the materials 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.

Wind-powered threshing machines on the islands of Westray and Papa Westray share a number of characteristics and standardisation in both dimensions and their style of construction. In our current knowledge Sangar is the most complete surviving example of this traditional form of wind-powered machinery in Orkney or Scotland. It is therefore of exceptional interest in the context of this now extremely rare and significant local building type.

The geology and climate of Orkney has made a significant impact on the physical appearance of vernacular buildings of the 19th century and earlier. Traditional croft buildings of Orkney are usually single storey, low profile buildings made up of two or sometimes three rooms with an adjoining byre. The interior of the earlier crofthouse has not been seen, but the window arrangement suggests it follows this pattern.

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 stone 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.

Flagstone roofs, as a lapped and seamed underlayer for turf or thatch, is a traditional roofing method in the region, because of the abundance of flagstone. The weight of the flagstones were supported on timber rafters, particularly as larger quantities of timber were imported to the islands from the mainland during the 19th century. The turf or thatch outerlayer would then usually be secured and weighted by flagstones lining the eaves, the ridge and along the centre of the roof pitch.

The low, shallow pitched roof, the lack of overhanging eaves and the use of flagstone is typical of for Orkney. These features allow the wind to travel over the top of the building more easily, making it less susceptible to weather damage and reducing the noise when inside the building. The thatch or turf covering also helps to stop the flags cracking through frost, it insulates the building and lessens the chance of water ingress during heavy rain.

These traditional building methods and materials can all be seen at Sangar Crofthouse. The roofs at Sangar are predominantly flagstone slabs supported on timbers and the kiln has a turf topping. The roof of the early crofthouse has been replaced and it is not known if any remains of the original roof survive under this replacement covering. The roof of the detached house has collapsed in recent years (2018). The roof showed the traditional practice of weatherproofing flagstone roofs with turf, which was used prior to the introduction of cement mortar.

Close Historical Associations

There are no close historical associations known at present (2018)

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

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