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Taigh Raghnaill, 16 Rubha Ghaisinis, Uibhist a Deas / Ronald's Cottage, 16 Rhughasinish, Isle of South Uist

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

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.3831 / 57°22'59"N

Longitude: -7.3184 / 7°19'6"W

OS Eastings: 80527

OS Northings: 845029

OS Grid: NF805450

Mapcode National: GBR 89B6.DPS

Mapcode Global: WGW49.KP8C

Entry Name: Taigh Raghnaill, 16 Rubha Ghaisinis, Uibhist a Deas / Ronald's Cottage, 16 Rhughasinish, Isle of South Uist

Listing Date: 25 April 2019

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407070

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52487

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

Description

Ronald's Cottage is a single-storey, roughly rectangular-plan, rubble-built Hebridean-type cottage. The roof is thatched and the rubble walls of the cottage are whitewashed and have rounded corners. It is located on the northeast coast of South Uist on the eastern side of the bay of Grosavagh in Rhughasinish. Likely dating from the mid to later 19th century the cottage was renovated in 2010 and is currently in use as holiday accommodation.

The front elevation faces east and is three bays wide. It has a central timber door with diamond shaped glazing in the upper part. The rear (west) elevation has a single window opening. The cottage has two rectangular concrete chimneystacks on each end wall. There is a later single window to the left of the chimneystack on the south elevation. The window openings are small with deeply recessed four-pane timber casement frames.

The piended roof appears to be thatched in reed with a straw ridge, secured with a single horizontal wire. The entire roof has been netted, including over the ridge, which is weighted at the eaves and around the bases of the chimney stacks by stones secured to the netting by wire.

The interior of the cottage was seen in 2017. The internal fixtures and fittings are all early 21st century, following the refurbishment in 2010. The interior walls are whitewashed.

Statement of Interest

Ronald's Cottage is a restored 19th century Hebridean thatched crofthouse. These vernacular buildings were once prolific across Na h-Eileanan Siar, but are now extremely rare. In its renovated state, the building continues to show traditional building methods and materials of Na h-Eileanan Siar and retains a proportion of historic fabric. Notable features include the thick rubble walls and a straw 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 traditional cottage adds to the built heritage and the historic character of the Uists.

The setting of the cottage as part of an historic crofting settlement at Rhughasinish further adds to its significance. The settlement retains its rural character and reflects the significant changes in population distribution 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 with a rocky shore.

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.

Ronald's Cottage is shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1878, published 1881) as a small rectangular structure. Surrounding the cottage, around the bay of Grosavagh, are nine other individual structures or crofthouses. The Ordnance Survey Name Book describes Grosavagh as a salt water bay owned by John Gordon Esq. The footprint of the cottage appears unchanged on the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1901, published 1904).

The 1969 Ordnance Survey map (1:2500) shows the cottage with small rectangular extensions at the east and south elevations. A small rectangular structure is also shown built against the rear (west) elevation. These later extensions and additions have all been removed as part of the renovation works after 2009.

An image from Google Street View taken in 2009 shows the cottage as a roofless shell. The walls survive complete to the wallhead but with no roof, windows or door. Since this date the building has been fully renovated for use as a holiday cottage with the stone walls limewashed and a thatch roof added.

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.568-618).

These once prolific traditional buildings are now extremely rare. Ronald's Cottage retains important elements of traditional construction and materials relevant to South Uist. These include its traditional footprint and its thick rubble walls with curved corners which retain a significant proportion of historic fabric (see Regional Variations section below.)

Architectural or Historic Interest

Interior

The interiors of this type of traditional cottage were often simple. Many of them have been refurbished and historic features no longer survive. The interior at Ronald's Cottage was fully renovated after 2009 and there does not appear to be any original interior fixtures, fittings or decorative schemes surviving.

Plan form

Ronald's Cottage has a plan form typical of thatched vernacular buildings of Na h-Eileanan Siar with a narrow-bodied, thick-walled rectangular form. The battered walls are typical of this building type in that they sit low to the ground and have rounded corners often seen in Na h-Eileanan Siar to protect against high winds. 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.

It is common that traditional cottages were altered with the addition of porches and extensions for the needs and uses of the occupant. While small extensions were added to the cottage during the 20th century (as shown on the 1969 Ordnance Survey map) these have been removed and the current footprint of the building corresponds to that shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

The cottage 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.

An image from Google Streetview in 2009 shows that the cottage was complete to the wallhead prior to its restoration. The walls are therefore likely to contain a significant proportion of historic fabric. The window opening in the south elevation was added as part of the renovation works.

The roof structure itself was reinstated in 2010 during renovation works using traditional techniques and materials. The straw roof has been netted and weighted down with stones. These stones are held in place with wire along the eaves and around the chimney stacks.

The renovations of the cottage show how the building has been altered to accommodate improvements in needs and modern living standards. The overall appearance of Ronald's Cottage is that of a late 19th century thatched building that has been renovated. It retains a number of important features which are characteristic of Na h-Eileanan Siar, including a straw thatched roof with weighting stones and netting and whitewashed rubble walls with rounded corners.

Setting

Ronald's Cottage is on the inner eastern edge of the bay of Grosavagh in Rhughasinish, on the northeast coast of South Uist and about a mile east of the A865 at Eochar.

The location and setting of crofthouses provides information about changing settlement patterns and agricultural land use. These cottages, which date to the early settlement of Rhughasinish in the later 19th and early 20th century, demonstrate how schemes for estate improvements affected population distribution in South Uist. As estate owners laid out farms which displaced settlements predominantly on the west side of South Uist, some of the population moved to previously undeveloped areas of the island. The scattered, small-scale nature of the crofts 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.

Miers describes Rhughasinish as one of the best examples of a remote crofting settlement in South Uist (2008, p 340).The scattered, unplanned layout of the vernacular buildings around the coast at Rhughasinish has remained remarkably unchanged since the later 19th century (1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, Surveyed, published). Although most of the buildings on the west side of the bay of Grosavagh have gone, there are a number of other 19th and early 20th century vernacular buildings remaining within the settlement of Rhughasinish. These include an uninhabited thatched cottage around the bay to the northeast, a thatched cottage further east around the coast at 11 Rhughasinish (LB18740), Rhughasinich Flora MacLeod's Cottage (LB19907) and a renovated thatched cottage at Rhughasinish John MacKillop (LB18741).

The late 20th and early 21st century has seen development in the immediate vicinity of Ronald's Cottage with the construction of a road around part of the bay and past the cottage as well as some two-storey houses in the area. The historic setting of the rural open landscape with scattered settlement around the coast is however, well retained.

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. The interior of Ronald's Cottage has been modernised but it continues to follow this traditional pattern.

The low form, thick battered rubble walls and its rounded thatched roof, with netting and weighting stones of Ronald's Cottage, 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.

Ronald's Cottage 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 roof is in a rounded form as in common in Na h-Eileanan Siar, to limit the effects of extreme weather conditions, by allowing wind to pass over the structure and reduce the risk of damage.

A wide range of thatching materials have traditionally been used in Na h-Eileanan Siar from randomly placed eel grass, seaweed and straws to directional materials such as rush, marram grass, heather, bracken, broom and iris. Straw thatch was a later development in Na h-Eileanan Siar and its use reflects the vernacular tradition of adapting building techniques to make use of more readily available materials. (Walker et al, p.57).

The use of a ridge added during the rethatching after 2009 is not a traditional feature of thatched buildings in Na h-Eileanan Siar. The ridge however is not a pronounced feature and does not detract from the rounded form of the roof. The securing of the roof with netting weighted by stones is a traditional technique used in this area.

Close Historical Associations

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

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