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8 Baile a' Mhanaich, Beinn na Faoghla / 8 Balivanich, Isle of Benbecula

A Category B Listed Building in Beinn na Foghla agus Uibhist a Tuath, Na h-Eileanan Siar

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.4733 / 57°28'23"N

Longitude: -7.3816 / 7°22'53"W

OS Eastings: 77531

OS Northings: 855348

OS Grid: NF775553

Mapcode National: GBR 885Z.1S2

Mapcode Global: WGV2R.LF57

Entry Name: 8 Baile a' Mhanaich, Beinn na Faoghla / 8 Balivanich, Isle of Benbecula

Listing Date: 15 April 2019

Category: B

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 407090

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB52488

Building Class: Cultural

Location: South Uist

County: Na h-Eileanan Siar

Electoral Ward: Beinn na Foghla agus Uibhist a Tuath

Parish: South Uist

Traditional County: Inverness-shire

Description

8 Balivanich is a low, single-storey, roughly rectangular-plan, rubble-built Hebridean-type cottage likely dating from the early to mid-19th century. The cottage was renovated around 2006. The roof is thatched and the rubble walls are whitewashed with squared corners. It is located in Balivanich, the largest settlement on the Isle of Benbecula, on its north coast.

The front elevation faces northeast and is three bays wide, comprising a central entrance with a timber door, flanked by single windows. The rear (southwest) elevation has three windows. The far right window is slightly taller than the other two. The end walls are both windowless.

The windows are timber sash and case and have later stone cills. The building has later painted chimneystacks at either end, which are topped with short pots on stone capping.

The piended roof is thatched in marram grass and has a continuous thatched marram grass ridge. The entire roof has been netted and is weighted along the eaves and around the chimney stacks with stones tied to the netting with wire. The construction of the roof is in the Uist style of thatching with the thatch sitting on the outer wall and the thatch going over the edge.

Statement of Interest

8 Balivanich is a restored early to mid-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, it continues to show traditional building methods and materials of Na h-Eileanan Siar and retains a proportion of historic fabric. Notable features include thick, rubble wall structure, and the marram 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. As one of only two thatched vernacular buildings within the town, it is a tangible reminder of the historic township of Balivanich.

Age and Rarity

Benbecula, was under the ownership of the Clanranald's for 500 years, and had a successful kelp industry in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its housing and social conditions were better than the neighbouring islands. There were fewer windowless dwellings on Benbecula, and only 30 percent shared accommodation with livestock compared with 70 percent in South Uist by the turn of the 19th century (Miers, p.333). Financial difficulties of the Clanranald's saw Benbecula and South Uist being sold to Colonel (sometimes Captain) John Gordon of Cluny in 1838.

It is likely this cottage has existed since the early 19th century and was part of the large cultivated district of Balivanich prior to the collapse of the kelp industry in the mid-19th century. 8 Balivanich is first shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map (surveyed 1878, published 1879) as a rectangular structure with a smaller rectangular structure attached to its southwest elevation, probably a byre. Two structures are shown to the south and these may be another crofthouse and outbuilding. Surrounding the cottage, flanking the main road through Balivanich, are other clusters of rectangular buildings.

The Ordnance Survey Name Book describes the houses of Balivanich, Knockanteagal and Dungainachy (both of which flank Balivanich) as being one storey high, thatched and in ordinary repair. In the Ordnance Survey Name Books (1876-1878, p.21), Balivanich is noted as being a large cultivated district. By the 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey map (revised 1901, published 1903) the rear addition to the cottage had been reduced in size and the building was T-shaped in plan.

By the mid-20th century 8 Balivanich had been further adapted, with a porch added (as shown on the 1968 Ordnance Survey map). The former addition to the rear of the building had been removed by 1968 and a separate complex of outbuildings are shown to the west of the cottage.

Aerial photographs show that by 2005 the cottage was roofless with the walls remaining to the wallhead. A planning application (reference 06/00596/FUL) relates to the renovation of the cottage in 2006 and the cottage was restored around this time. The roof structure and chimney stacks date to this renovation work.

Balivanich is one of fifteen historic townships on Benbecula situated along the northwest tip of the island. Its name, which translates as township of the monks (Miers, p.334), suggests this area has been settled for a long time and has links to the ruins of a medieval church, Teampall Chaluim Chille to the southeast of the township (as shown on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey, 1876).

Balivanich also has a long military history. An airfield to the north of Balivanich was built during the Second World War, becoming the control centre for the Hebrides rocket range during the Cold War (Explore Benbecula). A Royal Artillery base was established in 1959 which saw a transformation of the area and the few surviving traditional cottages were taken over as Ministry of Defence buildings and housing.

The use of thatch as a roofing material has a long tradition in Scotland. Thatched buildings are often single-storey cottages or crofts and 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 form and construction techniques may be of special interest in listing terms. Na h-Eileanan Siar has 54 thatched buildings, of which eight are on Benbecula (SPAB, pp.554-566).

These once prolific traditional thatched buildings are now extremely rare. 8 Balivanich retains important elements of traditional construction and materials relevant to the Uists. These include its traditional footprint and its thick rubble walls with squared corners. The survival of this cottage in a largely altered setting is significant. This building type was once commonplace, but following the arrival of military and expansion of the town, this building is now a rare survival and a reminder of Balivanich's historic past.

Architectural or Historic Interest

Interior

The interior has not been seen and has not been taken into account in this assessment.

Plan form

This building has a plan form typical of thatched vernacular buildings of Na h-Eileanan Siar with a narrow-bodied, thick-walled rectangular form. The walls have squared corners rather than the more typical curved corners found across Na h-Eileanan Siar. Cottages with squared corners are understood to be slightly younger those with curved corners.

The footprint of the building is largely intact. It has been reworked (as shown on the 1st and 2nd Edition Ordnance Survey maps), particularly with the additions, and later removal, at the rear of the cottage. It is common that traditional cottages were altered by porches and extensions for the changing needs and uses of the occupant. The survival of its plan form is of interest.

Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality

8 Balivanich has been constructed and renovated 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.

The thatch itself has been renewed, as is regularly required. The roof structure was reinstated during renovation works in early 2007 using traditional techniques and materials.

The renovations of 8 Balivanich show how the building has been altered to accommodate improvements in needs and living standards. The overall appearance of 8 Balivanich is that of an early to mid-19th century thatched vernacular building that has been renovated. It retains a number of important features which are characteristic of Na h-Eileanan Siar, including a marram thatched roof with weighting stones and netting, and whitewashed rubble walls.

Setting

Balivanich township is located on the northwest coast of Benbecula. Balivanich is the main settlement and administrative area of Benbecula. The 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map shows that Balivanich was historically made up of concentrated clusters of crofts along the coastal road and had both a school (for boys and girls) and a post office. These crofthouses were located close to the shore.

The wider setting of 8 Balivanich has changed considerably from when the cottage was built. By the mid-20th century, the creation of the military base and the addition of housing for personnel from the 1950s onwards, changed the landscape considerably, engulfing the few surviving traditional cottages (Miers, p.334; Gifford, p.598). 8 Balivanich stands as one of only two vernacular cottages within Balivanich (the other is the holiday let Taigh Neill) and a reminder of Balivanich township's historic past.

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 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map shows the building as long, narrow and rectangular, with a structure attached to the rear elevation, and it broadly remains the same today. Accounts of the building prior to the renovation work indicate that it follows the typical Uist interior arrangement and that the small extension at the rear accommodated the toilet (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, 2019).

The low form, thick battered rubble walls and its rounded thatched roof, with netting and weighting stones of 8 Balivanich, 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.

8 Balivanich is 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 rainwater to run off away from the gap between the double wall construction, therefore keeping the loose rubble and earth that sits within the thick walls dry. The rounded roof is typical of these Hebridean cottages to limit the effects of extreme weather conditions, by allowing wind to pass over the structure and reduce the risk of damage.

The marram thatched roof has a continuous marram ridge and has been entirely netted with weighting stones. These stones are held in place with wire along the eaves and around the end chimney stacks. The use of marram grass, a locally available material from the machair, means it is pliable enough to create a swept ridge which minimises wind-lift, a key feature of the Uists.

Close Historical Associations

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

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