Thatching in Inverness-shire, Argyll & Bute
This page covers the mainland parts, of the historic counties of Inverness and Argyll and the whole of Bute; including the Isle of Arran. Most of this area follows the Highland tradition of thatching; but influences from other, nearby counties, are to be seen. Thus the Northern tradition is also present. Especially in the very north and in the south, of this large area.
Sea side thatch… Overlooking the Moray Firth, at Ardensier. This cottage wears it’s age well, being around 300 years old. Now having a neat thatch of water reed, topped with a mortar ridge. Following the Northern tradition.
Much of Inverness- shire came under the influence of the improvements; and here the Northern tradition holds sway. Turf forming a base and a ridge, to most thatch. With heather, as well as straw, being used for standard coating. A probable, eighteenth century thatch, examined at Fort Augustus, seemed to follow this method. A good example of this type of work, can be seen on the battlefield, at Culloden.
Battlefield thatch… At Culloden Moor. The small building dipicted above and on the the right, is the only original structure, surviving from the sad events of April 1746; which has ensured it’s survival down the years. Unlike the cottages below, that once stood near the ‘Cumberland Stone‘, in around 1900. The modern thatch follows the style found in the old images. With a standard heather coat, topped with turf. But the old image dating to c1925 also has turf protecting the gable walls.
On the Isle of Arran, standard coatwork with overhanging eaves, was the normal method of thatching. Which is also the case in parts of Argyllshire; but where it occurs in this county, it is always in conjunction with some outside fixings. Where there were a few trees, it appears that the crook and caber fixing was popular. Lengths of rope or string, often taking over from the cabers…
John Smith in his Agricultural Report of 1805, for Argyll, describes the thatching, on the homes of the ‘lower tenants’. Which, ‘commonly consists of straw sprots or rushes. Is laid on loosely, and fastened of the same materials, or of heath; except in Kintyre, where the straw is fastened by driving the one end into the roof with a thatchers tool, as in the low country’. Mr Smith gives the life of a fern roof from 10 to 15 years. And was told the few heather roofs he found, lasted a century, ‘if well done’. The cost of a roof with ‘3 roods of heather’ (around 9 squares) was one pound sixteen shillings.
The stobbing, seen by Mr Smith in Kintyre was also reported in 1798. But in this report most thatch followed a directional Highland style. With a host of differing materials. In Bute this type of work was noted by Mr Aiton, in 1816. With an emphasis on heather, for both thatch and the weighted ropes.
Stob Thatched…? Very likely, at Fort Augustus around 1890; complete with a turf ridge. And a few timber outside fixings. The cottage below also belongs to this area and time. Thatched in heather and topped with turf. Both homes having wooden box chimney ‘lums’.
Today, most thatch is confined to the museums in this area. The Highland Folk Museum, has recreated a pre improvement township, at Newtonmore. This has excellent examples of the various thatching materials, used in the Highlands. A later, genuine township still exists at Auchindrain. Here some thatch is to be seen; following one the this areas many local thatching methods…
Times past… At the Highland Folk Museum. On this huge site, more than a few reconstructed thatches exist. Here are found, some of the ’lesser’ thatching materials. As described in the page on these. Often outperforming, the more commonly used ones. Photo; kind permission Highland Folk Museum.
At Auchindrain, in Argyll. This original township, overlooking Loch Fyne; still has a little thatch. The modern roof, on the little surviving cottage, uses sparred rope, to augment some standard coatwork.
© Copyright and thanks to Jason Hemmings (Creative Commons Licence)
Meanwhile, in 1900, in the north east of this area… Thatchers were covering the coatwork with clay. Following the methods, of nearby easterly counties. This faded image from Tomnahurich, near Inverness; shows a smooth covering on the thatch.
While in the west of Inverness-shire… Highland methods were used. But no roping here, the nearby trees providing for a crook and caber finish, at the eastern end, of Loch Morar in around 1920.
In Argyll, in around 1900… Similar work; with directional thatch, held down with wooden fixings, holding rope or liggers in place. Above at Taynuilt on Loch Etive; and on the right, at Glencoe. When the thatch was stripped here, a good many old firearms were found hidden within. Emphasising this place’s turbulent past. The image at Taynuilt dipicts the thatcher, posing for the camera, with his work seemingly complete… He has used a crook & caber fixing, at the bottom of this roof.
Making do… The opposite Thatcher was depicted in an early 1900’s stereoview, titled ‘Thatching in the Highlands’. The work being carried out and the completed roofs in the background seemingly place this scene hereabouts…
Our man is laying directional thatch similar to the gent at Tuynuilt. A difference is that he appears to have lost part of his right leg! His crutch is at the bottom of his ladder… Once on the roof thatching would be easy enough, with an assistant supplying material; but ascending and descending would have required some imagination to say the least…
Below, rethatch at Glencoe… The museum in this village has been rethatched with heather. The cottages are cruck built, and date to around the time of the massacre here, in the last years of the seventeenth century… Photo; copyright & thanks Euan Nelson. (Creative Commons Licence)
Western end of Loch Awe… Two Argyll images, from the prolific Aberdeen photographer George Washington Wilson; invited by Queen Victoria to photograph the new royal estate at Balmoral, in 1854. These two scenes are somewhat later, dating to around 1880. The upper, entitled ‘Cottages at the entrance to Glen Strae, Loch Awe’ depicts some well maintained thatch, held in place with wooden fixings. The picture opposite shows, ‘Ben Cruachan from near Dalmally’. The thatching is similar, with a long ladder on the roof; perhaps associated with some indistinct timberwork. (Another ladder, this time complete with a thatcher, is at the bottom of this page…)
‘In Glen Nant’… this glen in Argyll, is well known for its oak woods and former charcoal burning. Every building, in this late Edwardian image is thatched, in a standard manner, with some outside wooden fixings.
A more peaceful scene… On the Isle of Arran, over a century ago. The cottages above follow the Northern tradition. With standard coatwork and turf ridges. Similar to thatch, on the far side of the Firth of Clyde. Below at Portleck, similar work is seen, and its washing day…
Finally, some changes in Inverness-shire… 1930, changes… This long distance view of Loch Aitort ,in Inverness-shire; shows a thatcher, finishing off a directional thatch. A careful look sees our man fixing wire netting… The zig zag wire ties, joining each strip can just be seen, to his left. One other cottage has already been covered thus. The other neighbouring thatches, still have their attractive roping. (This image also occurs, in the Technical page on Roping.)