Thatching, from the Moray Firth to the Firth of Tay

75aT his area takes in the coastal counties, of Angus (officially Forfarshire, until 1928), Kincardine, Aberdeen, Banff, Moray and Nairn. These counties were once the home to some unusual thatching techniques. But today there is little to show. It was in this part of Scotland, that the eighteenth century improvements to the craft, really took hold; replacing the Highland tradition, with the Northern. Many of the changes in working methods, were noted by the Late Georgian Agricultural Reporters. But in some areas, the original Highland thatching style often remained; long after they ceased their perambulations. thatching scotland

Before the Camera… ‘The Fisherman’s Cottage, Coast of Aberdeen’… Published in 1837. This print shows some rather square Northern style thatching. Pierced with several wooden chimney lums. Showing that the Highland thatching traditions had been replaced, hereabouts at least. Below, is ‘Arbroth Abbey, from the West’, in around 1825. The harvest scene, as ever, shows the role of women in this work. Some Angus thatched cottages, lie in the middle distance…

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Highland, roped thatch was noted in Kincardineshire in 1813; but also work, with Northern turf ridges and gables, along with the stobbing method. Mr Leslie saw straw and bracken, both neatly roped in Moray and Nairn. His report of 1811, also mentions some improved thatching; using what became a local speciality… The use of clay or weak mortar, to fix standard courses of thatch in place. This is a known method throughout Britain; but now rarely used. Here they went one stage further and covered the whole roof with clay. This was claimed to greatly extend, the thatch’s lifespan. An old thatch, under tin sheeting, examined near Huntley in Aberdeenshire; was done in this way; probably dating to before 1780. The eaves layer of oat straw, was tied on with straw ropes. Each course then had a layer of clay spread on top of it; for the succeeding course to bed down on. After two hundred years, this thatch was still very firmly fixed in place. The finished roof then had a watery mix poured over it; penetrating and sealing the coatwork.

Records from 1780 describe an agreement betweeen’ Alexander Stewart, heather thatcher in Grantown, to Sir James Grant of Grant, to uphold and maintain heather thatch on the Kirk of Inverallen, which said Alexander covered with heath or heather upon divot, for 7 years’. Sir James had founded the township of Grantown on Spey in 1765. Another Moray thatching job was referred to in 1778, at nearby Glenfiddich. Here the ‘ heatherer ‘ refused to thatch a local roof ‘as the house is so low and damp that it should be thatched early in the season to allow the heather to dry in summer; this prevents it rotting in the ensuing winter’… Ref; University of St Andrews Library

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St Lesmo‘s Chapel, Glentana… Near Aboyne in Aberdeenshire. This Edwardian image, seems to show two thatching traditions. The main roof is a standard heather thatch, topped with turf. All very Northern. But the left hand, overgrown roof, has a thatch that does not extend over the wall and is probably the remains of some Highland thatching. Although looking ancient, this building was only a quarter of a century old, when this image was taken. The church still stands but slates now protect it.

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Roped Thatch… At Aboyne, on the River Dee, west of Aberdeen. The river does not seem to have provided any thatch here; the roof being of straw, roped down tight…

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Royal thatch… Not far from the above cottage, at Aboyne. This is ‘The Queen’s Hut’ on Birsemore Loch, often called ‘The Queen’s Loch’. Part of the vast Balmoral estate, this roof was likely coated in Tay water reeds, topped with a mortar ridge, in around 1925. The building of the same name has now lost it’s thatch…

As noted above Stobbing also became a favoured working method; known locally as Tippeting. Many turf bases, of the original Highland roofs were often covered thus. Again, this type of thatching was often coated in clay. In 1811 Mr Keith reported how stobbed roofs had largely replaced the Highland tradition, in Aberdeenshire, in the pervious thirty years; but some cottages still retained their Highland roped roofs. These later methods continued well into the twentieth century. What examples remain, are now mostly hidden under galvanised sheets… thatch moray scotland

The above image shows a quiet road, in the 1920‘s… At Forres in Moray. These cottages are neatly repaired, with spars and liggers. The far roof having a fashionable ‘saw tooth’ block ridge. A type of ridging rarely seen in Scotland. The lower cottage has no such fripperies, as ornamental ridging; being ridged and coated with clay. The lighter areas are in fact snow. But this shows up, the cracked clay covering very well. This Aberdeenshire home is at Linshart, just west of Peterhead. And was the home of the well known Scottish clergyman and author, John Skinner; vicar here for sixty five years. Dying in 1807; a century before this photo was taken.

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A rarity… A tay reed roof, with a turf ridge, near Lhanbryde in Moray. Perhaps the only remaining thatch in north eastern Scotland… Photo; copyright & thanks, Anne Burgess.**

‘Thatched Cottages, Findhorn’… Above, a close up shot, taken in the late 1930’s; depicting some stobbed thatching, topped with turf. Below left is another view of the village.This post card is dated 1951, the writer notes, ‘in many ways this is an old fashioned place with its thatched cottages still to be seen.’ Alas this is no longer the case. The card shows some of these Moray cottages coated in Tay water reeds, again ridged with turf… The right hand photo is half a century older, depicting thatch at Bennachie, in central Aberdeenshire. This long distance view shows a very steep thatch, on the right, is possibly a hay stack.

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Edwardian Aberdeenshire… Location unknown. But almost certainly in the old county… The thatch is long straw, with a mortar ridge; a material also used on the masonry gable ends…

Angus thatch…. The left, ’Queen’s Cottage’, at Glenmark, is a typical piece of Northern work; tucked away in a remote glen. Queen Victoria once took tea, in this heather and turf ridged home. Giving it it’s name. The right row of cottages, are a few miles from Dundee, at Monifieth. Although close to the Tay water reed beds, this roof is thatched with straw. both these images date from around 1900. Not so the lower images, of Glamis; showing a pair of cottages, covered with Tay water reeds, in around 1950 and today… Photo; copyright & thanks, ‘Maigheach-gheal’.**

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Finally, some ‘Highland’ thatch and a Caber Frame in a ‘Northern’ area…

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Out of place 1… More Aberdeenshire thatch… Dating to around 1890. But this roof has a neatly roped, directional covering. Complete with a roped chimney lum. Showing that the Highland tradition lingered on, at least near Fraserburgh; a century after the Georgian Reporters…

Out of place 2… This 1880’s image depicts a cottage covered with a wooden caber frame; work more associated with the windy South West Lowlands. But this situation may well have also been somewhat exposed; at Clashintulloch, between Glen Taire and Glen Prosen in Angus. The main roof has a thin coating of thatch, with the smaller lower roof so worn that an overlapping turf underlayer is exposed. A similar underlayer no doubt existed on the main roof…. Only ruins now remain.

** Two of the new images, found on this page, were taken from the excellent Geograph site; licensed for reuse under Creative Commons. So thanks to all concerned, for allowing their images to be used…