BCD 2018

77 C AT H E D R A L COMMU N C I AT I O N S C E L E B R AT I N G T W E N T Y F I V E Y E A R S O F T H E B U I L D I N G CO N S E R VAT I O N D I R E C TO R Y 1 9 9 3 – 2 0 1 8 ROOFING 3.1 THATCH INSCOTLAND JESSICA HUNNISETT-SNOW H ISTORIC THATCHED buildings are now rare in Scotland. In 2016 the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) published a detailed record of the 300 or so examples believed to be surviving. Each one had been visited by SPAB Scotland officer Zoe Herbert and its condition recorded with the help of Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The survey revealed that only around 200 of the known examples now remain in anything like their original form. The reasons for the loss of thatched buildings are complex and the subject has generated much discussion over the past 30 years or so. Some factors are well documented: the rural landscape of Scotland underwent a period of rapid change during the social and industrial changes of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and previously common vernacular building types disappeared as housing standards improved and rural populations declined. Alexander Fenton (see Further Information) notes that the general use of thatch in Scotland was coming to an end by the 1790s, with its use being increasingly confined to poorer communities and agricultural structures. As early as 1803, when thatched buildings would still have been a common sight, Dorothy Wordsworth marvelled at the cosy charm and romance of the ‘Highland hut’, so far removed from the polite city drawing rooms and more modern slate and pantile roofed buildings which town dwellers were used to. From an early date the fire risk posed by thatch made it undesirable and sometimes illegal in urban areas, further increasing the association with a class divide between the urban and rural populations. In more remote areas the diverse local traditions of thatching continued well into the 20th century but, even to Victorian visitors, thatched buildings had largely become a nostalgic symbol of a bygone age. In Scotland, surviving thatched buildings before the 1930s rarely seem to have the status of those south of the border. Notable exceptions which still survive are Moncrief House in Falkland (1610), partially thatched Barony House (c1781) in Lasswade, and the fine Arts and Crafts style planned estate village of Fortingall near Aberfeldy (above). As more durable roofing materials such as slates, tiles and corrugated iron became more readily available, thatched and other traditionally constructed rural buildings became increasingly seen as below standard and were systematically replaced with more modern housing. Nevertheless, the residents of Garenin village on Lewis (Gaelic name: Gearrannan) (overleaf) were not rehoused until 1971 – and some only reluctantly even then. All buildings become vulnerable once they are abandoned but, being built of organic materials, a traditional Scottish thatched house will rapidly deteriorate unless Kirkton Cottages, part of a grouping of thatched cottages in Fortingall, designed by JM MacLaren in 1889. The list entry describes them as being thatched in an ‘English traditional manner’.