by Roland Spencer-Jones
In early June 2020, I became aware that a neighbour on the braes below me was doing up an old cottage, with a 1970’s extension, that he had inherited from his father. He was one of four children brought up in the old cottage in the 1960’s. Once he had removed the corrugated iron roof from the cottage, a peat and heather roof was revealed. When that was removed a wooden cruck-frame appeared. I showed a photo (fig 1) to colleagues who immediately suggested that I should survey and record it. Cruck-framed buildings are not so common these days. There was additional interest in that the cruck-frame had been overlaid by a more modern roof and that the building is likely to be demolished.
How old is it? The online Lovat Estate maps show that the braes above, ie W of, Beauly were increasingly brought into crofting, gradually extending into moorland, between the mid-18th century and the early part of the 19th century. According to those maps, one of the crofts, Ruisaurie, had two croft numbers in 1757, eight numbers in 1798-1800, seventeen in 1823 and twenty-four in 1839. The crofts increased by both being sub-divided, and by new croft settlements being established on the higher ground. Confusingly, the numbering of the crofts changed over time, although by 1876 the croft numbering had become established to reflect the croft numbering now.
At one small croft, Ruisaurie No 11, a building appears for the first time on the 1823 map, not being present on the 1798-1800 map. Its croft boundaries were established by 1876, at which time there were two buildings on the croft site, see fig. 3. It seems likely, therefore, that the cottage was built between the dates of the two maps: 1800 and 1823.
From the current building remains it appears that the original rectangular cottage consisted of a double-skinned stone structure with walls 0.55m thick and 1.6m high, two gable ends, two cruck pairs, a doorway and two windows in the south wall. There is now a window in the north wall, although it appears a secondary insertion. Peat or turfs were laid on top of the walls. The internal dimensions are 9.2m x 3.65m, which in the 1960’s accommodated four rooms and the bringing-up of four small children. Presumably, the original cottage had a hanging lum, although no trace of this now survives.
As shown in figs 5 & 6, the cruck pairs were jointed, rather than being single curved blades. A 1.6m vertical cruck post, standing on one or two post padstones and set within a vertical recess in the wall, has an inward sloping upper surface. Into this surface three holes, or mortices, were drilled to receive a peg or tenon from the lower angled surface of the upper cruck blade. The cruck blade pairs are bridged by an upper and a lower cross-post, with the ridge beam sitting on the crossed blades at the top of the building. Two purlins on each side of the roof rest on the outer edges of the cross-posts, with irregular round pole rafters attached to the purlins. Figs 6-8 show details of the way the cruck uprights lay within the walls and were jointed with the blades. Fig 9 shows the bases of the four cruck posts sitting on their padstones.
Photos of Cruck No 4. Fig 6 (above): Showing details of the cruck joint. Fig 7 (below left): showing vertical post, with cruck blade removed, revealing three pegs or tenons. Fig 8 (below right): Sitting within vertical recess in the wall.
Below (fig 9): Close-up images of the four cruck posts sitting on their padstones.
At some stage, the presumptive hanging lum had been replaced by brick chimneys running up the inside surface of the gables at each end. The current owner thinks this would be in the first half of the 20th century. Then, also at some unknown stage, a corrugated iron roof with supportive cut timber wooden frame was placed on top of the intact heather and peat roof, which had been left in situ. As shown in figs. 1 & 10, the timbers of the “new” roof were supported on both the original cruck frame and the tops of the walls.
The final modification in the building was in the early 1970’s when a large extension was added to the west gable end of the building, and an entrance knocked through between the two, see figs 13 & 14 . The chimney on the western gable was heightened at this time to rise above the gable of the new extension.
Although the intention of the current landowner had been to renovate the cottage and form a domestic “snug” beneath the cruck-frame and a modern roof, during the renovation process one of the chimneys collapsed and the exposed cruck frames crashed down bringing part of one wall with it. So, the entire cottage and its wooden infrastructure has now been demolished and removed.
The remaining photos show elements of the architectural features of both the original cruck-framed cottage and the later development work. An original cruck post has been retained and may be dateable by dendro-chronology.
Fig 12 (top left): View NE inside the building, showing the E gable end with bricked-up fireplace. Fig 13 (top right) View SW inside the building, showing the W gable end, open fireplace and passage broken through to modern extension (where the radiators are stacked). Fig 14 (above left): Detail of inner surface of W gable end, fireplace and passage to new extension. Fig 15 (above right): View from SW of SE front of building. Fig 16 (below): View from SE of W front of building.
Such a fascinating article; shared to ‘Abandoned Sutherland & Caithness’: http://www.facebook.com/groups/abandonedsutherlandandcaithness/permalink/1407916959402371/