Why the St Kildans have a lot to answer for!

This week I began the early stages of the reconstruction process for Blackhouse G on St Kilda. I chose this particular blackhouse after studying some of the early plans made by visitors to the archipelago in the early to mid 19th centuary. One plan identified this particular structure as having a ‘crub’ or wall bed which has been described by a number of the early visitors such as Martin Martin and Thomas as a defining feature of the St Kildan blackhouse.

Plan and section of Blackhouse G, note position of wall bed or ‘crub’ (Stell and Harman 1988, 40)

Blackhouse G also seemed like a great option given that, from the scans and my memory of visiting the structure myself in the summer, it seemed to be one of the best preserved examples of this type of architecture on the Street as it still appeared to have intact tall gable ends…

A cleit with a blackhouse-style thatched roof, note the curved ends (Flemming 2005, 93 – Although this is a cleit, you will have to trust me that the blackhouse roofs looked exactly the same, unfortunately I can’t publish the images I have as they are unpublished and copyrighted!)

However, when I began to model the roof and consider the structure in detail something didn’t quite sit right. After careful study of the archive photos I noticed that the blackhouse roofs had at some stage been replaced with a more makeshift bitumen structure. After comparing the 1930’s photographs with much earlier photographs of the Street, I came to the conclusion that the gable ends were modified to accomodate these replacement roofs. Presumably the thatch took too much upkeep on a structure which was no longer inhabited and as such they were modified.How inconsiderate of the St Kildans! Did they not consider me when they made these modifications??

A general view down the Street around 1930, note the blackhouses have had their roofs replaced.

It just goes to show that when it comes to reconstruction trusting your eyes can be problematic! No matter how accurate the scans are, you still need an expert eye to understand not only the specialist construction of a blackhouse, but an awareness of the chronology of the site. The archive photos are proving to be essential in these early stages of modelling, I’d really be stumped without them!

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