Summary of the Hebridean Blackhouse Thatching Project – Sept 2017
The traditional Hebridean blackhouse here at the Highland Folk Museum is one of our most popular exhibits. We were recently awarded a grant from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) for the project to re-thatch the roof of the blackhouse, and make the building suitable again for public access.
The blackhouse was first commissioned by the Highland Folk Museum’s founder Isobel F. Grant in the 1940s, and was erected originally in Kingussie. It was constructed by a Hebridean craftsman in a style typical of the Isle of Lewis in the 1890s.
The building had fallen into considerable disrepair by the early 2010s, and the decision to move and reconstruct it at Newtonmore in 2013 was taken as part of the relocation of the entire museum to the new site. The thatched roof was found at that time to be in a poor state of repair, with rotting timbers severely compromising the overall safety of the structure. Relocation allowed the worst of the problems to be dealt with and averted the eventual need for demolition, but due to a variety of circumstances the thatched roof was never completed satisfactorily or with appropriate materials and the blackhouse has been closed to the public ever since.
Our hope is to deliver the central aims of the re-thatching project in ways that directly involve our visitors by creating exciting and engaging demonstrations. We also hope to generate specialist learning and engagement opportunities. These will consist of one-off events for people with interests in vernacular Scottish building construction and the traditional skills and techniques employed in the upkeep of such structures. Marram grass is a traditional thatching material for Hebridean and other coastal buildings. It is appropriate to use this material in our Blackhouse in order to re-create an authentic structure as well as enabling the continuation of the specialist skills involved.
Neil Nicholson from North Uist will be undertaking the re-thatching work and will employ the traditional marram grass thatching skills. Marram grass is a traditional thatching material for Hebridean and other coastal buildings. It is appropriate to use this material in our Blackhouse in order to re-create an authentic structure as well as enabling the continuation of the specialist skills involved. As part of the project Neil is training our own buildings maintenance staff and those of HES with a view to ensuring they become well-trained in the techniques that Neil employs.
Davie Cameron, our local Blacksmith, is reproducing some of the thatching tools that will be used and one of our own craft workers, Hannes Schnell has produced the wooden handles for these tools.
Check back to see how the project is progressing here and do come and see the Blackhouse for yourself soon!
Update 1: Preparing for the project
Update 2: Cutting the turf – W/c 4th Sept