How to build a Scottish Blackhouse.

Vernacular architecture evolves reflecting the characteristics of the local environment, climate, culture, natural materials, technology and the experience of centuries of community building.

 

 
 

This is the blackhouse at Arnol, Lewis, Scotland. It's one of the few blackhouses that survive in the settlement which saw the demise of blackhouses, which were then called taighean (‘houses’), when people were moved to stone and lime mortar homes that were referred to as whitehouses. This blackhouse was built in 1880 and was occupied until 1966.

 
 
 
       
   
     
     

The blackhouse is built on clay where the base stones of the wall stand on pebbles to prevent movement [1]. The thick insulated walls of the home are built from two layers of dry stone with an infill of peat [2] topped off with a layer of clay to prevent water getting in to the wall and then capped with turf which absorbs any excess water [3].

The timbers of the home were generally made from driftwood and in some cases whale bone [4]. Over the timber roof a layer of turf was placed but leaving an unturfed region on the ridge of the roof to allow smoke from the central fire [5] to escape through the oat straw thatch [6].

The Isle of Lewis is a very windy place so the thatch needs to be secured by a rope netting and weighed down with stones [7].

   
           
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
   

 

 

 

 
   
   
 

 

 

In the pictures above (left and right) you can see how the oat straw thatch is fixed to the stonework and kept in place by ropes and stone. The oat straw was replaced regularly and the old thatch was used for fertiliser. Above (middle) is the central open fire with a bed alcove (Pattern No. 188) in the background.

The home (right) is a modern blackhouse built in Canada. The house was built using 126 tons of stone on a farm near Grand Valley, ON.

The structure isn't traditionally built with two walls filled with peat, and untypically it has windows in the wall rather than the roof, which is green rather than the warmer thatch.

Notice steps are built into the wall leading up to the chimney and the green roof.