Homes of our ancestors

Lucky me – I’ve been away for a few weeks on 2 holidays; to Bamburgh in Northumberland, and around Argyll. However, I won’t bore you with endless holiday snaps. I really enjoyed visiting the Auchindrain Township Museum, and thought I’d tell you about it. The name comes from the Gaelic Achadh an Droighinn, Field of the Blackthorn Tree, and is pronounced Aach-an-dry-en.

Auchindrain Township

Auchindrain Township

There is a Visitor Centre with a cafe, and you walk around and explore the homes and barns that made up the township. Most Highland Townships disappeared during the time of the Highland Clearances, when tenants were removed from the land to make way for larger farms and sheep grazing at the end of the 18th century. Auchindrain is one of the few townships that survived, still remaining as a joint tenancy; the last tenant left in 1963. Auchindrain is now a museum and a working farm.

Walking into the township, following the map, and looking around the houses, which are named after the previous tenants, you can still feel and imagine the lives of the people who lived and worked here. Like Bell a’Phuill, who lived here from 1850s to 1915:

Bell a'Phuill's House

Bell a’Phuill’s House

Her real name was Isabella McCallum, but was called Bell a’Phuill, which was Gaelic for ‘Isabella who lived by the muddy place’.

Chickens at Bell a'Phuill's House

Chickens at Bell a’Phuill’s House

The house is thatched with rushes that grow in the boggy ground near the house. Most houses had a ‘kailyard’ next to it: a raised bed garden with a wall around it where they could grow produce.

Bell a'Phuill's Kailyard

Bell a’Phuill’s Kailyard

As well as houses the township had many barns and sheds to help with working the land:

Bull and Wool house

Bull and Wool house

The tenants all farmed to feed and clothe themselves, but would sometimes need other skills, so the township also housed ‘Cottars’, who were not part of the joint tenancy but traded their skills and labour for rights to work some land for themselves or keep animals, they were often blacksmiths, weavers, stonemasons etc.

Cottars House

Cottars House

The main type of house in the township is a longhouse: one part of it would have been for people, the other part was a stable or a byre for horses and cattle. When they were originally built they would have not had a chimney, and would have a central hearth with the smoke working its way out through the bracken and turf roof; there would have been timber partitions to divide the living areas.

Ruined house and byre

Ruined house and byre

Most of the longhouses at Auchindrain are preserved in their 19th Century condition, and have 3 rooms and byre. The kitchen – which would be the main living area, the room or parlour – which would be for receiving guests, and the closet – between the other 2 rooms, and was used as a extra bedroom, a dairy, storeroom etc. Most of the houses had ‘box beds’.

Eddie's parlour

Eddie’s parlour

Eddie’s parlour was one of those rooms where I felt the tenant had just walked into another room, leaving the baby in its cradle and her spinning half done. In the closet next door, a friendly face was looking in:

Shetland sheep

Shetland sheep

I’m very happy to live in an 1830s building in Lauder, it was the byre for the house next door to me, and was converted from cow shed to dwelling in the 1920s. The interior layout of the houses in Auchindrain is similar to my house and the adjoining one, and it makes me wonder what they both looked like inside before the 1920s makeover? Are the rough cobbles and troughs in the byres still buried under the concrete and carpet of my floor? When I’m sitting at home knitting in a lovely centrally-heated house, I sometimes think about the generations of women who have been knitting garments out of necessity in draughty, candle-lit rooms, in houses like mine.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist including a snapshot of the beautiful scenery in Argyll, I took this waiting for the ferry back to the mainland from the Isle of Bute:

View from Colintraive ferry

View from Colintraive ferry

The information about Auchindrain is taken from their Site Guidebook 2012, and their website. There are lots more great photos of the work and events going on at Auchindrain on their Facebook page.

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