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In 1983 the Trust entered into discussions with Historic Scotland about future conservation of the buildings of St Kilda and investigation of archaeological remains. It was agreed that to allow repairs to the structures and gain a better understanding of them in advance of excavation, a detailed survey of the built environment was required. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, was invited to undertake this work.

The RCAHMS built on the pioneering work of Dr Mary Harman who had undertaken extensive survey work during the 1970s and early 1980s. RCAHMS is the body responsible for making and maintaining records of sites, monuments and buildings throughout Scotland. Four seasons of survey work were undertaken between 1983 and 1986. All main areas of settlement on the main island, Hirta, were surveyed, as well as individual buildings which most effectively illustrated different phases of habitation and land use. A photographic record was also made.

Since 2007, the NTS and the RCAHMS have combined in a new re-survey of the entire island group using aerial photography and DGPS (satellite) survey technology to relocate all known sites and find ‘new’ sites, noting their main features, their location and taking photographs. In addition the Trust is undertaking more detailed building surveys of the manse, the Feather store, the blackhouses and many of the 1860s houses.

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Plan of Village area, showing distribution of outlying enclosures and dykes
Copyright: RCAHMS

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Plan of Blackhouse C, built in the 1830s and lived in by the Gillies family. Cattle were accommodated in the house in winter, in the byre end.
Copyright: RCAHMS

Plane table survey in Gleann Mor, 1985
Photograph: Sam Scott

Photograph showing supposed site of the early chapel of St Brendan. Survey work has failed to find any signs of the remains of this chapel.
Copyright: RCAHMS

Further Information

The results of the RCAHMS survey were published in Stell, G P, and Harman, M, Buildings of St Kilda, HMSO, Edinburgh, 1988 and summarised in a broadsheet, the fourth in the RCAHMS series, St Kilda, Settlement and Structures on Hirta, The National Trust for Scotland / Historic Scotland, 1998. The background to what was a particularly challenging survey and the way in which it was conducted are described in the chapter entitled 'The Study of Buildings' in Buchanan, M (ed.), St Kilda, The Continuing Story of the Islands, HMSO, Edinburgh, 1995, pp 24-38. Some 53 RCAHMS images, mainly from the Buildings of St Kilda publication, have been scanned for the purposes of the Scottish Cultural Resources Access Network (SCRAN) multimedia educational project.

RCAHMS holds many photographs, drawings and maps relating to historic structures on St Kilda, all of which are accessible through the National Monuments Record of Scotland (NMRS), open to the public Monday-Friday 9.30am - 4.30pm. On-line access is available to those parts of the archive which have been entered into the computerised database known as CANMORE at

As yet, only a small proportion of the records relating to St Kilda (accessible by entering 'St Kilda' in the name field) have been entered into this database.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland,
John Sinclair House,
16 Bernard Terrace,
Edinburgh, EH8 9NX.
United Kingdom
Tel: (+44) 0131-662 1456
Fax: (+44) 0131-662 1477/1499


© The National Trust for Scotland