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The Village

The St Kildans lived in a village on the main island, Hirta, and we suspect it was rebuilt on different sites on several occasions.

We know little about the early St Kildan dwellings. There are remains of early stone-built corbelled structures, and of black houses.

Map: Chris Smith

Martin Martin wrote in 1697 that the houses were:

"low-built, of Stone, and a Cement of dry Earth; they have Couples and Ribs of Woodcover'd with thin earthen Turff, thatch'd over these with Straw and the Roof secur'd on each side with double Ropes of Straw or Heath, pois'd at the end with many Stones: their Beds are commonly made in the Wallof their Houses….to make room for their Cows which they take in during the Winter and Spring."

A recently-discovered watercolour of the village by George Clayton Atkinson in 1831 shows a cluster of thatched stone houses down towards the shore. This might supply clues to the location of mediaeval and later settlement.

Watercolour of the village in 1831
Illustration: David Quine

The same view today
Photograph: Robin Turner

The Village as we see it today was laid out by the minister, the Reverend Neil Mackenzie, in the 1830s and consists of a crescent of houses with associated cultivation plots, all within a head dyke. The houses built in the 1830s were typical Hebridean black houses, single-roomed, the cattle being accommodated in them in winter. In the 1860s new houses were built. These were of a standard Hebridean design with an entrance lobby, small closet behind, and two main rooms.

Click photo for enlargement

The Village in 1886, showing the roofed 1860s houses with the thatched 1830s houses now used as barns and byres for the cattle. Down by the shore are the Store, Church and Manse. At the east end of the village Is the Factor's House. Storage cleitean are scattered about, both within and without the head dyke. There are a number of enclosures for garden crops.
Photograph: George Washington Wilson Collection, University of Aberdeen

Mrs Gillies sitting outside her house
Photograph: The National Trust for Scotland

© The National Trust for Scotland