GeologyNatural HistoryHistorical ArchiveSea Room by Adam NicolsonWestminster Shiant Isles Expedition 1958 & 2002 width=Sign the Guest Book
Archaeology Icon

HOUSE ISLAND - EILEAN AN TIGHE

Map of House Island Sites

House Island is an elongated island orientated north to south coming to a point at the northern tip where a thin ridge of cobble beach forms a stony umbilical cord that connects House Island to Rough Island. This beach also provides a relatively easy landing, especially on the eastern side, allowing light craft to be hauled up out of the water above the tide mark. On the western side there is a low coastal level shelf that runs in a narrow strip southwards from the beach on the western side, which in combination with the landing place, may be considered as a preferred settlement area. In fact almost fifty percent of the monuments found on the island are gathered here. Further south the coastal strip broadens and with a steep slope humps up to a low west central plateau upon which the buildings of the secondary settlement area can be found scattered. Since the demise of the settlement the land has become waterlogged. Proceeding still further southwards the plateau remaining level narrows into a valley formed by a rocky ridge along the west coast edge and highlands to the east. From here the island stretches out the finger of Mianish headland.

The eastern side of the island in contrast is almost entirely composed of highlands, beginning at the north end with a high plateau bisected with a flat east to west depression. From the high plateau the land rises to the rugged east coast highlands of the island. This general low west to high east aspect of the topography results in the spectacular range of cliffs along the east side of the island.

Although open to the westerly gales it is the western coastal shelf and central plateau that have been used for growing crops as clearly demonstrated by the presence of the extensive remains of lazy bed agriculture. There are no suitable conditions on House Island for the proliferation of Puffin colonies, but there was visible evidence for the presence of the Black Rat.

Note about plans: Where a plan of a site exists, in most cases following the link under Recording opens the plan in a separate window so that you can have it in front of you while you are reading the description. Where there are several adjacent sites on a single plan, the plan opens on a new page in the current window.

Top

HI 1 Island Map NGR NG 4186 9775
Interpretation: Sheep pen. Positive.
Location: On the rocky foreshore at the north-west point of the island.
Description: None.
Provisional date: Modern
Recording: None.
Photographic record: None. (Historical Photo 1936)
Notes: Known only from OS map. No longer in existence.

HI 2 Island Map NGR NG 4186 9771
Interpretation: Well head. Positive.
Location: Situated at the northern most point of the island on the western shelf beside the natural path to the northern beach, and between the low rocky cliff to the west beach and the crag face to the eastern upland.
Description: Superficially it appears to be an artificially cut hole of around 0.40m. square and 0.20m deep, although these estimates almost certainly may be increased on excavation. There are several stones apparently set to form a lining. It is a catchment well filled by rain water draining down out of the boggy peat soils of the uplands to the east.
Provisional date: Marked on Harvie-Brown's 1889 map. Still in use, but no other material evidence.
Recording: Not drawn.
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 2. print no. 43. Black and White: Film 1. print 7. Notes: Marked on OS map.

HI 3 Island Map NGR NG 4188 9768
Interpretation: Well head. Positive.
Location: At the northern most end of the island, but approximately 30m to the south of well head HI 2. This well is also on the western coastal bench. but is sited up against the base of the crag cliff to the eastern upland.
Description: Sited at one of the numerous minor drainage points along the rocky crag that fronts the eastern uplands, it is fed by a thin trickle of water running down the rock face as it drains out of the upland peat soils above. The well head is approximately 0.60m square and 0.30m. deep with several stones forming a lining, however it is not clear whether the well itself is the result of artificial rock cutting and not a hole excavated and lined within the humped mass of water-logged bog vegetation that has formed at the rock base.
Provisional date:
Still in use but no other material evidence. It is not marked on the OS or earlier maps. and therefore may be of quite recent construction.
Recording: Not drawn.
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 2. print 42. Black and White: Film 1. print 8.

Top

HI 4 Island Map NGR NG 4186 9767
Interpretation: Lobster Fisherman's Bothy. Positive - documentary evidence.
Location: Western coastal shelf at north tip of island. Occupying part of the same site area as the mound HI 31, standing mid point on the shelf between the low sea cliff to the west and the upland crags cliff to the east and it is the first surviving upstanding building encountered on the path south from the north beach landing area.
Description: The rectangular building (8.50x5.40m.) is composed of two units, A an almost square shaped living quarters (5.25x5m. external measurements) and B a rectangular barn (5.40x3.50m. external measurements) built onto its southern side. Each unit has its own separate entrance doorway to the east, the barn door is 0.70m. wide while the living quarters doorway is slightly bevelled inwards so that the outside width is 0.75m. wide closing to an internal width of only 0.55m. The walls are of traditional Hebridean construction, with internal and external drystone walling filled with an earth core. The walls vary in thickness, from 1.60m. at the rear western side and the southern barn wall to 0.70 and 0.80m. at the north end and front eastern side giving internal dimensions of 3.25x1.75m. (the addition to the party wall making a very narrow room) for the barn and x2.85 for the living room. The party-wall between the barn and the living quarters is 0.70m. wide, but on the inside of the barn a further drystone wall facing of 0.55m. thickness has been inserted, the purpose of which is at present not clear. The walls, standing up to 1m high, are of uncoursed rubble construction, but with many blocks of up to 0.50m. width. The external corners are all rounded except those at the front eastern side which are all sharply squared. Internally in the living room, the same variation is to be found, the northern living room corners are built at right-angles while those on the southern side are rounded. The barn in contrast has all internal corners sharply set at right-angles. The only internal arrangements appear to be a setting of large stones, possibly a partition foundation, to form a passage at the north end of the living quarters. There are no chimney stacks or upstanding fireplaces. Around the north and more particularly the west side is a large mound (HI 31) into which the bothy/barn appear to have been constructed.
Provisional date: c1862 from information given to N Nicolson in 1946 by Marion Campbell that the Campbell family lived in a house next to which were two bothies which were used as living quarters by seasonal lobster fishermen. These two bothies would appear to be HI 4 and HI 5 with the Campbell house being HI 7. There has obviously been some alterations to the structure as indicated by the addition to the party wall and it is also not certain whether these fisherman's bothies were a construction of theirs or an adaptation of earlier buildings.
Recording: Measured ground plan drawing. (V+J)
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 2. print 38/39, 41. Black and White: Film 1. print 9.
Notes:
Marked on Harvie-Brown's map 1889 and on the OS map as a ruin, but there may be some confusion with the site location and the other sites in the immediate locality. The mound into which the bothy is cut was considered during this survey to be a very likely candidate for the graveyard/cemetery that was first reported in TS Muir's 'Ecclesiological notes on some of the islands of Scotland' (1885), and consequently marked on the 1889 map of Harvie-Browns. However the map notation puts the graveyard in association with the other bothy (HI 5) further to the south. There can be little confusion between the standing buildings since both the bothy (HI 4) and the blackhouse (HI 7) are orientated north to south while bothy (HI 5) between them is orientated east to west and on all of the maps HI 5 is correctly depicted as an east to west orientated rectangle. If the identification of the graveyard in the current survey is incorrect then there should be some alternative monument visible around HI 5, but all trace appears to have been lost since at least the 1920's and a recent visit by the OS in 1969 could find nothing at this location.

Top

HI 5 Island Map NGR NG 4185 9765
Interpretation: Lobster Fisherman's Bothy. Positive - documentary evidence.
Location: Immediately to the south of the other bothy HI 4. (see above)
Description: A large, rectangular (11.25x6.50m. external dimensions) two roomed building with a single entrance (1.05m. wide) to the north set at mid-point. The construction is of the usual Hebridean double drystone skin walling with earthen infilling standing with an almost consistent width of 1.50m. The stonework is of generally rubble uncoursed work standing up to 1m. high with many large blocks, up to 0.50m. width, incorporated. The building is divided into two separate rooms by a substantial cross wall, of similar width and construction to the outer walls, that extends into the building from the rear, south wall, leaving a doorway gap of 0.80m. at the opposite north wall, almost opposite the outer doorway, it is slightly off-set from the outer doorway towards the east creating two rooms of different proportions. The larger west room is 3.80x3.50m internally, while the smaller, east room, is 3.50x3m. The outer wall corners are rounded and the inner are all set at sharp right-angles, however the larger western room has a substantial deposit of earth piled up against the west and north walls masking the exact wall lines.
Provisional date: The same data applies as for bothy HI 4 above.
Recording: A measured ground plan drawn. (V+J)
Photographic record: Colour prints: Film 2 print 40. Black and White: Film 1 print 9.
Notes: see HI 4 above. This monument appears on the maps in the position given as the graveyard with no other notation. The internal dimensions for this bothy give almost the same floor space as the modern house of Compton Mackenzie (HI 6) and if the wall thickness is added to the equation then the bothy is actually larger by several meters.

Top

HI 6 Island Map NGR NG 4185 9762
Interpretation: Occasional residence of Compton Mackenzie. Positive - documentary evidence.
Location:
At the broadest point on the western coastal shelf at the northern tip of the island, approximately 10m. due south from the bothy site HI 5.
Description: Of a typical Hebridean style, usually called fisherman's cottages, of the first half of the 20th century, it is a more substantial variant of the type that uses corrugated iron for its walls between cemented stone gable ends. The house is rectangular (9x4.75m. external measurements), orientated north to south, with walls of mortared stone, rendered and painted. A single centrally positioned doorway to the west has windows to either side giving light to the two internal rooms, the arrangement as a whole taking advantage of the westerly view, but at a definite disadvantage in the westerly gales. Wall thickness was determined only at the front window casement as being 0.65m wide, but this measurement must be increased at least for the gable end wall which incorporate fireplaces and chimney stacks. A full internal survey was not undertaken and is an omission which should be corrected. Noted however, is a wooden internal partition wall division that creates two rooms, with dimension around 3.75x3.50m each, which by stopping short of the front doorway allows a small internal entrance hall. This not only allows inclement weather to be kept from the rooms, but also allows some small privacy between them on access. The internal space is finished off with a lining of wooden shipboard which has also been used to create a pantry cupboard in the southern kitchen/living room. Access to the roof space provides a storage facility. The floor is of cement and the roof was covered by corrugated iron which has since been replaced with a modern equivalent.
Provisional date: c 1880s, reconstructed by the writer Compton Mackenzie during the period 1926/7 at a cost of 250.
Recording: A measured ground plan of the outer wall elevations drawn. (PJF)

Photographic record: Colour print: Film 2 print 37 and the rear elevation is seen on print 36 which is mainly aimed at site HI 7. Black and White: Film 2 print 10.
Notes: This is now the only habitable building on the islands.

Top

HI 7 Island Map NGR NG 4186 9762
Interpretation: Blackhouse. Positive.
Location:
To the immediate rear (east) of Compton Mackenzie's house (HI 6)
Description: Damage and/or modification (and not a little rubbish) combined with a considerable reduction in wall height, most likely due to stone robbing during the construction of the adjacent Mackenzie's house, has resulted in a monument whose definition is not clear although it is of relatively modern construction. The form is generally rectangular and orientated north to south with the entrance doorway opening through the eastern wall facing, as usual away from the prevailing westerly wind. Exact dimensions are less easily determined since the northern end wall is partially angled outwards and the whole north-west corner appears to be missing, however ignoring the angled north wall the external dimensions are 7.50x4.75m. with battered walls of around 1m thick. They are of the customary Hebridean construction with drystone inner and outer wall skins and an earthen core. An internal wall at right angles from the east wall provides a room division and a possible entrance, although an alternative plan based entirely upon the visible ground plan could suggest a single room bothy with a northern entrance protected by the angled north wall.
Provisional date: Most likely mid 19th century to early 20th during the occupation of House Island by the Campbell shepherds and families.
Recording: A measured ground plan drawn. (PJF)
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 2 print 36. Black and White: Film 2 print 11.
Notes: It is assumed that this is the Campbell's blackhouse and is the building that Mackenzie is supposed to have founded his house upon, however it is possible, given the form and size, that the supposed bothy at site HI 5 is in fact the blackhouse and site HI 7 the fisherman's bothy. The reference quoted from Campbell's account is that the bothies were "next to the house", but does not give an explicit location of the arrangement and it is possible that the blackhouse was in the middle between the bothies and can therefore still be identified as being "next to".

Top

HI 8 Island Map NGR NG 4188 9760
Interpretation: Hut/Shelter. Tentative.
Location:
Marked on the OS map as a circle to the south of Mackenzie's house HI 6 it is located midway along the western coastal shelf, quite close to the eroding shore line. It is not marked on the 1889 map.
Description: A circular, 4m. diameter, low yet significant mound surmounted by a circular bank enclosing an internal area of approximately 2m. diameter. The bank in its present state shows evidence of being severely damaged and probably extensively robbed of its stonework, so much so that it does not appear to have any architectural quality that can describe it beyond being an earthen bank with occasional stones. A 0.60m. gap in the embankment to the west could be an entrance, but there is also a smaller 0.30m. gap in a more conventional position to the south-east.
Provisional date: The monument is of a type not easily dated from its superficial outward appearance, especially given the its location within a preferred settlement area, and it has most likely been subject to some re-use, modification or robbing, since its original construction date. That original construction date could therefore be quite early, even prehistoric.
Recording: A measured stone by stone ground plan drawn. (PJF)
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 1. Print 13. Black and White: Film 2. Print 12.
Notes: There is a remote possibility that this circular hut like structure could have been thought the hermits cell which has been traditionally located in this settlement area, but most descriptions appear to describe a square structure further to the north. (See. Macculloch 1824, Mackenzie 1928). A narrow trench across the interior down to a fire reddened surface was excavated by the owner.

Top

HI 9 Island Map NGR NG 4192 9755
Interpretation: Well head. Positive.
Location: At the southern end of the western coastal shelf mid-way between the coastal edge and the base of the upland scree slope and to the west of the trackway HI 11 that traverses the base of the slope. Marked on OS map and possibly the 1889 map although the proximity of well HI 10 is confusing.
Description: At present a rectangular shaped well head 0.60 x0.30m. is visible cut into the surrounding spongy water impregnated vegetation. There is most likely some stone lining at present obscured by the vegetation, but it cannot be determined if there is an artificial well shaft cut into the underlying bedrock. The water is gained from the natural drainage of the peat soils covering the uplands to the east.
Provisional date: Early modern to modern - still in use.
Recording: Nil.
Photographic record: Colour pint: Film 2 Print 34. Black and White: Film 2. Print 13.

HI 10 Island Map NGR NG 4193 9753
Interpretation: Well head. Positive.
Location:
Immediately to the south of well HI 9 at the eastern end of a short stretch of embankment that has been thrown up in a west to east direction from the beach edge of the coastal shelf. The well marked on the early 1889 map is presumably that of HI 9 some few meters to the north.
Description: A water filled hole of around 0.30 square meters excavated between several large surface stone blocks. Whether an artificial well shaft has also been excavated was not proven.
Provisional date: Early modern to modern - still in use.
Recording: Nil.
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 2. Print 33. Black and White. Film 2. Print 14.

Top

HI 11 Island Map NGR NG 4192 9757 to 4202 9737
Interpretation: Trackway. Positive.
Location:
The track was traced, running north to south, between the two grid references given.
Description: The route is clearly seen as a well trodden path, cleared of stones. picking its way along the bottom edge of the scree slope and on southwards up the side of the crag to reach the settlement area on the of the central west coast. With more work it may be possible to trace the route further from both ends. No time was allowed to investigate any possible structural element that may exist, such as consolidation of the track-bed or side revetting.
Provisional date: Early modern.
Recording: Nil.
Photographic record: Colour print: Film 2. Print 32.

Top

Archaeology Index Page Page 2 of House Island - Sites 12 - 31