1 Environmental and Research Background | 2 Post-medieval Buildings | 3 Earlier Vernacular Buildings | 4 Conclusions and Discussion

2.4. Conclusions

There are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from this critique of the nature of the post-medieval vernacular in the Western Isles. It is clear that local materials were used for almost the totality of the building, but the question of timber procurement in the post-medieval period is still slightly unclear. Certainly some communities were collecting timber from external sources, either northern traders, perhaps from Orkney or even Norway, or from mainland sources. However, it still seems likely, given the common literary and archaeological references, that in the Western Isles the majority of timber was collected either from the shore, or from the bog during peat cutting, and that this provided the roofing material for the 4000 or so Lewisian houses in the 19th century. Local materials were used with respect to the amount of labour involved and timber in particular was used sparingly.

In terms of design, the builders took care to incorporate features for drainage and ventilation, and assigned much effort to making the buildings warm, dry, and aerodynamic. It seems likely that there is still much to be learnt about post-medieval buildings (Walker and McGregor 1996, 1). This is partly because much information that is taken as of universal validity is actually community specific. Further archaeological excavation, survey and consultation of oral histories and photographs might help to clarify the 19th-century settlement record.

The post-medieval buildings of the Western isles fit into a model for 'collectivist' society proposed by Duncan (1981), where architecture stresses the status and identity of the community group, rather than that of the individual. Although Duncan used primarily non-European case studies, it is clear than the blackhouse is specifically concerned with reinforcing community norms and cannot be understood as what he terms 'individualistic'. Each building was constructed by a family, with help from other members of the community, its size determined not by pretensions but by the size of the herd and arable the family held. The house also performed an important function as a meeting place for people outside the immediate family circle. Although symbols of personal wealth, such as cattle and crockery, were to the fore, the overall impression of the architecture is that it reflects the community and tradition, rather than individuality.

All the characteristics outlined above can help achieve a better understanding of the earlier vernacular in the Western Isles and allow insights into their nature, and use, with a degree of detail that can corroborate and suggest better understanding of archaeological evidence. This avenue will be explored in section 3, where examples from the earlier vernacular will be viewed in the light of this post-medieval vernacular study.


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