A blackhouse

peatblThis will probably be my last post on blackhouse, this time a real one, inspired by the book The Blackhouse my Peter May. I really enjoyed that book, and I find myself towards the end of his second book, The Lewis Man. I guess I will feel a bit lost when I have finished that, because the third book in his trilogy from the Outer Hebrides will not come out until spring 2013.
So what is a blackhouse? I take it from Wikipedia:

The buildings were generally built with double wall dry-stone walls packed with earth and wooden rafters covered with a thatch of turf with cereal straw or reed. The floor was generally flagstones or packed earth and there was a central hearth for the fire. There was no chimney for the smoke to escape through. Instead the smoke made its way through the roof.
The blackhouse was used to accommodate livestock as well as people. People lived at one end and the animals lived at the other with a partition between them.


The blackhouse had space for both animals and people. The floor of the building was sloping,


and the animals were kept in the lower end for obvious reasons. The rooms were of course separated, but in the beginning animals and people used the same entrance.
And note especially, no chimney. The fire, ovr which they cooked, was placed on the floor in the middle of the main room. In the booklet The ancient monuments of The Western Isles I found this interesting paragraph:
There were several interesting reasons for building a house without a chimney. The dead smoke in the roof space tends to extinguish sparks from the fire; it coats the timber with tar, which helps their preservation; it prevents fungal growth in the thatch, turf and timbers; it discourages insects such as midges and mosquitoes, wood borers, houseflies and other species that might contaminate food. Meat and fish could also be dried and smoked by hanging them from the roof timbers, and the soot-laden thatch made an excellent dressing for the potato crop. 


2 Comments on “A blackhouse

  1. I can smell the peat in your first picture. Arne has a point about smoke-filled rooms. Must have been hard on their lungs.

  2. Anyone who has been in a room filled with smoke understands why insects and fungi don’t like it there! To be serious; the old people were smart – no doubt about that.

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