The Laird’s Houses of Scotland: From the Reformation to the Industrial Revolution, 1560–1770
Strachan, Sabina Ross
The purpose of this research is to define the architectural development of laird’s houses. The term ‘laird’s house’ can imply, simply, ‘the house of a laird’. Architecturally, it is used to describe a category of dwelling first defined in broad terms by John G. Dunbar in 1966 (The Historic Architecture of Scotland). This thesis seeks to detail, firstly, what is meant by a ‘laird’ in the context of one who is responsible for the building of ‘laird’s houses’ and, secondly, the physical attributes of a ‘laird’s house’. A national overview of the development of laird’s houses is then provided, principally based on the findings of a regionally-based approach. In-depth studies on the Scottish Borders, Shetland, and Skye, the Western Isles, and the Small Isles form Part II. The final part is a gazetteer of the laird’s houses in these three areas together with a suggested format for a national gazetteer. The earliest surviving examples of laird’s houses date to the 1570s and ’80s. However, there is evidence to suggest that they may have first appeared around the mid-16th century. Through the compilation and analysis of samples, and the detailed investigation of key examples through fieldwork, documentary and comparative research, two types of laird’s house are discernible and are defined in this thesis as ‘Type I’ and ‘Type II’. Dunbar’s hypotheses that: 1) the laird’s house developed from the tower-house; and 2) a new type of laird’s house was introduced in the 1680s or ’90s, are tested and developed. It is proposed here that the two-storey Type I laird’s house could equally have developed up from single-storey dwellings as down from the tower-house. Also, rather than ‘hybrid’ examples representing a transition from tower-house to laird’s house, a similar Renaissance vocabulary could have been applied to houses of different scales. The Type II seems to have derived both from its direct predecessor and, from the 1670s, was influenced by new classical ideas and, later, the widespread availability of pattern books. The most important conclusion developed from the regional studies is that many buildings which have been identified by others as ‘bastle houses’ are, rather, better described as ‘laird’s houses’. In addition to defining the Type I and Type II laird’s house therefore, this thesis seeks to provide: 1) the first detailed national overview of laird’s houses; 2) a greater understanding of them through regional studies focused on their emergence (1560– 1645), the development of the Type I (1589–1730), and the development of the Type II (1670–1770); and 3) a framework for a Scotland-wide gazetteer of this building type.