Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Four Sanna Croft Houses

The township of Sanna, almost at the most westerly point on the British mainland, is a very dispersed settlement.   Other than the building at bottom left in this picture, which is a church, and the large waterworks building towards the top right, all are dwelling houses.  The buildings in the foreground are grouped as Upper Sanna; those in the distance are Lower Sanna.

For over a hundred and fifty years, the system of farming here has been crofting, whereby each family has a house, an area of land which the family works, and rights for a number of animals on the common grazings.  Traditionally, in Sanna, the animals kept were cattle; these days it is largely sheep.  The number of crofts has recently been reduced to six, and areas which were once croft land have been included in the common grazings.  Only four of the dwellings are in use all year round, two by crofting families.   Many of what were croft houses are now holiday homes, but some of the old croft houses have been abandoned.  Look carefully at the photograph above, for in the foreground are four of these abandoned houses.  With their walls built of unrendered local stone, they have merged into the landscape.

In this picture they are marked 1 - 4.  Until the reorganisation of the croft land, they all belonged to families who once lived in Sanna.  As the Diary's History of Sanna (here) explains, many of these families were originally moved here from about 1853 by Sir James Riddell when land further to the east was cleared for sheep farms.

MEM Donaldson, who came to know Sanna well from the 1920s onwards, and later built the big house called Sanna Bheag, described Sanna as 'a characteristic crofting township of twenty houses that, scattered with a delightful disregard for any ordered plan, nestled in the shelter of the rounded crags that form the landward boundary'

This is the croft house marked '1'.  It's built in the traditional style, with a single entrance at the front and a window either side.  MEM Donaldson described Sanna's houses as being of the 'but and ben' type - that is, one room was a living room (the 'but') the other the bedroom ('ben').  They had a roof of reeds through which poked a chimney formed from a cone of thatch, most had floors of beaten earth, and all were 'scrupulously clean and tidy, like their owners'.

The second croft house, while of the same design, has a building at the back which was probably a byre for animals.  What is so impressive about these buildings is the care with which they were built, and the size of some of the rocks used; it must have taken more than one man to lift or otherwise manoeuvre them into place.

The third is tucked into a small glen which narrows as it ascends the hill, formed a gorge down which a small burn runs, so the croft had a supply of water right beside its door.  It has two outbuildings and a walled area which may have been used either for gathering animals or as a garden.  The byre with its corrugated iron roof has obviously been used until quite recently.

This is the fourth, which has a substantially-built outhouse beside it.  MEM Donaldson wrote that the average rent for a Sanna croft, which was paid to the landlord, was £1 12s 6d yearly.  This included a share, or 'souming' of the common grazing.  The community's crofting affairs were overseen by a grazing committee of three crofters, elected every three years, of whom 'one acted as Clerk to the Land Court'.

The four crofts described are all clearly marked on the 1897 OS 6" map of the area - the full map is at the National Library of Scotland website, here.  The only changes that have occurred since then are that croft 1 seems to have lost the small building marked as attached to its northern end, the building marked with the red arrow has disappeared, and further houses have been built nearer to the track.

Reference: 'Further Wanderings - Mainly in Argyll', MEM Doanldson

No comments:

Post a Comment