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TITLE
Blackhouse, Lewis
EXTERNAL ID
QZP40_3200_126
PLACENAME
Lewis
OLD COUNTY/PARISH
ROSS
DATE OF IMAGE
1878
PERIOD
1870s
SOURCE
Highland Libraries
ASSET ID
31734
KEYWORDS
black houses
dwellings
islands
buildings
Blackhouse, Lewis

Blackhouses were common in the Outer Hebrides until the 19th century and were lived in as recently as the 1970s. A blackhouse was usually a long narrow building, sometimes parallel with other buildings and sharing a wall. The walls had an inner and outer layer of un-mortared stones with the gap between them filled with peat and earth. The roof was a wooden frame which rested on the inner wall, covered with layers of heather turfs and then thatched and held down with a net weighted with stones. The roof, traditionally, had no chimney. Animals lived under the same roof as humans and grain was also stored and processed in the same building.

There are a number of reasons for the name 'blackhouse'. With no windows or chimneys the smoke from the peat fire blackened everything and 'outsiders' called them black houses because of this. Another reason is that the name comes from a mis-hearing of the Gaelic. In Gaelic for thatch is 'Tughadh' while black is 'dubh'. Said quickly these two words could sound very similar and so the proper 'thatched house' could easily become 'black house'. The most frequently-quoted reason for the name is that it comes from the introduction of modern houses to the islands. These houses were coated with lime wash and were white, hence the terms 'whitehouse' and 'blackhouse'.

This illustration is taken from 'Art Rambles in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland', by John T Reid (1878)

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Blackhouse, Lewis

ROSS

1870s

black houses; dwellings; islands; buildings

Highland Libraries

Fraser Mackintosh Collection (illustrations)

Blackhouses were common in the Outer Hebrides until the 19th century and were lived in as recently as the 1970s. A blackhouse was usually a long narrow building, sometimes parallel with other buildings and sharing a wall. The walls had an inner and outer layer of un-mortared stones with the gap between them filled with peat and earth. The roof was a wooden frame which rested on the inner wall, covered with layers of heather turfs and then thatched and held down with a net weighted with stones. The roof, traditionally, had no chimney. Animals lived under the same roof as humans and grain was also stored and processed in the same building. <br /> <br /> There are a number of reasons for the name 'blackhouse'. With no windows or chimneys the smoke from the peat fire blackened everything and 'outsiders' called them black houses because of this. Another reason is that the name comes from a mis-hearing of the Gaelic. In Gaelic for thatch is 'Tughadh' while black is 'dubh'. Said quickly these two words could sound very similar and so the proper 'thatched house' could easily become 'black house'. The most frequently-quoted reason for the name is that it comes from the introduction of modern houses to the islands. These houses were coated with lime wash and were white, hence the terms 'whitehouse' and 'blackhouse'.<br /> <br /> This illustration is taken from 'Art Rambles in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland', by John T Reid (1878)