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Mingulay, village and field system

A Scheduled Monument in Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas, Na h-Eileanan Siar

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.8122 / 56°48'43"N

Longitude: -7.6338 / 7°38'1"W

OS Eastings: 56349

OS Northings: 783122

OS Grid: NL563831

Mapcode National: GBR 7BKQ.67Z

Mapcode Global: WGV5X.Q12K

Entry Name: Mingulay, village and field system

Scheduled Date: 20 February 1997

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM6593

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: settlement, including deserted, depopulated and townships

Location: Barra

County: Na h-Eileanan Siar

Electoral Ward: Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas

Traditional County: Inverness-shire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of the village at Mingulay Bay and its associated field system. Mingulay was abandoned in 1912 after a human occupation which lasted from at least the Bronze Age, although it first appears (by a recognisable name) in documentary sources in the mid-16th century. Since the start of written records, this has been the main settlement site on the island. The E side of the village is now becoming buried in sand up to 1.5m deep.

The village comprises the remains of around 50 formerly inhabited buildings, the haphazard plan indicating an organic rather than a planned growth. The present appearance is largely a product of the early 19th century, when population on the island expanded markedly. The former dwellings, which are of "southern Hebridean blackhouse" type, with rounded external angles, are relatively compact in size, and in many cases will have performed first as houses and later as barns or byres.

Most survive to their modest wallhead height. A few have traces of end chimneys, but most had central hearths. Intermingled with the dwellings is an interlocking pattern of irregular enclosures, for stock management and vegetable growing, and a tortuous network of narrow pathways linking houses. To the S, outside the cluster of buildings which form the village proper and near to the well-built track which leads to the landing place at Aneir, are several further houses and associated buildings, possibly on sites later in date of first use than those in the village.

As well as the domestic buildings, which occupy repeatedly re-used sites, are several older remains. At the heart of the village is an oval burial enclosure around a low mound. This is the site of St Columba's chapel. This is certainly of pre-Reformation date but has no secure early history and shows just a few protruding coursed stones to hint at the presence of a small rectangular foundation. At the S end of the bay an ancient site called Crois an t-Suidheachan (the cross of the sitting place) survives as scattered stones: tradition holds it variously to have been a cross-site or a small religious establishment.

Martin Martin (1695) records a site of worship in the form of a stone dedicated to St Christopher, which may be significant given the proximity of this site to the best landing place. Earliest of all are midden deposits which outcrop at various points around the bay and have produced pottery fragments and stone objects possibly of Iron Age date. Inland and uphill from the village are the remains of a field system enclosed by a head-dyke. This shows several generations of reorganisation in the pattern of boundaries within it.

Two modern gabled houses and their outbuildings are excluded from this scheduling, because they are still sporadically in use as dwelling places. These are the former schoolroom (1881) and schoolhouse (1894), now in occasional use by the owners of the island for accommodation when engaged in sheep management, and the former chapel and chapel house (1898), with a very unusual arrangement (for Highland Scotland) of an upper floor chapel over quarters for the visiting priest, and recently refurbished as a private dwelling, although now again falling into disrepair.

The extensive area to be scheduled is defined to the S, W and NW by the substantial head-dyke which bounds the formerly cultivated area. On the E the S part of the boundary follows high water mark as far as the S end of the sandy part of the bay, and then follows an arbitrary line W of N and then NW to a point just E of the chapel house, and then turns to run SW, just excluding the chapel and the enclosure around it. This area includes all of the building remains, enclosures and associated fields and underlaying deposits. It excludes the rectangular enclosure and buildings of the former school and schoolhouse. The area to be scheduled is shown in red on the accompanying map extract.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance as one of the finest examples of an 'unimproved' isolated settlement complex surviving in the Western Isles. Unlike the comparable St Kilda village, it was never systematically reconstructed or reorganised, all changes (except the school and chapel) up to the abandonment in 1912 taking place piecemeal and in a very conservative tradition.

Therefore the plan and the inter-relationship of individual households within the settlement is likely to be particularly informative, especially when combined with the documentary evidence for the more recent inhabitants of the village. The importance of the monument is enhanced by the high degree of preservation of individual structures and by the degree to which structures and deposits are preserved by being buried.

A not inconsiderable factor is the almost total absence of any recent 'conservation' activity, and this beneficial inactivity could usefully be encouraged.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

Buxton, B. (1995) Mingulay, An Island and Its People, Edinburgh (Birlinn).

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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