Ancient Monuments

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Petester, abandoned township 530m north of Lee of Petester

A Scheduled Monument in North Isles, Shetland Islands

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Latitude: 60.7894 / 60°47'21"N

Longitude: -0.9059 / 0°54'21"W

OS Eastings: 459666

OS Northings: 1212324

OS Grid: HP596123

Mapcode National: GBR S037.3HL

Mapcode Global: XHF74.M2SJ

Entry Name: Petester, abandoned township 530m N of Lee of Petester

Scheduled Date: 7 February 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13156

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Unst

County: Shetland Islands

Electoral Ward: North Isles

Traditional County: Shetland


The monument comprises an abandoned township, including upstanding buildings and associated field systems and enclosures. The monument has a long settlement sequence and documentary evidence (relating to collected taxes) indicates that it was occupied from the late medieval period. Most of the upstanding buildings are of 18th- and 19th-century date, but the elaborate field systems, some of which are terraced into the slope above the Loch of Cliff, appear to contain earlier elements. The township consists of ten discreet farm buildings, all but one of which is unroofed. Next to the unnamed stream at the centre of the township are the foundations of at least one click mill, and immediately west (upslope) of the field system is a well. The site is situated on a steep slope that rises from sea level up to a level area about 90m OD.

At the core of the site is a stream that runs from a spring at the top of the hill down into the Loch of Cliff. On both sides of the stream, the slope has been cultivated in a series of elaborately terraced strip fields and enclosures aligned N-S, with clearance cairns. At the base of the slope, south of the stream, a further group of strip fields is aligned W-E and runs down to the Loch of Cliff. Some of the fields are subdivided by banks. The ten farm buildings (shown as roofed on both the First and Second Edition Ordnance Survey maps) were occupied until the early 20th century, and at least one building in the township was occupied until the 1970s. While most of the buildings in the township are farmhouses, some were used as schoolhouses at different periods in the settlement's history. Most of the buildings are orientated E-W and consist of single or one-and-a-half storey crofts or farmhouses, still standing to wall-head height. Behind the roofed farmhouse at the centre of the site, which still contains internal timber fixtures, there is a group of drying stacks behind a stone pig-pen. A quantity of 19th-century farming machinery is scattered around the site, as well as later debris from when the site was abandoned.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of the single roofed building and all post-and-wire fences to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's archaeological significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

This township is the product of later medieval to Improvement-period agricultural practices and demonstrates the settlement and economy of the rural population of Shetland from late medieval times through to the early 20th century. The township is very well-preserved and unexcavated. It therefore has the potential to provide high quality archaeological evidence for the date of its establishment, development sequence, use and abandonment. The development of the site from a late medieval farmstead to a post-medieval and early modern township enhances this potential. The field system is of particular interest because the cultivation dykes will contain soil deposits and buried surfaces which can tell us much about the organisation of the township, changing agricultural practices and past land-use. The layout of the grass fields in strips, and the meadow sections with the remnants of 'rigga-rendal' or rig and furrow, can inform our understanding not only of agricultural practice, but also of the social organisation of fields systems from this period. The long period of occupation of the township means there is a high likelihood that significant buried deposits will survive in the form of earlier building foundations, middens, yards, pens and fields. This material evidence can contribute to a much better understanding of the development of rural settlement and changes in both land-use and occupation of the site over several hundred years.

Contextual characteristics

The site is a good example of a type known throughout Shetland, but such settlements are rarely terraced into such a steep slope. The Petester fields are remarkably well-preserved, which is not always the case even on settlements abandoned considerably earlier. The association of the township and its surrounding field systems with a substantial head dyke to the south enhances the potential to understand the agricultural context of the township. The Petester township also forms part of a well-preserved wider historic landscape in Unst, comprised predominantly of medieval and later farmsteads. Comparison of the local vernacular buildings in this area with those on other Scottish historic rural settlement sites could enhance our understanding of regional variations in rural settlement between the medieval period and the early 20th century.

Associative characteristics

There are extensive local documentary records for the settlement, including detailed birth, death and emigration records. These records detail individual occupants from the 19th century onwards, which enables specific buildings to be associated with named families and individuals. The availability of this social history adds to the value and interest of the physical remains. Some of the buildings were periodically used as schoolhouses and one of the buildings functioned for a time as a small shop for the community.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular the positioning, function and construction of rural vernacular buildings, the social and economic organisation of a long-lived township, and the changes in land-use and agricultural practices from at least the late medieval period to the early 20th century. Its extremely good state of preservation and the notable survival of its elaborate terracing enhance this potential. The loss of the monument would affect our ability to understand rural settlement and land-use from the late medieval period to the 20th century in both Shetland and Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as HP51SE 8, 9, 10, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25 and 26. The Shetland Amenity Trust SMR reference is MSN4096 (PrefRef 4050).

Smith, B, 2000, Toons and Tenants: Settlement and Society in Shetland, 1299-1899, Lerwick: The Shetland Times Ltd.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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