Situated on the grounds of Culloden Battlefield lies Leanach cottage. This beautiful thatched cottage attracts many visitors throughout the year and is a lovely memory of the history of the battlefield. Today, we thought we’d share a little more about the cottage and why it is so special to all of us here at Culloden.
Leanach is one of the last survivors of a once common local structure type of a single storey thatched building. Today the building stands as an isolated structure but in the past this area was well populated and the land divided into smallholdings. Historical maps show a number of farmsteads in the close vicinity with small pockets of individually cultivated land, however, Leanach is now one of the only surviving examples of this landscape.
The cottage itself was likely constructed in the early 18th century, probably as part of wider improvements on Culloden estate and originally would have been a T-shaped structure. In the 17th and 18th century estate owners provided their tenants with the wood for their roof crucks whilst the tenant was responsible for the construction of the walls of their houses.The walls were often made from local stone and/or turf at the gable ends.
During the Battle of Culloden Leanach Cottage was situated in between the Government lines and it is likely the building would have been used as a field hospital for the government men.
Following Culloden there were several periods of occupation, sometimes intermittent and the shape of the building appears to have been altered by the demolition of the western end of the structure in the mid-late 1860s, leaving an L-plan structure which can still be seen today. The building then appears to have been abandoned again shortly after this and fell into a ruinous state (late 1860s-1880s). The cottage was then rebuilt and reoccupied in the early 1880s, possibly as part of Duncan Forbes’ work to memorialise the Battle of Culloden during which time he also built the memorial cairn and erected grave stones on the clan graves.
The last occupant of Leanach Cottage was Belle MacDonald who lived here until she died in 1912. Her family apparently gave tours of the battlefield to interested visitors as the Victorian railway brought tourists into the highlands. In 1924 the Gaelic Society of Inverness and Thomas Munro Architects set out to repair and conserve the building and the original steeply pitched roof was replaced with a shallower one.
The National Trust for Scotland was gifted Leanach Cottage in 1944 by Hector Forbes, the local land owner, and it became the original visitor centre in 1961. Quite different from the centre we have today it had a few simple panels to allow people to experience the story of the battle. Minor alterations continued until 1978 when the NTS removed the old 1920’s roof and replaced it back to a steeply pitched roof more in line with the original crucks which were still visible in the western wall.
With the opening of the new visitor centres Leanach has been able to retain its charm and beauty and we hope to be able to open the cottage once again next year so visitors can see inside this lovely piece of history.
In terms of conservation of the thatch and the turf wall, it is easy to see why the Trust needs the support of its Members to keep such buildings from falling into disrepair. Now, we don’t usually play the charity card but this time we are so please forgive us. If you would like to help protect Leanach Cottage you can go to https://www.nts.org.uk/Donation/Appeal/Once/Give-to-your-favourite-National-Trust-for-Scotland-place/ or you can text ROOF75£5 to 70070 to donate £5. Thank you.
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All the best, K & D