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Archaeology Notes

Event ID 844781

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Archaeology Notes

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/event/844781

NO04SW 109 00870 41780

NO 0086 4177 A historic building survey in April 2002 revealed that this structure, sited within the designed landscape of Dunkeld House, comprised two principal phases in the 18th century. The first was represented by the W part of the existing building that had formed the major portion of a small hermitage, dated by documentary sources to c 1757. The building was a square rubble-built structure with apsidal ends, that to the W containing a bay window overlooking the Falls of Braan. This structure had most probably been thatched and harled externally, but lined out internally and decorated in the manner of an 18th-century summer house. Evidence for a documented sub-floor chamber was not revealed during a ground-sensing exercise within the structure undertaken by Glasgow University.

The second main phase consisted of the recasting of the early structure as 'Ossian's Hall' in c 1782-3, under the auspices of the architect George Steuart for the 4th Duke of Atholl. The E wall of the early hermitage was removed and an additional chamber added. The latter was circular internally and faced with droved ashlar externally, and apparently surmounted by a domed, top-lit leadwork roof structure (now gone). The interior of the principal chamber to the W was reached by means of a sprung door bearing a painting of the Celtic poet Ossian. The chamber itself was adorned with paintings of the cardinal virtues (significantly in such a 'pagan' building none of the Christian virtues appear), and lined with mirrors designed to reflect the waterfall below. Much detail as to the appearance of the building at this phase came from an exhaustive documentary survey that examined estate documentation at Blair Castle and numerous visitors' accounts of the building while on the 'Highland Tour'. A suite of original furniture - green painted lyre-backed chairs and settee - from Ossian's Hall survives at Blair Castle. Such detail has permitted a tentative reconstruction of the original appearance of the interior.

The building was badly damaged by an explosion in 1869 but repaired again in the 1880s. The early 20th century saw vandalism, decline and dereliction before a further restoration to the design of Basil Spence in 1952 for the NTS. This saw the consolidation of the structure and the replacement of the W bay window with the existing balcony. The subsequent history of the structure has been one of repeated repair, and the partial restoration and re-paintings of the interior decoration. The present building survey was undertaken in advance of proposals for a further scheme of repair by the NTS.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: NTS.

T Addyman 2002

NO 0087 4178 Excavation took place in May and June 2003.

Trenches 1 and 3 were located in order to investigate structures believed to be heating furnaces on the N and S elevations, indicated by the entry flues.

Trench 3 contained a rubble projection which proved to be the base for a furnace, of which the lower 15cm or so survived, showing a chamber lined with brick and accessed from the E at the existing ground level.

Trench 1 had no obvious existing similar structure, with the exception of masonry projecting out from the S main elevation; this may have formed the S wall of the probable furnace.

A mix of rubble, mortar and brick appears to represent the demolition of the structure, with the rubble levelled and a gravel path laid over. The unused and probably derelict furnace structure on the N corner would have been much more visible and accessible to visitors than the southern one, which may explain why it has not survived as well, being demolished for aesthetic and possibly safety reasons.

Trench 2 was excavated across the line of a possible vertical construction break within the S wall of the building, to expose the stepped foundation. The exposed foundations within the trench appeared to be continuous across the whole length; the large rubble courses alternated between large, roughly rectangular stone and vertical stacks of smaller stones. The soil butting the foundation (no cut for the found was observed within the trench) appeared to change colour between the E and W of the trench, although root disturbance meant that there was no definite interface between.

Graffiti

During previous recording work at Ossian's Hall, it was observed that the droved exterior masonry bore scores of graffiti names, many dated. Within the small intramural chamber entered from the S exterior, it was also noted that pencil and crayon graffiti survived on the roof beams and stones.

The graffiti falls into five broad categories: 1856-99; 1900-38; 1939-49; 1950-9; and recent.

The early graffiti is found within the side chamber on the stone of the walls and on the ceiling beams; the earliest recorded from 1856 bears the initials 'DM'. Much of the early graffiti is drawn in pencil using a longhand script.

The greatest number of graffiti marks are from the WW2 period. It is interesting to note the number of Polish names carved into the exterior but, surprisingly, two items of Nazi graffiti are also present.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: NTS.

D Connolly 2003

NO 0086 4177 Resurfacing works and other improvements were being made between December 2002 and February 2003 around The Hermitage, in or close to the designed landscape. Removal of existing surfaces revealed orange and yellow sands and gravels, and organic forest soils. All appeared to be natural. The only find of significance was an architectural stone fragment of unknown origin with a lip at the base and a small metal bracket attached.

Archive to be deposited in the NMRS.

Sponsor: NTS.

D Bowler 2003

People and Organisations

References