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Torthorwald, Cruck-framed Cottage

Cruck Framed Cottage (19th Century)

Site Name Torthorwald, Cruck-framed Cottage

Classification Cruck Framed Cottage (19th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Lochar Moss

Canmore ID 74206

Site Number NY07NW 30

NGR NY 03269 78477

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2018.

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Dumfries And Galloway
  • Parish Torthorwald
  • Former Region Dumfries And Galloway
  • Former District Nithsdale
  • Former County Dumfries-shire

Archaeology Notes

NY07NW 38 03269 78477

See also NY37NE 122.02.

This cruck-framed timber cottage occupies a gently-sloping site near the crest of a ridge on the E side of Lochar Moss; it is single-storeyed, gabled, and roofed with straw thatch which is in poor condition. It is roughly oblong on plan, measuring 10.45m in length by 5.41m in width over walls which measure, on average, 0.66m in thickness.

The external walls are of lime-washed rubble bonded in mud mortar and pointed with lime. The S wall, which contains the entrance is gently battered, and is based on an irregular footings-course of large boulders which project more emphatically at the terminal points of the internal crucks. The doorway and window-openings are lintelled just below thew level of the eaves and incorporate rubble jambs with sharp arrises which, in some instances, have been sunsequently renewed in brick or dressed masonry. The gables and the window-less N wall are of an altogether more regular appearance; each gable contains a small window with dressed surround and there are well-wrought quoins at all angles except the SE. Stone chimney-stacks crown each gable-wall, that on the W gable having been erected recently to replace a burnt-out thatched cowl. Thus, above the low base on which the crucks are set, the stone walls generally exhibit considerable traces of rebuilding, a fact which acquires some significance when one considers the reasons for the cruck framework.

There are three cruck trusses spaced 2.74m apart and 1.68m from each gable wall; the internal cleaspan of the trusses varies between 3.96m and 4.19m, and the cruck-blades, springing from near ground level on the S side, emerge from the N wall at heights varying between 0.61 and 1.07m. In the original construction of the roof, it is likely that the couples were assembled on the ground, reared into position on the low stone base, and subsequently enclosed within the walling-material. The basic cruck form consists of a pair of curved oak principals joined by a collar-beam and tenoned into the underside of a capping-member or saddle. The individual members have been lightly dressed with an adze, but most of them retain the roundish section and irregularities of natural tree-trunks from which the bark has simply been peeled. The relative paucity of superior quality timber, for whatever reason, is demonstrated by the fact that additional members have been scarf-jointed and pegged to two of the principals in order to reach the desired height, and another rather slender blade has been laminated below the level of the colar. The collar-beams themselves are notched and pinned with pegs of ash to the same faces of the blades and extend beyond them on either side to provide support for the roof-purlins. The saddle, on which the ridge-tree is mounted and pegged, is set at an average height of about 3.66m above ground-level. The ridge-tree and side purlins are composed mainly of lap-jointed members of varying lengths, and the former appears to be bedded in the gable walls traversing the chimney-flue at the W end. Above the cruck trusses, the roof groundwork consists of an arrangement of closely-spaced branch rafters, either of hazel or birch, over which there is a layer of turf providing a lining for the straw thatch.

Apart from the crucks, the only surviving features of interest within the cottage are the fireplaces associated with the secondary gable walls at either end of the building. The E fireplace has a stone-built flue but the W fireplace incorporates a canopied chimney-hood. The canopy consists of a clay, and possibly dung, pargetting bound with straw and daubed on a framework of posts and riven laths. It is tapered towards the roof and incorporates angled wall-brackets at the base. A crook-tree is mounted in the gable wall and, at the other end, rests on the collar-beam of the nearest cruck-truss. The E fireplace probably served the 'ben' room and the canopies chimney was associated with the kitchen, an arrangement which was characteristic of a transitional type of improved cottage being erected in Dumfriesshire in the early years of the 19th century. There are no other surviving internal fittings and the precise nature of the central division between kitchen and room is largely a matter of conjecture. If a central closet formerly existed in the present cottage it was certainly not provided with a window anywhere in the rear wall.

G Stell 1972.


Publication Account (1986)

Founded as a burgh of barony in 1473, Torthorwald has all the attributes of a medieval village settlement: a castle, a parish church, water-supply for a mill stead, and good cultivable ground which drains naturally down to the edge of the Lochar Moss. However, except for the castle, all the built elements of the village have been transfonned since the late 18th century. The single-storeyed thatched cottage at NY 032784 dates from this period but, despite its date, it represents a valuable link with building customs of the medieval tenantry in this area.

The cottage is the last complete survivor of a once strong cruck-framing tradition around Dumfries. The straw thatch, which has been renewed from time to time, and the irregular bulges of its boulder-stone footings give an external hint of its construction. One of the advantages of cruck-framing was that the sidewalls, whether of mud, clay, turf or inferior rubble,were merely for Cladding and not for load-bealing; the weight of the roof was borne by the crucks, generally springing from around ground-level. Their strength was detennined by the quality of timber, their design, spacing and jointing. In turn, the resultant span and bay-lengths governed the dimensions and layout of the house itself

In this building there are three oak cruck trusses of almost natural tree-trunk form, each pair joined together by an intennediate collar, and tenoned into the underside of a stout capping block. Longitudinal members (purlins) and closely spaced branch-rafters have been laid over this frame, and turf provides groundwork for the thatch. The interior once had a kitchen ('but') at the western end, and a ('ben') room at the other; in the middle was a small closet. Until recently there was a clay-coated and canopied chimney bracketed from the wall at the kitchen end; it was associated with a thatched cowl in place of a chimney stack.

Until 1948 an almost identical cottage stood a short distance to the south-east, its position now marked by a plaque in the roadside wall. This had been the boyhood home of the Reverend John Paton, missionary to the New Hebrides, whose parents moved here in 1830. When he returned to the village in 1885 he found only five thatched cottages, estimating that sixty or seventy had been removed or rebuilt since his childhood. Most of these, if not all, were probably cruck-framed. He also recorded the signifIcant fact 'that the walls [of his parents' cottage] are quite modem, having all been rebuilt in my father's time [d. 1868], except only the few great foundation boulders piled around the oaken couples'.

Exactly where all the 'oaken couples' came from is not known. The village had been part of the Queensberry estate since 1622, but the tenants of Torthorwald do not appear to have been specially favoured with supplies of building timber from the oak woods with which Nithsdale was so well endowed. They probably had to make do with what they could find themselves. In the late 18th century oak, fir, birch and hazel trees were frequently dug up in the nearby Lochar Moss; according to a contemporary account, 'several of these trees are very large and fresh, and are applied by carpenters to various purposes of their trade'.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Dumfries and Galloway’, (1986).

Field Visit (16 July 2014)

NY 03275 78480 Single storey cruck frame cottage, largely rebuilt in the first half of the 19th century. It was damaged by fire in 1956 and was restored and re-thatched in 1960. Major restoration work was also carried out in 1991-93, however, by 2003 the thatch had deteriorated quite badly in places and so the top layer of thatch was removed, along with some of the rotten timbers. It was then covered with a new layer of rye straw and the chimney was re-thatched in heather and secured with rope. At this time the ridge was also finished with woven straw. By 2012 several areas on the front of the roof were showing signs of rot and so repairs were carried out in November of that year. The ropes securing the thatch at the front were found to be rotten and were removed. This time, the ridge was repaired using heather turf. It was estimated at the time that these repairs would keep the roof watertight for at least another 4 years (circa.2016), at which time a total re-thatch would be required. Due to the high cost of rope, it was decided that replacement ropes for the front of the roof could not be justified at the time and would be replaced instead during the complete re-thatching. The Cruck Cottage Heritage Association.that has been set up locally carries out the basic year-to-year maintenance and repair to the building. All the restoration work in recent years has been carried out and/or organised by Thatcher Jeremy Cox, based in Castle Douglas. (Information provided by the Cruck Cottage Heritage Association). The cottage is currently used as a museum and although it is well maintained, the building itself is occupied fairly infrequently, especially during the winter season. The entire thatch has been netted, including over the ridge, however, the ridge has grown through the netting and is only partially visible. As described, the ropes have been removed from the front elevation of the roof, however, they are retained on the back elevation and around the chimney. The ropes have been secured to the surface of the thatch with what appears to be hazel. The ropes are fastened to slim timbers that have been fixed to each of the gable ends. The thatch underneath the netting has a large amount of mossy vegetation growth and the surface of the thatch is rather uneven. As stated by the Heritage Association, the cottage is due for a complete re-thatch within the next year or two.

Visited by Zoe Herbert (SPAB) 16 July 2014, survey no.052

Note (21 June 2018)

The cottage was recorded by the HES Threatened Building Survey during the process of rethatching and restoration after suffering a fire in early 2018.


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