Archibald MacLeod of Balevullin
Photograph of Archibald MacLeod thatching an outhouse in Balevullin in the 1940s
Courtesy of Ms Linda M. Gowans
George Holleyman, an archaeologist posted to Tiree during World War II, photographed Archibald MacLeod thatching an outhouse in Balevullin in the early 1940s. Thatching is started down at the tobhta, the ledge at the top of the wall, with the first row of sheaves being put on tips upwards.
After the first row, the sheaves are placed tips downwards until the ridge is reached when they are laid across the top with the tips on alternate sides. The thatch is put on thicker at the back, the windward side, and slightly halfway up the roof to give a more rounded shape.
As new thatch is laid on top of old, the ridge becomes almost flat. At this stage, the thatch has to be partially stripped off before the next layer is applied. Re-thatching is required every two to three years.
Black and white photograph of Archibald MacLeod, Balevullin.
Tiree has the greatest concentration of surviving thatched houses in the Scottish islands. In the photograph, Archibald MacLeod is shown thatching an outhouse in Balevullin. The rafters are first overlain with a layer of thin turf slices carefully cut from the moorland and tapered at the sides so that they lie flush on the roof. The thatching material, usually marram grass, is cut with a scythe between September and March and tied into small sheaves which are then positioned on top of the turf. The completed thatch is secured with wire netting weighted down with heavy beach pebbles. Re-thatching is required every 2-3 years.