Cruck Cottage, Torthorwald

The Cruck cottage at Torthorwald, just outside Dumfries, is the only example in the region of a building style which dates back to medieval times.


In use up to the 19th century

Cruck is the name given to a curved timber and pairs of such timbers have been used to support the roofs of buildings since medieval times.

Commonly used for structures such as large tithe barns and where a plentiful supply of timber exists, cruck frames were also used for dwellings. It is known that these cruck framed buildings were used and adapted over many centuries, with ones like the cruck cottage at Torthorwald being in use until the 19th century.

The Cruck frame

This particular cruck cottage consisted of three cruck frames about 2.7m apart.  Curved oak tree trunks were left in their natural state, with just the bark and branches removed.  It is thought that they would have been shaped and jointed on the ground and then raised into their final position on stone bases.

On the top of the frame, saddles of oak bear the ridge tree or trees and all are held in place with oak pegs.  lengths of oak (purlins), would span between the cruck frames on either side of the roof to distribute the weight and add stability.  These purlins would also support the rafters, which were made from closely spaced birch.

The roof

Once the cruck frame had been erected and the rafters pegged into place, the whole roof was then given a layer of heather turf.  The heather faced downwards into the building to provide a good base for the straw thatch which completed the roof.

The walls

Cottages and buildings using cruck frames would be repaired and rebuilt many times.  In earlier times, walls of cruck buildings would have been a simple construction of clay or turf and would evolve over time to be made of stone and rubble.  The earlier cruck frames were actually dismantled and relocated when people moved, in much the same way as a yurt is today.  As people became less nomadic, the structures of their walls could become more permanent, utilising local rocks and stones instead of earth and straw.  The stone walls of the cruck cottage in Torthorwald are thought to have been the later 19th century improvements.

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The cottage interior

The whole cottage consisted of one room with the kitchen at the west end by the fireplace.  A hanging chimney (lum), is thought to be another 19th century improvement and would have been constructed of a timber frame plastered in cow dung and lime daub.  A peat fire would burn constantly in the hearth, filling the room with a smoky haze.  A simple stone floor could easily be swept clean with a broom of birch twigs.

Furniture would have been vary basic and even in Victorian times could have consisted of no more than a table, couple of chairs, a bed and perhaps a cupboard and dresser.

Pots, pans and everyday tools would have no doubt hung from the strong cruck frames.

Cottage restoration

In the 1970’s, the derelict Torthorwald cruck cottage was restored by the Greiner family but by 1990 it was derelict again and was donated to Solway Heritage by it’s owner along with a £1,000 donation.

Solway Heritage prepared a scheme for repairs and in consultation with Historic Scotland, supervised the restoration work.

The majority of the work was undertaken by master thatcher Jermey Cox of Corsock with repairs to the crucks and main timbers by craftsman Michael Todd.

Careful attention was given to good conservation paractice and the use of authentic and local materials as well as traditional working skills and tools.

The crucks were carefully dismantled and numbered so that they could be replaced in their original position.  Walls were re-pointed using a traditional mortar and the roof re-thatched using wheat straw over heather turf and a wooden gate was constructed without the use of nails.

The Cruck Cottage Heritage Association

A group of local residents in 2003, formed the Cruck Cottage Heritage Association and in conjunction with Solway Heritage, they aim to maintain the cottage in its present Victorian style and condition, raise funds and promote access.

They hope to arrange regular open days, school visits, craft workshops and music and story telling evenings.  The cottage is even being used for film and television.

Viewing the cottage

The cruck cottage is located in Torthorwald Village on Shieldhill Road.  This is signposted from the A709 Dumfries to Lockerbie road. Nearest postcode is DG1 3PS.

OS X 303222, Y 578683
Lat 55.093101  Long -3.517966

Apart from the Doors Open Days, the cottage can be viewed at any time.  A list of local keyholders is displayed in the cottage window and although no charge is made, contributions towards the upkeep of the property are always welcome.

If you have a specific interest, you can become a member of the association.

More information

Solway Heritage – Dedicated to enhancing, developing and conserving the natural, cultural and historic environment, primarily in Dumfries and Galloway.

The Cruck Cottage Heritage Association – Maintainig and promoting the Torthorwald cruck cottage.

Grand Designs – Channel 4 programme featuring a recently constructed Sussex Woodmans cottage using a cruck frame. – Learn about modern day cruck building with courses for the complete novice.

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