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Personal Glimpses of Gravir II: The New House

Personal Glimpses of Gravir II: The New House

An account of life in Gravir, by Calum Macinnes, 8 Gravir.


II The New House

My father was, like his crofting contemporaries, willing to try his hand at any work connected with the home and the crofting life. He built our new 'white' house and another for his brother Murdo, as two semi-detached units. With little or no previous experience, he was planner, designer, architect, mason, joiner, glazier, metalworker and cabinet-maker. His father in law, my grandfather Malcolm MacRitchie (Calum Choinnich Dhomhnaill) called him fear an dà eanchainn (the man with the two brains). Having completed the foundations on a site a little to the west of the old house, he built the two end gables and a shared central gable, of stone and clay, then the frames of the houses from the timber obtained from the hut he had purchased in Stornoway. The wall cladding and the roofs were of corrugated iron, also from the Stornoway hut, and he even designed and constructed two 'storm-windows' for the upper rooms of the two houses.

The inside of each house was sub-divided into two rooms, separated by an under-stairway closet, on the ground floor, and two rooms and a closet on the upper floor. The upstairs rooms had a low, longitudinal strip of ceiling and sloping sides: just enough room for two box beds and a few small items of furniture. Initially the ground floor rooms had clay floors, but were covered with tongue-and-groove timber flooring some time later, when funds for the purchase of timber became available. These downstairs rooms were used as kitchen/living room and bedroom respectively, although the kitchen also contained a bed used by my parents. The bedroom, referred by the family as 'an culaist' (the back room) also did duty as a dining room on such occasions as the bi-annual Communions when visitors came for dinner between the morning service and the evening service in the Free Church. The culaist had two box beds along one side of the room.

One of the upstairs rooms was finished in V-lined timber and it contained two beds along one side. The other upstairs room was unlined and in it were stored the most valuable property of the family; the fishing gear, consisting of cotton drift-nets, ropes, long lines and small lines, the function of which will be explained later. The ground floor closet had a small table and a basin, which, in the absence of piped water, was the ablution centre for the family. The upper floor closet was the store for two basic items of food: a bag of wheat flour and a bag of oatmeal, usually weighing 144lbs when full.

Apart from the beds the house had very little furniture. What there was, included a circular drop-leafed hardwood table in the culaist, an oblong table in the sitting room, a few chairs, a Welsh type dresser made by my father, in the living room, a chest of drawers, also made by my father in the culaist, a long stool (stòl beag) also kept in the sitting room and a few kitchen type chairs. The total number of chairs in the house was less than the total number of people when the whole family of father, mother, and seven children was assembled and it was common for the older, taller children to stand at the table at meal times. With the exception of the tables and chairs, my father made the other furniture from white pine that was then varnished.

I realise I have overlooked one significant item of furniture. This was the seis or bench, which was placed along the wall in the sitting room, under the window. It resembled, and was about the same length as, a park bench, 6 or 7 feet long, with wooden arms and backrest; it was covered at the front by a curtain and under it were stored tackety boots, shoes and a great assortment of household items. Four or five people could sit in comfort on the seis and one person often used it to stretch out for a post-prandial snooze on Sunday afternoons. During the winter months, the end of the seis nearest the fire was the repository of a herring net, which was in the process of being repaired by my father when he could find time (on winter nights). The part of the net on which he worked was suspended from a pulley in the kitchen. Incidentally the word seis is probably the Gaelic version of the first word of chaise longue, which it resembled. Although seis was the word used in Gravir, it was referred to elsewhere as either 'being' or 'ciste hada'!



Title: Personal Glimpses of Gravir II: The New House
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Reminiscences
Record Maintained By: CEP
Subject Id: 41060