These remarkable workers’ houses in Caithness were the last of their kind in the region and have now been beautifully restored and converted to a single holiday cottage.
Comprising two mid-19th century cottages of just two rooms each, these houses were built as modest dwellings for flagstone workers at the nearby Castlehill pavement works in Caithness. Rows and rows of these houses were built in Castletown using quarried flagstone for the walls and roofs. During the 19th century, the Castlehill works was at its most productive, paving the world’s streets including those in London, Sydney and New York.
Many of the traditional industries of the North Highland region collapsed in the 20th century, including farming, fishing and flagstone production, and the cottages were abandoned in the 1950s. There was a steady depopulation and a reduction in traditional skills in the whole area.
We bought the cottages in 2009 to repair them to be an exemplar of best practice in converting traditional buildings. We felt this was important because of the number of redundant traditional buildings in Caithness and the wider North Highlands. This important but fragile built heritage is at risk of being lost through inappropriate alteration or dereliction. Often these modest buildings are unlisted and therefore have no statutory protection, as in the case of Flagstone Cottages.
We worked in partnership with The Prince of Wales’s North Highland Initiative to take a broad approach in regenerating this dramatic corner of the UK, bringing together the farming community, local businesses and the tourism industry. We made sure traditional building skills and materials were used throughout this project. Our contractor went to great lengths to ensure the character and authenticity of the property was retained. As far as possible, features were repaired rather than replaced, giving the completed cottage real charm. We worked with local people to find out more about the traditional skills and history of Castletown.
Funding this project was a challenge as the cottages’ unlisted status meant there were limited funding opportunities. We were grateful to receive a donation from The Pilgrim Trust which allowed us to begin work in 2011. The cottages were completed in 2012 and formally opened by HRH The Prince of Wales.
We sold the cottages in September 2016 to realise funds to invest in other projects.