Cottown

Cottown - The West Ruin

The National Trust for Scotland property known as the Old Schoolhouse at Cottown (near St Madoes) is an important surviving 18th century example of a house built with solid clay and straw walls, which was a local vernacular building technique of the Carse of Gowrie.  In close proximity to the Schoolhouse are the two ruins of further clay-built structures. Alder was commissioned to carry out a historic building recording and an archaeological excavation at the ruin known as 'The West Ruin'. This structure was known to contain surviving clay and straw elements attached to a larger clay-bonded rubble house, but these building methods, now the roof had gone, meant that the remains were rapidly eroding away.  The survey was carried out to provide a comprehensive record of the remains prior to the ruin being stabilised and partially re-built by the NTS to avoid further dilapidation. The excavation was intended to discover the former use of one of the rooms in the ruin and to discover the relationship of the West Ruin to the Schoolhouse.

Cottown

One of the clay walls from the early structure

The Survey

The Survey revealed that the ruin comprised two buildings: an earlier clay and straw walled building underlying a later clay-bonded rubble house (of which the SE gable wall did not survive). Only a small portion of the early building survived due to the building of the later house, when it appears the former served as an outhouse. Walls of the early building were found to have been constructed from straw and clay sitting on clay-bonded fieldstone foundations, similar to the walls of the Schoolhouse. This similarity might be a sign that the early building is vaguely contemporary with the Schoolhouse.  The later house was built mainly of clay-bonded stone and the various walls showed slightly different methods of construction, reflecting possible re-builds and that different workers must have built different parts of the house. The earliest part seems to have been the gable which was built of quarried crumbly red sandstone and field boulders; this seems to have been added to by the two walls fronting the house made from quarried sandstone only and built to level and roughly level beds. During the late 19th century various alterations seem to have taken place including the blocking up of the rear door, creation of a window, and then insertion of a brick partition wall dividing the house formally into two rooms each with its own closet. This change could be a sign that the house was shared between two occupiers for a time.

Cottown

The N Gable Wall of the main house showing chimney repairs

The Excavation

Excavation between the W ruin and the Schoolhouse (Trench A) revealed a soakaway or rubble drain built against the NE wall of the W ruin which may have been created to lessen the damp on the buildings' foundations in the late 19 th or first half of the 20 th century.  This feature seems to have been responsible for the outward lean of the NE wall. The centre of the trench was disturbed by a 'french drain' cut by the NTS and a large trench for a 20th century water supply to the Schoolhouse and W ruin. However, the water supply trench was found to have truncated an early clay floor surface containing a circular depression, possibly evidence of a partition wall. This floor surface is significant and is a sign that there was an earlier building on the site, possibly that belonging to a wall found to the SE of the Schoolhouse in a previous excavation. Excavation in the NW structure revealed the structure's stone floor which had been bedded down on a yellow sand. Below this was an earlier probable floor surface of mottled clay with a post hole and a stake hole cut into it. While the stake hole could possibly be evidence of an internal partition wall from this phase of the building, the larger posthole it is thought could be evidence of a central post which supported a roof ridge. Two trenches had been cut along the NE wall, both possibly reflecting different phases of wall foundation trenches, the upper one being the trench for the current wall.

Cottown

Excavation in the early (NW) structure