Reconstruction of medieval Westray house complete

The reconstructed house at Quoygrew, Westray.Picture Linda DreverPicture Linda Drever

The reconstructed house at Quoygrew, Westray.

Work restoring the lower courses of a medieval building in Westray was completed this week and the site is now open to visitors.

Joffy Hill, an expert in the interpretation and reconstruction of archaeological buildings, was in Orkney for the three-week project at Quoygrew, an abandoned settlement site on the north side of Rackwick.

At the end of six years of excavations, by Dr James Barrett of the University of York, the building stood one or two stones high, which was below turf level in places.

The excavators had revealed a 50-metre long series of buildings moving inland, representing different phases of use and reuse covering a period of 900 years or so.

Reusing stone recovered during the excavations, the building’s walls have now been restored to a height of approximately two feet, allowing visitors to get a clear impression of what the structure looked like.

Because the shoreside site was occupied continuously from the ninth century until the 1930s, Dr Barrett decided the restoration should concentrate on how the building appeared in the 12th or 13th century.

The Quoygrew reconstruction is a first for Joffy, being the most “modern” structure he has been called upon to restore to date.

Usually rooted in prehistory, with a repertoire including Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age constructions, he found the Westray house relatively uncomplicated.

He said: “It’s been strange for me in that it’s a house and we already had a clear picture of how it should be rebuilt. There were very few elements which we didn’t what to restore.”

“What I particularly like about this building is the fact that it goes from the early Norse period of Orkney history right through to when the people were ‘Orcadians’.

“We had a lot of visitors while working on the site. The local community have been very interested and supportive of the project.”

From its seemingly-humble origins, to its role as a hall for an apparently wealthy bondi – a member of the Norse free farming class  – the site is now available to islanders and visitors to view and gain an invaluable insight into Westray life through the centuries.

The project was supported by the Westray Development Trust, Historic Scotland, Orkney Archaeological Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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