A small thatched-roof house called Old Leanach Cottage stands on the grounds of Culloden Battlefield in Scotland. The exact date of its construction is unknown but it is believed to have been built at the beginning of the 18th century, meaning it survived the 1746 Battle of Culloden. A few years ago, Addyman Archaeology conducted a survey for The National Trust for Scotland to ascertain the best way to conserve the property, which revealed a great deal about the house’s structure and history.
The cottage is located on the northeastern side of the battlefield and is one of the last surviving examples of the single-story thatched buildings that were once common in this area. The small cottage stands alone today, but historic maps show that this area was densely populated in the past; the land was divided in smallholdings and the local population was engaged in agriculture. There were two other buildings next to it. One was a barn which, a story says, it was set on fire by government troops in order to kill about thirty wounded Jacobite soldiers that were seeking refuge in the barn. The other one was probably a stable.
There are maps dating from the mid-eighteenth century that show the existence of a house with two outbuildings at approximately the same location of Leanach Cottage. The first available map is Finlayson’s map from 1746, which was meant to illustrate the movement of the armies during the battle of Culloden and therefore fails to mention the name of the building. General William Roy’s Map from 1747-55 shows several structures in this area, among them one called “Little Lionach,” which was situated in the same place as Old Leanach Cottage.
The 1841 census shows that five people were living in the house at the time. The next two censuses, in 1851 and 1861, have no information regarding the cottage. This supports the idea that it may have been abandoned for a considerable amount of time. The exterior of Leanach Cottage varies in appearance in different documents from the 19th century. Several alterations were made, most likely by people who lived there for short periods of time, probably to meet the basic living conditions after it was abandoned. The western end of the cottage was demolished sometime in the 1860s and a new wall was built, leaving the L-shaped building that stands today. After this, a period of abandonment and disrepair continued until the early 1880s, when it was reconstructed and re-inhabited. The cottage underwent repairs when Duncan Forbes built a memorial cairn to commemorate the Battle of Culloden and the Scottish clans.
The last person to occupy the cottage was Bella MacDonald, who lived here until her death in 1912. The census in 1891 names her, her sister Christina, and two of Bella’s grandchildren as the four occupants of the house. It is said that her family gave tours to the many visitors that came to visit Culloden battlefield. After her death, the cottage fell into a state of disrepair once again.
In 1924, in the process of conservation and repairs conducted by the Gaelic Society of Inverness and the architect Thomas Munro, the original thatched roof was replaced with a shallower one. The Gaelic Society was responsible for the maintenance and repairs of the monuments on the battlefield as well as the cottage in the years to follow. Unfortunately, due to insufficient funding, essential repairs to the roof and broken windows could not be conducted. On top of that, there was graffiti on the door and window frames. Leanach Cottage remained in the Society’s care until the 1940s.
Hector Forbes, the local landowner, gave the cottage to the National Trust for Scotland in 1944. A few simple panels with information about the battle were put up to make the cottage the site’s first visitor center in 1961. The cottage underwent minor changes over the next years until 1978 when the NTS took out the old shallow roof from 1920 and replaced it with a new one which resembled the original more closely. In the 1980s, the interior of Leanach Cottage was furnished as it would have looked in the 18th century. Old Leanach Cottage was closed when a new visitor center was opened in 2007.