Slate Islands Heritage Trust

Cotttages on Easdale

Housing

When the Company was formed in 1745, it was agreed that the men working the quarries would require housing of a good standard. The earliest cottages were built of the local stone which included the slate rock and the hard whinstone, a volcanic rock which forms the spine of the island. The houses were of one or two rooms and almost certainly thatched with reed or heather. Any windows were shuttered rather than glazed and the cooking fire would have been vented through a hole in the centre of the roof.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the Company agreed to provide slate for roofing the cottages and coal was introduced to replace peat fires. In changing the roof design, a stone or brick built chimney was included to accommodate a cooking range. The slates used for roofing were the least saleable, generally of the sizeable and undersized varieties. It is wrong however to assume from this, as have some historians, that all Easdale roofing slates were small!

In the 1850s the Marquis of Breadalbane engaged an architect to design an additional group of cottages in Ellenabeich. Copies of the plans can be studied in the museum and confirm the original layout of the cottages. Unfortunately the new cottages were never built although many of the existing buildings seem to have been upgraded to a similar standard. The addition of a porch however, as shown in the drawings, was not included.

For the period these were considered superior housing for working men. There were two rooms with a central lobby and behind it a wall bed, usually accessed from the kitchen. The roof space, although hardly high enough for a man to stand upright at the centre, was used as a sleeping place for children. A skylight of som translucent material lit the attic while small panes of glass were introduced in the main windows to provide natural lighting. Some houses had their own outside privies with slate slabs for roofing.

Houses were let to quarry workers at a rent which over the years when records are available, reflected the current prosperity of the community. In 1897 a quarterly rent of 12/4d (62p) was charged but by 1911, this had reduced to 5/- (25p) per annum.

When the quarrying company was finally dissolved, the Breadalbane Estates offered the houses to their tenants for sale at the cost of a year's rent. Some have been handed down through the generations and are still in the hands of direct descendants of the quarry workers. The Breadalbane Estates were finally disbanded in the 1930s and Easdale Island was allowed to lie fallow with only a sprinkling of permanent residents remaining. In the summer months their numbers were swelled by former quarrying families who had moved away to find work but returned for holidays, usually for the Glasgow Fair. Even today during the last two weeks in July every house on the island seems to be bursting at the seams.

Donald Dewer purchased the island in the late 1950s. He reconstructed some of the cottages to let as holiday homes, others had their roofs removed to avoid paying rates. When Donald Dewer accidentally drowned in the harbour, his successor, Peter Fennel, made serious attempts to restore the cottages, rebuilding many with his own hands and with the help of local craftsmen. Over the years these reconstructed houses have changed ownership often several times and the improvements have continued. Today the majority of cottages are furbished to the highest standards being centrally heated, double glazed and with all modern conveniences. Very few houses remain in the possession of the present owner of Easdale Island, Clive Feigenbaum. Most are owned, together with their garden ground, by their occupiers.

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