Caring for St Kilda

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Help us care for St Kilda’s history

As a dual World Heritage Site on the edge of the Atlantic, St Kilda is both a critically important and challenging place for us to care for. In addition to annual maintenance, archaeological survey, conservation, bird monitoring, tours and general care, we also have to respond to urgent conservation works.

In the coming year this will include significant work on the pier and the church – but after recent storm damage, it will also now include emergency exploration and conservation of Lady Grange’s House, a unique cleit in many ways.

As a charity, we can only undertake work such as this with your support. Please, if you can, donate today and help us continue to carry out conservation work like this across St Kilda.

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Lady Grange’s House

We’re piecing together the story of one of St Kilda’s greatest secrets after the collapse of one of its most intriguing structures: the stone cleit believed to be built on the site of Lady Grange’s House.

The cleit – a circular stone structure with a unique St Kildan turf roof – is thought to date from the late 19th century or early 20th century and may incorporate elements of the building where Rachel Chiesley, Lady Grange was held from 1734–41. Lady Grange was kidnapped and essentially imprisoned on St Kilda by her husband James Erskine, Lord Grange. He was a Jacobite supporter who feared his wife would expose his sympathies to the UK government.

Our expert team of archaeologists will undertake excavations to the cleit to learn more about the fascinating structure. Afterwards, the cleit will be repaired using traditional techniques to ensure this unique piece of history is preserved.

St Kilda’s cleits

St Kilda’s main island Hirta has more than 1,200 cleits. We carry out an ongoing programme of monitoring and maintenance to keep them standing and protect them against the elements in this remote and exposed location, 41 miles west from Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. The highest wind speed recorded in the archipelago was 144mph.

Lady Grange’s House is a fascinating structure with a really interesting history, and we now have an amazing opportunity to discover so much more about it. Over the coming months, we’ll not only investigate the cause of the collapse, but we’ll also be able to analyse the building techniques and materials. We’ll be able to get a really good look at the roof and will take soil samples that will help us understand so much more about how the St Kildans created these unique buildings.

We hope too to discover whether any elements of the earlier structure, where Lady Grange spent her time on Hirta, are incorporated into this cleit, as well as determine what repairs may have been carried out to this particular cleit in the period between 1950 and 1990. We’d love to hear from anyone who may be able to shed further light on that time.

Susan Bain, Property Manager of St Kilda World Heritage Site says: ‘It’s never good when a structure sustains damage, but the Trust and our talented contractors are very experienced in dealing with these issues on St Kilda and in making repairs on an ongoing basis. Without our work to protect and restore the buildings here, very few would still be standing. We are very grateful to everyone who supports our charity and helps make possible our work to conserve the UK’s only dual World Heritage Site.’

A series of small, stone-built, domed structures with turf roofs are scattered across a grassy hillside.

St Kilda

St Kilda is the UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to nearly 1 million seabirds, including the UK’s largest colony of Atlantic puffins. After 4,000 years of human presence on the island, St Kilda was evacuated on 29 August 1930 when the remaining 36 islanders decided to leave as their way of life was no longer sustainable.

As well as more than 1,200 stone cleits, there are also cottages, a church and a manse, which are all designated Scheduled Monuments.

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