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20 Mar 2019

Moirlanich unlocked – home comforts

Written by Emma Inglis
Layers of wallpaper at Moirlanich Longhouse
Making a house a home at Moirlanich Longhouse
When Tom Proctor moved out of Moirlanich Longhouse he left behind an accumulation of items that give us a small glimpse of the life lived by him and his family.

Tom Proctor lived alone at Moirlanich Longhouse for several years until, at the age of 81, he left to go into hospital. He died soon afterwards. During his time in the house he had changed very little, not even throwing away ordinary and often broken items that had belonged to his predecessors and relatives, the Robertson family.

Samples of cloth found at Moirlanich
Homemade and shop-bought samples of cloth

Many items of clothing were found left behind in the house in old sacks and in a tin trunk. Most pieces were worn out or patched; some were homemade and some shop-bought. They show us what working folk would have worn and what, at one time, was felt to be worth keeping. Curiously, several pieces of clothing have had areas of cloth cut away, often from the back, so that the front is undisturbed. Presumably this was to provide cloth for other purposes, such as cleaning or for re-use in the house. Some cloth had been used to stuff gaps in the chimney.

Some clothes might have been made at home but others could have been bought ready-made in Killin. Although not large, the village of Killin had its own small range of shops, including a boot- and shoemaker, draper, dressmaker and milliner, and tailor – everything to serve the needs of the local farming community. Special purchases could be made in larger towns such as nearby Aberfeldy.

Most of the clothing items left behind at Moirlanich Longhouse belonged to the ladies of the house. This bodice of fine wool crepe, once liberally trimmed with lace, shows there was always a need for something a little smart, for Sundays or for visiting friends. In this case, the cotton lining and bead decoration have withstood the test of time better than the outer crepe.The men’s collars, which could be removed from the shirt for washing, would also have been kept for best.

A simple cotton bonnet found at Moirlanich Longhouse
Ladies’ workwear

Rural Scottish women wore simple cotton bonnets when they were working outdoors, in a style that protected the head and neck from the sun. This was important for days spent in the fields, bent over gathering crops. Indoors they wore a closer-fitting type of cap called a mutch. Mr Milne, who lived in Killin, remembered that in the early 1930s Janet Robertson ‘used to sort of stand there in her mutch and her long black dress and watch everybody going past. Janet’s clothes would have looked old fashioned by the 1930s but they were of a type still widely worn by older women in rural communities.

A family of visitors to Moirlanich sit in front of the hay.
Bringing in the hay

Tom Proctor is shown here in his work clothes: checked cotton shirt, dark cotton overalls and a hat to keep off the sun. At other times he wore black britches and boots that were so polished ‘you could shave’ in them. By contrast, the family of visitors shown in the photo are dressed more smartly. They came to Killin for the summer and helped out on the farm. The dresses in the picture suggest it was taken in the late 1930s. The top of the horse collar peeping up behind the hay shows that mechanisation had not yet come to the farm at Moirlanich.

Layers of wallpaper found in Moirlanich Longhouse
A treasure trove of wallpaper history inside Moirlanich

Although rough looking from the outside, cottages such as Moirlanich Longhouse were often wallpapered inside. Paper had the advantage of being cheap to buy and could be replaced regularly to help keep the house looking clean and fresh. At Moirlanich more than 50 different patterns of wallpaper have been counted. In some places the layers are 23 deep, revealing patterns from the 1890s all the way through to the 1950s.

The wallpaper at Moirlanich includes a vast range of colours and styles. Delicate repeat motifs mingle with heavy florals, followed by the strong geometric patterns of the 1930s. Each room in the house has a unique combination, with no paper used in more than one room at one time. The patterns must have brightened up the otherwise dark interiors.

A copy of the Strathearn Herald from 1925, used as a layer of wallpaper.
Newspaper used as wallpaper, dated 1925

In some places in the house, ordinary newspaper was used on the walls or ceilings instead of wallpaper. Visitors to the house in the 1930s remember newspaper hanging in the best room, and there is evidence of it elsewhere in the house too. Interleaved with the decorative papers, the newspaper helps us to date the wallpaper layers. It also gives us some idea of the Robertson family’s reading matter, with the Strathearn Herald and Scottish Farmer making frequent appearances. Blackening around the edges shows how soot from the fire permeated the house.

With the coming of the railway to Killin in 1886, the people of Moirlanich would have had easy access to an increasing range of cheap consumer goods, including wallpaper. The many layers of wallpaper at Moirlanich show that it was replaced regularly, a necessary course of action when damp walls and soot from the fire would make it difficult to keep the house looking clean. In the springtime, publications such as the Scottish Farmer gave advice on how to make wallpaper paste as well as how to clean old paper. Unfortunately, the paste was quite tasty for insects – another good reason for a regular refresh!

A sepia photograph of the main street of Killin, taken in the early 20th century.
Main Street, Killin, in the early 20th century | ©NMS Rural Life Archive

In the late 19th century Killin established itself as a tourist destination. The rugged scenery of Ben Lawers and the beautiful Falls of Dochart attracted day trippers and holiday-makers from the cities. New villas were built to provide holiday rental accommodation for middle-class families, which provided ample work for local decorators and tradesmen. Some of the early 20th-century papers at Moirlanich Longhouse seem to be fairly good quality and may have come as unwanted rolls from this source.

This view of Killin shows how tourism influenced the development of the village. Thatched roof cottages on one side of Main Street give way to stone-built villas on the other. Moirlanich Longhouse survives as a reminder of rural working life in an earlier time.

Much of what has been left behind at Moirlanich is broken and apparently worthless, perhaps even rubbish to some eyes. However, when pieced together, this collection shows us something of the everyday things needed to run the farm and home, as well as some of the more personal choices made by the family. We don’t know who exactly used what, but we can feel some small connection with the Robertsons and the life they led in this remarkable little house.

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