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‘A Prodigious Number of Little Cells’ – Cleitean and the St Kilda World Heritage Site

‘A Prodigious Number of Little Cells’ – Cleitean and the St Kilda World Heritage Site George Geddes and Alice Watterson One of the remarkable features of the St Kilda World Heritage Site is the `prodigious number of little cells' spread throughout the crofts and across the rough grazing on the hills behind.1 These vernacular buildings, known as cleitean (singular cleit), number a staggering 1,200 on Hirte alone, nearly 150 per square kilometre. This paper argues that, using careful field observation and a reassessment of the historical evidence, it is possible to suggest that cleitean were far more than simply communal storehouses. With origins in the medieval period but influenced by Norse practices, they were constructed to protect and improve goods that were demanded through a feudal economic network. Distributed widely across the landscape they spread risk and symbolised the islanders' control over the landscape. St Kilda was and is part of a rich and complex social and economic landscape, and the cleitean need to be understood through that lens, not simply as a homogenous group of contemporary sheds. I n t ro du c t i on St Kilda (Hiort, pronounced Heersht2 ) is an archipelago that has been occupied by people for thousands of years.3 Lying far off the Western Isles of http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Architectural Heritage Edinburgh University Press

‘A Prodigious Number of Little Cells’ – Cleitean and the St Kilda World Heritage Site

Architectural Heritage , Volume 24 (1): 103 – Nov 1, 2013

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Publisher
Edinburgh University Press
Copyright
© The Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, 2013
Subject
Historical Studies
ISSN
1350-7524
eISSN
1755-1641
DOI
10.3366/arch.2013.0048
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

George Geddes and Alice Watterson One of the remarkable features of the St Kilda World Heritage Site is the `prodigious number of little cells' spread throughout the crofts and across the rough grazing on the hills behind.1 These vernacular buildings, known as cleitean (singular cleit), number a staggering 1,200 on Hirte alone, nearly 150 per square kilometre. This paper argues that, using careful field observation and a reassessment of the historical evidence, it is possible to suggest that cleitean were far more than simply communal storehouses. With origins in the medieval period but influenced by Norse practices, they were constructed to protect and improve goods that were demanded through a feudal economic network. Distributed widely across the landscape they spread risk and symbolised the islanders' control over the landscape. St Kilda was and is part of a rich and complex social and economic landscape, and the cleitean need to be understood through that lens, not simply as a homogenous group of contemporary sheds. I n t ro du c t i on St Kilda (Hiort, pronounced Heersht2 ) is an archipelago that has been occupied by people for thousands of years.3 Lying far off the Western Isles of

Journal

Architectural HeritageEdinburgh University Press

Published: Nov 1, 2013

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