Clestrain Courtyard!

By Bernie Bell

The last time Mike  and I  visited the Hall of Clestrain , in Orphir  ,  the area at the back of the house was still mostly grass – rough grass – with,  here and there, bits of stone showing through. You could tell there was something there -something which might have been a paved courtyard, once upon a time.

The Clestrain Open Days planned for  this spring,  had to be postponed,  And so, we haven’t seen the dear old place for some time.

And then we received an email from the JRS , telling of developments in the courtyard, and including pictures of an area of fine flagstones, just by the back door – including what looks like a drain?  A drain here, would not only drain away water from the courtyard, but would also be very handy for tipping out water from  domestic use, in the house.

I am very pleased, and excited, by this discovery, and the work done by JRS volunteers, to clear this area. It really starts to make the place looked ‘lived in’ – like a house, or even a home, again.

With the permission of the JRS, I would like to reproduce the email we received……

“Our President , Andrew Appleby, is very keen to explore the archaeology of The Hall of Clestrain

Andrew feels that there is a very urgent need to interpret the courtyard at the rear of the Hall. Since it is a Palladian building, we all know its importance for Orkney. Palladian farm courtyards, by their nature are very rare indeed. So the other day Andrew and his wife Sigrid, made some initial investigations.

Andrew has discussed forming a voluntary team to investigate the courtyard

He also spoke to Julie Gibson the Country Archaeologist about all of this and gained her utter support. As County Archaeologist she applauds us. He has yet to speak with Dan Lee of ORCA but we are sure of their support as in the past. We hope that Paul Johnson, who has professionally recorded and restored vernacular buildings for the Restoration programme will lead this part of the project.

Andrew hopes that this voluntary group, in which several people have  expressed an interest, will save us a great deal of money and achieve fascinating results.

What Andrew proposes is, when things get easier with COVID19, we could get a volunteer team together. He believes, that with planning, it would only take around ten days to see this job done. There will be some expenses, possibly in writing up the work, conservation if necessary, providing refreshments and various materials for recording etc.”

This follows on from developments regarding the possible position of a well in the kitchen, under the front steps.

A well, in the kitchen, making it easier for the servants to get water, yet under the stair, so it’s not in the way. A good bit of planning, and another glimpse into the home life of Clestrain in its hey-day.

Picture it….. a working woman, in the kitchen of the Hall of Clestrain – goes to the well under the front stairs, with a bucket – could be metal, could be a wooden pail. Draws water, heats it in a ’copper’ Draws off some hot water to wash the dishes, maybe in a ’Belfast’ sink – a ‘collectable’, now, the latest in kitchen equipment, then. 

sink in garden with shiny ball in it credit: Bell

Then, she puts on her pattens , and pins up her long skirts, to keep them out of the wet, and sets about using the remaining hot water to wash down the stone slab floor.

I remember my Auntie Bridie doing this, in the family home in Ireland. Scrubbing hard, and the dirty water is whooshed out through the, only, door.  In the case of the family home in Ireland, which was a small thatched cottage, the water went straight out onto what was known as the  ’Street’ – though not a street as we understand it, by any means – just the earthen area at the front of the house.

Clestrain wasn’t a cottage, it was a smart farmhouse, in the Palladian style, but our working lass may have still brushed the dirty water, out through the back door and …down the drain.

Hall of Clestrain credit Bell

Looking out from ‘below stairs’ at Clestrain

What a scene of domestic life is there, revealed with the discovery of a well, a paved area, and a drain. Many rituals of home life, built around what would now be the utility room!

Maybe doing a big clothes wash on a Monday, with water from the well, a copper full of hot water, and, maybe a ‘dolly tub’ Another item which is now often used as a  planter in the garden!

I remember my Mum using a dolly tub, in the 1960’s. Domestic life didn’t change all that much for a long time. And still, domestic life, is domestic life, we need to cook, and to clean.

And – things got lost down drains – think of what might be found down there, when the Clestrain drain is investigated!

So many possibilities at Clestrain – even a drain, might help to add to the story.

If you are interested in joining the JRS, helping as a volunteer, or simply following the developments at the Hall, please email at……..

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