Caithness Croft Furniture

I was quite taken with some of the furniture traditional to the Caithness croft houses.


Firstly the Caithness chair.  These were often made of driftwood as there are few trees in Caithness.  Their distinguishing feature is the rail at the front that can be used for hanging things to dry.  This is a particularly rustic specimen – I prefer that sort of thing, makes it more do-able – but they can look like normal furniture as well.  They probably still make them.I thoroughly recommend Wick Heritage Museum if you ever have the chance to go there.  Its got room after room of stuff relating to what I think what is called ‘social history’.  Basically all the stuff they used in the old days, tools, household stuff and whatnot.  Some of the rooms were done out like complete rooms, bedrooms, etc – also rooms devoted to military stuff, glassware and pottery, and loads about boating and herring fisheriies, as that was what Wick was important for.  A good source of information about things like barrels and bushels as legal weights and measures,  Everything was accessible, a lot of it handleable and it only cost £4 to get in.


I was intrigued as to why the kitchen ranges are so small.  This one is in Laidhay Croft Museum – and old croft house converted to a museum.  The popular theory, if you ask, is that ‘people were smaller then’.  That might account for it sometimes, and someone at Castle Fraser rteckoned it is because it was easier to reach  the heavy cast iron pots and pans and shift them about.  That might have been the cae with the huge castle range – which, incidentally, was nowhere near as low as the one at Laidhay Croft.  You can’t tell from the photo, but it didn’t even come to the top of my thigh – and it was definitely authentic, because it was the actual one in the house that was lived un up until the 1960s or something.
Well, my theory is that you sit down to cook.  As someone who likes sitting down, and sort of accepts that cooking is part and parcel of life, I’m all for sitting down to cook.  Not only that, if your fuel is slow-burning peat, you eat a lot of meat and porridge, and you have to heat all your washing water on the range, it’s going to take a long time.  Add to that the location – wind-swept,  coastal North East of Scotland, the lack oif insulation other than heather turfs on your roof, you’re going to be cold.  So sitting down in fron to the fire on your Caithness chaiir, while your smalls dry on the rail at the front, seems the best way to go about a lot of your daily activities.

Then at night you go to sleep in a box-bed.  These are absolutely wonderful inventions.  They look like a giant wardrobe – about the same height, but broad and long enough to make a bed inside.  There is nothing except the bed in there – maybe just a small shelf for your candle and matches, jewellery or whatever – and it has got az proper little roof so you’re really cosy.  The front is open, or at least it’s got an open opening – but some of them had doors that you could open right up, or fold closed in the winter for extra draughtproofing.  A few hooks on the end and you’ve got somewhere to hang your clothes.  The image below is a reconstruction in the Highland Folk Museum – the real ones are on my phone – I’ll try and upload them when I get home.
The other good thing about the box beds is that you can use several together, configured to turn one communal living space into cosy, separate, private rooms, with little corridors in between.   Ideal for families with under 10s and subject to the Bedroom Tax.  That’s what I say.

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