Until the end of the 18th century, the township’s buildings would have had timber frames, turf walls and thatch roofs. The lower parts of the walls were built of large stones, laid dry or using clay as mortar. The frames were erected on top of these, and consisted of pairs of large, curved, timbers, or two pieces of timber joined at an angle, to make a series of arches down the length of the building. These were called “crucks”. One cruck at right angles to the others supported the end of the roof: this was called a “hipped” roof. The spaces between the crucks were then stacked up with “turfs”, cut lengths of grass and earth held together by the grass roots. The roof was covered with “cabers”, straight lengths of tree branch laid side by side, and then a thin layer of turf. Thatch was laid on top of that. In Argyll, the material used for thatching was either “rashes” (in Gaelic luachair, spoken “loo-a-cair”) – the Common Rush which grows extensively on the area’s poor land, or bracken, pulled up from the roots stalk by stalk. Old accounts tell us that rush thatch lasted two years without needing major repairs, bracken seven years. Straw, widely used for thatch in other areas, was too valuable as winter fodder for the animals for it to be used on roofs.
The agricultural improvers argued that building turf walls damaged the land by stripping off the topsoil, and from around 1800 landowners encouraged or insisted on a change to stone. Buildings were constructed much as before, but between the frames the walls were stone. At Auchindrain most of the stone came out of the fields: the glen was formed by a glacier thousands of years ago, and this left behind a heavy clay soil containing rocks and boulders. However, when the township expanded in the 19th century, the fields could not provide enough stone and a small quarry was opened: it is beside the footpath away from Auchindrain that starts in the car park. The older walls are obvious, because the stones are irregular in shape and often rounded by the action of the glacier. The quarried stone of the new walls looks different. For houses, the stone was bonded using clay or, later, lime mortar. For barns, sheds and field walls, at Auchindrain the stone was always laid dry – without mortar of any sort.
The township’s roofs were all thatched until 1892. In that year, Martin Munro was getting ready to re-roof his house, Building D. The Duke of Argyll was concerned that Munro would use “tar paper” – roofing felt – which the Duke thought would not look nice, and provided Martin Munro with the money to pay for corrugated steel. The new roof can just be seen upper left in the photograph below, taken in the mid-1890s – all the other roofs are thatch.
Within thirty years, every building had been either abandoned, or also re-roofed in corrugated steel: this was the period when the township’s population dropped very significantly. A corrugated steel roof has nothing like the same insulation qualities as thatch, but if painted and maintained regularly can last for 50 years or more. Thatch was much cheaper for the materials, but involved a lot of work every year.