Stoner’s ByreStoner’s House has a typical 19th century longhouse layout. There is a ‘house end’ containing three rooms, and a ‘byre end’ for animals. The byre end contains standings for five cattle and two small horses, and a range of agricultural implements.
The longhouse was a late survival of a type of dwelling that has existed since the beginning of organised farming, around 10,000 years ago. Then, people didn’t mind sharing their living space with the smells and sounds of animals. It was easier to build one building, rather than two separate ones, and also maximised winter warmth. A cow gives off as much heat as a 2 kilowatt electric fire.
Working horses were usually stabled throughout the year. Cattle lived outside for as much of the year as possible, but in harsh northern climates the fields don’t have enough grass in winter. Cattle could die of cold or starvation, so had to be brought indoors.
In the Scottish Highlands and Islands, cattle were the main product of joint-tenancy townships. Every autumn, the drover came by, taking to market the township’s cattle. The people of the township kept the bull and as many cows in calf as they could look after over the winter. The drover took all the rest.
Large numbers of cattle couldn’t be kept over winter – there wasn’t enough food for this. The standings for five beasts in the byre harks back to a time when that was the most cattle the family could keep alive through a winter.
The byre-end of a longhouse had one other use – as a lavatory. When the byre was cleaned out, everything went onto a midden outside where it rotted down into manure for the fields. Using human waste was no less effective or useful than what the animals produced. You may have noticed that we have not commented on lavatories. This is why. In the early 20th century Eddie’s House and what later became McIntyres’ House had dry-closet toilets nearby outside, but there is no evidence that Stoner’s House ever had one of these.