Auchindrain Township | Watercourses and Drainage
22670
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Watercourses and Drainage

Watercourses and Drainage

It rains a lot here! Good drains are vital to stop the ground from becoming waterlogged.  If the land is too wet the crops won’t grow and there won’t be enough grass for the animals. Keeping the drainage ditches open is vital work. 

A small river runs through the township, the Allt a’Mhuilinn, Gaelic for “the mill burn” (stream).  A number of smaller watercourses flow into this from the higher ground.  When there is rain, water rushes down the hillsides and the burn is quickly ‘in spate’: full, noisy and powerful enough to drive a mill for grinding corn.

Before agricultural improvement, fields were worked runrig, divided up into narrow strips – (“rigs”), separated by shallow open drains (“runs”).  Much of the land was taken up by these runs, instead of for growing crops.  Everything except the narrow strips of land along the tops of the rigs was often waterlogged.  When runrig was replaced by small fields in the 1840s or 1850s, lines of drainage tiles were laid in trenches running into natural watercourses or man-made ditches. These field drains made the land much drier – crops grow better if their roots are not always in water.  Some of the smaller watercourses were also straightened.

There were no drains around the buildings and along the township’s roads.  Rain water soaked into the ground, turning it into mud.  People saw where puddles formed and watched where the water ran, and then dug ditches to try and keep the surface dry.  They laid stone slabs or big pieces of timber over the top of ditches where they crossed roads or path. There are drainage ditches everywhere at Auchindrain, so please watch where you are walking!

The work to keep Auchindrain drained continues today.

The work to keep Auchindrain drained continues today.

Beside The Slate House is a barrel with a tap, to fill buckets with water for cooking or washing.  It catches rain water from the end of a gutter (made from two planks nailed together).  Until the 1890s, all the buildings had thatch roofs. Thatch roofs do not have gutters and the rain runs off the overhanging thatch onto the ground. Water was usually carried in buckets from the burn.

The first house to have an indoor tap was Eddie’s House. In 1940 the water was piped to it, under the main road, from a spring and a small cistern in a field.  The New House, built in 1954, was the first to have both hot and cold running water.  The cold water was piped from the spring, and hot water came from a small boiler at the back of the coal fire in the living room.

Clothes were washed in cold water in the burn, or in wooden barrels cut in half and filled from buckets. At one time The Cart Shed was the township’s wash-house.  Over the kitchen fires in the houses, it took around an hour to heat a two-gallon (10 litre) bucket of water until it was boiling.  We think that Bella Munro, who lived in Stoner’s House from 1932 to 1937, owned the first washing machine in the township.  It was very simple – half a barrel, with a paddle inside which went round and round when you turned a handle on the side.  Even The New House did not have a washing machine. Washing was done in the kitchen sink.

People washed themselves with a cloth and some soap, at a basin.  Having a bath was a rare luxury.  The metal bath would have been hung up in the barn or stored under a bed when not in use and was filled with buckets of water heated over the fire.The New House, in 1954, was first and only house to have a bath with hot and cold taps. Eddie MacCallum never really got used to the idea. He would sit in the big, modern, ceramic bath in two inches of lukewarm water because that was what he was used to!

The New House was also the only house ever to have a flushing toilet (it actually had two).  Throughout most of history people would have used a chamber pot, or a corner of the byre, in with the cattle and horses.  In the 20th century, Eddie’s House and McIntyres’ House had “dry closet” lavatories.  These were small sheds outside with a bucket under a seat.  When the bucket was full or became too smelly, it was emptied out onto the midden, where it rotted down into compost that was spread on the fields.

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