Notes on ‘Stake and Rice’ in Elgin

MFC Paper 13 by E Beaton 1976

This is not a mis-spelt menu! ...... but a type of internal partition walling, an example of which has recently been found in a ruined house in Elgin. The derelict dwelling lies at the angle of an "L" shaped, un-named close behind no. 78 High Street, which returns on to Commerce Street. The house is of rubble stone with mud mortar and is also L shaped. It has relieving arches over some window and door apertures. A simple chamfer decorates the lintel and a rolled moulding the jambs of the principal entrance on the west. There is also a blocked door with rolled moulding on entrance on the west. There is also a blocked door with rolled moulding on the south side (C on plan). One corner, which would otherwise abut the lane sharply and could have inconvenienced passers by, has been angled, and at about 4 feet high (1.22 m) has been roughly corbelled out on the square. The outside walls remain in places to the wallhead of the upper floor, with some lengths of simple squared eaves course. There is also one original internal partition wall of  "cat and clay" (timber framing infilled with straw and clay).

In the centre of the house are the remains of a stair, constructed of blocks of square timber — so covered with rubble that close examination is impossible. It appears that at ground floor level these stairs have had partition walls inserted each side of the staircase to create a "cupboard under the stairs" and it is these walls that are of " stake and rice". (Rice - HRIS, old Norse for twigs or brush wood). One partition, A — A*, remains. B - B is derelict. Vertical stakes six feet high (1.80 cm) and four inches by two (10 cm x 5 cm) with a few horizontal members approx. 4 inches (10 cm) deep nailed across have apertures infilled with split rods ("rice") lying horizontally. Over these hang uncut straw mixed with clay, which when dry was trimmed flush with the face of the stakes and then plastered with a mud and lime plaster, creating a wall about four inches (10 cm) thick. There are also remnants of another coat of lime plaster which has been scored diagonally.

In this example the rods are held in place with hand made iron nails, but some have also been sprung into sockets crudely cut in the side of one vertical stake (A*). This could recall an earlier practice when no nails would have been used and all "rice" members would have been woven, or sprung into sockets, depending on the wood used.

The use of nails could therefore indicate that this is a later version of this walling practice. It is probably a nineteenth century improvement to a late 17th century or early 18th century house. The partitions would create extra storage space in the house where none previously existed.

Examples of this "stake and rice" walling have been recorded in Aberdeenshire, in Angus and Fife, in areas where clay building was customary. It is an ingenious use of simple, and perhaps unlikely, materials requiring some skill and patience. The technique was used for external walls before pre-agrarian improvements in the Carse of Gowrie with an additional covering of clay to form a flush surface.

In the semi-ruinous and ivy-covered building next to the dwelling under discussion is a fine-fire place (D on plan) with a single slab mantel stone carved

T H O M A S  R U S S E L L
1 6                      9 4

in clear, incisive lettering. The mantel is mounted on nicely finished stone brackets and measures 1' 8" x 4' 3" (0.51 m x 1.50 m). The doorway has concave moulding.

Maclntosh records that Thomas Baillie, Treasurer of Elgin, lived in this close in 1698, and also that the old Episcopal Church was close by, behind no. 74 High Street.

I should like to thank Mr. Angus Howat of the Elgin Library for his help.


Elgin, Past and Present by H. Maclntosh, 1914
Clay Building and Clay Thatch in Scotland. by A. Fenton. Ulster Folk Life, 1970
Glossary of Scottish Building by Glen L. Pride, 1975
Some Regional Variations in Building Techniques in Angus, Fife and Perthshire.
Bruce Walker Building Construction in Scotland, some historical and regional aspects 1976

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