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Village, The

(Am Baile)

The only habitation in St. Kilda and the most westerly settlement in the United Kingdom, Village (Gael: Am Baile) is located on the northeastern shore of Village Bay in the south of the principal island of Hirta. Evacuated of its original inhabitants in 1930, the village now comprises a line of cottages, which forms 'The Street'; those at the western end are ruined, while those to the east have been restored as accommodation, offices and workshops for the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). These houses all date from the 19th C. A new minister encouraged the residents to build new double-walled black houses gable-end to the Bay in 1836. In 1860, the Laird brought masons in to build sixteen better houses in the spaces between the older properties, which were re-used as byres. It is several of these newer houses which have been restored, with pitch roofs held down by wires to prevent them blowing off in the gales. The white-painted Factor's House (c.1860) now accommodates the NTS Ranger. Today there are no permanent residents; the NTS staff and working parties are seasonal and, although continuously staffed, postings to the military base are short-term.

In the late 17th C. there were three chapels on the island; dedicated to St. Brendan, St. Columba and Christ. Christ Church lay next to the island's small graveyard in the centre of the village. A new church was built in 1826, and a school-room added in 1898. The St. Kildans were Gaelic-speaking and had to be self-sufficient, relying on the scant natural resources of the islands, as contact with the outside world was rare until the middle of the 19th C. Sea birds were an important resource; their flesh and eggs forming an important part of the islander's diet and their feathers were exported for bedding. Sheep and a few cattle were kept, and hay, barley and potatoes grown on a limited area of productive land. The community worked together and the adult males held a 'parliament' each weekday morning to prioritise the tasks for the day and divide resources according to need. Much of the population was killed by smallpox in 1797, necessitating in-migration from Harris. A post office was set up on the island in 1899, primarily for the benefit of tourists.

Next to the Village are a number of green-painted buildings which comprise the St. Kilda Military Base and the diesel generators of its power station putt-putt continuously to provide electricity to this base and the National Trust buildings. While the military buildings are widely denigrated as an eyesore, the NTS and conservationists are dependent on the presence of the range staff on the island for support and piggy-back on their transport facilities. The original proposal was that the Village should be pulled down to provide the army with hardcore for a road, but sense prevailed, and the Village was preserved owing to its historical and cultural importance and the road was re-routed.

Overlooking Village Bay, immediately to the southeast of the Village is a 4-inch quick firing naval gun and associated ammunition store, installed in 1918 after a German U-boat shelled several buildings while trying to destroy the island's radio station. The badly damaged buildings included the two-storey Feather Store (built c.1815) which was restored by National Trust work parties in the 1980s.


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