By Jane Coutts
rough Lodge in Fetlar, and its surrounding buildings, were once the home of the Nicolson family. The last Lady Nicolson died in the late 1980s and the house has been empty since long before that. The house has been deteriorating at an alarming rate ever since, but a Trust has been formed in Fetlar (Brough Lodge Trust) and the Trust hopes to acquire the house and grounds and look into restoring them.
Tourism development is growing in Fetlar, as jobs within the agricultural and public sectors are becoming scarcer and less viable. Brough Lodge Trust hopes to conduct a feasibility study into uses for the buildings, but they are likely to provide a strong tourist attraction in their own right and help to attract more visitors to the island as a whole. Fetlar Community Council has recently conducted a community consultation and audit regarding future community development in the island, and on the basis of this has formulated a development plan for the island. Brough Lodge Trust is committed to working within this development structure, and intends that the restored Brough Lodge should serve a useful purpose in the economic development of Fetlar, as well as providing an interesting attraction in its own right.
There are a number of compelling reasons why Brough Lodge is one of Shetland's most interesting old buildings and why it is well-worth rescuing.
Architecturally, it stands out on the landscape as rather eccentric with its mid 19th century folly built high on the site of an Iron Age broch. The house itself is quite unique. On the outside, its original roof was turreted all around, and a stained-glass window filled part of the wall of one of the upstairs bedrooms. The original entrance when the house was built around 1820 was on the south side, and this probably led into an entrance hall. Probably late in the 19th century this was blocked up into a window and the entrance hall made into the dining room. The main entrance then moved to the courtyard at the opposite side of the house. The stained-glass window, or at least the part of it which could be rescued, was taken to Fetlar Interpretive Centre in pieces, and can hopefully one day be restored.
Enclosing the courtyard of the house is a wall which extends along the edge of the grounds as a sort of fašade. High above the courtyard entrance is the Nicolson coat-of-arms in stone which, although weathered, is still discernible. In front of this entrance are what were once small gardens which harboured low-lying trees, as testified by photographs from around 1900.
Following round from the front garden, the fašade leads into the Chapel. This building has never in living memory been used as a chapel and, given the builder's preoccupation with folly-type structures, may even have originally been built as some sort of mock-monument.
Behind the house and chapel is the Tower. It was used in the 19th century as an astronomical observatory, and the large lens from the telescope is now on display at Fetlar Interpretive Centre. The Tower was refurbished at the turn of the 20th century when the upper part had wood-lined walls. It also had a wooden bridge to allow access to the upper part. Within the Brough Estate, Fetlar has by far the largest collection of 19th century folly-type buildings in Shetland, if we count the Tower, the Round House at Gruting and perhaps the Chapel at Brough.
Inside, the house is no less worthy of interest. The central hallway is oval-shaped, and its doors and fittings are curved to fit the shape of the room. A stag's head, now rather the worse for wear, has always been a distinctive feature of the hallway, greeting visitors to the inner part of the house.
Fetlar Museum Trust (the governing body of Fetlar Interpretive Centre) has carefully pieced together information about the inside of the house through people's memories and through photographs. The Trust has documented on video and on paper the position of the rooms, what was in them at a given point in history, and who stayed in each part of the house.
So it is not just its outer curiosities which make Brough Lodge so special and worthy of restoration. It must be one of the few ruined houses in Shetland about which we have so much information that it should be possible to restore the rooms in their original state at any one given period from the 1890s to the mid 20th century.
As well as the hundreds of photographs from Brough Lodge in the archive at Fetlar Interpretive Centre, an enormous collection of documents was rescued from the house and taken to safety at Shetland Archives. The documents not only detail the history of the house, estate and Nicolson family, they also give fascinating insights into daily life at Brough throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Armed with all this information, the new Brough Lodge Trust hopes to piece back to life one of Fetlar's, and indeed Shetland's, most valuable and fascinating historical assets. The Friends' Association can be an invaluable key element in helping this to happen.