Brough Lodge: a remarkable site on the Shetland island of Fetlar Brough Lodge

The Reawakening of Brough Lodge

17th May 2015

(This article is reproduced here by kind permission of Shetland Life magazine.)

Brough Lodge is a building associated with a dark period in Fetlar’s history but that has not stopped an enthusiastic group of volunteers pursuing their aim of restoring it. Brough Lodge Trust chairman Pierre Cambillard tells ADAM CIVICO why restoration should be seen as a positive move.

"The vision is simple but effective." Those are the straightforward words of Pierre Cambillard when asked about the objective of the Brough Lodge Trust.

"Brough Lodge, a category A-listed site, will be carefully restored and converted to serve as a mixed-use venue, overseen by the trust and using any surpluses generated for charitable purposes.

"Its historic atmosphere will be a focus for short courses and activities involving the arts (hand knitting, weaving, fiddle music, photography, drawing, painting) and environmental themes (geology, archaeology, wildlife/bird watching). We also intend to offer short-stay holiday accommodation, business retreats and guided tours."

While that is a concise analysis of the ambitious vision the trust has it does little to indicate the scale of the project. Nor the dark history associated with Brough Lodge.

Built in 1825 by Arthur Nicolson on the site of an earlier "haa" house, Brough Lodge was in the Nicolson family until the latter part of
the 20th century.

Pierre fi rst came to Shetland in the early 2000s and fell in love with Fetlar. He now splits his time between Fetlar and Canada and got involved with the trust as he was looking for something to occupy his time post-retirement.

He takes up the story: "Arthur Nicolson was a merchant in Lerwick who acquired the lands in Fetlar in 1805 as part of a debt owed by Andrew Bruce of Urie, who had died in 1803. Before work began on building Brough Lodge, Nicolson lived for a time at the Haa of Urie, a little over a mile to the north-east of Brough Lodge. Surprisingly for such an important building on a small island, there is practically no oral tradition about the building of Brough Lodge. This is unusual as it seems probable that local workmen were employed.

"What is known is that Arthur Nicolson travelled widely in mainland Europe during the early 1800s. It seems likely that he found his ‘blueprint’ for Brough Lodge in the architecture he found in France, Switzerland, Italy and elsewhere, as well as borrowing various classical design elements.

"What is obvious is that Brough Lodge is really quite unique. Shetland has no other building like it."

Arthur Nicolson returned to Fetlar around the end of 1818 and building materials for Brough Lodge started to arrive around that time. Then came the clearances and the ruthless reputation of the Nicolson lairds. That is something not lost on those involved with the trust, but Pierre is optimistic in his analysis.

"It’s very easy to see a building like Brough Lodge as a liability, especially given its connection with the clearances, a dark period in Fetlar’s history. But a spacious, interesting, A-listed building on a beautiful island is also, potentially, a huge asset, especially when an excellent start has already been made on renovation. In its new role, it can be of real benefi t not only to Fetlar but to the North Isles and Shetland. So, if we can bring the story to a successful conclusion, I think there will be an element of poetic justice."

There is a long way to go before that objective can be fulfi lled. After the last Lady Nicolson moved out of Brough Lodge in the 1970s, the house lay empty and started to deteriorate. In the late 1980s, Shetland Archives was given permission to remove any valuable documents from the house.

They removed over a quarter of a ton of "extremely valuable" papers pertaining to the estate and to Shetland that dated back to the late 1500s.

Since then signifi cant repair work has already taken place. Staff from Shetland Amenity Trust have made the building wind and watertight, although inside there are still fl oors and plasterwork missing. But buoyed by a recent announcement that £460,000 of funding had been secured the trust, formed in 1998, is more keen than ever to pursue its goal.

"Raising the capital amount we need for the restoration will not be easy, especially when money is tight," says Pierre.

"However, we have already received a pledge of over £460,000 from Historic Scotland, which represents 12 per cent of the total. Our next step will be an approach to the European Regional Development Fund and we’ll also make contact with a number of private trusts in the UK and possibly abroad.

"We are fortunate in having received letters of support from various sources in Shetland, including the Fetlar Community Council, Shetland Charitable Trust and Shetland Amenity Trust. Although these bodies are not in a position to provide funding, we should still like to attract small amounts of funding from within Shetland because that will help demonstrate to external funders that there is support from local sources. We also hope that more local business sponsors will come on board.

"Finally, we are exploring the use of social media and crowdfunding to see if these would be helpful.

"We do believe that our aspirations are realistic but a lot of effort will be needed and I would not like to predict how long it may take. Needless to say, we are always grateful for pledges of help or for leads that we might follow up."

If successful it is hoped the restoration of the lodge will be a boon - economically and socially - for the fragile Fetlar community and
beyond.

"The project will benefi t the local community by maximising the potential for development of the visitor market. Up to six jobs will be created on an island where there are few employment opportunities and where economic diversifi cation has been identifi ed as essential for the island’s survival and future development.

"In its new role, the building will also help to expand knowledge and understanding, both within Shetland and further afi eld, of Fetlar’s cultural heritage, which is a source of pride and confi dence for the community.

"There is an opportunity to attract visitors, benefi ting the whole island and possibly encouraging further inward investment. Educational visits to Brough Lodge will also be encouraged and dedicated space and facilities will be set aside for them."

There is a link between the proposals to restore one piece of isles’ heritage (the building) and then organising events to preserve another part of the cultural heritage (knitting, music etc.)

Asked if that is an important part of what the project is about Pierre is unequivocal. "Very much so."

Community leaders, he says, have expressed "strong support" for using any profi ts to maintain Shetland’s heritage.

"Although many local organisations and individuals are very active in that fi eld, it’s also clear that there are gaps. For example, when we looked at what was happening in textiles, we noticed that many elements of the heritage were being supported, but that in one area - the teaching of bairns in primary schools - much more needed to be done.

"That realisation led us to run a workshop and initiate a series of discussions. We set out to understand which voluntary initiatives existed and how the Brough Lodge Trust might support a broader approach.

"During 2014, we came to the conclusion that the best way to use any surpluses from Brough Lodge would be to fund a network of hand-knitting projects in schools, with the support of volunteer tutors. Co-ordination of the project would be the responsibility of our trust.

With that in mind, we have been working with a steering committee which is developing a number of pilot projects so that we can be ready for the day when we can actually roll out the full programme. We’ve been delighted by the strength of support that’s been shown for this approach.

"However, the support for textiles is just one route to safeguarding the heritage. Brough Lodge will enable visitors and local people to participate in learning about and demonstrating other traditional skills - fi ddle music being an obvious one - and in maintaining and developing interest in topics ranging from archaeology to ornithology.

"Depending on the success of the project, we envisage extending support to at least some other aspects of Shetland’s culture." It’s ambitious stuff but Pierre cites the example of Shetland Wool Week to demonstrate what can be done and to demonstrate that there is demand for the kind of courses he envisages will be run at the lodge, assuming the restoration is completed.

"Textile handicraft tutorials were always part of the plan for residential courses at Brough Lodge. Over the years, it has become clear that there is a strong and growing worldwide demand from people who are anxious to learn about authentic, high-quality Shetland textiles. The tremendous success of the annual Shetland Wool Week is evidence of that.

"There is clearly scope to offer more to an international audience."

 

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