A Brief History of Nunton House

 

Nunton House has a rich history stretching back to the 17th century. From the MacDonald's of Clan Ranald to the MacPhee family the house has had many different occupants.

 

The first mention of Nunton House was in a document issued and signed in ‘Baile nan Caileach’ (Gàidhlig for Nunton) on the 10th March 1659. In the early 1700’s the status of Nunton House is unclear. After the loss of Ormiclate Castle through fire and the fatal wounding of Clanranald at Sherrifmuir in the rising of 1715, the MacDonald’s of Clanranald re-located to Nunton. Following this, Nunton House became their principle residence in the Uists. As Clanranald's principle residence in the 18th century it had a particulary significant role in the history of the 1745 Jacobite up-rising and the post Culloden escapades of Bonnie Prince Charlie in hiding. His legendary escape over the sea to Skye with Flora MacDonald in 1746 is well known and well documented. Clanranald’s wife dressed the Prince as Betty Burke, Flora’s maid in Nunton House to aid his escape.

By 1795 Nunton House is documented to have had a new role as the residence of Clanranald’s factor John Butter, who was appointed to manage Clanranalds estates in relation to the kelp industry. Butter was granted the tack of Nunton Farm and lands. John Butters successor is not known, but after an interlude Duncan Shaw was named as Clanranald’s factor at Nunton on 8th June 1815. Shaw was an important man at Nunton, under his factorship major changes took place – he was a key figure in the implementation of a policy of assisted emigration. 

In 1838 Colonel John Gordon of Cluny purchased South Uist & Benbecula including Nunton House from where he ran the estate until Grogarry Lodge was built in 1870. Colonel Cluny proved to be one of the most ruthless landlords of the time, with a policy of clearence forcing many to emigrate to Canada. He used the land he had acquired to expand Nunton Farm into a sizeable sheep farm. By 1850 his clearence policies had caused a national outcry. 

 

Following Colonel Cluny, Nunton House was then occupied by a number of tennants who ran Nunton Farm. The last tennent was James MacLean who lived there until 1923. The 1886 Crofters' Act gave security of tenure, and fairer rent. However, the Act did not return crofting land to the men from which it had been taken. The British government then did not follow through on its promise to return land to men who had fought in the Great War. Nunton Farm was subject to a land raid by retuning servicemen which saw the land split into crofts. Nunton House was then divided into 3 seperate properties, owned by Duncan MacLean (2 Nunton), Donald MacPhee (3 Nunton) and Roderick MacDonald (4 Nunton).

 

The property at 4 Nunton was extended in the 1980’s adding further accommodation for the MacDonald family and is now a substantial property, and is where an original inglenook arched fireplace can be found. This section of the house, now owned by the MacPhee family, is what has now become Nunton House Hostel. The remaing sections are private dwelling houses.