Situated in the small, rural village of Ballogie, Aberdeenshire, is a unique building constructed of vertically boarded timber panels. Its gabled roof is covered with corrugated iron; a small brick chimney stack sits atop the northeast gable. Inside, there are two rooms – a shop in the front section of the building and a workshop to the rear.
This Category A listed building is a soutar’s (or shoemaker’s) shop. It was built in 1896 by James Merchant on his own croft land in Ballogie, and he continued his business there until his death in 1941. With the doors to the historic shop closed, the contents of this quaint building have remained largely untouched throughout the years, making it a remarkable ‘time capsule’ from a point in history when such rural soutar’s shops were widespread in Scotland.
Boxes of shoes line the shelves in the shop; the soutar’s tools and materials adorn the workshop, along with cut off bits of leather still lying on the floor and detailed ledgers of his business, which hold the family names of many local residents who still live in Birse today. Research has shown that it appears to be the only surviving intact traditional rural soutar's shop in the UK. Not only is it of significance to the local community, but it is also important to the wider heritage, research and shoemaking communities, due to its unique status.
Images: The interior of the shop and the workshop inside Ballogie Soutar's Shop. Credit - Birse Community Trust.
Birse Community Trust (BCT) took ownership of the Ballogie Soutar’s Shop in 1999. Although BCT has carried out basic repairs and maintenance, the outer shell of the building is rapidly deteriorating. Critical repairs are needed to secure it and protect the entire collection inside. Following these repairs, BCT is hoping to keep the inner shell and contents in their original condition to preserve the ‘time capsule’ state that the shop is in. The Trust will be looking to maximise the accessibility of the building in different ways, making use of contemporary technologies, including 3D scanning, to allow interested parties worldwide to ‘visit’ the shop and study its contents. It will also make the building accessible to small groups for guided tours.
The Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF) is pleased to have awarded BCT a Historic Environment Scotland-supported Project Viability Grant towards the first steps of this project. Specifically, it will support a bat survey and report, as well as fundraising and staff costs to enable the Trust to prepare for the capital works needed to make the building secure. This was one of nine awards made at the latest grants meeting, where projects across the UK were awarded funding totalling £59,846.