By LAURA FRIEDLANDER
THE reconstruction of a traditional Norwegian stofa or Viking house is nearing completion in Papa Stour.
Last week Norwegian craftsmen spent several days in the island overseeing the placement of the large timbers which form the walls of the stofa.
The site at the Biggings in Papa has been identified as the possible site of Duke Hakon’s stofa, according to Shetland’s oldest document, which dates back to 1299. At this time Papa Stour was an important possession of the Kings of Norway in Shetland.
The Stofa nearing completion.
All Photos: Paul Brentnall.
The huge timbers that form the walls of the stofa were prepared in Bergen in Norway and the work was overseen by historian Atle Ove Martinnussen.
Atle is a specialist in craft technology and the preservation of craft skills. He said: “I am the head of a national craft development body based near Lillehammer in Norway. Our organisation is focused on preserving and passing on traditional skills. I became involved in this project in 2006, when a Norwegian researcher, Hans Emil Liden, approached me to ask if I felt that timbers could be taken to Papa Stour in order to reconstruct a stofa. Up to that time it had generally been felt that it couldn’t be done, but I thought well, if it was done before all those years ago, surely it can be done again.”
“I began talking to [the historian] Barbara Crawford in spring 2007 and we brought together Norwegian carpenters and dry stone dykers. It is very important to have the craftsmen on hand from the very outset. We planned to carry out the preparation of the timbers using local craftsmen in Norway but also by exchanging craftsmen from Shetland too. It is important to exchange knowledge, but the Shetland craftsmen need to learn about the timbers and the building too, so that they can correctly maintain and preserve the building in the coming years.”
The Norwegian craftsmen and carpenters. From the left: Bjorn Systad, Atle Ove Martinnussen; Henning Svensrud, Hans Marumsrud, Trond Oalann and Atle Østrem.
Working on the timbers has provided an excellent opportunity for students and craftsmen from Norway and Shetland to exchange skills and techniques. Andrew Watt and Tom Best from Shetland were given the opportunity to spend time in Bergen helping to prepare the timbers and learning traditional carpentry skills that they can put to use in the their carpentry and design work back home in Shetland.
The timbers, some weighing up to 500 kg, arrived in Lerwick aboard the Norwegian sail ship Statsraad Lemkuhl on the 11th of May and were transported to Papa by road and ferry. Once in the island the timbers had to kept wet. Each day the timbers were soaked with sea water to keep the wood from splitting or cracking.
Once the timbers were in place they were coated with a thick layer of Stockholm tar, a natural product derived from fir trees.
The ground on which the timbers are lying slopes quite steeply so a wall will be built up under the timbers to provide extra support.
Master carpenter Hans Marumsrud carves a design onto the end of one of the logs.
Dry stone dyker Jim Keddie from Sandwick is in charge of re-building the walls around the stofa. Jim said: “The ground is quite steep at some points so we placed the timbers on pad stones. This is how it would have been done when the timbers were originally put in place. The pad stones support the structure and then the ‘wall’ is filled in underneath the bottom timber to provide a weatherproof seal.”
Papa Stour History Group member Jane Puckey has also been instrumental in arranging the logistics of transporting craftsmen and timbers between Norway and Shetland to see the completion of this stage of the project. Jane said: “Once again I am overwhelmed at the help and generosity of so many people who have so willingly given of their time and goodwill to see this project through because they really believe in it. This really is Shetland at its best, everyone helping and pulling together to make this work. We hope to have a grand opening in August and then hopefully move on to developing the site further to make it more accessible for visitors by providing designated parking and even in time, an information centre. It is great to see how far we have come, this really is a shining example of community spirit.”
Applying the finishing touches.
Archaeologist Beverley Ballin Smith said: “In the 19th century a croft house was built over the site and you can still see the gable end of the property today. When we first began excavating this site, much more of the old croft was still standing. We decided to take away some of the walls and use the stone to build up the outer protective walls of the stofa. Stone walls would have been built around the inner wooden walls of the stofa for added protection. Sometimes only the walls that faced the prevailing winds had stone walls built around them. We have left the gable end of the croft wall in place as a marker to show that the croft once stood there.”