Buy a house from the iron age for £175,000

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The Independent Online

In a beautiful, rural setting in the Scottish Highlands stands a hideous building which, despite its ugliness, has estate agents fluttering with excitement. The walls are garish red and in need of repainting, the roof is snow-white. Overall, it seems a ghastly clash of colours amid the greenery – but this property is a piece of architectural history.

Cheaply erected, flat-pack corrugated iron homes and farm buildings were once common in the Highlands but most have been torn down. The three-bedroom Ballintomb Cottage is one of the last still standing. In Edwardian times, a local farmer ordered it from the catalogue of a London company and had it delivered by steam train, then horse and cart, to a site near the village of Dulnain Bridge in Strathspey. He assembled it by hand, so he could move his family in during the summer while he rented out his farmhouse to wealthy holidaymakers. It cost just £425. Now, offers of more than £175,000 are being invited but the selling price could reach as much as £250,000.

These days, most of us associate corrugated iron with those cheap, crudely assembled homes packed together in slums across the developing world but, in the 19th century, it was one of the inventions in which Britain took pride. It was exported all over the world to make buildings of every size. While others were putting up corrugated iron churches or civic centres, the staff of William Cooper Limited, based in London's Old Kent Road, cornered the market in cheap, prefabricated agricultural buildings, including the one now up for sale at Dulnain.

Simon Holloway, who has co- written an illustrated history of corrugated iron, published this month, said yesterday: "William Cooper were at the poorer end of the market. They supplied small-time farmers with every sort of building, from chicken coops to farmhouses. Back then, £425 was quite expensive – their prices started at less than £100 – but the buildings were customised and the price may have included optional extras, such as a fireplace."

The house is more attractive on the inside than it is on the outside, having been fitted out and clad with pine pitch. It offers fine views of the Cairngorms and the Hills of Cromdale and its present owners have used it as a holiday retreat for eight years. As for the exterior, the estate agent's blurb confesses: "Ballintomb Cottage requires repainting but, in the interest of showing the quality of the galvanised iron, the present owners have left the painting to the next purchaser, who may also wish to change the colour."

Mr Holloway, whose book contains numerous photographs of bright red corrugated iron homes, huts and churches and mission halls, said: "The bog-standard metal primer was just a red oxide paint you were supposed to paint over – but people didn't paint over it. It's still weird that, in the mindset of corrugated iron owners, their buildings have to be a loud red."

Nicola Henderson, of Strutt & Parker, the agency handling the sale, said potential buyers were queuing up. She added: "When the surveyor came to look at the house, he was rather worried by its first appearance but pleasantly surprised when he looked around."

Jimmy Allan, 91, whose father built the property, said: "I love it. My father sent the horse and lorry up to the house filled with luggage and me. There was no drawback at all to it being corrugated iron."

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