By Alistair Livingston
While a few dukes and industrialists made their fortunes on the back of Scotland’s industrial revolution, their wealth flowed from the low wages paid to the workers who mined the coal, forged the iron, built the ships, engineered the locomotives and who were crowded into cheap houses built amidst the soot and squalor. First the Lowland then the Highland Clearances drained the life out of rural Scotland to create the industrial workforce, but the conditions they experienced were so appalling that two million Scots fled abroad while another million left for England. The Industrial Clearances of the 1980s marked the final end of Victorian Scotland, but its legacy endures in the continuing loss of young people from rural Scotland. Radical Land Reform is advocated as the way to repopulate the Highlands, but will it work in the rural south, home to the Duke of Buccleuch, the largest private landowner in Scotland and the UK? These are the subjects of this talk.
Sanquhar talk 14 September 2013
I am going to start this talk answering a question which has puzzled me- how did a Border family, the Scotts of Buccleuch come to own land here in Nithsdale? As well as tracing the history of the dukes of Buccleuch and Queensberry back to the 13th century, I reveal the origins of landownership in Nithsdale and Galloway in the 12th century when Scottish kings expropriated the lands of the Gall-ghaidheil by force of arms. I then look at the history of lead and coal mining in Dumfriesshire before moving on to how the coal fired industrial revolution transformed Scotland during the 19th century. A regional side effect of that industrialisation has been a continuing loss of population since 1851. I will conclude by asking a question- can Land Reform really reverse 150 years of depopulation in Dumfries and Galloway?
The Buck Cleugh, Selkirkshire- which gave the medieval barony of Buccleuch its name.
The present owner of the 90 000 acre Drumlanrig estate in Nithsdale and largest private landowner in Scotland is Richard Walter John Montagu Douglas Scott who is the 10th duke of Buccleuch and the 12th duke of Queensberry. However, as Andy Wightman [ ‘The Poor Had No Lawyers’ , Edinburgh 2011, pages 271-2] has found, the duke can claim he is a simple tenant farmer. All the duke’s land in the UK and properties in Cyprus, Germany, Russia, Ireland and Luxembourg are owned by Buccleuch Estates. In 2008 Buccleuch Estates had total assets of £ 275 million and a turnover of £ 63 million. But Buccleuch Estates are wholly owned by Anderson Strathern Nominees Ltd – which has a total value of just £4, made up of 4 £1 shares owned by 4 Edinburgh lawyers. The Buccleuch family are directors of this company, but do not own any shares in it. So by legalistic sleight of hand, the duke of Buccleuch has managed to become only one of the many tenants of Buccleuch Estates … but one who just happens to be a double duke.
Disentangling the history of the double duke is complicated. What I have done is work backwards from the present in search of the origins of his family.
The first double duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry was Henry Scott who was the 3rd duke of Buccleuch before becoming the 5th duke of Queensberry in 1810. Henry was the second cousin once removed of William Douglas, the 4th duke of Queensberry, who had no legitimate heirs. Henry Scott was the great-grandson of Ann Scott who was the 4th duchess of Buccleuch. Ann inherited her title and extensive lands in the Borders in 1661 after her father and brother and sister had all died. Like the heroine of a romantic novel, in 1663 Ann married the duke of Monmouth who was an illegitimate son of king Charles II. Monmouth was executed as traitor in 1685 after he rebelled against his uncle James VII and II. Fortunately for the present duke, because Ann was a duchess in her own right the Buccleuch title could be passed on without the taint of treason.
Ann’s grandfather was Walter Scott who was made the first earl of Buccleuch by James VI and I in 1619. James obviously had a soft spot for the Scotts of Buccleuch since he had made Walter’s father the first lord of Buccleuch in 1590. Moving back a hundred years, James IV had made David Scott the first baron of Buccleuch in1488. The link between the Buccleuchs and the Stewart royal family had begun in 1437, when James II granted them land in the Borders. This was effectively a bribe to persuade the Scotts to break their ties to the earls of Douglas, part of James attempt to break the power of the Douglas family. James finally achieved this in 1455. The Scotts of Buccleuch, which is a tiny settlement in Selkirkshire, had been Douglas followers since the time of James Douglas, Robert the Bruce’s loyal companion. At Phenzhope Haugh near Buccleuch there is a motte which belonged to Richard le Scot in 1296. Richard is the earliest known ancestor of the Scotts of Buccleuch.
We now move on to the history of the dukes of Queensberry.
James Douglas 1662-1711, 2nd duke of Queensberry
Moving backwards from the 4th duke of Queensberry who died in 1810, we find that James Douglas, the 2nd Duke of Queensberry was one of the architects of the Union of 1707. James declared that it would be ‘highly advantageous for the peace and wealth of both Kingdoms and a great security for the Protestant Religion everywhere’. James was born in Sanquhar castle in 1662. During the Killing Times of the 1680s, he was an active persecutor of the Covenanters and a captain of John Graham of Claverhouse’s dragoons. In 1688, James suddenly swapped sides and declared his allegiance to William of Orange and fought against Claverhouse or Bonnie Dundee as he is also known..
As an aside, Sanquhar was a major centre of the Covenanters resistance to the Stuart kings. On 22 June 1680, Richard Cameron and 20 of his followers declared war against Charles II as a ‘tyrant and usurper’ in Sanqhar before Cameron, his brother and 8 others were killed by government forces at the battle of Airds Moss a month later.
Airds Moss Covenanter Monument
The first duke of Queensberry was William Douglas who had been the 3rd earl of Queensberry. In 1663 he was made Sheriff of Nithsdale by Charles II who then made him up to duke in 1684. Previously, from 1455 to 1663 the Crichton family had been Sheriffs of Nithsdale. The first earl of Queensberry was another William Douglas. He had been the 9th baron of Drumlanrig until Charles I made him an earl in 1633. The barons of Drumlanrig can be traced back to William Douglas who died in 1427. William was an illegitimate son of James Douglas the 2nd earl of Douglas who died in 1388 at the battle of Otterburn. The Douglas family had gained land and power in Nithsdale through the influence of Archibald the Grim, lord of Galloway. Archibald was an illegitimate son of Robert the Bruce’s ally James Douglas. Archibald gained control of Gaelic speaking Galloway and Nithsdale in 1369. The earliest records of the Douglas family date from 1147 when Theobald the Fleming was given lands in Lanarkshire by the Abbot of Kelso.
Before the rise of the Douglas family, Richard Edgar had been Captain of Sanquhar Castle and Sheriff of Nithsdale during the reign of king Robert I. Richard Edgar may have been a descendent of Edgar of Nithsdale whose grandfather Dunegal of Nithsdale was ruler of Nithsdale in 1124. In that year king David I granted Robert Bruce the lands of Annandale from the boundary of Dunegal of Strathnith’s lands to the boundary with Ranulf Meschin of Carlisle’s lands. Robert Bruce and Ranulf Meschin were both members of Norman families who had joined of William of Normandy’s conquest of England in 1066.
It was the Normans who introduced the idea of land ownership by written charter. The first Scottish charter dates to 1094 and was issued by Duncan II to the monks of Durham Abbey, gifting them land in the Borders. Dunegal of Strathnith was most likely one of the Gaelic speaking Gall-ghaidheil who had occupied south-west Scotland for the previous 200 years. This meant that in Nithsdale and neighbouring Galloway there were no charters since the Gall-ghaidheil held their lands through traditional rights. In Galloway, this pattern survived until the death of Alan, the last king of the Gall-ghaidheil, in 1234.
In Nithsdale, feudalism was imposed on the district in between 1160 and 1186 when the Scots built king William I a castle in Dumfries. Lower Nithsdale was granted to the Maxwells by Alexander II in 1220. In upper Nithsdale, a charter from 1214 shows that the Stewart family already owned the Forest of Sanquhar.
So if we go far enough back, the duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry’s Nithsdale lands, now owned by Anderson Strathern Nominees Limited and legally worth the princely sum of £4, were originally taken by force of arms from their Gall-ghaidheil occupiers by the Scottish kings about 850 years ago.
From origins of feudalism in Nithsdale and Galloway we are now going to fast forward via the history of mining in Nithsdale to the present day…
While the early history of coal mining around Sanqhuar is obscure, it is easier to trace the history of lead and gold mining at Wanlockhead. The Romans found lead in the Lowther Hills and there may have been some medieval lead mining near Crawford in Lanarkshire. Then, in the early 16th century the lure of gold and silver drew prospectors into the hills. Very little gold or silver was found so from the mid 17th century onwards the main output of the mines was lead. The remoteness of the mines made provisioning difficult so that in 1604 one mine was abandoned because the miners were too ill to work due to scurvy. In the 1740s, the remoteness of the lead mines was still causing similar problems.
Life in the hills was harsh, and the difficulties of provisioning the settlement- which was undertaken by the mining companies who bought meal from the local lairds- led to serious malnutrition. The inhabitants of the lead villages purchased five times as many antiscorbutic preparations per head to ward off scurvy as the other customers of the Sanquhar chemist’s shop in 1742-3, and the risks of lead poisoning also led them to take twice as many purgatives as the general community. One mine-owner allowed his employees to take smallholdings from the moor which must have enabled them to add variety to their diet, and this practice was continued until Victorian times. [Christopher Smout, DGNHAS Transactions, 1961]
Between 1700 and 1750, output from the Wanlockhead mines rose from 63.5 tonnes to 508 tonnes per year while the workforce grew from 50 to 350. By 1811, stimulated by demand during the Napoleonic war output had risen again to 1207 tonnes per year. As landowners, the Douglas dukes of Queensberry would have received one sixth of all the lead produced during this period.
Apart from the miners dying of malnutrition and lead poisoning, flooding was a major problem in the lead mines. Although coal was available from Sanquhar and Kirkconnell, the cost of transporting it to Wanlockhead by pack horse meant that until James Watt’s improved the steam engine was available, steam power was too expensive to use. In 1778, a Boulton and Watt engine was set to work draining the lead mines. In 1785, William Symington of Leadhills decided he could improve on Watt’s design and Symington’s engine began working at Wanlockhead in 1789. Financed by Patrick Miller, an earlier version of Symington’s engine was used to power a paddle steamer on Dalswinton loch in 1788. Although Miller was Robert Burns landlord at the time, Burns was probably not present. Symington went on to build the steam powered Charlotte Dundas which successfully hauled two barges along the Forth and Clyde Canal in 1803. This marked the beginning of Scotland’s steamship building industry.
Symington’s steam boat on Dalswinton Loch 1788
The end of the Napoleonic Wars saw a dramatic fall in the price of lead, but prices rose again in the 1840s, sustaining mining at Wanlockhead and Leadhills for another 40 years. The price of lead then fell again until the need for bullets in World War 1 produced the record quantity of 2758 tonnes of lead in 1918. The end of the war led to the closure of the mines. A brief attempt to revive mining was made in 1948, but today the only mine remaining open is part of the Museum of Lead Mining. I have taken the mine tour and it is very sobering experience.
As well as profiting from the labour of the Wanlockhead lead miners, the dukes of Queensberry and Buccleuch have also profited from coal mining.
Miner working a narrow, wet seam of coal, Lanarkshire 1950s
Traces of coal in the lime mortar of Sanquhar Castle show that coal was being mined here in the 13th century. However, the first deep mines in the Sanqhar coal field were not dug until the 19th century. In 1828 James Neilson’s discovery that superheated air improved the efficiency of iron smelting stimulated a surge of economic growth across Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and upper Nithsdale. Here, thanks to an accident of geology, coal and iron ore were found in close proximity. Between 1830 and 1840, more than 50 hot-blast iron furnaces were built in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. One of these iron works was opened in 1838 at New Cumnock. However, although an ‘iron rail-road’ to carry coal and passengers from Sanquhar to Dumfries had been proposed as early as 1811, it was not until 1850 that the Glasgow and South Western railway from Carlisle to Glasgow was opened. This railway passed through Sanquhar and Kirkconnel so in 1848 the 5th duke of Buccleuch leased land at Gateside for a deep coal mine. This was followed in 1857 by a mine at Bankhead, which supplied 45 000 tons of coal per year to the Glasgow and South-Western for their locomotives. In 1887, the Buccleuch leases were taken over by James McConnel who opened a new pit at Gateside followed by Fauldhead in 1897. By 1915, Gateside and Fauldhead employed 800 miners and produced 250 000 tons of coal per year. In 1841, before deep mining, the smaller shallow pits around Sanqhar only produced 16 000 tons of coal per year.
All the mines in the Sanquhar coal field were owned by James McConnel until the economic recession of 1931 when they were sold to Bairds of Gartsherrie, who also took over the Dalmellington Iron Company and its coal mines at the same time. The Bairds were a family of tenant farmers from Old Monklands parish in Lanarkshire who diversified into leasing coal pits before building their first hot blast iron furnace at Gartsherrie in1830. By the end of the 19th century Bairds had a powerful position in the Scottish iron, steel and coal mining industries. Through a series of take-overs in the 1920s and 30s, they achieved a dominant position which lasted until nationalisation of coal in 1946 and iron and steel in 1951.
The Roger Drift Mine near Sanquhar 1953-1980
After 1946, the Sanquhar coal mines were managed from Ayrshire by the National Coal Board. Unlike Ayrshire, apart from two small drift mines opened in the 1950s, there was no new investment in the Sanquhar coal field. Instead, first Gateside in 1964 and then Fauldhead in 1968 were closed with a combined loss of 1000 mining jobs. Since the closure of the Roger drift mine in 1980, there has only been open cast mining in the Sanquhar coal field.
Before the dukes of Buccleuch became dukes of Queensberry they owned coal mines at Dalkeith near Edinburgh and at Canonbie in the south of Dumfriesshire. The first mining at Cannonbie began around 1700 as part of an attempt to start an iron works there. This had failed by 1730 but then in 1769 then duke of Buccleuch brought miners from Dalkeith to improve the mine and in that year 13 000 ‘loads’ of coal were extracted. Mining on a small scale, employing about 80 miners continued into the 19th century. In the 1850s a new pit at Rowanburn was sunk which had an output of 31 000 tons per year. By 1911, when Rowanburn employed 118 miners, production had fallen to 12 000 tons per year. Rowanburn closed in 1922, but small scale mining continued nearby until 1946.
National Coal Board test drilling for coal at Rowanburn near Canonbie 1955
The National Coal Board surveyed the Cannonbie coal field in the 1950s and found it had substantial reserves of coal. The idea of opening a new deep mine at Canonbie was considered but with the coal industry contracting in the 1960s, the plan was dropped. There are now two rival plans for the Canonbie coal field. One involves extracting gas from the coal seams, the other is for a deep coking coal mine employing up to 300 workers with a life span of 15 years. Buccleuch Estates seem to favour the gas extraction plan, but there is strong local opposition to this plan. It is therefore possible that after a gap of 50 years, deep coal mining may return to Dumfriesshire.
Although there is coal in Dumfriesshire, there is very little iron ore. So when James Neilson’s invention of the hot-blast iron furnace began transforming Lanarkshire and Ayrshire in the 1830s and 40s, the regions south of the Southern Uplands Fault remained mainly rural.
Neilson’s Hot-Blast Monument, near Castle Douglas. Neilson retired to Galloway in 1858 after making his fortune in central Scotland.
The main impact of Neilson’s invention was felt in Lanarkshire, north Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. Here, between 1825 and 1840, iron production grew by 2000% from 25 000 tons to 500 000 tons. 15% of the iron was exported to the USA while the other main markets were the rapidly expanding shipbuilding and railway industries. By 1913, Scotland produced half of the UK’s marine steam engines, a third of all steam locomotives and a third of all ships built in the UK. The shipyards on the Clyde were able to build more ships than all the shipyards in Germany combined. This growth in industrial production was matched by a rapid increase in Scotland’s population.
Between 1830 and 1911, the population of Scotland doubled from 2.3 million to 4.8 million. But during the same period, 2 million Scots emigrated overseas and 750 000 moved to England. If the economy was booming, why did so many Scots decide to leave? Part of the answer is that in Scotland wages were 10% lower than in England. Since as much as two thirds of the cost of building a ship were labour costs, this gave Scottish shipbuilders an advantage. But at the same time food and housing costs were higher than in the industrial areas of England. In 1911, over 50% of the Scottish population could afford only one or two room dwellings, compared with 7 % in England.
In the 1830s and 40s, apart from England, Scotland was the only industrialised country in the world. By the end of the 19th century most European countries as well as the USA and Japan were producing iron and steel, ships and locomotives. Faced with this competition, Scottish industrialists tried to keep their costs down by reducing wages. The 19th century global economy was also subject to booms and slumps leading to surges in unemployment. So while the few Scots who owned the coal mines, iron works, shipyards and locomotive works became millionaires, millions of ordinary Scots voted with their feet, abandoning the industrial hell that was North Britain to make new lives in new lands.
The two world wars of the 20th century and the recovery from them provided some respite from the decline of Scotland’s Victorian industries. Yet even during the postwar boom of the 1950s, half a million Scots left the country. Despite nationalisation of the coal, railway and steel industries and state led attempts to diversify the economy, through the 1960s and 1970s all that had once seemed so solid continued to melt into air. The industrial clearances of the 1980s marked the final withering away of Scotland’s Victorian industries.
10th duke of Buccleuch/ 12th duke of Queensberry and Energy Minister Fergus Ewing at former open cast coal mine near Sanquhar 2013
Although Scotland’s great industrial age has passed away, the concentration of 76% of the Scottish population in urban centres and industrialised areas is an enduring legacy of Victorian Scotland. The remaining 24% of the population live in the 89% of Scotland which is defined as rural. The rural south of Scotland – South Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders – covers 16% of Scotland but has only 7% of the Scottish population.
Population density southern Scotland 1950s -higher densities darker, lower lighter
Narrowing the focus down to Dumfries and Galloway, the region’s population reached a peak of 158 890 in 1851. This was 5.5 % of the total Scottish population of 2 888 742. The most recent figures for Dumfries and Galloway give the region a population of 148 060, which is 2.8% of the total Scottish population of 5 295 000. If Dumfries and Galloway still had 5.5% of the total Scottish population there would be 291 000 people living here- twice as many people as the region actually has today. Divided up across the region, Dumfriesshire would have an extra 37 000 inhabitants, Wigtownshire an extra 40 000 and the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright’s population would increase by 55 000.
While these figures are speculative, they do reveal the cumulative impact of rural depopulation. The initial trigger for the decline in population after 1851 was probably the railway which reached Dumfries in 1850 and Stranraer in 1861. This opened up a whole range of regional businesses to national competition and made it physically easier for people to move away.
I live in the Stewartry where our population has fallen by 50% since 1851, so we are now back to the 1750 population level. The only reason the population of the Stewartry has been stable since 1981 is that the numbers of older people moving in to the district when they retire matches the numbers of young people moving away to find a job or go to university.
There is a widely held belief that radical Land Reform aimed at breaking up the big estates of the Highlands and Islands is the key to reversing rural depopulation in those areas.
Last of the Clan, 1865, by Thomas Faed 1826-1900. Faed was born in Gatehouse of Fleet in Galloway
But while the duke of Buccleuch, or rather Anderson Strathern Nominees Limited, own 300 000 acres of land in Dumfriesshire and the Borders, there are no similar large private estates in the Stewartry – yet the Stewartry has suffered far greater rural depopulation than Dumfriesshire. This leads on to my closing question- is radical Land Reform the key to halting rural depopulation or do we need to consider other reforms as well?