Before the Lowland Clearances began, Robert Bruce and William Wallace would have had little difficulty recognising the Lowland landscape as Scotland. After the Clearances it would have seemed like a foreign country to them. Everything had changed, changed utterly.
Some changes had occurred since the Middle Ages, but these were invisible and not marked in the landscape. Fpr example, there is a rental-roll from 1375 for Buittle parish in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright which lists the tenants on each of 12 farms. Most have 3 or 4 tenants but the larger farm of Almorness has 9 and one, Breoch, has 11. However, by the seventeenth century in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright most farms had only one tenant, although a few had two (often father and son).
The farms didn’t need a smaller workforce, but a new rural class of cottars had been formed. They lived in cots (cottages) and had the use of a small parcel of land, their croft, on which they could grow their own food and/or graze cow or a few sheep. In exchange they provided the tenant farmer with labour on the farm as required- in the winter and autumn ploughing and thrashing grain, in the spring and summer planting, peat-cutting, harvesting and hay-making.
When the physical transformation of the landscape began, the cottars’ small plots of land were swept away. An example of what the rationalisation of the traditional farms involved was given by Andrew Wight, writing in 1782. This example of improvement was drawn up by Henry Home, lord Kames. In 1761, his daughter Jean had married Patrick Heron IV (1736-1803). Heron’s family had grown wealthy through Galloway’s cattle trade, but the farms to be improved were arable farms near Dumfries. Heron’s tenant was James Rome, described by Andrew Wight as ‘the most remarkable man in Scotland for enterprise and expedition’.
As Rome explained to Wight ‘I entered to these improvements at Whitsunday 1763, upon a thirty years lease, in partnership with the proprietor, Mr Heron of Heron. The plan was formed by Lord Kames…’
Rome then gave Wight a detailed description of the immense effort such improvement required. To improve the 144 acres of Ingleston Hill, 90 horses and 24 workers laboured for 32 days to carry and spread 48 346 bags of shell-marl. The hill was then ploughed, first with a team of 6 oxen led by 3 men followed by a team of 4 horses. The 200 acres of Clouden-park were similarly improved and planted with turnips. Kames monitored the progress of Rome’s improvements and in 1770 commented that he had never seen better work.
Part of James Rome’s work involved removing the existing broad rigs from Ingleston. Wight then discussed the improvement of Baldoon in Kirkinner parish, Wigtownshire. A hundred years earlier, Baldoon had been owned by the Dunbar family who had a cattle park built there covering 1.5 square miles and which could hold 1000 cattle. Through his mother, Mary Dunbar, the Galloway Leveller’s bête noire Basil Hamilton inherited Baldoon. By 1760, Hamilton’s son Dunbar Hamilton had become the 4th earl of Selkirk and a Mr Jeffray managed the lands for the earl.
As Jeffray explained in a letter to Wight, beginning in 1760 it took 3 years to level 300 acres of old crooked rig and replace them with narrower straight rigs. In 1455, Baldoon had been one of the Douglas lords of Galloway’s grange, that is arable, lands so these ‘old crooked rigs’ were definitely medieval. The new narrow rigs were needed because undersoil drainage by tile drains did not come into use until the early nineteenth century.
Once the old crooked rigs had been done away with and the soil fertilised with shell-marl or lime, new square or rectangular fields enclosed with dykes or hedges were made and new farm buildings built of mortared stones with slate roofs were constructed. Networks of estate roads were built, linked to the growing network of substantially built turnpike roads, along which new villages and towns were built. In Dumfries and Galloway alone, 81 new towns and villages were built between 1750 and 1830.
The new villages were built to accommodate the cottars and tnant farmers who had lost their farms. This was a lesson Lowland landowners had been taught by the Galloway Levellers. But it also meant that there was a workforce close to the land but no longer living on it available at harvest time. Getting the harvest in as quickly as possible in case it was damaged by wet weather or storms was a vital and still labour intensive process.
The new towns had an additional function. With their larger population, fed by the new farming system, the landowners who planned them hoped they would become centres of commerce as Adam Smith proposed. The growth of Airdrie in Lanarkshire was encouraged by the Hamilton family who owned the surrounding lands. As early as 1695, they set up a market in Airdrie. First a village of 300 people developed and then it became a centre for linen weaving.
Weaving was a skill which could be transferred from the traditional to the new economy. By the first census of 1801 the population of Airdrie had grown to 4631 as it absorbed rural workers cleared from the land. Agriculture in Lanarkshire benefited from the growth of Glasgow, but this had the effect of encouraging landowners to step up the process of improvement, pushing more people off the land. The Hamilton family had a private act passed in 1821 giving ‘their’ town the legal status of a burgh. By this time Airdie’s population was 7362. This had doubled to 14 435 by 1851.However this growth was due to the ‘pull’ of the new iron industry and its associated coal mines industrialisation rather than the ‘push’ or Lowland clearance.
The new fields, farms, roads, villages and towns were also part of a new economy. After the Union of 1707, all the old Scots money circulating in Scotland was collected in Edinburgh ahead of the conversion to sterling. When this was done, it was discovered that 35% of the coins collected were not Scots at all. Some were English, but 30% were not even British but came from France, Holland, Spain and other countries.
The amount of foreign currency was high because apart from merchants trading with Europe, most Scots had little need for cash. They lived in a ‘self-provisioning’ countryside where they provided food, clothing and shelter for themselves rather than having to buy these basic essentials.
But in the new economy, farms were now focused on producing food for sale in a commercial system. Now rent had to be paid on the new farm cottages and the new houses in the new villages. Food, clothing and shelter were now commodities to be bought and sold. Tobacco, tea, coffee, sugar and clothes made from cotton had to be purchased. Gradually, everything in this new economy had to be paid for.
The other side of the new coin was that there was now a demand for carpenters and cobblers, brewers and tailors, road-menders and cart-builders, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. This was very different from the situation in Galloway a generation before when the Galloway Levellers claimed that –
Every year several tenants are exposed to the mountains and know not where to go or get any place; nay it is known that some years ago that some of these poor distressed people have, from despair, put hands in themselves and have been found hanged in their own houses about the term time when they were obliged to go away and did not know where to go…
In the old economy and society, to lose your place on the land was to lose the security of your place in the world. In the new society and economy, it was the old world that had lost its security. As a result hundreds of thousands of Scots had to find a new place in a world which was no longer their land.
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