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The Lords, Lairds etc who had the large land holdings also had expensive lifestyles with Sons at Eaton, Daughters "doing the London Season" and general trying to get onto equal social status with the more established noble families. This required cash and lots of it, so their Highland estates had to have as much profit squeezed out of them as possible.

This great need for cash came at an unfortunate time. After Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo, Britain's trade could get back on its feet. Between naval blockade and the predations of French sanctioned privateers international trade had virtually dried up, this in particular affected food supply as even then Britain had been heavily reliant on imported grain and other foodstuffs prior to the wars. Traditional British agriculture had been slow, manpower intensive and very inefficient. By 1800 manpower was in very short supply as so many had been press Ganged into the Navy or had joined the Army. As well as manpower shortage, Britain suddenly had to grow its own food supply as imports dried up and what could be got was at a vastly inflated price. It was a tall -order to feed the resident population of Britain but its huge Navy and various arms also had to be kept supplied.

The production of much more food, by fewer men meant boom-time for farmers. A number of things had to happen.

  • Every available acre that could be used had to be brought into production.

  • As much as possible, drainage and other improvements needed to bring as much marginal land into production as possible.

  • New ideas to increase the soil's fertility and productiveness had to be thoroughly looked into.

  • Primitive ideas for the mechanisation of some agricultural tasks needed to be properly looked at and developed. 

Scotland post 1745.

 

Once things settled down post 1745 most of the Highlands consisted of very large states with landlords who had frequently never even visited the estate but were very happy to use it as a cash-cow. If this involved enclosing the land and dispossessing those who had worked it for centuries, that was really not the Landlord's problem. Who were these people anyway? from what he would have doubtless heard, just a load of dirty feckless oafs living in squalid hovels and necking illicit whisky instead of working. Such was the prevailing view of the Highlander. Sadly in many cases by 1750 this was not so far off the mark, though this was not entirely the fault of the Highlanders.

 

 

It is easy to see that the potential was there to make money, . The traditional Runrig was a hopelessly inefficient way of farming and agricultural practices were in desperate need of modernisation but the peasant farmers on their own did not have the resources or the know-how to do this. Some more benevolent Lairds did try to improve things but generally achieved little. The Man with the big idea could get rich and the big idea was sweep it all away and start again. This involved enclosing the land, getting rid of the pesky people whose livelihood it was and introduce modern farming practices, which in much of the Highlands meant sheep or cattle.

 

There was now a huge financial incentive to invest in improved productivity of the better land suitable for crop growing and cattle rearing. Transport links were vastly improved with the military roads built by General Wade allowing food produced to be got to Southern markets where the rapidly increasing population and England's constant wars kept prices high. In particular, on suitable land there was money to be made from large scale cattle production as the Navy needed vast quantities of salt beef, salt pork, mutton etc.Some of the Lairds were well placed to make money from this demand but little if any trickled its way down to the remaining Clansmen.

 

So long as the locals didn't insist on eating the stuff, larger farms could be very profitable. After Waterloo in 1815 when there was the possibility of lower cost food, especially grain being imported, the Government helpfully passed the Imported Foods Act better known as the Corn Laws to prevent this happening.  lots of small improvements in farming practice had an additive effect, production per acre greatly increased, the nation and its forces were fed, Napoleon got walloped and lots of farmers had a really good time.

Just how good a time the farmers had can be seen by looking at farm houses and their associated buildings. A brief drive around a traditional farming area will pass many large well built spacious farm-houses as well as good brick built barns, milking parlours etc. Within a given area most of these buildings will have a marked similarity of style, this is because they were all built around the same time during the Napoleonic Wars when farmers had it real-good.

The development of basic mechanisation of some tasks was timely. During the wars manpower could not be found, now it could not be afforded, something had to change. In order to compete with imported food, the traditional Runrig system had to go. Starting with the better agricultural land in the Lowlands landlords started parcelling up their land into larger, more economic farms, the leases to these were sold off to the highest bidder. This might be a group of the former tenants but normally it would be someone from outside. The previous tenants who never had any actual legal rights to the land they farmed, could work as labourers for the new farmers, they could seek other employment usually in a town or city or they could join the many who left for America and other colonies. Most of the new-style landlords did not feel that the people who happened to live on their land were their problem. In general if a settlement was in the way of a new  farm then the settlement and its inhabitants had to move, simple as that.

 

Once land amalgamation got going on a large scale backed up by private parliamentary acts of enclosure, there would be some basic compensation for the resident population built into the act. This however was generally very basic, the landlord would be required to provide enough land somewhere on the estate where the former tenants could build houses and a small amount of land for them grow at least some food.  Needless to say this would normally be on a patch of ground so remote, rocky, marshy or just poor quality that the Laird did not want it. Thus was the basic idea of "The Croft" born.

This is not to say that all landlords were heartless bastards, just most of them. There was by this time a cultural gulf between a well to do land owner, normally living in an English town and their subsistence farming tenants. That the peasant farmer lived in squalid conditions, usually sharing their home with their livestock in dirty unsanitary conditions, was seen as being their fault. The fact that they failed to improve themselves was because, like other paupers they were morally degenerate. It was not because these were the best houses that they could afford, and was not because their total lack of any security made it illogical for them to invest what little they had, on improving the land or home that they could be, and frequently were, turned out of at any time. These typical Victorian attitudes ensured that Landlords were little concerned and the country at large had little sympathy for their plight.

It s not fair to tar all landlords with the same brush. A few did care and felt some responsibility for the people whose ancestors had been on their land for hundreds of years. Some would give the tenants a more suitable site for their settlement and enough reasonable land for them to scrape a living. Some even went so far as to build them new and better homes and a few even built"model villages" to show off their philanthropy. Others would help their tenants to find other employment, setting them up with boats for fishing and a small port to land their catch. Some built a small works to process Kelp from the foreshore into valuable, and saleable fertiliser for the land. Some would buy a one way ticket to America for any who would take it. Make of that what you wish !!

Whilst most of these changes had taken place through Lowland Scotland by the mid 18th Century, The Highlands lagged far behind.  Whatever improving methods were used, there were some inescapable facts working against them.

  • Even the better land is poor in comparison to Lowland areas.

  • The soil is thin and very stony, making for back-breaking work to bring a new area into production, and limiting the scope for even basic mechanisation.

  • A fair proportion of the land that could be cultivated during the comparatively warm and drier Medieval period, could not produce a crop in the changed climatic conditions from 1690 onwards.

  • The better land is split into small areas with hard to cross country in between.

  • The better land is in small patches, meaning small fields, that are less suitable for even the most basic mechanisation.

  • Communications are difficult making it hard to get anything to a market.

  • The weather is so crap.  

  • The growing season is short and the thin soils have much of the goodness leached out by the high rainfall.

Whatever one did, no amount of effort or investment would make these problems go away. Whilst amalgamation into larger units helped to some extent, in the new reality of the post-Napoleonic era there was really only one crop that could return a decent profit from the Highlands, and that was sheep.  By this time most of the noble families who owned the vast Highland estates were stuck for funds and needed to squeeze every possible penny out of their land. Consequently private Acts of Parliament sanctioned the enclosure of huge areas for sheep runs and the clearance of the population out of the way. In the wake of the 1745 Rebellion few were going to shed many tears over Highland Clansmen being given the push and with poor and slow communications it was years before many knew anything about the worst excesses of the Highland Clearances. By the mid 19th Century even the furthest North and Western Highlands and Islands were enclosed for sheep farming and away from the coast virtually devoid of population. The Railways then arrived reaching the West Coast at Oban, Mallaig & Mull of Kintyre and all the way up the east coast to the northern-most point at Thurso, allowing the sheep produced to be easily shipped out to Southern markets.

As mentioned before, the Spey Valley might be in the Highlands but in many way was more like a lowland area. The broad flat valley bottom had good post-glacial soil and lent itself to the larger fields suitable for primitive mechanisation. The main road and line of communication such as it was, between Inverness and the Lowlands runs the length of the Spey Valley. This resulted in Strathspey  remaining under mixed arable farming and livestock, rather than going over to sheep. The land under Runrig had long been amalgamated into larger farms, it is not clear exactly when this took place but one has to assume that the Earls of Findlater & Seafield ( EFS ) whose estates included Strathspey must have been well ahead of the game.

 

Between the EFS and the chief of Clan Grant at Castle Grant over 90% of the land in the Spey Valley south of Grantown on Spey is accounted for. Very few farmers actually owned their farms until comparatively modern times. Unusually for the time, another difference between the Speyside Estates and the rest of the Highlands, most of the tenant farmers on other amalgamated farms leased their land directly from the Estate, not via a Taksman. This quirk had its good and not so good points. If a tenant farmer had problems, wanted something from the Estate or even (God forbid) had a suggestion to make, The person above him on the social& economic ladder was the actual land owner, or his agent anyway, not some venal Tacksman so he could make his representations to the one person in a position to actually do something about it. On the other hand, dealing directly with the Laird did leave the Tenant somewhat exposed with no intermediary to hide behind.

Fortunately Bothe the EFS and Castle Grant estates had long been well managed and for the most part were good landlords who did not excessively exploit their tenants. One particular laird, Sir James Grant of Grant the first Baronet of Strathspey went down in history as " The Good Sir James".  He lived from 17380-1811 he was dedicated to the public good and was an enthusiastic "land improver".  He founded Grantown on spey in the mid 18th Century and served as its member of Parliament for many years.  This was a particularly difficult time for the Highlands, in addition to the aftermath of rebellion, there was a long period of appalling weather, bad even by Scottish standards with crop failure, floods, drought, snowstorms and ultimately famine. 

 

Sir James Grant of Grant.  Baronet (1738 - 1811)

 

Unlike most landlords of there time, Sir James did not sit back and ignore the plight of his tenants whilst still demanding that rents must be paid. On numerous occasions he personally paid for large quantities of grain and other food to be imported and distributed to his tenants. Where rents were not paid very few if any were evicted and he did hi8s best to find employment for as many as possible on his estate works.  This did however have the inevitable consequence of making Sir James' finances get into a parlous condition and when he died at Castle Grant in 1811 he left his heirs a somewhat reduced (Though still vast ) estate.


Affectionately known as “the Good Sir James,” was well-educated, well-travelled and certainly the most capable chief of his long line. He was a dedicated public servant and an ardent improver of his vast estates. He was the founder of Grantown and at various times served as a Member of Parliament, Cashier of Excise for Scotland, Lord Lieutenant, and Sheriff of Inverness-shire. In the last decade of the 18th century, Sir James raised and served as Colonel of two regiments – the 1st Strathspey Fencibles and the 97th Inverness-shire Highlanders.
During much of his tenure as Chief of Grant, the highlands were devastated by periods of famine and epidemic. The country was continuously pummelled with all manner of inclement weather – drought, floods and unrelenting snowstorms. Crops were laid waste and starvation was rampant. Sir James repeatedly dipped into his own coffers to purchase grain for his starving tenants and clansmen. In most cases, he overlooked unpaid rents and searched for ways to provide employment for his clan. It was also during this time that Sir James’ personal debts continued to mount. His massive financial burdens were brought about by his own tenants’ inability to pay their rents. He also had to deal with the tragic personal loss of children, the mental illness of his eldest son and heir, Lewis Alexander, the eventual loss of his wife, and finally his own declining health. Sir James Grant of Grant, Baronet, “the good Sir James,” died at Castle Grant in 1811.

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