McGugan’s Croft Buildings
[intro]These buildings are not part of the East or West Townships – the land was worked as a sub-tenancy. You’ll have to imagine walls rising to a thatched roof, glass in the windows, and an interior similar to those you saw in Martin’s House or Bell a’Phuill’s House.[/intro]
This area is called McGugan’s Croft, for Neil McGugan, who lived here from the 1850s until around 1905. The meaning of the word “croft” has changed over time. Originally, it referred simply to an individual tenancy (or sub-tenancy) as opposed to a joint tenancy.
One form of agricultural improvement was to divide townships up into large numbers of crofts. “Crofters” had few rights and were easily exploited by unscrupulous landowners. To read about the creation of ‘McGugan’s Croft’, click here.
By the 1840s, this building was home to Duncan McNicol and his family. He was a weaver (meaning he was a cottar, rather than a tenant farmer) and would have been a valuable asset to his community. We think that his croft was created by agreement between the tenants in the 1840s, a time when farming at Auchindrain was changing.
The croft is too small to support a family, but McNicol could have grown some potatoes and kept a cow, or a few sheep. This sort of arrangement was reserved for cottars who had proved they were useful and reliable, but was not unusual.
Neil McGugan (who came to the township in 1845) was related by marriage to Duncan McNicol. The 1851 census places him in a small house in the West Township, with his sister Bell a’Phuill’s son John, and his housekeeper Catherine McArthur, who he married in 1860. By this time they already had two children.
Around this time, the McGugans and the McNicols exchanged houses – the McGugan family needed more space. Neil McGugan stayed here until he retired to Inveraray in around 1905.
Like Duncan McNicol, Neil McGugan was a skilled craft worker. The tenants were clearly content to allow the croft arrangement to continue. His occupation as recorded in the census data changed over the years: he was a nickel miner at the nearby mines (until they closed), and was then employed in the gunpowder works at Furnace (until it blew up). He turned his hand to dyking – building dry stone walls – and we imagine that we can see much of his work around us in the buildings and boundaries of Auchindrain. At the time of the 1901 census he was still working, despite being 77 years old.
The house, Building O, may have been divided into two rooms by a timber screen. To one side of the house is a separate building. This, we are certain, was originally Duncan McNicol’s weaving shed – a loom is a large item of equipment, wouldn’t have fitted in the living area. The remains of a comparable structure can be found as part of Building W in the West Township, near where Duncan McNicol lived after exchanging houses. Building P, a little way down the hill and up against the croft’s boundary dyke, would have been a store for tools and harvested crops such as potatoes.
What remains here now is the result of an abandoned restoration project in the 1970s. No-one lived here after Neil McGugan left Auchindrain. The house fell into ruins, and a photograph from the 1950s shows a shed had been built inside it.