Agricultural Change and ImprovementIn the 18th century, social, economic and scientific factors brought about major changes in society. One of these changes was agricultural ‘improvement’. This involved changing the way land was used, to make it more productive and profitable for the landowner.
[caption id="attachment_21542" align="alignnone" width="683"] Highland Cow[/caption]
Demand for wool was high in England, so farming cattle gave way to sheep. From the 1770s, this meant that entire communities were removed from their homes, sometimes by force. The change from cattle to sheep involved clearing people from their land to make room for sheep to graze.
This process of change, known as the Highland Clearances, destroyed the joint tenancy townships which were home to most of Scotland’s rural population for almost a thousand years. Tens of thousands of people were forcibly evicted from or encouraged to leave land their families had farmed for centuries. Some of these people went to Scotland’s growing cities, where they became workers in expanding industries. Many emigrated. This is why today, there are more people who consider themselves Scottish in countries like the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia than there are in Scotland.
With the people went their language and skills. Some people who remained moved from joint tenancy townships to new ‘crofting’ townships, where the grazing was shared but each family rented a piece of land to farm. In most cases this was deliberately not large enough to support a family, forcing people to work in industries owned by or connected to the owner of the land they rented. Some other townships became part of large farms, let to a single tenant.
In some areas, townships were forcibly cleared of people so that the land could be used in other ways, for large-scale sheep-moors or private sporting estates. Over time, red deer and grouse replaced cattle and sheep. Visitors to Scotland were sold the Victorian image of tartan, stags and romance. There was money to be made from the land, but not by the people who lived on it.
By the 1860s only a few joint tenancy townships remained. Most of these were eventually modernised or abandoned. In 1875, when Duke George brought Queen Victoria to see what she described in her diary as the “primitive villages” of Auchindrain and Achnagoul, he believed they were the last of their kind remaining.
We don’t know if this was true, but by the 1940s Achnagoul had failed. This left Auchindrain alone as the Last Township. By the time Eddie MacCallum retired in 1963, the historical significance of the place had been recognised, and steps were being taken to ensure its survival.
[caption id="attachment_21643" align="alignnone" width="296"] Clearances Kelvingrove Painting[/caption]