Crofters and CroftingIn the late 18th century, agricultural improvement began to change townships. One of these changes was the division of land into small individual tenancies called ‘crofts’. Each was occupied by one person or family – ‘crofters’.
Originally ‘croft’ was simply a word to describe an individual tenancy, like the word ‘township’ meant a joint tenancy. The area in which you are now standing was a croft in this sense of the word. If you look up the hill to left and right you will see the remains of the earth and stone dykes which define the boundaries of the croft. The people who lived here, Duncan Munro and his descendants Duncan McNicol and Neil McGugan, were craft and industrial workers rather than farmers. The croft provided them with some land to grow potatoes and vegetables to feed the family. We now cut rushes to thatch Bell a’Phuill’s House within this area.
An annotated map from the 1890s, showing who had which fields, marks this area “McG”, but the census data never describes either Duncan McNicol or Neil McGugan as a tenant. This indicates that the croft was held as a sub-tenancy under the township’s tenants, rather than a separate landholding rented directly from the Argyll Estate.
In other areas, ‘croft’ became a loaded term associated with the Highland Clearances. Single tenancy crofts replaced joint tenancy townships, often displacing the previous tenants and dividing up the landscape. The move to crofting from the late 18th century was an element in the development of industrial capitalism. Crofters were allocated a piece of land too small to support their families and thus became a dependant and pliable workforce for local industries. These industries often also belonged to the landowner. In the area around Auchindrain, for example, there were two mines, a gunpowder factory, a weaving mill and an ironworks. At first crofters had almost no rights or security, and there was much social pressure for change. From the 1880s the law increasingly protected crofters from exploitative landowners. Crofting continues today in some parts of Scotland
This croft helps us to understand how land use changed and developed at Auchindrain. For most of history, the township’s arable land was worked on the runrig system. This stopped here in 1842, and most of the land was divided into small fields which could be worked efficiently with horses and the better ploughs which had become available. Less land was needed to produce the same amount of food, so the steep and uneven land to the west of here was not included and became pasture for animals. The boundary between the croft and the area that had become pasture had previously been just a natural dip in the landscape, but this was now not enough. If you look west, you will see the remains of the new turf and stone dyke which was built to keep grazing livestock out of the croft’s crops.
The field to the west of the croft has not been ploughed since it became pasture in 1842. The humps and dips of the old rigs and the pathways between them remain intact under the grass and in places can still be seen today. No trace of rigs can be seen anywhere else within the township, because in the years after 1842 the land was gradually levelled by cultivation within the new field boundaries.
[caption id="attachment_23264" align="alignnone" width="800"] Rashes cut and ready for thatching.[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_21753" align="alignnone" width="981"] McGugan’s Croft as seen in the 1890s photograph.[/caption]