Auchindrain Township | Welcome to Auchindrain
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Welcome to Auchindrain

A view of the low, stone buildings of Auchindrain, with red corrugated iron roofs, looking towards brownish-green hills and a blue, but cloudy, sky.

Welcome to Auchindrain

[intro]Welcome to a very special place. Auchindrain, pronounced “Achan-DRYan”, comes from the Gaelic Achadh an Droighinn, the blackthorn field. Auchindrain is the last surviving and best preserved example of a ‘joint tenancy township’.[/intro]

[details] This type of settlement was common in Scotland and much of northern Europe up until 200 years ago. In the 18th century, society was changed forever by agricultural improvement, which was intended to make land more productive and profitable for its owners. Between 1780 and 1860 most townships in Scotland were ‘improved’ out of existence.

They were converted into single-tenant or owner-occupied farms or developed into crofting townships, where each family held an individual tenancy (for their home, and the land around it). The land allocated was usually not large enough to support the family, making it necessary for ‘crofters’ to work in local industries, often owned by their landlord.

In some areas, townships were ‘cleared’, often forcibly, to get rid of the people. The land could then be used for large-scale sheep-moors, or private sporting estates. These changes meant that landlords could make more money from their holdings.

By around 1850, only a small number of joint tenancy townships remained. They had adapted with the times, taking on elements of the new approach to farming. By the early 20th century, however, most of these had failed, been abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin, due to economic and social change.

Unlike these other townships, Auchindrain survived. By the time the last tenant retired in 1963, it was the only one still inhabited: the last township.

Now, as a working farm, we keep cattle, sheep, hens and sometimes horses. They roam Auchindrain just like they would have 200 years ago. Please do not touch or feed any of the livestock – and please mind your feet for what they may have left behind…

A highland cow.

A highland cow.


[essay] Auchindrain is first referred to in historical records in the 16th century, but almost certainly is older than this. We do not know exactly when the township was established, but it may have been founded in the late medieval period as a “splitting” from nearby Braleckan township when it became overpopulated.

From the 1500s to the 1770s, almost nothing is known about Auchindrain. It was just another township, one of thousands spread across Scotland.

In 1789, after the township was reacquired by the Dukes of Argyll, a plan for Auchindrain to be rebuilt and reorganised into crofts was drawn up. However, these were never implemented, probably because the investment required would not have justified the financial return.

That was not the end of the story. After 1789, the community adopted aspects of improved agriculture, probably encouraged and supported by the Dukes, particularly Duke George. By 1840 there had been a major rebuilding of the township using stone. Traditionally, township buildings had been made of turf.

This rebuilding brought some changes to the layout and nature of the buildings. One key difference was a move to align dwellings so that they were end-on to the prevailing wind through the glen.

Another was to construct threshing barns. These were set across the wind, with a pair of opposing doors in their long sides, to create a through-draft for winnowing grain. This arrangement is characteristic of the early period of agricultural improvement.

Despite these changes, the township’s buildings still appear as a random scatter, with no pattern, within the landscape. This was because the township’s inhabitants used places unsuitable for crop cultivation to build their houses –  old occupation sites, the tops of glacial mounds, and wet, stony, steep or uneven places.

Even after being rebuilt, Auchindrain still had much of the character of previous centuries. This was obviously what Queen Victoria was coming to see when, on 25th September 1875, she visited the “primitive villages” of Auchindrain and nearby Achnagoul.

Another major change was a move from cattle to sheep as the township’s primary agricultural product. This meant that the township’s two shielings, which lay about half a day’s walk from the township, went out of use. It also meant the construction of a fank, or sheepfold, on the high ground just west of the main settlement, probably before 1870.

The final major change was the abandonment of the runrig system. The arable land was enclosed into a series of small fields and allocated to individual tenants. Documentary evidence of this does not exist before 1892, but it could have taken place several decades before then. These fields show considerable evidence of improvement – drainage was introduced, and all visible remains of the rigs were ploughed out. We don’t know whether this change was a gradual or sudden process.

By the 1870s, Auchindrain was operating as a sheep farm. Through all this change, what made Auchindrain different was that the township remained a joint tenancy.  It remained one until 1963, although from the 1890s onwards there was only one tenant.

This was very unusual. No other comparable location has been identified. One of the defining features of agricultural improvement was the ending of joint tenancies and runrig farming, which were thought to be inefficient and unproductive.

At Auchindrain, the enclosure and allocation of the arable land appears to have taken place by agreement between the tenants, who had two fields each to farm. It is truly remarkable that at Auchindrain joint tenancy survived both the change to farming sheep and the enclosure of the arable land.

The survival of the joint tenancy agreement  (for reasons we may never know) was probably the main reason why the nature and layout of the township’s buildings remained relatively unchanged. There was no incentive to build new houses and barns on individual plots of land. [/essay]

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