Monday, November 5, 2018

Duke of Portland Wins Again


The Duke and Duchess of Portland at Badbea

Langwell Lairds Past and Present – Is it the Dawn of a New Day?

Written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea. Printed in the Northern Ensign 26 June 1894 Part E

To the Editor of the Northern Ensign

Continued from previous blog..

“Amongst other good acts of the Duke, I saw that he had given a park to the Swiney crofters. Mr Turner's name was mentioned in connection with this, but if the credit is his, he must have changed his mind since he expressed his views to me on one occasion on board the Wick steamer about crofters and crofting. Mr Turner's evidence before the Deer Forest Commission showed very plainly what his feelings were towards the crofters on the estate: and were the Duke to take a favourable view of my surmises, I imagine he would not have a very cordial helper in his factor.”
Winifred, Duchess of Portland
“Of course the people will say this is nothing but building castles in the air. Well, be it so. The Deer Forest Commissioners are to give a report, and were they to propose any change on the Berriedale estate, I think it very likely this is where they would recommend land to be given to the crofters, or rather a crofter township to be set up in Auchincraig etc. It would disturb the Duke's deer less than in any other part of his estate, and would be easier yielded by the Duke. Of course were the Upper Borgue to be cultivated it would do little in disturbing the deer: but I shall not speculate any more in that direction. I don't expect to see the views I have set forth acted upon, but who knows but others may. In the course of years greater wonders have taken place.”

I am, etc,  A Native of Badbea.

My Comments:

Mr Turner was the factor for the Duke of Portland. A factor in Scotland was a manager who dealt with a variety of property matters from collecting rents to property repair and maintenance. They were supposed to act in accordance with the owner's wishes but as can be seen from the Duke’s comments, his factor Mr Turner, had a great deal of influence and opportunity to advise the Duke.
Looking back to the time when he first came into his noble heritage, the Duke made a touching reference at the Welbeck Tenants’ Show, in 1906, to the death of his agent, Mr F. J. Turner, who for 48 years was in the service of the fifth Duke and himself. 
“When I first came to Welbeck, now twenty-seven years ago,” said the Duke, “I was a mere boy, very ignorant of the ways of the world, and more ignorant still, if it were possible, of business habits and of the management of a great estate. I shudder to think what might have been my fate, and the sad fate of those dependant upon me, if Mr Turner and others, who guided my footsteps had been different from what they proved themselves to be. It was in his power to make or mar the happiness and prosperity, not only of myself, but also of many of those who live in this district and who farm my land.”  Source: http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/portland1907/portland8.htm

Alexander Gunn must have had a chance meeting on the Wick steamer with Mr Turner and of course took the opportunity to raise issues of crofters.


Re Swiney - I could not find a record of the Duke giving a park to the Swiney crofters.  The Duke of Portland had purchased the estate of Swiney from John Gordon in1877. In the early 1890s there were public meetings and much discussion in the newspaper about the need for a road from Swiney to Osclay. It was said the largely attended Swiney school had no road passing near it from any direction. There was discussion with Mr Turner about what contribution the Duke of Portland would make. It seems that in the end the Duke “did not feel called upon to subscribe to the road” and thought the road should be paid for by rates. The Duke said he would build a good footpath from Achavanich to the Swiney school with a new bridge at the Reisgill burn. That is quite a long footpath – between 7 and 8 miles - and for those travelling by foot it would have been very welcome. Tenders were called in March 1896 to build the road. In 1899 Mr Turner gave details of the number of crofters on the Duke’s estates of Lybster and Swiney. He gave the population of the district as 231 tenants paying rent from 100 pounds down.

Road from Swiney to Achavanich. Osclay is near the blue circle.

The frustration of unjust land distribution just went on and on for crofters and Alexander Gunn took every opportunity to speak publicly about it. He was always hopeful and always made good suggestions to improve the conditions of the crofters while respecting the land practices of the estate proprietors. Sadly, his dreams never came true.



The two maps here with coloured areas were produced in the report by the Deer Commission.

The map above is a detail of the Latheron map showing the tiny bit of marginal land – pink – owned by the Duke of Portland that was recommended for possible use by the Langwell crofters. It is exactly the area of marginal, infertile, rocky land that the poor Badbea crofters had struggled to survive on for decades. How ridiculous was that. Although Gunn seems to think that given support and proper tenure it was workable. I wonder if the Duke and Duchess had either read the report or knew what was in it and that was the reason they went to have a look at the Achnacraig land and pathway. .



This map shows more of the Latheron area. The next bit of land (26) coloured yellow, then more pink (27, 28, 29) belonged to Edwyn Sinclair of Freswick and then at the top of the main map is land from the Ulbster estate.
Key to the maps

Alexander Gunn stated in his opening paragraph of this letter “Wonders will never cease” and “Is this the dawn of a new day?” a real live Duke and Duchess paid a visit to Badbea.
Gunn then ends this letter with some wishful suggestions for a fairer distribution of the Langwell land, which unfortunately, as we have noted previously, never happened.

A wander round this inhospitable landscape today will show the crofters eventually gave up the struggle.  

The following article, also relevant to the Caithness Deer Forest Parks, is from the website of the Hebridean Connections



Background to the Deer Forest Royal Commission of Inquiry, 1892, by Angus “Ease” Macleod Calbost and Marybank

Around 1800 there was no objection to the people taking a stag at any time, but in 1832 the Day Trespass Act was passed and any person found trespassing in pursuit of deer could be fined.

 In the 1840s deer shoots and deer forests were greatly popularized when Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited the Highlands and took part in the shooting of deer. The Queen’s interest and example in deer hunting in the Highlands encouraged both female as well as male members of the aristocracy to participate in this blood sport.

Demand for Highland deer forests continued for the rest of the 19th century, as did the rent charged by the land owners. There was no way the crofters could compete with the rents the aristocracy were prepared to pay for sporting parks. In the circumstances there was a steady increase in the number of deer parks in the Highlands, particularly in the second half of the 19th century when profits from sheep farming declined and the former sheep farms were converted into deer forests.

A total of 73 deer forests existed in the Highlands in the early 1870s and according to Napier that number had increased in 1884 to 110, covering an area of almost 2,000,000 acres. The Parliamentary return for 1891 shows that there were 130 deer forests covering 2,472,133 acres. By the 20th century 34% of the land of the crofting counties were under deer forests and that trend continued until the first world war at least. On the last occasion the figures were published in 1957 there were 2.8 million acres of land devoted to deer forests.

The truth is that the natural resources of the Highlands and Islands, including the land, were always developed in a haphazard manner, with little consideration for the welfare of the native population. The Park Deer Raid of 1887 had a profound effect on public opinion at that time, and even the Establishment duly noted the social instability, which could be produced by that form of land use. However nothing was done to alleviate the plight of the crofting community.

Four years later the widespread land-raiding of 1891 also failed to bring about any significant change for a fairer distribution of the available land resources. However, it seems the anguished cries of the crofting population penetrated, to some extent, to the establishment, because on the 6th December 1892, the fourth Gladstone Ministry, which gained power that year, set up a Royal Commission of Enquiry to look at the unchecked expansion of the deer parks in the Highlands and Islands, and earmarking deer forests which might be suitable for small-holdings. That Commission is usually referred to as the Deer Forest Commission, or the Brand Commission, so named after its Chairman, David Brand, Sheriff of Argyll.

The remit of the Deer Forest Commission, Highlands and Islands, was as follows:
“Whereas we have deemed it expedient that a Commission should forthwith issue to enquire whether any, and if any, what land in the Counties of Argyll, Ross and Cromarty, Inverness, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland, now occupied for the purpose of deer forest, grouse moor, or any sporting purpose, or for grazing, not in the occupation of crofters or small tenants, is capable of being cultivated to profit or otherwise advantageously occupied by crofters or small tenants.”

The Highland and Island crofting population welcomed the Deer Forest Commission, and the people of Park, in Lochs were delighted, as they felt that their hour had come at last. No one, they felt, could deny that there was suitable land for new crofts in the Park Deer Forest. After all, a whole area of Park Deer Forest was occupied by hundreds and hundreds of crofters until they were evicted earlier in that century.

The Report of The Royal Commission, Highlands and Islands, 1892, scheduled the deer forest land under three categories, and each category was identified by a colour scheme, thus: category 1 – yellow, was land that was suitable for new holdings, category 2 – pink, was land which could be advantageously occupied as extensions of grazings by neighbouring crofters, category 3 – brown, was land considered suitable for occupation as moderately sized holdings or farms, at rents exceeding the statutory limit of 30 yearly. In other words, land holdings larger than crofts, for which there was no demand by crofters.
The crofters failed to appreciate that the remit of the Deer Forest Commission only asked them to schedule, or identify, the available land. They were not asked to create new land holdings. Therefore it was necessary to appoint some other authority in order to create new landholdings and distribute them, before the landless cottars could benefit from the exercise. There was therefore plenty of scope for the landowners’ lobby to exert their influence and ensure that the Highland and Island deer forests came to no harm. …

The Deer Park Forest survived unscathed after the Royal Commission, and the landless cottars were left as before in overcrowded barns and temporary homes on their friends’ lands. The Deer Forest Commission was a political manoeuvre, and at the end of the millennium the Park Deer Forest is still intact as one unit extending to 44,000 acres of sterilized land, while most of the local crofter population have by now given up the struggle.
Once again the landowners won the contest.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Noble Duke and Duchess


The Duke and Duchess of Portland at Badbea

Langwell Lairds Past and Present – Is it the Dawn of a New Day?

Written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea. Printed in the Northern Ensign 26 June 1894 Part D

To the Editor of the Northern Ensign

Continued from previous blog..



The Sixth Duke and Duchess of Portland
Source: http://www.nottshistory.org.uk/portland1907/portland8.htm
“But I must return to the noble Duke and Duchess, who wandered along as far as Auchincraig, and down to the shore, deserted and forgotten. Well do I remember when 13 boats went out from that creek during the herring fishing season, when thousands of barrels of herrings were cured, and hundreds of pounds of hard cash circulated in the district: but when Auchincraig was desolated this industry ceased. 

From the North East Folklore Archive


One wonders what was the Duke's idea in visiting these places, and causing the path down to the shore to be repaired. Has he been thinking of repairing the waste places, and putting Auchincraig under inhabitants once more? The Duke has done many noble and commendable deeds since coming into possession, but such a deed as I am surmising as possible would add a laurel to his crown far above and beyond any of his former acts. Auchincraig, divided into lots, with hill pasture all the way to the Black Dyke to the east, and below the turnpike road to the west as far as Auld House, Eshlaven, Clashvrick, adjoining Auchincraig, where there were three tenants, would make a fine lot for one with a share of the hill pasture described. Then Polbait would make a nice little lot. Then one tenant in the Borgue, and four or five in the Slure, with hill pasture, all below the turnpike road to the Ord on the west and to the quarry west of the Black Park on the side of Ousdale - such a division would leave the Ousdale tenant with a very respectable farm and on the other hand it would not disturb the Duke's deer. Then the repairing of the path to the shore would have some meaning and some use too.”
To be continued...

A close look at the Google Earth picture of Achnacraig shows the 
remains of two possible tracks down the hill to the shore. 



My Comments:

Achnacraig and Auchincraig, Highlands are the same place. There are probably other places with similar names in Scotland.
It is interesting that back in the days of intense crofter occupancy, every small hamlet had its own name, significance and could be easily located. Plus Alexander Gunn's remarkable memory recalls these places. 

There are plenty of on-line resources discussing the importance of the herring industry to the north of Scotland. See for example http://www.nefa.net. For decades Alexander Gunn wrote with unabated wrath and passion about Donald Horne’s closing down the fishing industry and clearing the residents at Auchnacraig. No real justification was ever found for this senseless clearance and loss of both an income and way of life for the residents. Looking at the maps it is clear that the steep land at Auchnacraig would never be productive farmed with sheep. The Ousdale farm nearby was not part of the Achnacraig activities.

As usual Alexander Gunn repeats his wish that these lost hamlets will one day be restored to Langwell tenants.




Monday, October 29, 2018

Sworn at!


The Duke and Duchess of Portland at Badbea

Langwell Lairds Past and Present – Is it the Dawn of a New Day?

Written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea. Printed in the Northern Ensign 26 June 1894 Part C

To the Editor of the Northern Ensign

Continued from previous blog..



“The old laird was not such a bad man, although he was very passionate, and the least thing set him in a rage, when his language was anything but polite. There was a man George Grant, one of the Auchincraig tenants, with whom, for some cause or other, the laird got angry, and swore at him. George was relating the incident to some of his neighbours after returning home, and he was asked, "And what did you do George?" "I swore at him," was the reply. The statement was doubted by the neighbours, when George confessed it was after he crossed the bridge that the swearing took place on his part - a distance of fully three quarters of a mile from the big house.”


Bridge on the driveway to Langwell House

“As I have said, James Horne was not without good parts, but when his nephew Donald came into possession the very first thing he did was to turn out
every one of the thirteen families in Auchincraig, the Cairn, and Badrinsary.”

To be continued..

Stoddard Lectures on Ireland, 1909  “An Evicted Family” www.maggieblanck.com/Mayopages/Eviction.html



My Comments:

It is not difficult to find comments indicting that others did not have a high opinion of either James or Donald Horne, for example:

'.......but of James Horne I have a very different opinion, in all respects, a most troublesome, litigious man as ever was.”

Source: Dep 313 National Library, Edinburgh. Letter to Marchioness of Stafford, 16th Dec. from Wm Young, Factor.


“The grandfather of Donald Horne WS was a blacksmith, without any connexions among the gentry, but a clever fellow who made money, bought a piece of land called Scouthal, gave his family a good education, and was latterly received in Society. One son, if I remember right, entered the Army and died s.p. Another was Count Horne [James] who made a considerable fortune as a WS and died a bachelor. He left the bulk of his means to his nephew Donald. I remember the Count, an old man with a large red nose (which the Collector says he derived from his father) crawling about the streets of Edinburgh and turning round as a young and pretty girl passed and gaping after her with a goatish stare. This propensity also he derived from the old blacksmith, and among them they transmitted it to Donald whose pranks are notorious, and were at one time likely to prove dangerous to himself. Donald's father had the same failing. He lived always in the Country, married a respectable lady of the name of Williamson, and enjoyed an indifferent reputation. He in fact was about the worst man of the Clan.

Source: JAMES ROBERTSON'S JOURNAL JBL 98 1 1842 Journal or Book of Memoranda & Jottings kept by James Robertson Sheriff Substitute Commenced at Stornoway 21 July 1841 continued at Tobermory 27 March 1842 and at Kirkwall on 14 March 1846 Vol: II. Kirkwall 31 January 1847 J.R.


Ruins at Achnacraig



Monday, October 15, 2018

But and Ben


The Duke and Duchess of Portland at Badbea

Langwell Lairds Past and Present – Is it the dawn of a New Day?

Written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea. Printed in the Northern Ensign 26 June 1894 Part B

To the Editor of the Northern Ensign

Continued from previous blog..



“I remember on one occasion his [James Horne] appearing in front of the house and as usual uttering the same cry; but father was not at hand that day, and it was a pouring-down shower of rain. My mother responded to the call and assisted him to alight, and as he had no umbrella or any protection from the rain, mother invited him into the house, which invitation he accepted. I question if he ever had been inside the house of any of his tenants previously, and it is very likely he had very little idea of what the interior of the house was like.”



“This is the description of the one he honoured with his presence this time:- The one entrance served for man and beast. On entering, the cattle shedded to the right and the rest of the inhabitants to the left, having a wooden partition separating the cattle and the family. There was the fire in the middle of the floor, and the peat neuk close at hand." 




"The furniture was all home-made, and ranged on each side of the fireplace: but, need I say, there was no soft-bottomed chairs - just the hard board, with a rung an inch thick in front and back.  I omitted to say there was a "but" and a "ben" but let me come back to the laird, who got to the hinder side of the partition, when mother set a chair beside him. He looked at it, but made no sign of using it. Mother divined the reason, and she went and fetched a pillow, placing it on the chair, when the laird sat down and remained till the shower ceased." 



"Then mother had the honour of holding the stirrup, when the laird mounted and moved off."

"There was great expectation and speculation amongst us youngsters as to the amount of cash that was-about to change hands for all the kind offices which were performed on this occasion: but whether the laird had left his purse behind him or failed to find a key to open his heart, we never knew. The only thing we were certain of was that he left nothing behind him to commemorate his visit.” 

“Now a stranger not acquainted with the place is apt to think that the construction and arrangements of the house I have described were exceptional. Well, they are, in so far as in many of the houses the wooden partition spoken of did not exist at all.”

To be continued...

My Comments:

Alexander Gunn gives us a vivid description of his home. It is hard to figure out the approximate size of the house. The Laidhay museum nearby at Dunbeath has a well restored 200 year old croft house but I think it was considerable larger than the Badbea houses – the stone remains of several indicate that.


A fire in the middle of the floor was common. The peat fires were so important to survival in this cold bleak place, for cooking food, keeping warm, drying clothes. They were never allowed to go out but they also got very hot. Most of the Badbea houses had no chimney with the smoke escaping through a hole on the roof.

A byre in the abandoned crofting township of Badryrie, with flagstone stall dividers known as 'hallans'. A cruck slot (for supporting the roof) can be seen on the left hand wall.

For more information see www.caithness.org/atoz/badryrie/index.htm

What amazes me is that there were eleven children born and brought-up in this cramped ‘but and ben’ household and when the need arose there was room for more.

Alexander’s mother Marion was described in her husband’s obituary many years later as kind hearted and generous… that she most cordially and cheerfully entered into the spirit of her husband when he invited as many as ten or twelve of ‘God’s people’ to stay on sacramental occasion. So her courteous treatment of the ‘snivelling’ laird was not surprising. Sad that he did not leave even a tiny reward in recognition of Marion’s hospitality.

For more information about the Badbea houses see my blog 8 October 2013 Hovel or Habitable Home. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Langwell Lairds Past and Present – Is it the Dawn of a New Day?


The Duke and Duchess of Portland at Badbea

Langwell Lairds Past and Present – Is it the dawn of a New Day?

Written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea. Printed in the Northern Ensign 26 June 1894 Part A

To the Editor of the Northern Ensign:

Sir.- We are told that wonders never cease, and so true it is in regard to the wonder which I am about to relate, which is nothing less than that a real live Duke and Duchess (in the person of his Grace and Lady of Portland) a few weeks ago paid a visit to my native place, Badbea. This is the first time in its history that such exalted personages visited the humble clachan, and I suppose the only laird, of Langwell who favoured it with a visit since old James Horne used to call that way.


I remember the old man's visits. He used to call occasionally, riding a quiet dun pony. He would halt in front of our house and cry with a snivel, "John!" If my father was about at hand he responded to the call, and held the stirrup till the Laird dismounted. He then gave father the bridle, when the two walked along to Auchincraig, and after traversing the lawn, and being assisted to remount, the old laird retraced his steps back to Auchastle at a walking pace. He never put the pony to a trot.

To be continued….

My Comments:

As we know, Alexander Gunn had a deep abhorrence of the hardships the Lairds of Langwell had inflicted on their tenants. The years James and Donald Horne were the Lairds of Langwell  - 1816 to 1857 was a desperate time for the Badbea inhabitants with the increased rents to be paid and evictions always either threatened or enforced. The 5th Duke of Portland purchased Langwell in 1857. This Duke was most remembered for his eccentric behaviour – he was a recluse who excavated an elaborate underground maze and tunnels under his estate at Welbeck Abbey. He wasn’t likely to be seen wandering round Badbea.

His cousin, the next Duke of Portland, was William John Arthur Charles James Cavendish-Bentink. His wife was Winifred Anna Dallas-Yorke. They lived like royals in the Welbeck Abbey in Nottinghamshire and owned other estates including Langwell in Caithness. The Portlands visited the Langwell estate from time to time on shooting expeditions. It must be these two that Alexander Gunn is so surprised to hear had visited Badbea. And well he might be surprised as we know how inhospitable and dangerous this landscape was and certainly not a likely afternoon stroll for ‘such exalted personages’.

William Cavendish Bentinck, 6th Duke of Portland by Elliott & Fry
Winifred Duchess of Portland by John Singer Sargent 1902

However, a bit of research reveals more about them both. 

One commentator says:

The Duke and Duchess of Portland were respectful and generous to the hundreds of staff they employed. Most of their staff had a job for life and were well cared for in the estate’s own hospital block when they were ill, and at such time nothing was deducted from their wages – at a time when the working classes had no privileges nor any help from the government. The Duchess of Portland was a passionate animal lover who kept stables for old horse and ponies, as well as old dogs. She also prevailed upon her husband to have some ‘alms-houses’ built for poor old women at Welbeck.


It is this Duke that much later installed the Grey Hen’s Well memorial stone.


True to that closest to his heart soon Gunn diverges to write about Badbea and the laird James Horne.  He comes back to the Duke and Duchess of Portland before he closes his letter.  


At the time of the 1894 visit of the Portlands there were probably still a few families living in the area. The 1891 census shows at Badbea John Gunn and his family. John finally left Badbea in 1911. Also at Badbea is old Donald Sutherland and his family. Achnacraig has a four Sutherland women, two quite elderly – how they managed to survive is hard to imagine. 

Piece: SCT1891/38 Place: Latheron -Caithness Enumeration District: 19
Civil Parish: Latheron Ecclesiastical Parish, Village or Island: Berriedale
Folio: 0 Page: 2 Schedule: 9
Address: Badbea



Surname

First name(s)

Rel

Status

Sex

Age

Occupation

Where Born

Remarks



GUNN

John

Head

M

M

45

Crofter 

Sutherland - Kildonan

 Language: Both



GUNN

Jessie

Wife

M

F

45


Caithness - Badbea

 Language: Both



GUNN

Donaldina

Dau

-

F

12

Scholar 

Caithness - Badbea





GUNN

Mary

Dau

-

F

8

Scholar 

Caithness - Badbea





GUNN

Donald

Son

-

M

7

Badbea 

Caithness - Latheron





GRANT

Georgina

Ma-Law

W

F

79


Sutherland - Brora

 Language: Both


Piece: SCT1891/38 Place: Latheron -Caithness Enumeration District: 19
Civil Parish: Latheron Ecclesiastical Parish, Village or Island: Berriedale
Folio: 0 Page: 2 Schedule: 8
Address: Badbea



Surname

First name(s)

Rel

Status

Sex

Age

Occupation

Where Born

Remarks



SUTHERLAND

Donald

Head

W

M

80

Crofter(Notem) 

Sutherland - Kildonan

 Language: Both



MCPHERSON

Hannah

Dau

M

F

31


Sutherland - Kildonan





MCPHERSON

Alexander

Sonlaw

M

M

30

Farm Servant(Em'ee) 

Aberdeenshire - Huntly





MCPHERSON

Barbara

Grndau

-

F

2


Caithness - Latheron





PATERSON

Maggie

Servnt

-

F

13

General Servant 

Caithness - Latheron

Piece: SCT1891/38 Place: Latheron -Caithness Enumeration District: 19
Civil Parish: Latheron Ecclesiastical Parish, Village or Island: Berriedale
Folio: 0 Page: 2 Schedule: 7
Address: Achnacraig



Surname

First name(s)

Rel

Status

Sex

Age

Occupation

Where Born

Remarks


SUTHERLAND

Hannah

Head

W

F

81

Annuitant 

Caithness - Latheron

 Language: Both


SUTHERLAND

Isabella

Dau

U

F

58

General Servant 

Caithness - Latheron

 Language: Both


SUTHERLAND

Catherine

Dau

U

F

52

General Servant 

Caithness - Latheron

 Language: Both

SCT1891/38 Place: Latheron -Caithness Enumeration District: 19
Civil Parish: Latheron Ecclesiastical Parish, Village or Island: Berriedale
Folio: 0 Page: 2 Schedule: 6
Address: Achnacraig



Surname

First name(s)

Rel

Status

Sex

Age

Occupation

Where Born

Remarks


SUTHERLAND

Janet

Head

W

F

78

Annuitant 

Caithness - Latheron

 Language: Both