Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Grim Time

Interpretation panel on the Badbea path. I have some 
hesitation using this picture as the houses displayed 
are incorrectly drawn. The early Badbea houses had no 
chimneys and were more primitive. 
It was a grim time for crofters on the fertile Langwell Estates. From the time Sir John Sinclair started farming cheviot sheep in the late 18th century until he sold the Langwell estates in 1813 there were evictions.  

It can safely be said that conditions actually got worse under the next owner James Horne.

There are many accounts of the callousness and notoriety surrounding the clearances in Sutherland by Sir John’s cousin, the Countess of Sutherland, but such accounts have not been located in relation to the time when Sir John Sinclair was proprietor of the Langwell Estates.

But what became of the homeless in Langwell, Berriedale and Ausdale?

Some families walked further inland to the Forse Estate which was not owned by Sir John Sinclair.  They had to start again with nothing other than what they had been able to carry with them.

A herring fleet leaves Wick Harbour

Others went north to the coast at Wick where there was a busy fleet of herring fishing boats. There was work in Wick so the crofting fathers and older brothers had to quickly learn how to become fishermen, manage the nets and take their place as crew on the fishing boats. This was dangerous, cold and wet work especially for the inexperienced as these were. The women and girls helped mend the nets.
Some families went to Glasgow or emigrated.

Other families moved to the coastal, rocky village of Badbea the place Sir John had designated as suitable for evicted crofters. There was neither provision of shelter nor proprietor support to build new houses.

By 1804 there were about 12 families totally 72 people at Badbea all hemmed in by the sea cliffs on one side and the braes on the other. Many of the families were related to each other and went out of their way to stick together, knowing they would only survive if they looked after each other. 

William Sutherland and his sons did what they could to help the recently evicted families settle in at Badbea. Having lived there for many years, William knew the lie of the land, where the coarse moor grass and the rough brown heather grew. He knew the rise and fall of the braes, the difficulties of living in this rock strewn landscape and the near impossibility of turning any of it to account. William had also spent time at sea fishing, so knew how to bring the herrings in.

Rent still had to be paid to the wealthy Sir John Sinclair. The people also had to give landowners goods like dried peats, milk products from their cow, spun wool, or their time working on other parts of his land to pay off the rent due. Crofters who did not pay their rents could be evicted again at any time.
The remains of a Badbea house with the boulder strewn braes behind

At Badbea people had to live in the cold, open air at first. They quickly put together makeshift houses and stone walls to protect themselves from the wind. There were enough stones littering the landscape, as well as stone from a local granite quarry that people could use for their dwellings. Some of the stones still remaining at Badbea are massive and must have been a huge challenge to move.

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