Friday, March 4, 2016

The Fist of the Laird of Langwell - Rambling Recollections of my Schools and School Days – Part C

Article II written by Alexander Gunn was printed in the Northern Ensign on 16 September 1880 – Part C

One of the interpretation panels on the track to Badbea. 
I have photoshopped this for brightness and sharpness as 
the actual cover on the panel is very cloudy and hard to 
get a good image.

A Native of Badbea continues:

"But the days of the school at Auchincraig were numbered. The eviction notices were issued, and it needed no strong body of police, or the presence of a magistrate, to execute the fist of the Laird of Langwell, such as we hear now taking place daily in another part of the kingdom. No such proceedings were necessary, and the hardship was as great in the one case as in the other, yes, more so, as the evictions in Ireland are the result of non payment of rent, but in the case of Auchincraig there was not a shilling of arrears against any of the thirteen families turned out and scattered to the four winds of heaven, their holdings laid waste, and turned into green fields to rear sheep and game for the laird. There was no appeal to Parliament of their behalf, nor one word of sympathy uttered to soothe and softened their hard fate."

"There were no statutory holidays in those days. We had to be as regular at school on the last day of the week as on Monday, only we got away a few hours earlier. The time was taken up in going over and revising the Shorter Catechism and Bible lesson. Neither were there regular vacations during the summer season. There were no trips to the country, or any of the many advantages enjoyed in the present day by all classes. The teacher had to stick to his post in summer as well as winter, only his numbers were considerably diminished, as many went to the herding and so many to the herring fishing with their summers, where they made a few shillings, the only chance they had of making a shilling the whole year." 

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever. 

There were 107 questions and answers in the Shorter Catechism 
the children had to learn by rote.

My Comments:

The first paragraph is interesting to me as it points to some errors on one of the interpretation panels on the track to Badbea. See above.


The timing of events on this panel cannot be correct. Sir John Sinclair, as shown on the panel, became the Laird of Langwell when he and his wife purchased Langwell in 1788. During his time Sir John did indeed clear tenants from settlements in Langwell, some of whom went to Badbea. Sir John did not evict from Badbea.

In 1813 Langwell was sold to James Horne who then became the Laird. He was a tough man and extracted more than his dues from his tenants. On the death of James Horne about 1830 his nephew Donald Horne became the Laird of Langwell. This is when things became really ugly for Langwell tenants. Donald Horne’s is the ‘fist’ referred to. Auchincraig (aka Achnacraig), a thriving fishing village was cleared and the school closed.

Alexander Gunn in his statement to the Crofter Commission, published in the Northern Ensign 15 Nov 1883 says:
“A few of those driven off were allowed to squat on bare hillsides [eg Badbea] along the sea coast, where they built themselves houses and cultivated small patches of ground, and where they eked out a miserable existence, but the greater number were driven off the estate altogether, to find shelter elsewhere.
About 1830 there was another batch evicted from Auchencraig, the Cairn, and other places, and latterly in 1845 the half of the people of Badbea were evicted, so that from first to last there were ninety-seven families evicted, all in good circumstances and not one of them owing a single farthing of rent.”

No Police Presence

The depiction of a police presence at the time of the Badbea evictions as shown on the panel is a myth. Alexander Gunn who was actually there when Auchincraig was evicted tells us, importantly, that the tenants went quietly and there was no police presence nor magistrate to execute the fist of the Laird of Langwell.

Cheviots not Blackface

A Cheviot ewe

A Scottish Blackface ewe

The sheep that were brought to Langwell were Cheviots not Scottish Blackface as shown on the panel. It seems to me extraordinary that the firm that was contracted to make these information panels could get something so wrong as to put Blackface sheep on the panel. The introduction of Cheviots was one of the key reasons for the evictions as they were found to survive the Highlands' conditions better than other breeds. There is no shortage of information and literature discussing the introduction of Cheviots into the north of Scotland. 

Houses primitive

The houses at Badbea were much more primitive than those depicted in the panel. Most houses did not have chimneys but had a peat fire in the middle of the floor in the butt end. The smoke escaped through a gap in the roof or out the door. There was one door for both animals and people. Inside the door a partition of flagstones separated the byre for the animals. Here is a photo of a Badbea cottage taken several decades after the time depicted that looks a bit like the houses on the panel but it was not typical of the early houses.


School Hours

The long hours the pupils had to attend school for six days a week were fairly common. The trip both to school and home at the end of the day must have been in the dark and hazardous in the winter when the days are short.

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