Paupers and Poverty: Easter Ross Union Poorhouse

Tracy Kennedy is a lecturer in history and politics at Inverness College UHI with a particular interest in poverty, paupers and poorhouses.

In the admission records for the Easter Ross Union Poorhouse are details for one Margaret Macleod. Margaret, from Tain, was 15 when admitted on the 1st November 1850 and ‘in good health’. She was discharged in November 1852 after gaining employment as a servant. There is no information as to why Margaret entered the poorhouse, and none about how she felt about her admission.

Before the Poor Law Act (Scotland) 1845, parish relief in Scotland was controlled and distributed by the church. The Act created the Board of Supervision for the Relief of the Poor, a statutory body to monitor the condition of the poor. Poorhouses became common: between 1850 and 1868 the number rose from twenty-one to fifty. By the late nineteenth century, many towns had at least one. Opened in 1850, the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse was at the start of that wave.

Construction began south of Tain in Arthurville in 1849.

Map of Tain PH

1871 map showing the location of the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse.                                                  Permission for use of image granted by Peter Higgenbottom http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Scotland/UnionsScotland.shtml

It was the first poorhouse to be built in the Highlands since the Act and could house up to 160 inmates. It was available for ten parishes: Edderton, Fearn, Kilmuir-Easter, Kincardine, Lochbroom, Logie-Easter, Nigg, Rosskeen, Tain and Tarbat.

Construction costs, and fees for the architect, Andrew Maitland, were originally estimated at £1,750 but the final bill was £2,524. The Board of Supervision issued rules and regulations for construction and management as they were determined that poorhouses should meet demand and be of a good standard. Indeed, these plans of Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse show a striking similarity to others built during this period.

Diagram of PH

                                         Plan of the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse                                       Permission for use of image granted by Peter Higgenbottom http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Scotland/UnionsScotland.shtml

 

Some of the first inmates included Sarah Ross and John Ross. They do not appear to have been related. Sarah was 83 and from Fearn. She was noted as being ‘rather infirm’.  Sarah left at her own request in July 1852. John, from Edderton, was 70 when admitted and was recorded as being ‘infirm’. He died there a year and a half later, from retention of urine. By the end of 1850, 55 people had been admitted, 36 females and 19 males. The youngest was 2, and the oldest 83. Most were either school age or elderly with 79% of men and 81% of women falling into these categories.

Not all Easter Ross people granted such ‘indoor relief’ accepted it. There was a general fear of entering the poorhouse throughout the United Kingdom. Life in the poorhouse was severe, families were often split up, and it bore social stigma.

It was generally cheaper to keep paupers in the poorhouse than provide ‘outdoor relief.’   A daily rate per pauper was calculated to cover items like food, fuel and soap. This, plus any medical expenses, was charged to the relevant parish. An 1852 report made by a Mr Peterkin for the Board of Supervision on the Easter Ross Poorhouse stated that:

… to the allowances of the [48 paupers] who have supported themselves without parochial relief, for two quarters and a half, a sum would be given equal to £59 19s. whereas, the expense of the paupers in the poorhouse, for maintenance and general expenses for three quarters, amounted to only £58 8s 1 1/4d.

While the Board of Supervision recommended a suitable diet, the Easter Ross Combination Poorhouse followed a stricter menu of potatoes, oatmeal, and some vegetables: ‘there is no meat used for any purpose’.  Tain Museum states that the poorhouse followed an entirely vegetarian diet and that the food was ‘… grown on land (eventually amounting to 21 acres) owned by the Easter Ross Union.’

After 1930, the poorhouse became the Arthurville Poor Law Institution and was later a council-run home for the elderly. The buildings have now been converted to residential use.

Sources

Easter Ross Poorhouse [2017].  Workhouses.org  http://www.workhouses.org.uk/EasterRoss/ (accessed 01/08/2017)

Higginbottom, P., The Workhouse Cookbook (Stroud: The History Press, 2008).

Inverness Heritage Centre,  Easter Ross Poorhouse Records, CRC/8/5/1.

Levitt, I., Government and Social Conditions in Scotland 1845-1919 (Edinburgh: Blackwood, Pillans and Wilson, 1988).

Levitt, I., Poverty and Welfare in Scotland, 1850-1948 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1988).

Meals fit for a pauper [2017]. Old Scottish

http://www.oldscottish.com/blog/category/poorhouses (accessed 27/08/2017).

Easter Ross Union Poorhouse (Arthurville) [2008].  Tain Through Time

http://www.tainmuseum.org.uk/imagelibrary/picture/number406.asp (accessed 17/09/2017).

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The Community of Inveran

Last night I was driving back from Ullapool to Dornoch. I took the north road: slightly shorter and faster, though narrow and through a sparsely populated landscape, described as ‘wilderness’ or ‘wild land’ by many. It wasn’t always so desolate. One place, Inveran, overlooking  the Kyle of Sutherland epitomises this. Today there are a few houses and a power station, but two hundred years ago it was far more lively.

On a key east-west route, it was well known to cattle drovers and migrant labourers. The cluster of five or six houses shown on General Roy’s 1746 map were separated from its twin township, Invershin, by a narrow stream, the Allt na Ciste Duibhe. In 1776 a visitor described the ‘pleasant prospect: the rich banks of the firth, crowded with farms, and animated with all the appearances of industry; small vessels sailing up and down; people busy for preparing and unloading them; fishermen attending their nets; the ferry boats ready at a call.’[1]

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‘The rich banks of the Firth’           Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Despite stereotypes of pre-Clearance Highlanders these were no impoverished peasants. The Inveran men were joint tenants: Donald MacKay, his brother in law John Bethune, Alexander Bethune, Alexander Ross, and Andrew MacLeay. In summer they grazed black cattle on the shieling grounds on the low hills, rearing them for the southern markets. They grew barley, oats and potatoes on the infield.[2] Donald owned at least one horse. The men had multiple sources of income. Donald was a ‘housewright’, or joiner; Alexander Ross was the blacksmith; Alexander Bethune was a merchant at Inveran and nearby Linsidemore; John operated the ferry.[3] Both the Bethunes were entrepreneurs who dealt in large amounts of money: in 1814 a decreet of Cessio Bonorum was issued against Alexander by his creditors; and John not only raised but dealt in cattle.[4] He was arrested in 1815 for failing to repay a local man a substantial loan of £150.[5] Family economies also depended on women’s labour. As well as fieldwork, animal care and working at the peats, women earned cash and provided sustenance by processing food, especially making butter and cheese, and by spinning.[6]

We know how one household was organized. Bessy MacKay and her father Donald lived alone, however they could not manage alone. Twelve year old Mary Matheson from nearby Invercharron came to work as a servant, and late in 1812 John, son of Donald’s brother George, was sent from Tullichgriban, Strathspey.[7] There was no social distance: Mary moved into Bessy’s bed when cousin John was added to the household. The four worked and lived together. Like most of the middling sort in Scotland’s north, the MacKays lived in a longhouse, the thatched roof supported by wooden crucks inbuilt to the walls of interlayered stone and turf.[8] The lower section was usually reserved for livestock but Donald also used it as his workshop. The middle room had a central fire, wooden chests and a trunk. There was probably also a dresser for their crockery and some chairs. The beds were in a room beyond, set apart by a wooden door.[9] Inveran’s residents lived in fairly spacious houses and had developed a relatively diversified local economy encompassing commercial cattle raising and trading, housebuilding, blacksmithing, ferrying, midwifery, arable farming and doubtless the sale of butter, cheese and eggs.[10] This mitigated the possible economic calamities of a crop failure or a downturn in the cattle trade.

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Goats, rarely enumerated, were an essential source of meat and dairy. These wild ones in nearby Rogart are enjoying the produce of a field at Morvich Farm.           Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The 1810s were a time of social, economic and cultural flux. Townships like Inveran, operating a semi-subsistence, semi-commercial economy, thickly scattered low-lying parts of the Highlands. However new estate policies which prioritized the higher rentals of commercial sheep farming threatened this. Over the next few decades, communities near Inveran – Gruids, Achness, Kildonan, Culrain – vigorously resisted efforts to evict them, although with only temporary success. Religion, although also in flux, was a powerful social and cultural force. Sutherland had been strongly influenced by Evangelical Presbyterianism, partly due to the revivals of the previous century. It remained a formative influence. A key issue for Evangelicals was patronage, whereby landowners selected the parish minister. Problems were exacerbated when the man was a Moderate rather than an Evangelical. This hit Creich parish in 1813 when Murdo Cameron was presented. A significant portion of the congregation revolted. Protests through church channels failed and they elected to separate. For the next forty years they met at a home in the winter and in the shadow of Migdale Rock in the summer.[11]

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Linside, jsut upriver from Inveran, where Alexander Bethune had one of his shops.               Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Driving west these days, reaching Inveran heralds the quiet and ‘remote’ section of the journey. Next time you pass through, consider the service industries, the commercial use of the river and the land, the manufacturing, and the political activism of two hundred years ago, when the glens were full of the hustle and bustle of life.

[1] C. Cordiner, Antiquities and Scenery of the North of Scotland, in a Series of Letters to Thomas Pennant (1780), 65-6.

[2] First Statistical Account of Scotland, Vol. 8 (Edinburgh, 1791-99), 367, 369.

[3] His name appeared in connection with a building project in 1782. Cited by M. Bangor-Jones to J. Whamond, 29 May 2007, ROSSGEN-L Archives, Rootsweb Geneaology.

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/ROSSGEN/2007-06/1181031302 (accessed 25 June 2014)

[4] NRS, CS32/8/46 Decreet of Cessio Bonorum, Alexander Bethune, merchant, Inveran v his creditors 11 Feb 1814. ‘A voluntary surrender of goods by a debtor to his creditors. It did not amount to a discharge unless the property ceded was sufficient for the purpose, but it secured the debtor from personal arrest. The creditors sold the goods in satisfaction, pro tanto, of their claims.’ H. Chisholm, ed.”Cessio Bonorum“. Encyclopædia Britannica 5 (11th ed.) (Cambridge, 1911), 768.

[5] Private Collection of N. Lindsay, Dornoch Jail Records 1813-40: A Transcription, 23 June 1815.

[6] Rural women’s roles are detailed in A. Fenton, Scottish Country Life (Edinburgh, 1976), 47, 52-81, 131, 151-179. A survey of women’s tasks in 1790s Sutherland can be found at: http://statacc.blogs.edina.ac.uk/2015/02/09/the-working-lives-of-ordinary-scots/  (accessed 9 February 2016) Sheep tended to be women’s responsibility in eighteenth-century Sutherland. H. Morrison cited in R. Clarke, Two Hundred Years of Farming in Sutherland (Kershader, 2014), 31. Insufficient research has been conducted on the Highlands, but a semi-flexible gendering of work was common in western countries. N. G. Osterud, Bonds of Community: The lives of Farm Women in Nineteenth-Century New York (Ithaca & London, 1991), 139, 150, 153.

[7] It is likely John was a middle son of George MacKay and Ann Watson. There is a sufficient gap in the baptism records between Lewis (1787), James (1790), and William (1796), Donald (1799), Donald (1801) for a John who was ‘about eighteen or nineteen’ in early 1814. A headstone in Duthil Churchyard transcribed by Alison Mitchell in Pre 1855 Monumental Inscriptions: An Index for Speyside (1975, 1992) reads: ‘G McKay & A W his spouse who d at an advanced age in 1823 and also their chn int here except Jas d Salamanca Spain 5.10.1812, surviving ss Lewis & D McKay smiths ed. With thanks to genealogist, Ellen Sutherland.

[8] Pre-Clearance dwellings varied regionally, but those of the tenants usually included at least one bedroom, a living room, and a byre. For example, H. Fairhurst, ‘Rosal: a deserted township in Strath Naver, Sutherland’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquities of Scotland, 100, (1967-8), 135-169.

[9] In terms of material wealth, the MacKays were fairly typical tenants. Less furniture is recorded here than at the Munros’ longhouse a few miles north at Gruids. In their best room were chairs, table, a chest of drawers, a large box-bed, and a small, well-filled bookcase. H. Miller, My Schools and Schoolmasters (Edinburgh, 1889), 95-6. Excavations at Caen, Kildonan, confirm homes were stocked with purchased goods such as mocha-ware from Staffordshire. Pottery sherds from Caen are displayed in Timespan Museum, Helmsdale. Excavation catalogues: LCN13 172/209, LCN13 199/209. Tacksmen, such as Gilbert MacKenzie, Invershin, sometimes lived in large two-storeyed houses, with multiple bedrooms, a parlour and dining room, all carpeted and opulently furnished. NRS, CS96/3960 Gilbert McKenzie, merchant, Invershin 1811-1813.

[10] It is probable that merchant businesses such as that of Alexander Bethune operated similarly to general stores in colonial British North America, by purchasing local goods on credit and selling imported goods. The role of merchants, credit and commerce in the Highlands has barely been touched, with the exception of Taylor’s discussion of the commercial importance of cattle droving. D. Taylor, The Wild Black Region: Badenoch 1750-1800 (Edinburgh, 2016). A study testing Douglas McCalla’s thesis in the Highlands and Islands would be very beneficial. Douglas McCalla, “Retailing in the Countryside: Upper Canadian General Stores in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Business and Economic History 26:2 (1997), 393-403.

[11] G. Macdonald, Men of Sutherland (Dornoch, 1937, 2014), 71; D.M.M. Paton, ‘Brought to a wilderness: the Rev. David MacKenzie of Farr and the Sutherland clearances’, Northern Scotland, 12 (1992), 85.

Wilkhouse; Whelkhouse; Tighe na Faochaig

Submitted by Grace Ritchie – an enthusiastic volunteer.

It was a warm day in early summer when I walked along the old drove road at Kintradwell, between the railway line and the sea. I sat down for a rest on a low stone wall beside the track and listened to the murmur of the sea on the sand. Soon I became drowsy and I fell into a reverie.

I thought I heard the faint drone of distant cattle and, close by, the scrape of hooves on the cobbled floor of a byre. Dogs began barking and the lowing of cattle became more insistent as they jostled to drink at a pond behind me. The sound of children playing could be heard above the clanking of harnesses and the neighing of horses. Men’s voices rose in argument.

I became aware of a single storey house beside me. It was well made, the stones being held together with mortar, and had three windows with glass panes, two in front, overlooking the sea, and one in the gable. Unlike the usual old houses, it was roofed with slates, and a stout wooden door, strengthened with iron nails and strips of iron, secured the entrance.

On the door sill, and sitting round the paved entrance, sat a group of drovers, laughing loudly and joking as they smoked their clay pipes and teased boiled winkles out of their shells with pins before throwing them in a heap at the corner of the house. Above them hung a board announcing WILKHOUSE  INN.

Suddenly the door opened and a burly man rushed out shouting angrily. He had in his hand a small cauldron which had contained his dinner, now a burnt mess. In his fury, he took a pick-axe and proceeded to smash it into several pieces on the roadway outside! The inn-keeper’s wife came bustling out, trying to placate him and chattering soothingly all the while.

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Volunteers Grace Ritchie and DJ MacLeod point out the join between the plastered main room was divided from an unplastered room. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie

Through the open doorway, and beyond the thick door-sill slabs, could be seen the clean sandy floor of the interior, the tidy best parlour with its white plastered walls and its fire burning brightly at the gable hearth. Facing the door was a small panelled room and, to the right, the main parlour – the general rendezvous for all comers of every sort and size. A group had gathered round the fire-place in this gable and drovers and other travellers were standing round the fire and sitting on the paved area in front it, relaxing in its warmth while their dinner cooked in a new cauldron next to the bread oven, with its gently rising dough. “What’s for dinner tonight then?” asked Angus, “Is it to be broth and cold meat with eggs, new cheese and milk like last time I was here? Or will it be salmon from the river or spare ribs or beef or maybe chicken?”

As they warmed themselves, the cook busily sharpened his knife on the large upright stone at the side of the blackened fireplace, and the conversation turned to items that some of the travellers had apparently mislaid recently. Murdo had lost his belt buckle and was asking for twine to hold up his breeks; Donnie’s button had pinged off; Angus had lost some small change; the inn-keeper’s wife couldn’t find her thimble or her bone double-sided comb and Ian had apparently mislaid both his pistol and his bag containing shot!

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The site of the fire is visible, as are the scratched marks in the fireplace. To the left was an oven. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Soon the meal was ready. The table was set with a rich assortment of colourfully decorated glazed china plates and bowls, with jugs and glass bottles for ale. Glassed clinked, plates clattered, dishes were scraped and “mein hostess” bustled about attentively, talking all the while and seeing to the needs of her clients.

The aroma of peat smoke drifted past, the clamour was subsiding, the cattle were lying down for the night, the bairns were abed in the adjoining house and the soft murmur of the sea made itself heard once more. It was the harsh cry of a gull that roused me. I stumbled to my feet aware of a strange dislocation of time and space. Surely something had been happening just here, just now…

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Reclining on the flagstone – the doorway to Wilkhouse Inn with the sandy floor still evident. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ritchie.

Continuing my journey, I soon reached Brora, where I called in on a long-standing friend. I told him of my day dream. “Och,” said he, “that’s the very same as those archaeologists found when they were excavating the ruins of Wilkhouse in May 2017. You must have drifted back in time, man! Maybe it was a day dream – certainly it was a dream come true!”

Note: Although a certain amount of poetic licence has been used in the above, all the items mentioned (and many more) were actually found at the Wilkhouse site during the dig there. Acknowledgement is made to “Memorabilia Domestica: Or Parish Life In The North Of Scotland (1899) by Donald Sage for lifting a few of his phrases from Page 108 of the reprint of his second edition, published by John Menzies & Co, Edinburgh 1899. The dig was organised by Clyne Heritage Society and GUARD.

‘The improvidence of the poor’

In 1830 the Kirk Session of Dornoch considered themselves ‘well acquainted with the improvidence of the Poor’. That April they met to discuss an unexpected windfall. Alexander Ross, a merchant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, had left a hundred pounds to be distributed among the poor of his native parish. Should they divide it into tiny amounts and hand it out as per his will, or should they keep it ‘till a time of scarcity of human food should occur’?

Before Scotland’s New Poor Law of 1845 it was not the nation state which was responsible for social care, but the church. This was a continuation of the ‘parish state’ instituted after the Reformation. This power and responsibility was vested in the hands of elders, a group of local men esteemed for their ability, piety or, sometimes, their status. They, along with the minister, met regularly as the Kirk Session to perform two functions, one moral and one economic. After the Reformation the church diligently attempted to make everyone conform to Protestant religious standards. Their pursuit of people committing sexual offences (usually fornication or adultery) is best known, but until the eighteenth century they also tried to enforce Sundays as a day of rest and church-going, and endeavoured to keep a lid on drunkenness, violence, gossip and other anti-social behaviours. Apart from some revitalisation of the power of the Kirk Session connected with nineteenth-century religious revivals, by 1830 the main business was financial: collecting and disbursing the Poor Roll.

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Halifax: where Alexander Ross of Dornoch made his money. Still plenty of trading going on at this strategically important spot, just below the Citadel, where the Bedford Basin empties into the Atlantic. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

The Dornoch minutes from 1830 detail specific arrangements for handing out the money before the clerk gushed his ‘high respect for the memory of the benevolent Testator, who left such a substantial testimony of his attachment to his native Parish’. However the bequest ended up being a bit of a disappointment. After corresponding with Angus Ross, the Glasgow-based brother of the deceased Alexander, it became apparent they would only be sent the sterling equivalent of £100 in Halifax currency, amounting to £78.5.4. The Session ‘judged it to be their wisest plan to submit, as they could not afford to litigate the point’. The duplicity seemed to release them from any sense of obligation in following the precise conditions of the bequest. Instead they felt

they should best answer the Testator’s benevolent intentions by depositing the above sum in a Bank (the interest annually to be divided among the poor) till a time of scarcity of human food should occur, when they should have this money to draw upon to purchase meal for them: for the session, are so well acquainted with the improvidence of the Poor, that though the whole sum were distributed among them at once – which would not be more to each than 10/- or 12 shillings, they would be the next year as much in want as if they had not received a sixpence of it: – whereas, by reserving it, as the Kirk Session have done, for a time of great scarcity, it will prove the means of seasonable relief to them.

Maggie Dempster

Older folks like Maggie Dempster, a fisherwoman from Embo, were particularly at risk of falling into poverty when they could no longer work. This was especially the case for women who tended to be lower paid and were less able to save money. This picture was taken in 1870. Photo: Historylinks Image Library. Ref: 2009_059  No: 7724 

A perusal of some of today’s newspapers would quickly reveal contemporary examples of such ‘victim-blaming’ of society’s most disadvantaged. The elders assumed the difficulties of all 139 people on the poor roll were, fundamentally, an issue of inadequate character rather than the consequence of ill-health, poor wages, lack of secure employment, clearance policies, the abandonment of a spouse, or any other number of possibilities. Despite such lack of insight, the elders endeavoured to manage the resource to best effect. Their forward planning was justified seven years later when the clerk noted rather smugly

That time is now arrived when there is every appearance of a great scarcity of human food, in this Parish and though the Country generally. The Session therefore, intend to draw on this Legacy to purchase meal for the Poor to meet their wants in the ensuing summer. The example of the Kirk Session, in this case, may also serve for a precedent to those who may succeed them in the management of the Poor’s funds.

The incident hints at a lot: that the well-known Highland emigration of the nineteenth century included well-to-do merchants as well as cleared crofters; that Highland migrants, like most, maintained personal, economic and emotional links with their country of origin; that the 1837 famine affected the east Highlands as well as the west; and that the church, for all its lack of insight into structural reasons for poverty, tried to be wise in their responsibilities.

Sources:

Highland Council Archives, CH2/1588/1/2, Dornoch Kirk Session Minute book containing collections and distributions of Poor’s Money 1843-1849

John MacAskill, ‘It is truly, in the expressive language of Burke, a nation crying for bread’: the public response to the highland famine of 1836-1837’ Innes Review, (Autumn 2010), 61.2, p169-206.

The Female Innkeepers of Cromarty

Theresa Mackay, who lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, completed her MLitt History of the Highlands and Islands (with distinction) in 2016. This culminated in writing a piece of original research on female innkeepers that won the 2016 Women’s History Scotland Leah Leneman prize and is slated to be published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies next year. Theresa now teaches at Royal Roads University and will be starting her PhD at the University of Victoria (BC) this autumn continuing her work on women’s history in the Highlands and Islands.  

In the early nineteenth century innkeeping was one way women in the Highlands and Islands could provide for themselves and their family. Whether managing a landlord’s inn or opening their own dwelling, they were entrepreneurial in their approach to offering food and shelter to travellers looking for temporary accommodations. Not simply providing a home-away-from-home, they were managers of complex hospitality operations that were pivotal to the economic health of their rural community.

The number of inns and places that accommodated travellers increased significantly at this time since navigating the Highlands and Islands was made easier with the establishment of transportation infrastructure such as bridges, canals and public boat routes from the south. In Ross and Cromarty, over a thirty-five year period the number of inns grew from zero to more than forty-two as a result.[1] In response to an increasing number of visitors needing shelter and new inns being built by landlords capitalizing on their estates, women commercialized their domestic skills and became managers of complex hospitality operations. In Cromarty, Mrs. Sutherland and Elizabeth Cormack managed commercial inns during this time.

Cromary Arms Inn

It seems likely that todays ‘Cromarty Arms Inn’ is the same building as either the New Inn or the Cromarty Inn. Perhaps someone with local knowledge can help? Photo: http://www.cromartyarms.com/

In 1809, Mrs. Sutherland’s husband left for the army. Deciding to take on the New Inn, a role she had at least once before, she embarked on a plan to upgrade furnishings with the help of her friends. In addition, she hired a man to help with the stabling and feeding of guests’ horses and placed an advertisement in the paper to attract business to her establishment.[2] A change in relationship status, including the departure of male relatives for work or death of a partner, was often the shift that opened the door to innkeeping as a viable and socially acceptable way for women to support themselves and their families.

The retirement of her brother, John, was the change that resulted in Elizabeth Cormack taking charge of the Cromarty Inn in 1824. Like her counterpart, Mrs. Sutherland, the role was not new to Elizabeth as she had already managed the inn for many years, despite John being the acknowledged innkeeper. Now “resum[ing] the business on her own account”, including managing the “stock of [the best] Spirituous and Malt Liquors,” Elizabeth made efforts to improve the premises. She had repairs made to the house and stables and furnished the building with feather beds and “counterpanes” (bedspreads). The improvements were done in preparation for receiving travellers from the “London Vessels” arriving to see local tourist sites gaining popularity, including the hill of Cromarty and the cavern, Macfarquhar’s Bed. [3] Only lasting four years in charge, Elizabeth died in 1828 and eight months later her inn’s furniture was sold at auction. [4]

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Cromarty Harbour was only forty years old when Elizabeth Cormack was running her inn. Presumably the visitors took small boats from the ‘London vessels’ to this harbour to land. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Overseeing renovations, hiring employees, marketing and managing suppliers were just some of the tasks that female innkeepers did that extended their role beyond the stereotypically domestic. It put them firmly into the position of business manager which resulted in agency and status. The economy of the early nineteenth-century Highlands and Islands was far more diverse and vibrant than we tend to assume, and female innkeepers such as those in Cromarty, played a vital part.

 

[1] This assumes all existing inns were reported, and reported correctly, in the sources. It is likely numbers were higher especially since the terms “pub” and “alehouse” sometimes meant “inn”. As well, some reports grouped these terms together, as in “X number of inns and alehouses” making the precise number of inns alone, unclear. The New Statistical Account of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1845) Vol. 14., p. 37, 67, 98, 106, 113, 140, 156, 164, 168, 243, 279, 300, 359, 394, 398.

[2] Inverness Journal, “New Inn Cromarty” 7 July 1809, p. 1. From Am Baile; article ID 8592. The notice says “she has taken the Inn again” (italics added) which suggests this was not the first time she had managed the inn. It also notes wanting to serve “passengers” which may refer to travel by coach or sail boat.

[3] ibid., “Cromarty Inn” 23 April 1824, p. 3., article ID 8594. See also “John Cormick Vintner in Cromarty” 29 June 1810, p. 1., article ID 8593. Ibid, “Cormack, Elizabeth, innkeeper Cromarty” 3 October 1828, p. 3., article ID 3068. Ibid., “Sale of Household Furniture at Cromarty” 24 April 1829, p. 1., article ID 8595. Ibid., “Cormack’s Inn Cromarty” 28 August 1807, p. 1., article ID 8591.

[4] ibid, 3 October 1828, p. 3., article ID 3068. Ibid, 24 April 1829, p. 1., article ID 8595.

Oatmeal, Erratics, and Cattle Beasts: The Garvary Drove Road

In the lee of the big rock, I extracted my oatcakes and cheese from the plastic bag in my rucksack. It was more than probable that two hundred, three hundred, and more, years ago others sheltered from the wind right there, taking oatcakes and cheese from a leather bag beneath their plaid. Most days they just had oatmeal, mixed with cold water, or had it made into porridge if they stopped near a house. Many who tramped past this spot had been at the Kincardine Fair. They bought beasts brought from further north, from Strath Naver, Edderachillis, and Assynt, and they would sell them again at the big trysts of Muir of Ord, Crieff or Falkirk. At Kincardine, by present day Ardgay, they bargained hard, and perhaps rewarded themselves with the entertainment of the fair, or bought food at the stalls, or drank with friends. After a night wrapped in their thick woven plaids, they started the slow business of herding their own animals away from the growing crops of the low country by the Dornoch Firth, and over Church Hill. Half the day would be gone before they caught sight of Clach Goil, the big rock on the horizon.

I’d had my eye on this route for a while. In December 2015 I explored the well-made track from the bottom of the Struie, up by the semi-ruined house at Garvary, past some fine examples of glacial deposits cut through by the Wester Fearn Burn, before an indecisive path through heather ended at an isolated nineteenth-century shepherd’s house. At the confluence of burns gathering water from four hills, the cottage is positioned in a flat oasis. The OS 1:25 000 map names it Garbhairidh – the rough shieling. Before the hills were emptied and a lone shepherd placed here, this is where folks must have stayed when they took their cattle up to the summer pasture. However, General Roy’s map, made in the late 1740s, indicated more than that: a little township of three buildings and some arable named something like ‘Adirturn’. The families living here must have had a steady stream of visitors all summer and autumn, marching past with their shaggy property.

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Today’s ruin was like so many in the far north. Symmetry dictated a room at either side and another opposite the front door. Like ones I have found in the harder-to-access parts of Sutherland, this still had sections of panelling, doors with the latch, gable-end fireplaces, sheep skeletons, and the graffiti of hiking visitors. The route seems to be a particular favourite for Gold Duke of Edinburgh expeditions! Surveying the setting, I noticed a boulder on the horizon. Doubtless an erratic dropped by a retreating glacier, to the attentive eye it made an obvious landmark. My suspicion was confirmed when the OS 1:50 000 map, not famed for placename detail, labelled it Clach Goil. In the stingy light of December, trekking a further mile into the hills was unwise, so I noted it for a summer exploration.

By July I realised I was on the trail of a drove road. This was one of two parallel routes. One rises steeply over today’s Struie Road, past the Aultnamain Inn, once famed as a drovers’ inn and more recently as the venue of all-night parties for locals.

july-aultnamain

The name of the inn is still visible on the roof. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

I cycled up the Struie and, just before Stittenham, searched for the drovers’ stance marked on the map. You wouldn’t notice anything if you weren’t looking, but there is still a long patch of rough grass, clear of the conifer plantation. Cattle could only walk about ten miles each day without losing condition. Each night they needed to rest and feed. Across the Highlands these grazing stances could be freely used. The manure dropped paid for the grass consumed. The drovers slept with the animals, sometimes leaving a watcher to ensure they did not wander. After a few days on the road, the homing instinct lost its power.

july-grazing-stance

The stance was at the side of what is now the B9176. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

While these cattle would carry on towards the Cromarty Firth, I turned west at Ardross. In 1793 the inhabitants of this Strath Rusdale masterminded the Bliadhna na Caorach: the Year of the Sheep. Locals understood that the arrival of the sheep meant their eviction was a mere matter of time and they succeeded in driving the ‘woolly maggots’ out of large swathes of Ross-shire and south Sutherland before they were stopped by the army. But before these ructions, out of this strath came the stream of cattle which had come from Kincardine via Garvary.

At Braentra, at the head of the strath, I abandoned my bicycle. Some careless mapreading involved a soggy and rugged overland deviation. Although I have endured many soggy and rugged deviations in my time, this quest reminded me of how these uplands have changed. The grazing habits of cattle and the fertility of their dung cultivated a far more diverse hill ecology than one created by raising sheep, deer and grouse. Instead of a variety of flowers and grasses, we now have the ‘wet desert’ described by Frank Fraser Darling. Close attention to my map and compass got me back on the right route, if not quite on the path, but I knew I had navigated accurately when I caught sight of that large boulder, hunched just beneath the horizon. Clach Goil.

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Clach Goil was less of a landmark from the south, but it was undeniably the same. Beyond was the shepherd’s cottage in its scoop of hills. Knowing I was at the precise point where drovers had passed through, perhaps for hundreds of years, I had a look around. I did not expect any physical signs so was astonished to see a broad track, a foot deep in the heather and, in some parts, worn down to the bedrock. It was about fifteen feet wide, and clearly distinguishable for several hundred yards. Here, impressed on the very land, was evidence of the feet of thousands of cattle beasts and their drovers. Right here trod hooves bred in the rocky northwest and which would plod on through Strathglass or Badenoch, over Drumochter, and through the Sma’ Glen to Crieff. Sold again, the hooves which indented this Easter Ross moorland continued on to Carlisle then far into England. There the small wiry cattle fattened on rich pastures. That broad dent in the peat is a marker of an economy and culture based on the rearing and selling of these beasts.

Before the sheep and the emptiness, there were cattle and people.

Sources:

A.R.B. Haldane, The Drove Roads of Scotland (London: Nelson, 1952)

Scottish Rights of Way Society, Scottish Hill Tracks (Scottish Mountaineering Trust Publications, 1995)

For more on the events of 1793 see James Hunter, The Last of the Free (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 1999)

General Roy’s Military Survey, http://maps.nls.uk/

Heritage Paths: Dalnavie Drove Road http://www.heritagepaths.co.uk/pathdetails.php?path=322 (accessed 8th December 2016)

‘Honest’ George Dempster and the Spinningdale Experiment

Katie Louise McCullough is an historian and the Director of the Centre for Scottish Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on the economic and social development of the Highlands and Islands during the Improvement Era. Katie has spent many wonderful trips to Dornoch and the surrounding areas hiking and walking the beautiful countryside with her good pal Elizabeth Ritchie.

In Spinningdale, on the north side of the Dornoch Firth, stand the remnants of a cotton mill. It was built from 1792-4 by the Balnoe Company for the agriculturalist and politician George Dempster, Esq. of Dunnichen (1732-1818), owner of the Skibo estate, and his Glasgow partner David Dale. The men raised over £3000 for the mill, largely from Glasgow businessmen. It was part of a broader plan for social and economic development in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland that championed the provision of employment and poverty relief rather than clearance and turning over land to sheep walks.

cotton mill at Spinningdale

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

As an MP Dempster had a reputation for incorruptibility, gaining him the sobriquet of ‘Honest’ George. He brought his honesty and hard work to his development interests. Dempster was part of a network of improvers centred on the Highland Society of London (est. 1778) and its sister society the Highland Society of Scotland (est. 1784). Key players in these societies formed a subsidiary company the British Fisheries Society (Dempster was a director of the HSS and BFS) in 1786. In order to provide employment, the BFS established planned fishing villages in the western Highlands and Islands, an area noted by these men for its “underdevelopment.” Colleagues found within these networks blamed slow economic development and poverty on the Whiggish improvers of the early- and mid-eighteenth century who blamed Highlanders for their own poverty. In contrast, Dempster and like-minded friends felt the solution was not in raising great numbers of sheep but, as Sir John Sinclair argued, “by the introduction of arts and agriculture. The first will increase the number and wealth of the people; the latter will augment the quantity of the production of the soil, both for the maintenance of people and cattle. But neither arts nor agriculture can prosper, unless the inhabitants are secure in the tenure, by which they occupy the spots on which they live.” And so, Dempster and his colleagues came up with plans to build homes and transportation links, provide suitable local employment, and reduce or freeze rents until people got on their feet.

The Spinningdale mill was intended to provide employment for people from the nearby parish of Criech and its environs, including the Pulrossie estate, owned by Dempster’s brother. Local people lived off the sale of cattle and grew some potatoes and corn. Some considered this to be “hardly sufficient to maintain the families of the tenants,” resulting in difficulty paying rent and outmigration. Young men and women often temporarily migrated to the south: some “got high wages, and returned in winter to their parents, or relations, somewhat in the stile [sic] of gentlemen, and were a burden on their friends the whole winter, until they set out again in spring.” Some did not return; possibly marrying, dying, emigrating, or being “picked up by recruitment parties.”

cotton mill

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Emulating the fishing villages built by the BFS in the 1780s (Ullapool, Stein, and Tobermory), two villages were lotted on the Skibo estate: Criech and Spinningdale, in preparation for new housing. A warehouse was also built to hold goods for export. The Dornoch Firth was considered ideal for cotton manufacturing as it was damp and had access to transportation, the firth being “navigable for 24 miles [and] vessels of 50 tons burden can land their cargoes at this place,” and Spinningdale had a nearby burn for water power. Unlike many other landowners in this period, Dempster chose to freeze rents until manufacturing took off and people were placed in their new homes. This plan was intended not only to bring wealth to Dempster through rent, and to investors through profits, but also to raise the standard of living of inhabitants who “will enjoy perfect security, as occupiers of land. That those advantages will lead them gradually to better their houses, to improve their lands, and to alter their own condition in every respect for the better.”

cotton mill I

Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Unfortunately, this ambitious plan was a failure. Unable to coax locals to work in the factory with regularity (they were otherwise engaged in seasonal work; lambing, harvesting, peating, or searching for higher-wage work in the south) the mill did not turn a profit. A fire gutted the factory in 1806 and it was not rebuilt. Though the mill was a failure, Dempster’s plan reveals the benevolent intentions of some landowners who sought to attract local workers to planned towns with the provision of employment and infrastructure rather than clearing people on to crofts leaving the best land for sheep and cattle, a system designed to build wealth only for the landowner. Lotted towns and villages like those built by the British Fisheries Society, and many others, including Creich and Spinningdale, were intended to create employment and to reduce poverty for common Highlanders, eliminating the need to leave home in search of a better life.

Sources:

MS00126 George Dempster Papers Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

Sir John Sinclair, Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799) Vol 8 Criech, County of Sutherland.