Pleasant Gardens and Ruined Cathedrals: Pococke’s Tour Part 3

In 1760 Bishop Pococke was not driving south to Dunrobin along the A9. Rather he would have been following the road, still passable on foot, that tightly hugs the coastline from Brora. He was therefore in an excellent position to see the remains of the broch at Carn Liath (I have omitted his description but it can be found on archive.org. https://archive.org/details/toursinscotland00pocogoog/mode/2up) and the gardens at Dunrobin, as well as the old castle – this being a generation before the current French chateau-style building was erected.

Coming along the coast near a mile to Dunrobin, Lord Sutherland’s castle and house, we were surprized at seeing half-a-dozen families forming so many groupes – viz., the man, his wife, and children, each under a coverlit, and reposing on the shoar, in order to wait for ye tyde to go a-fishing.

The old road just north of Dunrobin Castle, following the coastline where the fishing families were waiting. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

We arrived at Dunrobin, twenty miles from Dunbeath. This castle is finely situated on the end of a hill, which is cut off by a deep fossee, so that it appears on the south side, and next to the sea, like an old Celtic mount. Between it and the sea is a very good garden. The castle did consist of two square towers and a gateway. One tower only remains now, to which the house is built. There are good appartments in it, tho some have been destroyed by fire. The present earl has begun to plant the hanging ground from the house, and proposes to carry it on, which will make it exceeding fine. This castle was built by the first Earl of Sutherland.

A small mile to the north-west is a part called the old town and ye remains of a Pictish castle, which must have been the residence of the Thanes of Sutherland…

…We crossed the ferry at the river [Little Ferry at Loch Fleet] which rises towards Lough Schin, and they say it is most part of the way a fruitfull vale, and so it appeared as far as we could see. We travelled over a sandy head of land, and came to the cross set up there in memory of the defeat of the Danes (when they landed here in 1263) by William, Earl of Sutherland, and Gilbert Murray, Bishop of Cathness.

Remains of a pier on the south side of Loch Fleet, looking up the ‘fruitfull vale’ towards Rogart. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

We came to Domock, which is pleasantly situated on the head of land not far from … the Kyle of Dornock … There is very little trade in this town, and no manufacture but spinning of linnen yarn. The church here is the body of the old cathedral which belonged to the Bishop of Cathness. It seems to be pretty near a Greek cross, tho’ in the eastern part, now uncovered, there are four arches on each side supported by round pillars, with a kind of a Gothic Doric capital. In the body or nave are only three plain Gothic windows on each side; but what is most remarkable is a round tower within jiyning to the south-west angle of the middle part. It is built for a staircase, and is about ten feet in diameter, with geometrical stairs. The bishop’s house is a solid high building, consisting of four floors above the arched offices on which it was built. They show also the dean’s house, and it is probable several other houses now standing near the church did belong to the members of the chapter. These were granted with other parts of the church estate to the Earl of Sutherland. This is a royal burgh, of which they made me a burgess.

Dornoch’s manufacturing energies may not have impressed him, but it seems likely that a fair number of residents probably took in spinning from the gentleman farming a few miles along the road at Cyderhall.

In two miles we passed by Siderhall, a fine situation, now belonging to Lord Sutherland … Here a gentleman carries on a manufacture of flax in order to prepare for spinning; gives it out, and sells the yarn. A mile more brought us to Skibo, the seat of Mr. Mackay, half-brother to Lord Reay, and member of Parliament. It was a castle and country seat of the bishops of Cathness, very pleasantly situated over a hanging ground, which was improved into a very good garden, and remains to this day much in the same state, except that there are walls built, which produce all sorts of fruit in great perfection, and I believe not more than six weeks later than about London.

More flax-growing was in evidence the next day as he continued up the Kyle and when he arrived in Tain he saw where much of it ended up. We tend to assume that people in mid-eighteenth-century rural Scotland were self-sufficient farmers, so it’s interesting to see evidence of commercial flax production.

To be continued…

Cholera and the discovery of poverty in Sutherland, part 2

Malcolm Bangor-Jones continues with his investigation of cholera in east Sutherland.

According to the Rev Kennedy of Dornoch everywhere was “all in a bustle.” He had addressed his congregation not only on the cholera as “a visitation of Divine Providence; but also on the use of means, in reliance on the divine blessing, to arrest its progress”. Dornoch had not had such a thorough cleaning for at least half a century. But the “the poverty and wretchedness of the great body of the Inhabitants of this place is extreme.” In many parts of the landward parish the situation was not much better.

The Rogart committee comprised: Mr John Polson, Rovie; George Gunn Esq, Rhives; Patrick Sellar Esq, Morvich; Captain John Mackay, Davochbeg; Dr William Ross, Cambusmore; and Rev John Mackenzie. The minister reported that the committee had met on 9 December and appointed four men to inspect all premises and direct the inhabitants to clean their houses, whitewash the walls with lime, scour their furniture and bedding if necessary, remove dunghills, pigsties, and every kind of filth to a suitable distance from the house and drain off stagnant water. Copies of a printed circular had been handed round and its nature explained in Gaelic from the pulpit. House visits commenced on 21 December and were completed on 19 January. In mid-February each parish was divided into districts and additional men appointed to assist the committee.

The people were most willing to comply with the instructions which had been issued and there were very few who had refused. The minister could not conceal “that the appearances of poverty about some of them were striking; and that aid, to improve their diet and clothing, is as essentially necessary, as the enforcing of cleanliness, to defend them from the influence of contagious disease.”

Sellar, who had been a most efficient member of the Rogart committee – especially in advising people how to form drains around their houses – admitted that he had been among the poor people in the parish more than he had been for 16 years. Some army pensioners and road contractors living in new houses near the road were “very comfortable”. However, Sellar was certain that “there is a deal of poverty and Silent suffering among the sort of farmers [or small tenants].” He suggested that three quarters of them might be assisted to emigrate and the holdings made six times larger. However, he recognised that Lord and Lady Stafford might not wish to pursue such a course. In the meantime, some blankets and meal would help to relive human suffering. He could not resist asking the Sutherland estates Commissioner, “What would have been your case to day had the whole vale of Golspie and Aberscross, Kildonan, Strathbrora & Strathnaver &ca been filled with ‘palmers’ [beggars] of the same Cast?” These areas had been cleared of most of their inhabitants, and replaced by more commercially profitable sheep, by him a decade or two previously, to much criticism.

7866FADF-46D9-439A-A390-8CBA70948659_1_105_c (1)This photo is clearly not from the time! It appeared at an opportune time on the Rogart Heritage Society facebook page and this wonderful example of what people’s houses and outbuildings were like, albeit in the next century, seemed too good an opportunity to miss in this context. Photo credit: Flo Stuart/Rogart Heritage Society

It was noticeable that there was “more misery & appearance of poverty” in Langwell than in all the rest of Rogart. Langwell then belonged to Dempster of Skibo. A separate report noted that many of the tenants on the Skibo estate as a whole were indifferent about the state of their houses. There were a few houses about Skibo itself which were “remarkably well-ordered and clean; but these were inhabited by rather respectable people, who have always clean houses.”

At the end of January the Rogart Committee reported that inhabitants had, with very few exceptions, complied with the instructions as to cleanliness. But to prevent cholera two things were necessary: the complete enforcement of the county injunctions; and affording some relief to a limited number of indigent persons whom the committee found “to be so miserably fed and clothed that they must be in the greatest degree liable to the influence of epidemic disease of every sort.”

The prevailing view was that each landlord should help the inhabitants on their own estate. By the end of February many yards of flannel and numerous pairs of blankets had been bought for the Sutherland estate. Meal was provided as an improvement in diet was considered to be “an important ingredient in the removal of predisposition to cholera”. Medical supplies were also obtained.

Oliver Cromwell’s Northern Garrisons

Dr Allan Kennedy is Lecturer in History at the University of Dundee. His research focuses on the social and political history of early modern Scotland, with a particular focus on the seventeenth-century Highlands.

In September 1650, the Scottish army, fighting in the name of Charles II and led by the veteran general David Leslie, was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell and his smaller English invasion force at the battle of Dunbar. More defeats followed, until, in the climactic development of the civil wars that had been raging across the British Isles since 1639, Scotland eventually found itself conquered and unwillingly incorporated into the republican state known as the ‘Commonwealth’, which Cromwell would eventually come to rule under the nearly-but-not-quite-royal title of ‘Lord Protector’.

Throughout the 1650s, the Commonwealth’s power in Scotland depended ultimately on military force, and for that reason England flooded its northern neighbour with troops. At the height of the military occupation around 1656, Scotland was home to more than 4,000 resident soldiers, plus several thousand more serving in the field army. Many of these men were housed in large garrisons-cum-fortifications at places like Edinburgh, Stirling, Ayr, Inverness and Inverlochy, with complements that could exceed 1,000. But the countryside, especially in the Highlands, was also peppered with smaller garrisons, some of which were only maintained for a short period. These might house around 100 troops, but sometimes as few as twenty, and tended to be set up inside existing castles or fortified houses. Examples of these miniature strongholds in the far north included Cromarty, Tain, Lovat, Redcastle and Brahan.

Sutherland was more fortunate than some Scottish locales, since the government regarded many of its major landowners, like the Gordons of Sutherland and the Grays of Arbo, as relatively trustworthy – so much so that it was happy in 1656 to have Lord Strathnaver temporarily store a consignment of weapons bound for regional garrisons in his home of Dunrobin Castle. Apparently the thought that the future earl of Sutherland might use these weapons for disloyal purposes never occurred!

Citadel Inverness

There is a debate as to whether this is a remnant of the 1650s. Some have suggested it might be part of an eighteenth-century ropeworks. But the clock tower is at least on the site of the Inverness Citadel! Theories about where the stones for Cromwell’s fort were ‘borrowed’ from are intriguing too – Fortrose Cathedral, Kinloss and Beauly Priories being often mentioned, but also Greyfriars Kirk in Inverness and St. Mary’s Chapel. Ormond Castle in Avoch may also have been a source of cut stone. The last might indicate an awareness of it’s potential symbolic value as a rallying point, due to it’s association with Andrew De Moray. Photo: David Worthington.

Moreover, Sutherland was, from an English perspective, sufficiently remote that the government tended not to see much point in lavishing too much attention on it. Indeed Thomas Tucker, an official dispatched by the Commonwealth authorities to survey Scotland’s ports and coastal trade in the 1655, remarked that the county so inconsequential that ‘it was never thought worth the charge of appointing [a customs] officer’. At the end of previous year, George Monck, the Commonwealth’s commander-in-chief in Scotland, had airily declared that the gentlemen of Sutherland should look to themselves to defend the shire from rebels and trouble-makers, an injunction that would have been inconceivable for more southerly parts of the country,

Consequently, Sutherland was never subject to such intense military occupation as, say, Lochaber or northern Perthshire, two zones of persistent English concern. Instead, the county’s military supervision was generally entrusted to two permanent garrisons in nearby shires – Castle Sinclair in Caithness, the principal English presence in the far north, and Inverness, the most consistently important stronghold in the whole of the Highlands. Nonetheless, ephemeral petty garrisons did exist in the area, and we know that, in 1658 for example, English troops were being housed at both Skibo and Helmsdale. In Helmsdale, interestingly, the English presence was responsible for introducing a new religious group – the Baptists – to Sutherland for the first time.

Helmsdale1

Cromwell’s soldiers would have been stationed at Helmsdale Castle, the site of which is marked by the large concrete block on the right hand corner. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

Helmsdale2

The castle was in a strategically significant place, guarding where the River Ullie connected the Moray coast to the Sutherland interior straths where most of the population lived. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The primary reason for siting English garrisons in Scotland, including the far north, was security – having soldiers on-hand to face down resistance to the republican regime. But across the country, the garrisons also developed a broader remit, becoming, in effect, the primary nodes of local governance for a regime that, understandably given its alien, repressive nature, found it difficult to trust native people or institutions. This trend was certainly observable in the Sutherland area, where, for example, the commanders of both Inverness and Castle Sinclair were regularly loaded with tax-collecting, thief-catching and arbitration jobs alongside their usual brief of keeping the region quiescent. On one occasion, the garrison at Inverness even took the lead in surveying a potential silver mine located approximately in the Dornoch area, which it was thought might do wonders for the local economy.

In common with the rest of Scotland, the northern Highlands lost the bulk of its occupying presence after 1659, initially as troops were siphoned off to help secure order in England in the run-up to the restoration of Charles II, and then as a consequence of the restored king’s drive to eradicate all memory of the Cromwellian interregnum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, local disorder often followed, and in the Sutherland region powerful families like the Mackenzies, Gordons, MacLeods and Rosses jostled, sometimes violently, for position. Maybe, in these chaotic early years of the Restoration, the English military occupation of the 1650s – foreign, certainly, but not nearly as oppressive for Sutherland folk as for many others – might not have seemed quite so bad.

Sources:

  • Clarke Manuscripts, volumes XLV-XLIX (Worcester College Library, Oxford)
  • C.H. Firth (ed.), Scotland and the Protectorate: Letters and Papers Relating to the Military Government of Scotland, from January 1654 to June 1659 (Edinburgh, 1899)
  • F. Dow, Cromwellian Scotland (Edinburgh, 1979)
  • D. McCormack, ‘Highland Lawlessness and the Cromwellian Regime’ in S. Adams and J. Goodare (eds.), Scotland in the Age of Two Revolutions (Woodbridge, 2016), 115-34
  • R.S. Spurlock, Cromwell and Scotland: Conquest and Religion 1650–1660 (Edinburgh, 2007)

‘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.

Locating medieval lordships in Sutherland

This week Dr Alasdair Ross from the University of Stirling is our guest blogger.  Alasdair is Senior Lecturer in Medieval and Environmental History.  His research interests include historic units of land assessment in northern Europe so for this week’s blog Alasdair has  considered this issue along the north bank of the Kyle of Sutherland. 

Sutherland was separated from Caithness at the beginning of the thirteenth century by the Scottish crown and members of the de Moravia family were thereafter quickly elevated to the status of earls of Sutherland and bishop of the diocese of Caithness. The core of the earldom demesme lands at this time seem to have been located in the south-east of Sutherland. One part of these properties is referred to in charters as Ferincoskry (Fearann Coscraigh – Coscrach’s land) which is thought to have comprised a large part of the parish of Creich; another two parts consisted the lands of Ferenbeuthlin’ and Skibo (the latter assessed at six dabhaichean [davochs]). In 1971 Barrow argued that Ferenbeuthlin’ and Ferincoskry were different names for the same stretch of land but this suggestion surely cannot be sustained. Even allowing for some scribal error the second elements of each place-name are wildly different.

A number of different sources are quite clear that Ferincoskry comprised the majority of lands in the parish of Creich that directly bordered upon the province of Ross, extending northwards along the River Oykell as far north as Glencasley and beyond to the boundary with Assynt. This extensive lordship had been granted to the earls of Ross by King Robert I between 1306 and 1329 (though it is never explained why these lands had been taken away from the Sutherland earls at that time) and was later piecemeal granted out to different families. The first of these, a charter dated 28 May 1450 specifies that both Olsbustule (Ospisdale) and Innerwyrcastelaye (Invercassly), at opposite ends of the parish of Creich, lay in Farnacoskyre. A second charter of 10 January 1464 states that Crechmor, Spanegydill, Davacharry, Pladd and Pulrossy were all part of the land of Fernacostrech. To these can be added the lands of Inveran, Lemsetmoir, Lemsetbeg, Altesbeg, Altes mor, Acheness, Swordale, Migdale, Creichmore, and Little Creich from various sources. According to the available evidence then, it very much looks as though Ferincoskry was an elongated area of lordship that lay along most of the north bank of the Dornoch Firth and the River Oykell to its junction with Glen Cassley, and then westwards to the summits of Conval (987m) and Ben More Assynt (998m) on the boundary of the parish of Creich with Assynt, perhaps a total of seventeen dabhaichean. Essentially, it gives every impression of having been a massively important frontier lordship. It is just a shame that we do not know how old it actually is.

But according to the surviving evidence Ferincoskry cannot have comprised the whole of the parish of Creich because the eight dabhaichean of Auchinduich, Auchnafearn, Invershin, Knocken, Ardinch, Tutointorroch, Glenchasley, and Dauchallie are never associated with it in any surviving source. This, however, may just be an accident of survival since written medieval records for Creich are exceedingly rare. Ferincoskry itself as an early unit of lordship may also be more nuanced that we have previously realised. That part of it which lay to the west of the River Shin possessed a separate identity and was regularly variously referred to as Chilis, Slishchells, and Slishchewlis. One dabhach containing the same suffix, Daauchelis / Daawchelis / Deawchelive, remains unlocated but on the balance of the available evidence is most likely to have been an alternative name for Inveran (itself a half-dabhach).

Image

Looking towards Ferincoskry from the Province of Ross.  Photo from collection of Alasdair Ross.

So where was Ferenbeuthlin’? A charter of 1235 specifies that Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ lay between Skibo and the lands in the east of Creich which bordered upon Ross:

[…] scilicet de tota terra de Skellebolle et de Fernbeilldyn et pretera de tota terra que jacet inter dictas terras de Skellebolle et de Fernbeilldyn et diuisas de Ros uersus occidentem […]

[…] namely the whole land of Skellebolle (Skibo) and Fernbeilldyn and also the whole land lying between the said lands of Skellebolle and Fernbeilldyn and the marches of Ross to the west […]

Clearly, this charter indicates that Skelleboll and Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ lay to the east of those unspecified lands in Creich that bordered upon Ross. Since Ferincoskry included the lands of Acharry, Ospisdale, Fload, and Pulrossie, all of which were located immediately to the west of the boundary between the parishes of Creich and Dornoch, Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ must have been located in Dornoch parish itself and may even have included the town. Beyond this, it is currently impossible to state precisely which dabhaichean to the immediate west of Skibo lay in Ferenbeuthlin’ / Fernbeilldyn’ and the place-name itself seems to have disappeared shortly thereafter. For what it is worth, an oral record dating to the nineteenth century records the place-name Tornabuchaillin, where the second element may be the same as that of Ferenbeuthlin’, was recorded near the dabhaichean of Proncy, between Skelleboll and Ferincoskry.