Dundee Courier 20th May 2003
A feature article by Vicky Birmingham.
SCOTLAND'S FORGOTTEN PAST
The dramatic changes that Scotland went through in the latter part of the 18th century changed the fabric of the nation and the way of life that had been established for hundreds of years. The onset of the industrial and agricultural revolutions altered the rural population for ever and resulted in ravaging of the Scottish countryside.
Many thousands of Scots were forced from their homes by landlords more interested in profit than people, long established communities were razed to the ground and an entire stratum of society was eradicated in the course of just a few decades.
You may think this is a description of the familiar story of the Highland Clearances, but you would be wrong. It is in fact the events of the Lowland Clearances which, until now, have been an almost forgotten part of Scottish history. You would be forgiven for being unaware that they even occurred and yet it was the activities in the Lowlands from 1760 to 1820 that laid the basis for later clearing of the glens.
Now the lost story of the Lowland Clearances has been investigated in a major series for
BBC Radio Scotland. Presenter Andrew Cassell and producer Peter Aitchison have spent months uncovering the truth behind the agricultural revolution, a process that up until now has been known as the Age of Improvement. But a far cry from being the smooth transition that has traditionally been portrayed, the reality saw a whole class of people, the cottars, forced from their homes into the new "planned villages" of the industrial revolution.
Although the eradication of the population in the Lowlands was not as brutal as in the Highlands, it was just as decisive with an entire generation disappearing remarkably rapidly. It is therefore suggested that the term Scottish Clearances would be a legitimate term to use when discussing events of the day.
The team interviewed many of Scotland's leading historians, including Chris Whatley, head of history and professor of modern history at the University of Dundee. "We pay a lot more attention to the clearances in the Highlands, partly because they were more dramatic or they certainly appear more dramatic," he said. "And, of course, there is the whole romantic ethos of the Highlands which draws our eyes in that direction. However the same thing was happening in the Lowlands."
The programme suggests that the differences between the Lowlands and Highlands can sometimes be overemphasised. It dismisses the idea that highlanders were somehow more spiritually connected with the land as the people of the Lowlands were just as dependent on farming. They lived, worked and fed off the land and their connection with it was just as crucial as that of their northern contemporaries. Of the one million people living in Scotland, 90% lived in small settlements and communities at the start of the 18th century. However, after the onset of the agricultural revolution, landlords became consumed with improving farming methods so they could take advantage of the new markets that had opened up to them, which goes in some way to explain the clearances.
Professor Tom Devine, of Aberdeen University, who has carried out pioneering work on the subject, said, "We cannot explain the catastrophic haemorrhage of population in some of these Lowland rural areas over such short time spans except by suggesting that either indirect of direct compulsion was used. There are still crofters in the Highlands, but there are no cottars in the Scottish Lowlands." In Lanarkshire for example, parish records show that the rural population fell by a third between the years 1755-91 and this was by no means unique. Landlords held all the power and they began forcing tenants off the land by doubling and tripling rent and serving eviction notices. As a result, villages that had once been vibrant with life were thrown-down to make way for ranch style estates or simply for the grazing of sheep.
A few uprisings were held by the people, who were known as "levellers", most notably in Galloway, where they destroyed dykes that had been built to section off grazing land for Irish cattle. However, most cottars were resigned to the fact that they would have to leave the land they and their families had farmed for centuries.
Professor Whatley added, "Galloway was a one-off in its scale, but nevertheless there were other instances of anti-enclosure disturbances in Scotland. One of the reasons why there were fewer of these disturbances in Scotland, you could argue, is because the Galloway activities had been so frightening for the authorities, they took care to ensure that that sort of thing shouldn't happen again. I think that a lot of the activities carried out by landowners in the latter half of the 18th century in Scotland was designed to pre-empt this sort of activity". With no other option left to them, the poor rural population of the Lowlands were driven from their homes and everything they had ever known, in the most horrific way.
Other contributors to the three-part radio series include Professor Chris Smout, the Historiographer Royal for Scotland, Gavin Sprott of the National Museum of Scotland, and local historians who use oral history,
parish records, landlords books and drama to tell the story of the Lowlands. The result ensures that the Lowland Clearances will no longer lie forgotten in history.
Corporation (BBC) in Scotland
The first programme of 'The Lowland Clearances' was on BBC Radio Scotland on
Sunday, 18th May 2003 at 11.05am. and repeated on Saturday, May 24 at 8.30pm.
The following two broadcasts on Sunday, May 25 and Sunday, June 1 at 11.05am.
again each repeated the following Saturday evening at 8.30pm.
(The Webmaster is unaware whether these will
be live 'webcasts' from the BBC Website, either live or