• Annie Tindley
Location:
Glasgow
Date:
Thursday 13th May 2010
Reference:
SWI2010/012

Annie:

Most estate archives, I think, can be divided between the financial records of the estate, which would include things like rental records, accounts, vouchers, the factory accounts as well, and what comes in the form of correspondence, so that’s decisions on estate policies, correspondence between the landowner and his staff, the estate factors, just discussing all kinds of policies really ... relations between estate staff and sheep farmers, for example, or shooting tenants (deer hunting) or crofters and also external correspondence so things like government agencies, family and friends, relatives as well, so that kind of personal correspondence, you might call it. And then there’s another category which is maps and plans essentially, usually created to define the boundaries of the estate so what they tend to do is just take whatever most recent Ordinance Survey map there is and just kind of write on which parts they own, basically. So, yeah, financial records and correspondence are the two main categories.

Simon:

Where would these documents have been originally produced and ...?

     

Annie:

They would have been produced by the estate management, so the factors, in their offices basically. By the nineteenth century they are very well organised so they come in the form ... they’re not kind of loose bundles, they come in these big letter books where it was like copied in. Quite often they get their relatives to do it so it’s like little childish handwriting sometimes. So that would be in their offices and it would be stored in their offices most of the time. If the estate was very large and there’s a large volume of records, they can often be stored in odd places like attics and there was ... in Sutherland they had paper stored in the chicken shed for decades at a time. So you quite often find, because they are regarded as day-to-day business records, they’re not kept that brilliantly, it has to be said. Quite often when places like the National Library comes in or the National Archives, they’re kind of rescuing these papers from neglect, often.

Simon:

Or chickens.

     

Annie:

I know, yeah. Well there’d be times I’d be sitting in the National Library and little feathers would kind of float out, it was horrible! (laughs)

Simon:

And that stuff nowadays then, it’s stored in the National Library or ...?

     

Annie:

Yes. In most ... well, some of them have been put into public hands so the Sutherland Estate’s the big example of that one. What tends to happen is modern estates can find themselves with all of these records in their ... clogging up their offices and houses basically and they are under obligation to preserve them but, if you’re going to do that properly, it’s quite expensive and you need to have the storage facilities and you quite often need to have an archivist and so, often, they just give them to the big public repositories, like the National Library. Some don’t, some have retained them. So Blair Atholl, for example, has an archivist and an archive room. The Argyll Estates, they’re still held by the family. The other problem with that is it can sometimes be difficult for researchers to get access to them, just because it can be a pain for the owners to organise a desk and time and this type of thing. But a lot of estate papers are now in public hands so they’re just easy to access in Edinburgh.

Simon:

With the Sutherland Estates, what kind of period does it cover that you’ve been looking at ...?

     

Annie:

My main area that I’ve looked at is from 1850 to 1920 and, but I’m currently working backwards to about the 1760s, 1750s or so. So I’m kind of expanding my period backwards. All the papers after 1920, are kept in Dunrobin Castle because the family needs them for their day-to-day business so ... but they do allow me access to those papers. But the Sutherland papers in the National Library go right back to the thirteenth century. I think there’s some charters and that type of thing. But the records just explode in size after about 1800. That’s when the estate is at it’s territorial height so it’s covering a huge area so the bulk of the records are from the nineteenth, early twentieth centuries, but they do go right the way back to the thirteenth century.

Simon:

And what was it that triggered this explosion of documentation?

     

Annie:

Well, there’s a growing professionalisation of land management as a kind of career. Until maybe the early nineteenth century, what you find is there’ll be relatives of the landowner who might run the estate on their behalf. So and so’s cousin, say, or nephew or uncle will be the land manager but would be running it as an amateur, essentially. But from the early nineteenth century you get what you might consider more professionalised land managers so they might have been to university, not always but most of the time. They would’ve had training on other estates so that would include training on things like account keeping and correspondence and specific skills like land valuation, map skills as well, and so with that professionalisation comes more correspondence and there’s a greater emphasis on having a written record of everything, which we kind of take for granted now today, the kind of paper trail. So there’s a greater emphasis on that and then, at the same time, it’s ... the Sutherland Estate itself increases in size at that time, so it was always massive but in 1829 they bought the Reay Estate, which was an extra a hundred thousand acres and so the second Duke of Sutherland did a lot of land purchasing. In addition to that, they marry into other estates so the third Duke of Sutherland married the heiress to the Cromarty Estate and that gives them land, kind of on the Coigach Peninsula, it’s just down from Assynt, and around Strathpeffer. So they buy land, they marry into land and this just increases the size of the estate they have to look after and so the correspondence just balloons, basically. So by the height, say by about 1830, the Sutherland Estate management consists of the Duke at the top and then they have this role of the Commissioner who managed the whole of the Duke’s landed estates, his business investments, his industrial investments, everything. And then below him they have three factors for the different parts of the Sutherland Estate, so they keep their own records and correspondence as well and accounts and they each have six ground officers. So there’s lots of different levels in the hierarchy and they’re all creating their own records so, as a historian, you’re just ... you’re left with this nightmarish kind of ... (laughs) ... archive and ... for the National Library, the Sutherland Estate is it’s biggest set of papers so it’s a pretty huge archive.

Simon:

And are any of these documents linked ... I’m talking about the earliest nineteenth century ... the Age of Improvement and the introduction of new farming methods. Is any of the documentation that’s getting generated related to those changes, to those kinds of things?

     

Annie:

Yes, absolutely because in the Sutherland Estate, that process of Improvement ... I think like other estates as well, is a top-down process so it’s the Duke and his commissioner, famously James Locke is the big Improvement commissioner. They are trying to impose these changes down on the population so there’s lots of correspondence about new types of leases to give to the sheep farmers, ‘improving leases’ so-called, so requiring tenants to carry out certain changes or improvements ... There’s a lot of correspondence between the commissioner and the factors about how to carry out removals or evictions, for example, and why they’re doing it too. They’re also corresponding with local legal authorities, so the Sheriff of the county gets involved at various times, and a lot of correspondence between the estate and the new big sheep farming tenants as well. So, yes, there’s a clear paper trail through the Sutherland Estate archive for those improvements and, interestingly, when the Sutherland family deposited the papers with the National Library, that was in 1980, the Countess at the time said: “I’m giving these papers into public hands so people can read them and make their own mind up about the Clearances.” So not only is it possible to read about the Clearances and Improvements but it’s kind of actively encouraged on the part of the family and National Library.

Simon:

... (inaudible) ... a sign of ... what the documents represent about the land and ... (inaudible) ...

     

Annie:

Yeah. I think ... I think it’s an interesting question because if you’re asking the question about how they represent the land and the landscape, it’s interesting because what I found when I was reading through the archive myself is that they’re always about people so it’s sheep farming tenants or crofters or cottars or colleagues so the impression you can take away from the papers is of this like very kind of volatile, over-populated, congested estate whereas if you go up to Sutherland and it’s just acres of silence and wilderness and all the rest of it. So in terms of the land, it’s represented ... the key way it’s represented is economically, I would say. So all of those financial records, how much the land makes every year, how much is expended up on it every year, how much it’s worth, it’s overall value, it’s worth and how could that be increased as well. That’s the constant refrain among the estate staff: “How can we increase the income or value of this land?” So it has an economic representation and then on the other side it has ... I’m not sure how I’d characterise it, not a romantic ... but the factors themselves ... Every now and then you’ll come across a letter and they’ll be writing about the landscape itself and how beautiful it is and the example I remember best is when the factor of Assynt, on the West Coast, he had the island of Handa as part of his own sheep farm and he was writing a letter to a friend, talking about the cliffs and the birds and how beautiful it was. So there was an appreciation of the landscape in that sense, of it’s beauty, but you almost can’t separate out the landscape and the people who are on it in the estate papers. It’s very rare to get that little glimpse of ... you know, the beautiful scenery or cliffs. It’s always tied in with people, I find, so ... and land is characterised, even then, in quite economic terms so you have productive land and then what they call ‘waste land’ or ‘land in a state of nature’ is the phrase that they use, which means unproductive agriculturally. Have I made that very clear, no? (laughs) It’s quite a difficult one.

Simon:

Do you want to ... productive and unproductive is it alright to explain that ...?

     

Annie:

Yeah, certainly.

     

Simon:

... (inaudible) ... the distinction quite particularly doesn’t mean that stuff’s not produced. It relates to economic ...

     

Annie:

Yeah.

     

Simon:

Is that the kind of distinction?

     

Annie:

Yes, and that comes back to the point about the people on the land because in the late eighteenth century, right up until 1815 really, the Sutherland Estate wanted a high population on their estates so that they could raise troops for the Napoleonic Wars so, in that sense, the land is productive because it produces people who are exported out for military purposes but once all that comes to an end it’s productive in a more agricultural sense that they tend to talk about. So, is the land just heather and bog? That’s waste or unproductive. But if the land is under sheep and then later on under deer, that is seen as productive. There’s very little arable land in Sutherland where you could actually grow crops so when they talk about productive they mean stock, stock farming basically. So, again, it’s bringing the people back into the land equation really. The interesting change happens in the early nineteenth century. The Dukes of Sutherland, they want the people on the land because the people themselves are the product that they can make money on, basically. But as you go through, past the Highland famine and into the late nineteenth century, the people become what they call a burden on the land because they’re not producing anything. They don’t produce high rents. They are on the poor rolls. They are often in trouble, economically, with destitution. So you see a big change in that distinction between productive and unproductive over the course of the nineteenth century, I would say.

Simon:

What kind of things do we learn about the people themselves? We’ve talked a bit about ... with the land, both economic and with ... (inaudible) ... Is there a similar mixture regarding people? Is there a sense of different types of people?

     

Annie:

From the estate’s point of view? Yes, there is. Interestingly, one of the results of the Clearances, it’s always been thought, is that it left Sutherland and large parts of the Highlands with a kind of two tier social system. So you have the great sheep farming magnets at the top of the pile and then you have a much larger class of poor, impoverished crofters and that distinction comes across in the estate papers, I would say. So if you’re reading correspondence between the estate management and a great sheep farmer, the estate will be relatively deferential, will try to meet any demands made, because they see themselves on an equal social playing field, both same levels of education, same levels of wealth, so there’s a sense of equality there even though it’s still a landlord and tenant relationship, but the big sheep farmers have nineteen year leases, they’re very wealthy, so there’s more of an equality.

 

With ... interestingly, you don’t see that much actual correspondence between factors and the crofters because a lot of their business would be done in person. It’s quite rare to find letters from crofters to the estate, for example, and when you do come across them, the standard of English can be quite poor because they’re all Gaelic speakers and it’s usually on issues like rent reductions, requests for rent reductions, requests for extensions of crofts, this type of thing. So there’s a ... When I first started reading the Sutherland papers it became clear quite quickly that there was going to be this big dark area that the crofters themselves were very rarely represented in the estate papers and it’s really oral history you have to look to or perhaps newspapers and other types of sources. Despite the fact that the bulk of the population on the Sutherland Estate were crofters or cottars, they’re hardly there in the papers. You can find names on the rental rolls and that type of thing but you don’t get a very clear sense and ... the only sense you do get of them is that they’re almost childlike creatures because their standard of English is low and they’re so impoverished and they’re often in very cruel or demeaning daily circumstances so ... and I think that comes across in the factors’ attitudes towards them. They will write about them as if they were children, basically. So that’s not all bad, in a sense. They try to be what they would consider benevolent landowners and try to help the crofters but it’s in quite a ... there’s quite a patronising tone towards them, I would say.

Simon:

And is that kind of linguistic dimension represented? Are there any documents in Gaelic at all? Is there that effort to recognise a linguistic difference?

     

Annie:

Not in the archive itself. I’ve never come across Gaelic in the archive but the factors would have to be Gaelic speakers so I think that’s why there’s a big black hole of where the crofters are because the factors ... there’s not a written record. They’re just going out into the crofting communities and speaking to them and if not the factors then it would’ve been their subordinates, the ground officers, who actually do the day-to-day business. Rent collection, resolving disputes between crofters, it’s all done verbally, orally, so it’s not in the written records, no.

Simon:

Did they have leases?

     

Annie:

Yes. Well, if you’re a tenant who is worth, say, more than £50 a year rent, you’ll have a lease. That’s the vast minority of tenants. So the big sheep farmers, say Patrick Sellar, he’s got two leases each worth a £1,000 per year. The big leases will be for nineteen years and include many clauses about the responsibilities of both the tenant and the landlord as to keeping up the buildings, say, keeping up the value of the pasture land, acclimatisation values is the other one. So there’ll be long and detailed leases between the landowner and his, what they called, large tenants, so sheep farmers and later their shooting tenants who let deer forests for commercial sport.

 

Crofters didn’t have leases. They held on a year-to-year basis although in practice, except between the Clearances, they would keep their crofts all their lives and then pass it on to their son, say. So that’s what would happen in practice but in theory, of course, they can be evicted at just forty days notice so you see that during ... on a large scale during the Clearances. There are little evictions all through the nineteenth century. Sometimes the estate would want to extend the boundaries of a sheep farm, say, and they just push some crofters out of the way. So they don’t have leases and then in 1886, when the Crofters Act is passed, that legislation protects crofting as it stands. So from 1886, landlords effectively cannot evict crofters but they still don’t have a lease. So they don’t have that list of clauses that large tenants have but then there are ... there’s this mythical thing called the Estate Rules, or Locke’s Law as it was called, and there were some rules that crofters are meant to abide by. So, for example, you weren’t meant to subdivide your croft while you were alive so you couldn’t have grown up children and say: “Alright, you can have half of my croft.” That was against the rules but there’s no ... I have been completely unable to find a copy of these rules anywhere but the crofters talk about them and the factors assume that crofters will abide by these unspoken rules, so no subdivision of crofts, not allowing families to move in with you, not allowing your grown up children to live in the same house as you, essentially. And there’s also rules about where you could cut your peats, where you could go fishing, those types of rules but they’re not in black and white records in the estate archive, that’s just for the big tenants.

Simon:

And we spoke about crofters specifically, are there indications of other types of residents on the land like cottars and squatters who had different statuses?

     

Annie:

Yes, absolutely. Sorry, I’m using crofters as a catch all word but there’s crofters, who you could probably define by an individual paying more than £2 a year in rent, and cottars, who pay no rent to the estate and they essentially squat on land that are crofts already, or they squat on what is common pasture for the crofting township as a whole so often these would be the children of crofters who ... they haven’t been able to get a slice of their parents’ croft and they have to set up by themselves. So they pay no rent to the estate. In some ... They vary across the estate. So, for example, the highest concentration of cottars you find in Assynt, the parish of Assynt, and generally the west coast. And, because they don’t pay any rent, it’s quite hard to tell you a concrete number but if you think of roughly 20% of the population would be cottars on the west coast there, which is a very high proportion. It’s like a fifth of the population is paying no rent. The estate management just tear their hair out over cottars right up till after World War One, essentially. They’re not meant to exist because, if they were following the rules and the estate enforced their rules, they should not be subdividing land or taking common land but after the Clearances the estate is so damaged by the public vilification they receive that they won’t undertake large scale evictions again so they allow the cottars to build up in numbers and it seems to be a kind of unstoppable population increase. Even after the famine, for example, the local factor organised for a huge proportion, about one quarter, of the population of Assynt to emigrate, to kind of escape the destitution. But despite that, numbers were back up and increasing right up into the 1860s so ... yes, cottars are seen as a kind of succubus? Like a leech, if you like, on the prosperity of crofters and the estate as a whole. The estate also, interestingly, is concerned about cottars. Because they don’t pay a rent, they can’t then be taxed for things like poor relief or the education funds as well, even though they are the section of the population most likely to need those services. So, because they don’t pay rent, they don’t pay any local taxes and so this annoys the factors a great deal. And when we get to the 1880s and there’s kind of land reform agitation and disturbances in Sutherland, it’s usually the cottars at the forefront of that movement as well. So from the estate’s perspective cottars are a kind of disaster, essentially, but also the ultimate proof that the Clearances failed, I would argue.

Simon:

We talked about the Poor Laws and to what extent did poor relief and Poor Laws and the kind of management of the poor ... to what extent is that represented in the documents?

     

Annie:

It is well represented and the reason for that is because the Duke of Sutherland owned almost the whole county of Sutherland, he was the chief taxpayer and that meant ... what he did was he got all of his factors to sit as chair of all the local Poor Boards in the whole of the county so each parish has its board and there’d be a Sutherland factor, he’d be the chair. So he controlled policy towards poor relief so, for example, after the famine and there’s increasing numbers of people going on to the poor roll and they want to try and cut costs so the Duke decides that the best way to do this would be to build a poorhouse and he pays for that himself and just builds it. So he has a large amount of control and because the factors are all the chairmen, there’s a lot of material in their correspondence, corresponding to other members of the Poor Board, for example, between themselves about policies relating to poor relief and education provision as well ... So in many ways, I found that the material in the estate archive was more detailed than what you might find in the local archives of the Poor Boards themselves. So yes, very well represented.

Simon:

Was the estate involved in anything judiciary as well? In Lewis and Skye, there was factors who were also the local judges and sheriffs and ...

     

Annie:

Yeah, that’s right.

     

Simon:

Was there a similar infrastructure in Sutherland?

     

Annie:

Yeah ... You don’t find the ducal family being involved because they were essentially absentee landowners. They lived in London or they have three English estates and then later on the third Duke was ... you were to find him in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean on holiday most of the time so the family stay well out of it. The factors also stay out of any official capacities so you don’t find factors who are sheriffs, for example, or JPs (Justice of the Peace) or local magistrates. You don’t find that in Sutherland but what you do find in the papers is they will bombard legal officials with ‘advice’. Especially if there’s problems surrounding estate policy, so if they’re trying to carry out an eviction, for example, or there’s trouble or rioting, they immediately write to the legal authorities and write to them in a tone that suggests that they expect the legal authorities to do what they say and they have a huge falling out in the late 1880s in Assynt over the policies of the Scottish Office and the local sheriff and how they were managing a disturbance at Clashmore Farm, for example, So they have no problem about writing to demand action on the part of legal authorities but you don’t find them filling those positions as you do in Skye and Lewis, interestingly.

Simon:

And what kind of responses to the land agitations do you get?

     

Annie:

Well, I would argue that the Sutherland Estate is slightly unique in this regard and the reason is because of that vilification they got after the Clearances. So once the Clearances were all over, land reformers and commentators just continued to attack the Sutherland Estate as the great Clearance landlords of the Highlands and it makes the family, not the estate management, the factors, but the family are incredibly sensitive to this criticism all through the nineteenth century to the extent that they would put in place policies that the factors disagree with but trying to conciliate crofter opinion, if you like. So when the Crofters’ War kicks off, things are fairly quiet in Sutherland to start with but then, as I mentioned, an agitation breaks out in Clashmore in Assynt and the Duke, the third Duke, just bends over backwards to conciliate the Clashmore crofters, to the horror of his factor at the time. So their response would be they would send in their factors, the commissioner, with offers to the crofters so they would offer them land, try and meet their demands essentially. Reduce their rents, that was another tactic they used to try and clamp down on agitation. And any reports in the local newspapers commenting about the Clearances and the Sutherland villains, they would always always write a reply and refute it. So there’s lots of correspondence in the Scotsman and the Times about the ‘devastation myth’, as they call it. So unlike other estates, like the Macdonald Estate on Skye or the Macleod Estate, who would want to carry on the fight with crofters, in Sutherland they just back down, back down all the time, and you find that running right through into quite modern times, I would say.

Simon:

We talked earlier about how the crofter communities were looked upon as children ... (inaudible) ... is there a change in attitude towards crofters after the Crofting Act and the agitation? Does it bring about an increase in understanding or a change in understanding?

     

Annie:

I would say, on balance, no. So, commonly how the estate tries to explain agitation in Sutherland is they’ll say: “Oh, there’s these professional agitators coming in and they’re claiming to be the crofters’ friends and telling them lies, raising their expectations and trying to lead them away from the estate.” So that’s how they explain it. They almost cannot believe that the crofters and cottars on their own might want to criticise their estate management so they blame it on outside agitators all the time, which is still quite patronising in a way, I would say, and still retaining elements of the attitude of looking down upon the crofters. It’s a bit like if you had children and you thought: “Oh, they’ve got into a bad crowd in school and they’re just rebelling.” So I would say no, that attitude never really changes. I think by about the mid 1890s, the fourth Duke gets a bit fed up with it all and what he does is starts selling off his land with crofters on it because they’re so ungrateful, you see? So even after ... there’s a great moment, just after the Crofters Act is passed in 1886, that summer and then the factors go round for their bi-annual rent collection and the Duke had said: “You can have 50% off your rents,” just a blanket rent reduction. And the factors write to each other after their rent collection and complain about the ingratitude of the crofters, how ungracious they were paying their reduced rents when, you know: “They should be grateful to the Duke for being so generous and kind.” So still the expectation was there, that the crofters should behave in a certain deferential way, you know? And I don’t know if that ties into quite old-fashioned ideas by then of the chief of the clan, you know? That kind of paternal, benevolent view of he would look after his clan and ... Cos certainly by the late nineteenth century that’s gone, practically, but I think there might be little hints of it just left in the attitude of the estate management.

Simon:

Is there any recognition of the constituted bodies, like the HLLRA (Highland Land Law Reform Association) and others who were trying to engage on the crofters’ behalf ... (inaudible) ...?

     

Annie:

They’re the enemy really, yeah. They do, they recognise them with horror. So quite often what the factors will do is they’ll send a ground officer. If they know there’s going to be a meeting set up, they’ll send a ground officer and the officer will write a report, who was there, what everyone said, was the local Free Church minister there? So you have all these long reports in the estate papers which probably are even better records of those meetings than anything you’d find in the Highland Land League’s records. So they recognised what they were doing and totally opposed it so the type of language factors used would be: “They’re bringing in Communism” or “socialistic tendencies” they would say. It wasn’t in any understanding that we have but anything ... They regarded it as so radical, you know, demanding reform of the land laws or attacks on property. This, to them, was so radical it was basically Communism. So they did recognise and followed what those organisations were doing and they were especially strong in Sutherland but they didn’t directly engage. They knew it was going on but they never tried to oppose them or send their own representatives to speak. They just watched what was happening and just stayed back a little bit.

Simon:

And did the Sutherland family have any presence in Parliament?

     

Annie:

Yeah, they’re quite an interesting family. Well ... they’re not a very talented family so they’re not big statesmen, like the Duke of Argyll for example, so they have ... the heir to the estate is usually the MP for Sutherland so in the 1880s this was Lord Stafford who’s the future fourth Duke of Sutherland and he took the seat, I think it’s 1874, and had never spoken in the House of Commons, never turned up even. But then a crofter champion, Angus Sutherland, stood for the Sutherland seat and Lord Stafford had to actually defend his seat for the first time ever because he’d always been unopposed at all elections. Now, Lord Stafford actually won the 1885 election. He defeated Angus Sutherland but then in the 1886 election he just stood down and Angus Sutherland took the seat at that point. So there is political activity going on on the part of the estate but you won’t find Lord Stafford standing up in the House of Commons defending the rights of property or indeed his father, the Duke of Sutherland who has a seat in the House of Lords obviously as part of his inheritance, never speaks either, never turns up. Absentee politicians essentially. So there’s a little bit of a flurry around that 1885 election but apart from that you don’t see them politically active in any real sense of the word. It’s a bit disappointing really! (laughs) But they really are just kind of playboys.

Simon:

Shall we look at the kind of wider economic picture? How did the Sutherland Estates fit into the family’s larger economy?

     

Annie:

Yeah, well it’s quite complex. So the Sutherland Estates, at their height in the nineteenth century say, consist of the Sutherland Estate which is a million acres in the north of Scotland, almost the whole county of Sutherland. It also includes the Cromarty Estate which was brought in by marriage. The third Duke’s first wife brought the Cromarty Estate which is large parts of Wester Ross. Now they also had estates in Yorkshire, in Shropshire and in Staffordshire. So there’s five kind of blocks to the landed estates but they also have vast cash wealth as well, if you like, so they inherited the Bridgewater Canal fortune in the early nineteenth century which included one of Europe’s greatest art collections as well. They have five country houses and one London palace and numerous ... In the estate papers you can look at the Duke’s investment portfolios so he was investing this cash mainly in what are called consoles, which are government stocks and shares, but then they also dabbled in other things so there was a scheme to build a railway in the Congo, there was a scheme to build a rival to the Suez Canal. He invested in gas companies in America, in rubies in Burma and all across the Empire. He bought land in Australia and in Canada as well so, as you can see, there’s a huge and varied wealth or estate there. In terms of the Sutherland Estate’s place within that, the Sutherland Estate ... because it’s a million acres, it makes it the largest estate in Western Europe but it only generates, at it’s very height, £70,000 per year only. So it’s relatively poor yield, essentially, and on top of that, the Sutherlands just pour money into the county. From about 1809 to 1884, just hundreds of thousands of pounds every year poured into ... So they make £70,000 worth of rent every year and that goes straight back into the estate and on top of that they make extra capital expenditure. So the Clearances, for example, cost them hundreds of thousands and they didn’t take any rent for about twenty years and then they decided to build roads which cost hundreds of thousands and then the third Duke built all the railways that are in Sutherland and then he tried to do a land reclamation scheme and he spent £250,000 on that and then there was the year to year propping up of the crofting economy so every time a destitution hit they’d send in food, send in money. So if you see the Sutherland Estate itself as this huge drain or money pit, so all of the money they’re making in English estates, their big industrial investments, is being moved across to subsidise the poor acres in the north of Scotland, essentially. It’s only by about the 1890s that they just give up. They refuse to invest any more into Sutherland and they start selling it off so by the end of World War One they’ve sold 600,000 acres of Sutherland because it’s just worthless. They can’t afford to be losing that amount of money anymore. So even though they’re still one of the richest, parturition landowners in Britain, that has got nothing to do with Sutherland itself. In fact, Sutherland is a drain on that wealth.

Simon:

How does that compare to other landowners?

     

Annie:

Well it depends on what circles you’re looking at so if you’re looking ... If you put them into their Highland context, they are without a doubt the wealthiest Highland landowners because ... not because of the value of Sutherland itself but because of their wealth that rests outside of Sutherland. So for most Highland landowners, they’re completely dependent on what they can make out of their estates. So Lord Macdonald on Skye for example, he has his little estate and it makes £12,000 a year and that’s all he has to live on except he’s run up debts of £200,000 and so £8,000 a year out of his income goes to just servicing that debt and he’s left with £4,000 a year to live on. And there’s lots of other ‘impoverished’ Highland landowners like that. Some are a bit more lucky so using the example of Lord Seaforth. Lord Seaforth has a worthless Highland estate but he also owns land in the West Indies and plantations and so that money is just used to subsidise his Highland estate. So he builds his big castle on the slave money basically. And then from the 1850s new types of landowners are coming in so people who’ve made money in industry, say, or banking are moving and buying up some estates so they would be quite wealthy but, again, you’re not getting that wealth from your Highland estate, you have to have money from elsewhere. But if you put the Sutherlands into their British context, so if you compare them to the Westminsters or the Devonshires, they still hold up reasonably well. The Duke of Devonshire is the richest by far cos he owns parts of London so it’s small in terms of acreage but vast in terms of income and land values, if you like. I think David Canadine, the historian of the British aristocracy, has a lovely little table of wealth of landowners and the Sutherlands came eighth out of Britain. Devonshire’s at the top and then it’s the ... like the Marquis of Bute owns Cardiff Docks, for example, so ... if you want to be a wealthy landowner, you have to have more than just land. You have to have land in a city or invest in industry, say. So like the Duke of Northumberland and all his mining and things so ... and so in a Highland context the Sutherlands are rich and in their British context, they’re still doing pretty well but not as well as they could be.

Simon:

And were there any attempts to create other types of revenue from the estate? Thinking like kelp farming and fish ... (inaudible) ...

     

Annie:

Yeah, that’s right. Yes is the answer. The biggest experiment is the Clearances where they thought to try and revolutionise really the tenancy structure of the estate whereby just pulling people out of the central areas onto the coasts so they could become fishermen and then allowing the interior parts of the county to be turned over to sheep farming. So that’s the first one. Kelp? In Sutherland kelp really never takes off to the same extent as you see in Skye and some other Highland estates and I think the reason is that the Sutherland family are investing heavily in the fishing industry instead and encouraging the crofters to become fishermen instead of kelp. And really the fishing industry has a major role in employment in Sutherland, right from the early nineteenth century onwards. So the Clearances, kelp ... The next big one is what I mentioned before, this land reclamation scheme whereby the third Duke wanted to create arable land, so land to grow crops on, out of bogs, basically. So he went to ... There’s two main areas but the main one was on the north bank of Loch Shin and he bought steam ploughs and all the latest technology and he was ploughing away and digging up and he spent £250,000 on this but it was a complete failure, unfortunately for him. In an agricultural sense, the land just wasn’t good enough and in a financial sense, they just lost all that money essentially. I’m trying to think if there’s anything else ... No, I think, really after the Clearances and aside from encouraging fishing as much as possible, that is the end of their experimentation with trying to diversify employment on the estate. They just ... after that, they’ll firefight problems so if they have a bad year at the fishing the family will step in and provide money and food for their tenants so they don’t starve to death, basically, but they don’t try those quick fixes like kelp, and marble quarrying was one in Iona, I remember, or the Inverarie carpet factory was one. So no, there’s ... the big change comes with the Clearances and that restructuring and then after that it’s a much quieter picture I think.

Simon:

With some of the other landlords, cos I was asking this question about the Glasgow Bank to get a picture of what the economy was. You think of Glasgow as obviously a major international node of economy at the time and some of the landowners are also Glasgow merchants.

     

Annie:

Yeah, that’s right.

     

Simon:

Maybe moving a bit wider from the Sutherland Estates, what kind of picture of ... (inaudible) ... have you picked up in your research?

     

Annie:

I think because the Sutherland family are British patrician aristocrats, their version of that is London and what some Imperial historians have called ‘gentlemanly capitalism’ so this is the third Duke and the fourth Duke in particular ... maybe spent two weeks a year in Sutherland. They were hardly ever there, spent most of their time in London, and they were great supporters of British Imperialism so that included supporting societies for the emigration of British people to the white dominions. That involved investment in the Empire so those examples I gave you before of the Congo railway and Burmese rubies and land in Australia, that is their field of operation, and you get the sense from the estate papers that that is really their main area of interest. For the third Duke, on top of that he spent most of his time traveling around the Empire. The fourth Duke, after the mid 1890s, packs it in in Britain and moves to Canada, buys a hundred thousand acres of land builds himself a house there. So that’s obviously where they see the future, not just of Britain or of British greatness, Imperial greatness, but of their own finances as well. So that’s interesting, in the estate papers quite often the factors will complain about the absenteeism of the Dukes and at one point, right at the height of the Crofters’ War, one of the factors writes to his colleague and says: “I read in the papers that the Duke is at the Panama Canal and I wish he was back here looking after his own affairs.” So in many ways they’re not part of that Highland Glasgow network. They’re working on a much bigger scale because their much bigger fortune allows them to do so. The third Duke, for example, was best friends with the Prince of Wales and went with him to India. They set up companies to invest across the Empire and ... I mean, I personally need to do more work on this area of the family but that seems to be how they view their financial role at that time. And, of course, by the mid to late nineteenth century there are so many opportunities. If you have money, that’s where you’re going to make the best returns, is the Empire. But they seemed to do that out of London and not out of Glasgow, interestingly, but I’m sure that’s because their contacts, if you look, are with the court of Queen Victoria and her son and with London city bankers and merchants. That’s their area of operation. It’s the same principle as Glasgow, if you like. It’s just they’ve transferred it to London.

Simon:

In response to that, you’ve talked about some of the kind of wider events that affected the economy, the abolition of slavery ... (inaudible) ... What’s the evidence that those sort of things that we’ve talked about, Sutherland going out into the world and the world coming back to Sutherland ...?

     

Annie:

Yeah, I think that’s right. I think the big things that hit the Sutherland Estate is that ... Cos on the one hand you’ve got the Dukes of Sutherland who’ve got this massive fortune and they’re busy investing it in all these exotic ventures. But when you look back to Sutherland, right up until the interwar period, what you basically have there is a subsistence economy on the part of the vast bulk of the population. So it’s this incredible contrast between the two, I always find. So we have external events hitting the Highlands like the potato famine but what I found, reading through the papers, is that economic crisis hits the estate almost every five to ten years and it can be something as simple as a couple of bad winters and people are on the verge of starvation. We’re talking right up until the early 1890s and, again, the inter-war period was an awful time for the Highlands generally but for Sutherland in particular. So even something as simple as bad weather, you don’t even need a potato disease, it can be as simple as bad weather. And the other big thing that I think affects Sutherland is it’s population history as well, so you have this very poor subsistence economy and from the 1861 census you can track the absolute decline of the Sutherland population so it’s not after the Clearances or anything like that. It’s forty or fifty years later, people just start to leave in huge numbers so we’re talking about a drop in the population between about 1861 to 1921, this is the big period of reduction, of something like 30% to 40% of the people. They’re just gone from Sutherland, especially from the west and north coasts which are their poorest so that’s part of a general trend across the whole of the Highlands as well but it’s particularly marked in Sutherland and people are going because economic conditions are just so poor and they remain so poor for decade after decade. Despite the best efforts of government agencies or estate plans, it just remains terrible. The living standards, housing standards, all the rest ... So I think demographics must have been one of the other big things that hit Sutherland. But I think that’s another area that needs more work ... There’s always some of those areas.

Simon:

And the people who worked for the Estate, the factor, how do they come across?

     

Annie:

I guess one of the main things about sitting and reading estate papers, including the Sutherland Estate, is that when you’re sitting there reading all this correspondence, it’s how good a grasp you can get of their personalities. So even in this era of professional land management, you can still see the stroppy ones and the ones who have a bit of a soft touch and ... you know, you can see their personalities which is what makes reading papers like this fun as well as hard work. Otherwise it could be pretty dry material. But these ... the factors are often very interesting characters because they’re hated in their local communities so they have to live these terrible, isolated lives and just kind of hated by everyone around them and always under constant pressure from their employers. And so that makes them quite ... it can make them quite antagonistic or ... not quite aggressive characters but kind of bellicose characters. But they’re often quite, underneath all that, they can be quite well educated and nice even! (laughs) But they have to ... it’s a very difficult career and when I speak to factors, current factors, they will often say the same thing. They see themselves as a kind of sponge to suck up all the hate that’s directed towards the estate itself but they find that quite hard to deal with on a personal level. It’s quite an interesting job, I think. I don’t think I’d want it myself but ...

Simon:

Just talking about how people are represented, are the people of ... in terms of the estate papers, is it all men? Are there women who are croft holders or tenants? Do they get represented in ...?

     

Annie:

All of the estate staff are men. Some ... yeah, there are ... you can be a croft holder and a female so widows is ... if you’re the widow or wife of a croft holder, and in the nineteenth century it’s a great area of estate concern, the growth of widows as croft holders, because for whatever reason their husbands obviously die younger than they do and the estate worries about these widows because they often aren’t able to stand up to their neighbours and so lose out common pasture or perhaps they can’t keep up the croft as well just by themselves as they could with their husbands. But having said that, they’re not all kind of victim characters because I found ... when agitation kicks off during the Crofters’ War, it tends to be women who lead the charge. So that’s because, perhaps because their husbands or sons are off fishing or just away working elsewhere and they tend to be the ones who de-force the sheriff officials. They’ll write letters or petitions into the estate. They’ll get the local minister to help them too. There’s plenty of examples at Clashmore and Assynt of local women taking the main role, attacking staff in one case, and also they do things like they’ll ... if a sheriff officer comes to try and serve a summons on them, they strip him naked and send him off and ... So there’s one particular one in Clashmore, it’s the Kerr family and Hugh Kerr was known as the Rob Roy of Clashmore and he was on the run from the law for de-forcing the sheriff official for many years but it was actually his wife Mary who ran the croft in his absence, kind of was a spearhead of agitation while he was away and she was eventually served with a fifteen month prison sentence and her husband got six weeks! So absolutely, women are both central to the crofting economy and later agitation as well. And I think this wrong foots the estate staff who are all alpha-male types because ... and you can see in their correspondence, they will treat women differently and this is where ... well, there’s some theories about why, when carrying out land raids for example, you have women, and men dressed as women as well, this kind of transvestism among the crofters. And I think one of the theories behind that is that they thought legal authorities, the marines or police who were sent to deal with these agitations, would treat them differently as women, treat them more leniently. That was the theory anyway but yeah, women were central but not ... there’s nothing in the estate management about ...

Simon:

I visited Auchindrain Museum and there had been a woman there who was a miner and a major part of the labour work force.

     

Annie:

That’s right. Especially because the men had to go away for six months of the year, either for fishing or south for work. They were often left by themselves for a large part of the year so ...

Simon:

So is that migrant labour quite important then, kind of seasonal ...?

     

Annie:

Yes it is, in kind of propping up the crofting economy. And the other thing you find in the rental records, sometimes crofters’ children who might’ve emigrated away, or relatives who emigrated out, send the rent money in on behalf of their parents so ... From Sutherland a lot seemed to go to South Africa, including one of the factor’s sons, but there’ll be receipts in the rental roll saying: “The rent for this croft is sent in on behalf of his father from South Africa,” so it can be from lowland Scotland or from England but also from much further afield as well.

Simon:

So it’s not only that the Sutherlands are bringing money in through their projects but also at a kind of lower level where families are having to find money from outside the ...?

     

Annie:

That’s right and I suppose that would be replaced now with European funding or ... I don’t know! (laughs) But yeah, it’s just the money gets sucked in to Sutherland. Yeah, the direction’s always that way. You’re not going to make money and then export it out, it’s all being sent in. Yeah, it’s an interesting parallel that, isn’t it? Between the ducal family and the crofters.