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.

  • Annie Tindley
Thursday 13th May 2010