On Tuesday 23rd April at Stratherrick Hall we had a wonderful talk, excellently illustrated, by Dr Iain Robertson of the UHI Centre for History at Dornoch. Iain’s style was clear and dynamic, befitting a professional lecturer on history, and it was pleasing to see a good turnout to hear him.
Iain explained the background to land problems; how the traditional clan idea that the land you lived and farmed on was ‘yours’ was slowly eroded as clan chiefs came to be seen as ‘owners’ who could sell their land, and it often became sheep runs and deer forests in the 18th and 19th centuries, causing the notorious ‘clearances’. These resulted in many smallholders, or crofters, getting squeezed on to congested, marginal land where they were tenants. Starvation came with frequent potato harvest failures, and desperation led to ‘land raids’ as the 19th century moved towards its end. Acts, such as the 1911 Crofters’ Act, tried to mitigate the crofters’ plight, but with very limited success.
The Great War changed this climate radically. The Highlands produced a bigger proportion of the fighting force than other UK areas, and these men were promised ‘a land fit for heroes’. Further ‘land raids’ took place, which although they were illegal, were viewed with increasing sympathy due to the war sacrifices made by the ‘raiders’. After the war, further Acts of Parliament strengthened campaigners’ hands, and most people wanting land ultimately succeeded in their quest. Housing improvements were made too. While the greatest pressures for granting land were in the Western Isles and Skye, land raids were recorded in the Kingussie area, and at Dell farm in Stratherrick.
Coming up to date, these campaigns for land can be seen as the forerunners of successful, modern ‘community buy-outs’ as seen in Assynt, Eigg, North Harris and Gigha.
Iain’s talk stimulated a considerable number of questions from his audience, which he ably answered, and thoroughly deserved the hearty vote of thanks accorded to him.
WADE BRIDGE OF WHITEBRIDGE TRUST AGM
Before Iain Robertson’s presentation, John Townshend, chair of the Wade Bridge Trust, gave a brief report, indicating that no significant events had occurred since the last AGM. The committee remained the same. Information and photos of the Trust’s successful work in stabilising the bridge were on display.