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GLENDALE ESTATE An Unique Early Experiment in Crofting Ownership

George W Macpherson

bulletThe Purchase of the Estate
bulletThe Terms of the Sale to the Crofters
bulletManagement by the Crofters for the Crofters
bulletEarly Difficulties
bulletBetter Times
bulletThe Handover
bulletGlendale Today
bulletConclusion

Glendale Estate1 began as a dream of crofting freedom in the minds of a small group of dedicated men who met together2 to try to fight against the power of the landlords to evict crofters at will and to impose excessive rents and work burdens upon them. Foremost among them was John Macpherson, who became known as the Skye Martyr. The efforts of those men and other crofting activists led to the setting up of the Napier Commission in 1884 and the passing of the Crofting Act of 1886, which gave security of tenure to crofters for the first time.

John Macpherson and the men of Glendale however refused to settle just for secure tenure. They maintained that the land was theirs by right, and that they and their heirs should not be subject to a landlord. One of the consequences of this continued defiance was that the then Liberal Prime Minister, William Gladstone, visited Glendale and was personally escorted about the Glen by John Macpherson to see for himself the suffering caused by the landlords. It is said that at the end of his visit Gladstone said, "John you are a clever chiel, and if I had you in the government, you and I could go places." "If I was in the Government," replied John, "you wouldn't be Prime Minister."

The Purchase of the Estate

A further consequence of that defiance was that, after Gladstone's visit, the Congested Districts (Scotland) Commission set up by the government purchased from the landlord the lands of Glendale Estate for resale to the crofters of Glendale. The estate was purchased by the commission in 1904 and sold to the crofters in 1908. It is interesting to look at how the purchase was carried out. Officially the estate was purchased by the Congested Districts Board3 at a public auction in Edinburgh on 2nd December 1903 at an agreed upset price of 15,000 with entry at Whitsunday 1904 with no mention of the proprietor in the report of the purchase. In fact the board had carried out discussions with the crofters in Glendale to ensure that the majority were in favour of purchasing the estate from the board if they acquired it. The proprietor had also been approached to press upon him the advisability of his agreeing to the sale. He, it transpired, was quite amenable to the sale as he was resident in Surrey, and the events on the estate had caused him considerable worry and financial loss. In a separate report he is stated to have been the Reverend Hugh A Macpherson, a canon in the Church of England, and son of Sir John Macpherson, Baronet.

The Terms of the Sale to the Crofters

After purchase, the Board continued discussions with the Glendale crofters as to the method of sale to the crofters, and it was agreed that the individual holdings with their interest in the common grazings should be sold to the existing tenants, with the club property4 of the estate being held in common by those crofters willing to purchase. The price was to be paid in instalments over 50 years5. It was also suggested by the delegates representing the crofters that the farm should continue as such for the benefit of all concerned, and that it should be fenced off into four portions allocated to groups of townships. However the farm was not divided up in this way, but continued to be run as a single unit, except for the shootings. At this time the delegates also suggested that a new township of some six crofts be formed on the lands of Waterstein. This was carried out at a later date by the first committee elected by the crofters to run the estate.

On 13th May 1904 the commissioners met the crofters and/or their representatives and explained, in Gaelic and English, how they must renounce their statutory tenure as crofting tenants and become purchasers of their holdings and also of a share in the remainder of the estate with the stock thereon and likewise of a share in the sporting rights, including shootings and fishings. The Crofters Commission undertook to deal with details pertaining to the migration6 of certain tenants to limit congestion, the adjustment of required marches and the drawing up of rules and regulations for the management of stocks, surveys of land, measurements, etc. These rules and regulations came into being on 31st December 1908 when the sale of the estate to the crofters was ratified.

After the adjustments by the Crofters Commission had been carried out with the full agreement of the crofters, a final count was taken of those who still wished to purchase and were able to do so. The vast majority were determined to continue, though no public money was available, nor any private sponsors. It was a case of paying your own way, however hard that might be. 147 crofters signed up and were accepted, including six recommended for crofts in Waterstein. Eight were unwilling or unable to buy - three in Colbost, three in Glasphein, one in Holmisdale and one in Lephin. They were allowed to carry on in their crofts till their decease or their departure from the area. Two crofters at Pollosgan wished to remain as tenants and were allowed to do so under the 'landlordship' of the new Committee of Management. One of these crofts still exists. At this time the rights of the Crofters Commission to apply the Crofting Acts to the estate were revoked, and it still has no legislative power in Glendale.

Management by the Crofters for the Crofters

The management of the estate was to be carried out on behalf of the shareholders by a committee of five shareholders elected at an Annual General Meeting, with each share having one vote. One person would hold the office of clerk and would be responsible for convening the AGM with at least seven days notice of the meeting being given to the shareholders. The first committee consisted of the following: Charles Mackinnon, Fasach; Donald Ross, Colbost; John Maclean, Fasach; Murdo Macdonald, Holmisdale; and Norman Macpherson, Lower Millivaig (Clerk).

The first job of the new committee was to ensure that the division of the lands of Waterstein into six crofts was carried out as previously suggested, and that the recommended settlers were installed as proprietors. This appears to have been done successfully with as little aggravation as possible, although John Macpherson, at least, expressed doubts. He is said to have claimed that it was the worst decision made by the crofters, and that it would have been much better to have included the land in the Club property.

Early Difficulties

In the early days the payment of the monies due and the running of the estate were very hard for the majority of the crofters, and stories are still told of how every penny earned was saved until enough was put by to cover the payment7 to the Board and the rates, before any was used to maintain the family. My own grandmother was known to have had to resort to walking through the corn to collect individual ripe ears until she had enough to grind into meal between two stones and make thin porridge to feed her family, for there was nothing else.

To obtain enough money to make the necessary payments was extremely difficult for the people in the early days of the estate. Much of the day-to-day crofting usage was based on a barter system. For example, if you wished to have corn ground into meal, you took your bag of corn and a bag of peat down to the mill. The miller took one-tenth of the corn, and the remainder was dried on the floor of the kiln above a fire of your peats, and ground into meal or flour. Swapping of produce between crofters was also widely practised. This did not however bring in cash to pay rates, etc. To overcome this lack of cash it was the custom for the crofter or one or two of his sons or daughters to work away during the summer, or permanently, with a large part of their wages sent home to cover the payments and the costs of the family at home. For example, my father left home at the age of 12 to work on a farm in Perthshire for his keep and 5 per annum, of which 3 was sent home. His brother was also employed as a shepherd and sent most of his salary home. This was a commonplace way of making ends meet. Many also worked at the fishing during the summer months or, in the case of women, in service or fish cleaning. The sale of surplus cattle could not be depended on to cover expenses. To deal fully with the hardships endured and the methods used to meet the payments would be a history in itself.

However the use of the larger crofts set out by John Taylor of Eubost, the surveyor employed by the Poor Lands Commission to 'lay off' the crofts, eventually alleviated such extremes, and allowed the people to reach a position where they were able to have sufficient corn to arrange to have it ground, in the manner described above, at the watermill at Pollosgan.

One example of the alterations to the size of the crofts is that of Holmisdale which was originally four crofts, but was divided by the landlord into 25 crofts, all at the same rent as before. John Taylor reduced the number to 20 crofts. This he considered the maximum viable number, although he felt that the number of crofts could be further reduced with beneficial results. It is worthy of note that the division and layout of the crofts was so well thought of by the crofters that the phrase "A Taylor Home" became established, and lasted for many years as a yardstick of a good croft.

The management of the estate also presented financial problems, as the income from the sale of the sheep and their wool was not always sufficient to cover expenditure. Despite the fact that under the rules of the estate the crofters could be required by the committee to provide free labour to meet the general workings of the Club Farm and often were, the requirement to employ a gamekeeper, plus the maintenance of the Club properties such as Hamara Lodge, Colbost shooting lodge, the bonded salt store and the shepherds' cottages, sometimes led to a deficit in the accounts in the early years. Various ways of overcoming these deficits were resorted to, including in 1915 the sale of the slates from the roof of the watermill, and in 1920 the sale of the police cottage at Colbost8.

At this time too, the local authority rates had to be paid on several properties pertaining to the estate, such as Loch Mor at Waterstein, Meanish pier, and Colbost jetty, as well as those mentioned in the paragraph above, together with the sporting rates on the river and fishing lochs, and the shooting rates - all in all a heavy burden for the new proprietors. Despite the drawbacks the committee soldiered on, and their achievements were due in no small way to the co-operation of the main body of the crofters who remembered the hardships inflicted on them by the landlord and were not willing to return to such a regime.

Better Times

Their struggles were however to succeed, as gradually signs of better days became apparent, and by 1920 Glendale was being pointed out in travel guides as an example of a progressive and prosperous crofting community with its neat, white houses. One of the reasons for the upsurge in good housing was that the custom of the "shift", which had been enforced by the factors in the days of the landlords, could no longer be practised. In the days when the shift prevailed, a crofter, who had worked hard on his croft for some years and brought it into good heart, would be told by the factor that he had to shift to another croft, usually a much poorer one, and all he was allowed to take with him was the rafters for the roof. The good croft would then be allocated to a friend of the factor, or incorporated into one of the sheep farms with a corresponding increase in rent to the landlord. When people realised that they could no longer be moved and that whatever they built was indeed their own, then they built for the future.

After the initial difficulties were overcome, the Management Committee paid out a dividend to the shareholders most years - sometimes a very small dividend, but welcome all the same, and at the same time the stock on the club farm was bred to a higher quality, so increasing their income.

The Handover

In 1956 the Secretary of State for Scotland's Property Department was able to announce that all dues in respect of annuity payments had been settled throughout 1954, 1955 and 1956. The original title deed remained valid, but the condition that the Secretary of State had the right to appoint an adviser fell away. At that time too the areas of common grazings over which the rights to the shootings had been let were transferred from the club property and became part of the common grazings which were then, and continue to be, in the communal ownership of the townships. All the shareholders received their disposition documents. Each of these gave the historical detail relating to each individual subject, together with details of shares in Glendale Estate Club and other owned properties, shootings, fishings, etc., and was accompanied by a tinted plan showing the related subject and neighbouring lands. The members of the Estate Management Committee at the time of the handover were: Mr Malcolm MacDonald, 10/11 Glasphein; Mr A A Macpherson, 15/16 Holmisdale; Mr N J Ferguson, 12/14 Skinidin; Mr Charles MacAskill, 2 Waterstein; and Mr Norman MacRaild, 2 Holmisdale (Clerk).

At the time of the handover there were 147 shares in the estate, and it was stated that there were three hirsels for sheep stocks - Ramasaig, Lowersgill and Ollisdale, and that a managing shepherd was housed at Ramasaig in a modern bungalow constructed under the Hill Farming Act, still to be enacted a year later - in 19579. The sheep stock at that time was recorded as 2,000 ewes, 20 wedders, and 20 rams, all Blackface. Cattle stocks were 14 bullocks, aged from six quarters upwards. Stock were protected at cliff points by some eight miles of fencing erected by a qualified contractor.

To ensure that the committee of management would be kept informed of changes of ownership by private sales or between proprietors, a formal share certificate was to be provided to all entitled shareholders. Payment of annual dividend or other authorised payments would be made only on the production of this certificate or knowledge of its existence by the committee. Unfortunately these certificates, which also included other clauses relating to sales of property, were not given out. This was because many shareholders were not prepared to make the advance payment which the Department of Agriculture required10.

After the handover, the running of the estate was continued as before by committees elected by the shareholders11. Many improvements were made over the years, including modern facilities for handling stock. Despite ups and downs the committee has usually managed to pay out dividends to its shareholders12. One unfortunate legacy from the original terms of sale was that up till the final payment in 1956, the Department of Agriculture had the right to appoint an advisor to visit the estate at least four times a year, and advise on and oversee the proper running of the estate, especially the letting of shooting and fishing. The persons so appointed appear to have shared an obsession for granting very long lets at very low fixed rentals, and as a result the management committee was landed with a 30-year lease on Hamara Lodge and the shooting and fishing rights, with responsibility for all maintenance and repair being left with the estate. As the rental was fixed at only 320 per annum, the lodge etc, was a financial burden on the estate until the early 1980s when the lease ended. At that time the committee managed, after some difficulty, to secure a better lease on the property, which had deteriorated badly owing to lack of resources. The new lease, for a period of 20 years, placed responsibility for repair and maintenance on the lessee. The new rental was set at a reasonable rate commensurate with the work required, and has increased in line with inflation, so that it now brings in some 4,000 per annum, with no outlay by the estate. In addition, other properties on the land have been leased at advantageous rates, e.g., the old salt store and the shepherd's cottage, which is used for holiday lets. All these items add to the viability of the estate, especially at a time when traditional farming incomes are under severe pressure.

After the handover a realisation seemed to dawn on many people that in Glendale one could purchase freehold land in Skye, and from 1960 the cost of a house and croft soared, soon becoming well beyond the reach of local young people. Many of those who bought into the Glen had no interest in crofting as such, and the subsequent lack of cultivation of the crofts soon changed the appearance of the place from a well-worked group of townships to semi-wilderness, with the loss of much of the wildlife, for example corncrakes and wild cats. The culture of the community has also been lost to a large extent, as 75 per cent of residents are now incomers13.

Glendale Today

Currently about 350 people live on the estate, some of these in the 20 or so houses not occupied by shareholders and their families. However the population is ageing and many residents are elderly. The estate continues to be managed by a committee of five, elected to represent the estate as a whole. The club farm is still run as a single agricultural unit distinct from the individual shareholdings, and is currently managed by one member of the estate management committee, who is employed as farm manager on a part-time basis. The farm currently has 3,000 sheep and 50 cattle and makes its own silage, but has to buy in additional winter feed. Many improvements have been made over the years, such as a modern fank, new fencing and shelter belts. The present committee are actively pursuing alternative sources of income, for example Woodland Grant Schemes, windpower farms and other diversification. Some problems have been encountered with government quangos such as Scottish Natural Heritage, but it is hoped that these can be overcome and a suitable solution can be reached.

For many years the crofts were worked as a main business with a part-time sideline. Nowadays the crofts, if they are used at all, are the sideline or hobby, with most folk having a pension or full-time job. As always there are one or two exceptions who depend on their crofts, but even they would admit that crofting is no longer a viable way of life, owing to changes not only in lifestyle but also in climate. There has been little amalgamation of holdings, largely because of the soaring prices in the 1960s. The townships have tended to work independently of each other, each running their own grazings committee. Fasach township has a Community Woodland Scheme and several other projects which bring in income which is used for the maintenance of the common grazing.

The original conception of the purchase of Glendale Estate on behalf of the crofters was a very fine idea indeed, and worked well for several decades despite the hardships endured by the original population in meeting the repayments on the loan. Once the oppressive burdens imposed by the landlord were removed, the financial viability of the estate and the improvements in standard of living were largely due to the co-operation and participation of the shareholders, many of whom, particularly in the early days, worked full-time on the estate as well as working their own crofts. However problems began to arise after the handover in 1956, as shares began to be sold outwith the community - for example, absentee landlords, lack of use of good land, houses being used only as holiday homes, and small parcels of land being sold as building plots. Some of these problems arose because the share certificates were not issued to every shareholder.

Glendale now has to face the challenges posed by an ageing population, the decline in the number of active crofters, and the downward pressures on crofting income. There is a need for fresh financial assistance which gives priority to retaining on the land those who actively work it and ensuring that they can make a living from it. One measure which would help would be parity of access to loans and grants for owner-occupiers, who have not enjoyed an automatic entitlement, without means testing, to crofting grants since the passing of the Crofting Reform Act of 1976. At the moment no shareholder or group of shareholders feels able to go to law to establish that their entitlement, secured by Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton's 1956 amendment, is incorporated in the 1976 Act.

Conclusion

It is to be hoped that it will be possible in future to find sufficient interested persons to maintain what was and still can be a radical experience in communal ownership and running of an estate for the benefit of the people living on it. The words of John Macpherson still apply today, "For this land is our land, and the land should belong to the people who work it... If estates must make profits from the land, then let that profit be to the people ... Let us have no absentee landlords living off the sweat of the crofters".

References

bulletCrofters Commission Report 1898
bulletCrofters Commission Report 1904
bulletCongested Districts Board Reports 1904 and 1905
bulletCrofters Commission Report 1903-4, paragraph IX
bulletCongested Districts Board and Commission Report 1904-5
bulletDisposition by Congested Districts (Scotland) Commissioners (1908) and their statutory successor, the Secretary of State for Scotland, by virtue of the Small Landholdings Act (Scotland) (1911)
bulletThe Re-Organisation of Office (Scotland) (1928)
bulletThe Re-Organisation of Offices (Scotland) (1939)

Footnotes

  1. Glendale Estate covers much of the most westerly peninsula of the Isle of Skye, but excludes Borreraig and Husabost, which are part of the Martin Estate. It shares boundaries on the east with Dunvegan and Orbost and is bounded on the west by The Minch. It extends to approximately 23,000 acres and is part of the parish of Durinish.
  2. The date of their first meeting is recorded - 21st February 1882.
  3. The Congested Districts Board appointed the members of the Congested Districts Commission who reported to the Board after making visits to areas the board had been set up to help.
  4. The term "club property" appears in the original title deeds, signed by three Poor Lands Commissioners, where it is used to refer to all the assets of the estate to be held in common ownership - the estate (or club) farm including three hirsels; Hamara Lodge which had been the landlord's residence and Hamara Parks, the land surrounding it; other houses, buildings and various other properties, for example the jetty at Colbost, Loch Mor at Waterstein; and the farm at Waterstein, together with the stock at the date of sale - as opposed to the crofts which became owner-occupied holdings. The hirsels had been separate farms in their own right, but were combined with the rest of the estate farmland earlier in the nineteenth century when the landlord saw the opportunity to maximise rental income.
  5. The instalments took the form of a single annual payment. They were of course repayments of the loan, but were referred to as "rent" by the 'crofter-shareholders'.
  6. At the time of the purchase of the estate, there were 160 tenants or thereabouts, many of whom were cottars with no more than a quarter of an acre of ground. 13 chose to leave Glendale, some moving to Borve and the south of Skye and some to other parts of Scotland, with a few joining younger relatives in Glasgow.
  7. The average rate of payment over the years between 1908 and 1956 was 4 per annum per croft, ranging from 3.50 to 6.00 depending on the size of the croft.
  8. The sale of the cottage had to be sanctioned by the Secretary of State for Scotland as the successor to the Poor Lands Commission, as at that time the purchase price of the estate had not been met in full.
  9. This bungalow was not in fact constructed until 1958 - by the committee.
  10. Full dispositions were however issued to those crofters willing to pay, with strict instructions that they were not to be copied without permission.
  11. Shortly after the handover, the author's father drafted a bill which Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton, then MP for Inverness-shire, persuaded the government to include in its programme. This resulted in an amendment to the 1955 Crofters Act whereby the crofters of Glendale received the same entitlement to subsidies and grants as crofting tenants. The Crofting Reform Act of 1976 amended the 1955 Act, but did not mention specifically Lord Douglas-Hamilton's amendment of 1956, so there is some doubt as to whether the crofters of Glendale still have the right to subsidies without means testing for improvements classed as capital projects, such as buildings, fencing and land improvements.
  12. Dividends have varied from zero to 200 per share over the years, as the estate has weathered various financial storms.
  13. Most of the incomers are from England, though some are from Europe.
 

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