Chapter 4

“Agriculture, it has been said, was basic to the history of Scotland to a greater degree than for most other countries. To this extent Scottish culture and agriculture are, if not identical, at least inseparable.”1
“ … in 1750 seven Scots out of eight still lived on the land.”2
The main part of the chapter is devoted to showing not only the control over the food supply but to give an insight into a time when life was dominated by the land. Scotland came rather late to its ‘food surplus’ as discussed in Chapter One and this was a major factor in its own civilizing process. It is not the place of this study to give an evaluation in economic terms of the way Scottish agriculture has performed from the Middle Ages. Rather, it aims to show the ways in which life was dominated by the land until the Clearances brought new problems. As Campbell put it: “The history of Scottish agriculture is largely concerned with attempts at mitigating the physical adversities.”3 Not least of those adversities was the climate which is given early attention. “… we find in Scotland particularly convincing evidence that the seventeenth century brought the harshest phases of the last decade … came the worst famine of all in Scotland, the ‘ill years of King William’s reign’ when there were 7 years of harvest failure out of eight between 1693 and 1700 … where … [a bigger proportion of the people] died of starvation at that time than in the Black Death …”4
It is appropriate to look briefly at the politics of agriculture: “Put at its very simplest, food will usually confront any government with two basic problems. The first is that of how to keep food production and food consumption in balance, allowing neither, if possible, to become permanently and heavily in surplus. It is unfortunately a problem that is rarely solved. Most countries still produce too many mouths. The second problem, which is not altogether unconnected with the first, is that of keeping food producers and food consumers in economic if not political balance, allowing neither group to exploit the other immoderately.”5
Social control is concerned with the implementation of such politics. Tames’ treatment did not set out to illustrate social control but illuminates it with: “Since the late seventeenth century legislation has been passed to protect the interests of landowners (and Parliament consisted almost entirely of landowners).”6 The underlying theme of the present chapter is that of the balance of fortune being entirely with the landowners of Scotland. The detail is more concerned with those who worked the land, what they ate and the social and physical conditions which they endured.
It is useful to look at the farmer typology. Green7 has commented rather aptly: “Farmers, as individuals, differ from other people only by as much as their occupation forces them to differ. They have, for example, to deal with forces of nature … They experience weather rather than climate, they work with animals rather than with men, their countryside constitutes a workshop rather than a landscape … Farmers work inside a time scale no one else now uses … their unit of time is normally the season …Their experience … makes them more cautious, for example, than economists or politicians when it comes to predicting … future harvests and food supplies.”8 There will be different interpretations of ‘farmers’ as we go on. Weather or climate is of more immediate concern.
“Until the eighteenth century when societies were still essentially agricultural and dominated by the never-ending problem of food supplies, there was an intimate link, which is now a thing of the past, between history and climate.”9
Thus, Ladurie began his paper “History and Climate” which mainly concerned estimations of previous climatic conditions based upon analysing rings in tree-trunks (dendro-climatology).                 ought to consider the effect of climate upon the food supply in Scotland and attempt to determine when it became “a thing of the past”. One way of trying to assess any marked improvement in the overall situation is to reflect on ways in which man has bettered the climate. Another is to investigate reports of weather conditions and related comment. While it is shown in the discussion that there has been a slight improvement in the climatic conditions in Scotland since the Middle Ages it is not concluded that increased benefits for man have depended upon changes in weather.
Certain assumptions made about the detrimental influences of climate should be questioned. The abandonment of farmland on high, marginal, ground in the Middle Ages, for example, has been attributed to weather conditions. Conversely, ‘weather’ has not been fully taken into consideration when assessing the effects of non-climatic incidents such as the Black Death.
Lamb writes: “Much of the dislocation of society, decline of population and abandonment of farmland (in the early Middle Ages) has in the past been attributed to the Black Death of 1348-50 and subsequent outbreaks of plague. The troubles had, in fact, begun earlier.”10 Climatic changes, notably in 1310-19, with “disastrous summers and famine”11 meant that “population figures in 1327 were down by a third on those for about 1280-1300. The decline by 1327 averages 67 per cent …” and that was twenty years before the onset of the Great Plague.
Parry (in an investigation into reasons for farmers abandoning land in the Lowlands) determined that during the period AD 1250-1450, average summer warmth fell by at least 15 per cent and the frequency of harvest failure on marginal farmland “ … increased from about one year in twenty to one year in three.”12 Arising from as low a fall in the mean maximum temperature of one degree centigrade, “In areas of marginal farming under maritime regime, such changes would have a pronounced effect on the length of the growing season.”13 (Francis14 gives an up to date calculation of the growing season for the same area as being 225 days (5 April – 15 November). Manley gave comparable historically relevant calculations for Oxford, giving an average of 260 days.15 It is not, however, to be concluded that marginal farmland was abandoned on solely climatic criteria. Parry argues that “ … political upheaval, the Black Death, the decline of the monasteries, or even runs of disastrously poor summers in the 1590s and 1690s may have triggered the retreat of high-level cultivation, it was the operation of these forces on the marginality enhanced by climatic deterioration in the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries that produced … marked and lasting effects.”16
If such events were only the trigger other factors adduced by Parry17 such as “errors of farming judgement, changes in farming objectives and changes in farming systems remain to be tested.” Thereal effect of climatic change also needs to be more carefully appraised in relation to the food supply. The present study highlights some of the more notable events attributed to the weather at a given moment in history. Table 1 provides some of these.
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1550s               General Famine1   
1562                                  General Famine1
1571                                  General Famine1
1590s               Disastrous Summer2
1594-8                             General European Food Crisis14
1595                 Harvest Failure3
1598                 Harvest Failure3
1623-4              Famine4: serious crisis14
1640s               Famine4
1650-1                             Famine4
1652                 Abundant Harvest3
1655                                  Harvest Failure (Rain)3
1673                                  Famine4
1681                                  Harvest Failure (Drought)3
1690s               Most accounts include references to the “Ill years of William’s reign”. Summers 
were disastrous3, harvest failed5, 6 (in 1696 there was ‘universal failure’8) and 
there was much famine1
1700                                  Food prices remained steady and reasonably low9 until 1782”
1707                                  Good corn harvests experienced until 176010
1709                                  Harvest Failure5
1732                                  Crop Failure3
1740                                  Crop Failure3
Season of dearth9
1747                                  Harvest Failure (Drought)3
1756                                  Crop Failure11
1782                                  Harvest Failure12, 13 (especially in the Lowlands14)
Crop Failure9 : terrible famine15
            1790s               Harvest Failure13
1799                                  Price of corn was more than double the level of the 1790s11 
Harvest Failure12
1800                                  Price of corn was more than double the level of the 1790s9
1812                                  Price of corn was more than double the level of the 1790s9
Harvest Failure3
1816                                  Price of corn was more than double the level of the 1790s9
Harvest Failure14
1826                                  Harvest Failure2
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Further to comment made in the table relevant to the 1690sa and the previous allusion to the confusing of issues and reliance upon assumptions there is conflicting opinion relating to dietary hardship during William’s reign although the ‘end result’ is the same. While the general policy had been to totally restrict food exports we can learn that “the country was so much at its ease in the matter of food in July 1695, that the Estates then passed an act for encouraging the export of grain, allowing it to go out duty free …”18 To maintain price stability it was enacted to forbid to import meal from Ireland. “As if to rebuke such policy, the very month after good food prospects … the crop was stricken in one night by an easterly fog … The corn was both bad and dear …” and a cholera-type of disease arose “not in all cases the direct result of bad unwholesome victual.”19
The variability of the weather mitigates against drawing firm conclusions as to the position relating to any single year but complements a variability in the quality of the reports passed on it. In choosing Chambers again (an earlier quotation) it at least reduces to the variability of sources. The summer of 1654 is said to be an eventful one in Edinburgh in terms of extreme. At one end there were “ripe peas and cherries … an early and abundant harvest; so that the best oatmeal was four pence sterling per peck. ‘The lambs and fowls were also at an exceeding cheap rate’ … from the abundance of herrings in the west seas, these fish were sold as low as twopence a hundred. Cheese was, in the west country, at 2s 6d sterling per stone.”20 At the other end, “Owing to the drought of the summer, the wells on which Edinburgh depended for water ran dry, ‘sae that the inhabitants could not get sufficient for ordering the meat … obliged to go a mile before they could get any clean water ‘either for brewing of ale, or for their pot meat.’”21
Clearly the information in the table can be extended but the main conclusion, apart from noting that writers have tended to avoid commenting upon the good situations, is that times of favourable conditions have not been frequent and have been short in duration. Allowing for the fact that the life span was shorter than now few generations escaped periods of severe conditions and it was only when climate was beaten by technology that health and longevity improved.
Scottish Agriculture and Social Control of the Food Supply
The Labour System
“When farmers become gentlemen their labourers become slaves”
In opening this discussion with Cobbett22 we see immediately the scope for an extremely wide-ranging debate concerning why this should be so but it is necessary to confine it to the ways in which ‘the slaves’ were permitted to obtain their food. With the intention of keeping to such an objective it is necessary, however, to give a fairly detailed account of the social systems prevailing at different times. We have no need for fine precision as to differences between, say, a ‘whole-hind’ and a ‘half-hind’23 but it is useful to show that the divisions of agricultural labour, even at fairly early times, was fairly well developed.
The previous discussion on hospitality is relevant in terms of “economic and non-socially reciprocal hospitality” with its (“earned”) sub-divisions “baronial hospitality” (food and accommodation but with no wages) and “tied hospitality” (some wages).
While our main interest concerns the period 1500 to the EARLY 1900S, it is necessary to briefly go back in history. Mackie discusses Scotland in the tenth century and comments: “Of the organisation of society and the modes of life in the period we have only a few glimpses.” His account shows that parts of the land were divided into provinces and:
“The province was subdivided among tribes, each ruled over by a chieftain, to whom the title of thane was given later. Part of the tribal holding of land was the demesne of the chief and was cultivated by his serfs; part was held by free tenants; the remainder was the common property of the tribe … Tenants were expected to follow the King or their superior on foreign service or on expeditions at home, to pay him cain, a yearly portion of corn or cattle, and four times a year to afford him food and lodgings for the night, should he require it, or in lieu of this hand over to him a contribution in kind.”24
There are several useful factors which arise from Mackie’s comments. The emergence of the clan system is apparent. The feudal system was being established. The system of giving subsistence as the main or whole return for labour is at an early stage while the claiming back of a proportion of the labourers’ own produce shows the onset of numerous taxes which were later to be imposed. Another glimpse is given by MacKenzie where the term serf applies to those at the beck and call of the chief as mentioned. The period under debate is the time of Malcolm Canmore25
“The serfs were bound to stay on their master’s land if they left it they were brought back like stray oxen. They were compelled to do all manner of labour for their lord – felling timber, carrying manure and the like. Whatever they possessed their lord could take at his pleasure. He could sell them like cattle: … He had the power of pit and gallows over them – that is of drowning women and hanging men … They were the living dust which the great lord of the castle could trample underfoot. What could men be … but abject and crawling.”26
Grant27 says of such people: “Sometimes they were given in presents to monasteries. Sometimes they were sold singly or in whole families … but others were attached to the land that they tilled.” Their food was what remained after the monastic community had been fed. Little scope, then, to propose a further sub-division of the hospitality model relating to ‘religious’ or ‘monastic hospitality’ for the common folk of these early times.
We are taken further on in time by Innes who helps us to acquire a knowledge of the background to a structural system within the later agricultural work force and the one of the forms of social control. “All the [Scottish] monasteries [in the twelfth century] were zealous agriculturalists and gardeners, at a time when we have no proof beyond consuming its fruits.”28 While the monks are described as “good neighbours and kindly landlords”29 they were not averse to perpetuating the exploitation of their workforce: “… of the inhabitants of the grange, the lowest in the scale was the carl, bond, serf orvillein, who was transferred like the land on which he laboured, and who might be caught and brought back if he attempted to escape, like a stray ox or sheep”. There is no evidence for any consideration of their dietary conditions and many died of malnutrition at an early age.
Above the villein came the cottar who lived in a hamlet. “Sometimes from thirty to forty families in number.” He is described as occupying “from one to nine acres of land, along with his cottage. Their rents varied from one to six shillings yearly, with services not exceeding nine day’s labour.”30 Part of this meagre allocation was taken to purchase items for the so-called benefit of the community including grain when it could not be grown from time to time. Most of this type of purchase was never seen by those who contributed to its purchase.
“Husbandmen” were next in the social and employment scale in the twelfth century: they lived beyond the cottar town and held a husbandland, often twenty-six acres “where saythe and plough may gang”. They paid “six shillings and eight pence of money rent; but to this were added considerable services in harvest and sheep shearing…” etc. Even though they had some considerable status the social control extended to their food: “These stipulations are exceeding precise fixing even the service, in which the husbandman was to have his food from the abbey.”31 They included the length of day to be worked, the breaks allowed and when sustenance would be received. What little rest given in the working day was accompanied by supervised prayer: food was often given at the end of the day so that work need not be interrupted.
“Above the class of husbandmen was that of yeoman or bonnet laird as he is now [1860] called in primitive parts of Scotland.” He had hereditary rights to the land but paid for them. This is a perplexing issue although not central to the debate. The words used by Innes are: “He no doubt paid for his hereditary rights to the lands, and felt himself much above the husbandman whose title was precarious.” These rights were for use and not control. The form of social control here, albeit for someone well above the level of serf, was the vicious circle of working to earn the money to pay for the right to work. Even though it sounds a rather senior position it was no more than the foreman who has charge of unskilled labour confined to completely menial tasks. There is scarce evidence that the yeoman enjoyed a superior diet but might have expected ale as brewed on the premises on special occasions and they were few enough. As social systems developed along with the economy the yeoman became a cottager and his position was much improved. Above him was the tacksman (or ‘leaseman’ if translation is accurate).
There were varying lengths of time over the centuries when land could be leased and Grant discusses the early seventeenth century and those who leased land.
“Large pieces of it were let out on very long leases, perhaps for more than fifty years to a … tacksman (which merely means the leaseholder), who farmed a large part of it himself and let out parts of it to lesser folk who were called his subtenants … Four, three, or two were becoming usual and these employed lesser cottagers.”32
Such a description was relevant up to the middle of the eighteenth century when, according to Prebble “… society had been a pyramid.”
“Below the chief, at its apex, the tacksmen leased their land to sub-tenants who paid for it in kind and service. They had no written leases and held their meagre patches of soil from year to year on the sufferance and good will of the tacksman. Their insecurity of tenure was the greatest guarantee that they or their sons could be brought into the clan regiment when needed. Below them was a bottom strata of landless men, the cottars, who screamed into battle in the wake of the charge.”33
The clan system, being based upon military ideals was no secure foundation for the supply of food when the need for armies lessened. The agricultural ‘controller’ obtained his tenure from the chief through the tacksman system, “… the merits and demerits of which stemmed from its military character”34, and there were many of the latter drawbacks. Pottle and Bennet3 provide the definition of a tacksman as “A middleman who leases directly from the proprietor of an estate a large piece of land which he sublets in small farms.” Those who were sub-tenants of these farms were the cottagers and their servants were the cottars.
Fenton is a good source of information concerning the early agricultural worker. Here he discusses farm servants in the mid seventeenth century:
“The wages of these servants were paid entirely in kind, in oats and pease, with an allowance of ground to sow oats and bere, and grazing for one or two cows. Such an arrangement meant that they were heavily dependent on their masters and their stake in the land itself.”
In what was termed ‘economic hospitality’ earlier, the social control here concerns starvation as the direct result of lack of loyalty and hard work. It is not entirely clear, however, what the terms ‘servant’, and ‘farm servant’ actually mean and we look to Carter35 who elaborates: “Farm servants worked long engagements of six or twelve months. Farm labourers were hired by the day. Labourers were an insignificant part of the labour force but they were necessary when the strong needed to be protected by the weak.
While food (and accommodation) was provided mainly or wholly as wages, we will not dwell too long on its characteristics at this stage. However, Drummond and Wilbraham remark in the context of food: “It is interesting to note that the diet of the farmhands in some parts of Scotland … had not changed for centuries … This was due, in no small measure, to the survival of the primitive system, still operating today in some parts of Scotland, of providing the men working on the estate with food in part payment of their wages.”36
Newby is prominent amongst those who consider that the acceptance by the agricultural worker of his place at the lower end of the social hierarchy makes him a “deferential traditionalist”.37 Bell and Newby38 describe “deferential traditionalists” as being “… individuals who endorse a moral order which legitimates their own political, material and social subordination.” The earlier moral order used control over the access to the food supply when workers were actually handling the foodstuffs as part of their everyday work and life.
It is worthwhile to discuss the moral order, while ‘farmers’ is an obvious term to describe those at the top of the agricultural hierarchy we have to discern the use of the same term applied by some to those lower down who have been given a plot of land on which to grow their household requirements. Above the farmer (or tacksman) in the overall social structure was the landlord.
The agricultural workforce under the tacksman’s control in the general period from about 1700 to 1850 and in apparently descending order comprised the following:
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…………………………    with varying elements of land allocation
Whole hinds
Half hinds
…………………………    with varying elements of land allocation
………………………..     generally unmarried and itinerant
Female servants
………………………       lived-in (the farmer’s own household)
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Generally speaking the cottager was a married servant (within the distinction already made between farm servants and farm labourers). (“The landowner usually let cottages for married farm servants …”39 From the previous discussion we see that the forbears of the cottager were the yeoman or bonnet laird although to claim precision would be unjustified as different regions of Scotland gave alternative interpretations to the same title. The position, especially considered against that of the cottar and husbandman, had developed into one to be envied but only within the local agricultural community. The tacksman retained control of day-to-day issues and saw to the collection of any dues which were passed on to the landlord.
According to Caird40: “The origin of the crofts can be traced to the period of agricultural improvement of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries”. This, however, does not accord with the more sensible suggestion of Cheape and Sprott41 that “There are many names … that belong to a settlement and agriculture before improvement … once pendicles and holdings outside the town – Goosecroft, Loancroft …” (six further examples are given). These names came into use long before the end of the eighteenth century.
The factor looked after the laird’s or clan chief’s runrig fields for him and when extra labour was required at harvesting etc., there was a ready supply available although we need not concern ourselves here with variations in the descriptions relating to the amount of land afforded to the crofter:
“Beside the tenants of the runrig farms, there were smallholders of two to five acres occupied by a poorer class of clansmen known as crofters: these worked their own land, kept their cattle on the hills but in addition assisted the larger farmers and rendered their service to the laird in the busy seasons of the year.”42
It should be established, however, that Salaman was “a medical man and pathologist”43 and his description of the crofter would not have been accepted too well by Fullarton and Baird, who had a closer connection. Their contribution to the debate emphasises two factors relating to the diet. The first concerns food itself while the second concerns the means with which to purchase those foods which could not be grown on what amounts to a sub-dividable smallholding. When those near the sea were not working their primitive ploughs they were fortunate enough to be able to fish but even that extra source was insufficient to act as a cash crop. The sub-dividing of land, a system endorsed and probably originally created by the landowners, as a form of social control, was most effective in maintaining economic distance between rich and poor and ensured disproportionate access to the food supply. The irony being, of course, that those nearest the food in the labour sense were most distant in the consumer sense.
“The small tenant, or crofter, generally possesses from four to ten acres of land near the sea, upon which he usually keeps a horse and a couple of cows. He is an animal quite amphibious, much of his time, especially in former days, having been occupied in fishing and kelp-making. With the assistance of his family, he cultivates his little farm, from which, now that these two branches of business have nearly ceased, he can barely support them; and, with singular improvidence, as his children get married, he divides and subdivides his land among them, till at length its utmost produce, even in potatoes, is utterly inadequate to their subsistence. The misery at present existing in the Highlands, from this cause alone, is quite appalling; and when to this we add that the rents of the small tenant and crofter are much higher, in proportion, than those of the larger of tenants, we cannot wonder at the extreme poverty and ignorance of those unfortunate people, any more than we can at their despondency as to bettering their condition in their native country.”44
Whether the moral order prevails to this day need not concern us but a modern perspective helps to evidence the strong traditions: “The crofter’s main objective in life is to produce for the subsistence of his family only, and having done this he does not normally go on to produce a surplus for sale outside. Originally dictated by the difficulty in finding markets this practice has now become a tradition and is not readily broken.”45
“The servant of the servant is worse than the devil”46
Certainly inferior to the crofter was the cottar or cotier. Salaman remarks: “Still lower in the scale were those who had a hut and a patch of land and worked for others: they were known as cottars.”47 As before, however, Fullarton and Baird provide a much more forceful insight:
“But if the circumstances of the crofter be wretched, what shall we say of the condition of the cotier, or inferior farm servant? He is the immediate dependent of the farmer, from whom he generally holds a booth, or hut, and sometimes a cow’s grass, and a piece of ground capable of raising a few potatoes. He labours for his master summer and winter, and in doing so is often obliged to neglect and lose the best season for working his own wretched patch of ground. Sometimes he is paid in money, but much more frequently in farm produce.48
It may strike us that being the “immediate dependent of the farmer” gives the agriculture worker, the cottar in this case, every motivation to strike up against such restriction. This was not the case according to Fullarton and Baird who continue at a later stage: “Without inducement or opportunity to raise himself in the scale of societyb, the poor cotier … remains in a worse situation than his ancestors were.” (In fact any ‘progress’ worked against people at the level of cottager and crofter even though they had accommodation, meagre as it was). Carter points out49 that the landlord merely built more cottages in order to increase the labour force and Fenton adds the comment that “The advantage for the farmer was that the families living in cot-towns supplied a large, cheap labour force for times of pressure like harvest …”50 But, such people as cottars “… must not bear the blame for the miserable condition of Scottish agriculture.”
“… he held a comparatively small portion of land, seldom leased for more than four years; he had to sow and reap, not when it suited himself, but when his neighbours gave their consent; he might be called away from his own rigs to put in a few days’ labour on the home farm; he could not lift a finger when he saw his crops being devoured by the clouds of pigeons from his laird’s great ‘doocote’; and when his corn was threshed and winnowed he could not grind it himself …”
Thus, the extent of social control gradually emerges. We have remarked upon food and accommodation being given as wages and the question of a return from the home production to the landlord. From Mackie we detect the probability of non-renewal of the lease of land and the concomitant expectation of good behaviour on the part of the tenant cottar.
But, having worked hard to produce perhaps a small quantity of corn the cottar had to take it “… to the mill to which his land was ‘thirled’.”51 If that was too far he paid a one-eleventh “multure” to the thirling miller who should have ground it and another to the one who actually ground it. Grant comments: “The lord … could make them grind his corn in his mill and pay him for allowing them to use it.”52 Gauldie53 notes that the miller acted as the administrator of the laird’s estate and informed him which of the cottars and farmers “were falling into arrears with rent or services.”
As if that was not enough to keep people in line – the cottar grew his own corn and had difficult access to its grinding – he had to release part of a tiny workforce to the landlord: “By 1800 terms of employment for a typical Lothian cottar included the obligation to provide a woman ‘bondager’ from his family to shear at harvest time and carry at threshing time for no wages at all (this involved twenty, thirty or forty days unpaid hard labour in a year) and a further obligation to provide a female day-labourer who would work a ten-hour day at rates of up to one penny an hour.”54 Thus, the cottar is the direct descendant of the villein discussed earlier. “The cottar was, from birth, a servant. Tradition and customary right gave him a little grazing for a cow on the township pasture, a kailyard and potato patch by his round-stone hut and for these he paid a lifetime of service to the sub-tenant … ‘Gille ghille is mensa na’n diobha!’ he cried bitterly after Culloden. The servant of the servant is worse than the devil.”55 And if religious zeal in Scotland sought to eradicate the devil the profit motive on the part of the landowner caused an appraisal of the labour intensivity of agriculture which led to a marked change in the use of land. 
Other grades of Farm Servants
From Fenton56 we are made aware of the 1656 “Assessment of Wages” produced by Edinburgh Justices of the Peace. Table 2 is a summary of the situation and notes relating to it are given immediately after.
Table 2: Function and Wages of Some Farm Servants in Mid-Seventeenth Century
Money Wage
Yearly Provision
Whole hind
Plough, Saw, Maintain a fellow servant
House, Kail yard57, 15 bolls58 of oats, 6 firlots59 of pease, ground for 6 firlots of oats, 1 firlot of bere60, grazing for 2 or 3 cows

Half hind
General Assistant to Whole Hind: certain duties expected of wives61
Half of above and 2 firlots of oats
Maintain a fellow servant:  Supply a shearer with daily harvest
House, Kail yard, 8 bolls of oats, 1 boll of pease, acre of land for sowing grain, grazing for 2 or 3 cows
Tasker (also known as ‘barnman’ or ‘lotman’)
Flailed the grain: General
If full time he received 1/25 of grain threshed, house, kail yard, 1 boll of pease, grazing for one animal, food for self and wife during harvest
Ploughmen – also known as ‘gadsmen’
Ploughing and general
Paid partly in money
Shared farmer’s food
Farm lads
Paid partly in money
Shared farmer’s food
Female servants
Paid partly in money
Shared farmer’s food
Paid partly in money
Shared farmer’s food
Source: Fenton 1965 and 1971: information given is generally verbatim and rearranged in tabular format.
The Agricultural Community
It would be as well at this stage to attempt a tentative model of the earlier agricultural community and although general descriptions have been given by some, there is a distinct lack of diagrammatic representation. Haldane62 provides an unreferenced painting “Showing the Infield and outfield system of Cultivation” of a “Scottish Farm, about 1800” which does no more than depict four ‘nice’ houses in a rolling country scene. We need to go to Smout63 who, before showing an early map of “The Run Rigs of Corshill … before the days of enclosure”64 gives a description of the “… hamlet centring on a notional ‘farm’, the size of which was determined … by the area that one … two or three plough teams of horses or oxen could keep under cultivation.”65  From the description the following summary can be extracted and is combined with information from Campbell66
Hamlet or farm
·       Based on a ‘notional farm’ (see above)
·       Clachan (Highland term)
·       Farmtoun (Lowland term
·       Kirktoun (Lowland term with Parish church)
·       Milltoun (with a mill)
·       Cot-toun (with poor cottars and no husbandmen
Division of farm
i)                     with no single husbandman
·         with subtenants and servants (joint tenants – up to twenty as ‘mass-tenure’ especially in the Highlands)
ii)                   run-rig – separate ownership of several scattered strips.
·         Periodic – reallocated from time to time
·         Fixed – permanent association with a single holding (Lowlands).
·         Rundale – consolidated blocks (Lowlands).
iii)                  steel-bow tenure – with some working capital supplied by the landowner.
Space permits nothing more than a diagrammatic translation of several pages in each of Smout’s and Campbell’s studies as depicted in fig.1. Lowland Agricultural Parish farms are located at the centre of each productive area and the less productive ground used as a barrier between them and occasional grazing land. The cottars lived in cot-touns interspersed between the farms with ease of access to two or more. Milltouns were less frequent and had their own agricultural labour force. Crofts are not shown, as they were more part of the Highland agricultural scenario. Although not entirely dissimilar from that depicted, the Highland agricultural communities were less nucleated settlements in the more sparsely populated hillsides.
The main implication of the arrangement depicted in fig 1 was that the ‘social control’ over what had been dictated by the landowner was left to those within the agricultural community. They had to decide a common crop for areas where they had some say over what needed to be grown. Dates had to be fixed for all time as, with such numbers of people involved, there would never be a new annual consensus. TheY had to contribute animal energy to the communal plough. The herds NEEDED to be tended on a roster basis virtually as the main labour force was required working on the land. The somewhat primitive judicial system was presided over by the laird, needless to say. Rules relating to thirling (grinding corn at another’s mill) are included in the discussion relating to the cottar.

Figure 1 - Lowland Agricultural Parish
 It is not possible at this stage to include the figure
(Smout and Campbell : see text)
F          =          Farmstead in-field with oat-field surrounding
M         =          Mill
C          =          Cottar homesteads in Cot-toun
K          =          Kirktoun
W         =          Waste ground or less fertile land
R          =          River
The “Four-footed Clansmen”
                        “Mo thruaighe ort a thir,
                        Tha’n caoraich mhor a’ teach’d !”
                        “Woe to thee, oh land,
                        the great sheep is coming”
The sheep were being led by the landlords, and, later, the chieftains, who saw little future in continuing the only social service (from their point of view) available to the vast numbers of agricultural workers – that of providing them with jobs, housing and food for insufficient return. While the landlords were looking for higher profits and an easier life relative to the industrial relations problems which prevailed, their political allies had negotiated a contract with England bringing the two countries together.
“The Union with Scotland eliminated customs and tariff barriers between the two halves of the island, and re-orientated the patterns of Scottish trade from Europe to England. In consequence, cattle production was stimulated, initially in the border counties, and there was some agricultural improvement … By the eighteenth century, Scotland had a great advantage over England in landavailable for pasture … [which] led to a situation where the relative value of land surpassed that of labour.”67
We need not continue to make comparisons with England although it should be stated that Hechter over-simplified the situation. He is right that the Lowlands were more innovative but it was an area of greater economic flexibility where the wide introduction of sheep farming was taken as a sign of progress. In a time of great change the more staid Highlanders were anxious to maintain a life-style of centuries: this was their downfall. “After 1760 the old Highland economy collapsed and in the following century there was … the introduction of large-scale sheep ranching from the south of Scotland.”68 The landlords slowly came to realise that arable farming was less profitable than the simpler livestock agriculture: it was simpler to operate and far fewer workers were required. This raised the question of what to do with them. Mackie remarks:
“It is true that the value of the land was really increasing. But often the landlord overreached himself and imposed rents which the tenants could not pay; often the tenants were deliberately driven from the estate, “that a degenerate lord might boast his sheep.” To turn his estate into a sheep-walk was a quick and certain road to wealth. The land was meant by nature for sheep farming, not for agriculture, the landlord argued; why then should he allow the clusters of earthen huts and the fields of straggling oats and barley to remain on his estate? He would keep a few of his tenants to be shepherds, and turn the rest adrift.”69
The Landlords and Chieftains
Chambers (in his Picture of Scotland) supported the landlords on this issue although he was usually given to providing an almost genre account of everyday life. “The landlords have very properly done all they could to substitute a population of sheep for innumerable hordes of useless human beings who formerly vegetated upon a soil that seemed barren of everything else.”70 This was a much stronger statement than his general observation seven years earlier: “In the country, the landlords have tried various modes to get quit of peasantry and small farmers. Wheresoever it has been possible, or at all feasible cottagers have been ejected from their dwellings mostly all of whom have emigrated to the provincial towns or the metropolis.”71 Chambers was aware of the march of economic progress and only condoned at that time the fate of the burgeoning numbers of destitutes of the results of such progress were channelled to remedying their situation. As we suspect, the only situation which was remedied was that of the landlord. Smout echoes such feeling:
“Many people towards the end of the eighteenth century also asserted that landowners were becoming obsessed by the wish for more and more money, to the exclusion of other, older, gentler and more patriarchal values. A tenant, they said, was no longer asked if he had been born on the estate, or even if he was an industrious and sober man: he was simply presented with a demand for as high a rent as the market would bear, and if he could not meet it a stranger was invited to the farm his predecessors had enjoyed for generations.”72
Progress, however, has been aided by technological development prevailing within and beyond the agricultural industry. Fenton describes the introduction of “the threshing machine patented by Andrew Meikle in 1786 … James Small’s chain plough, patented in 1767 … and … The milking machine … 1890s …” Such innovations led to the redundancy of the barnman, “gadsman” and “tied-milker” respectively. There are other grades described whose jobs disappeared and, much later, their “cottar houses are being increasingly advertised to let as holiday homes or turned into deep litter sheds for hens.”73
The clan chieftains, too, were not slow to notice that military requirements grow less as the society developed and sought ways in which their livelihood could be maintained. With rights over land, albeit won by strength and by that fact such rights were often tenuous. The chieftains put their land to different uses. Mitchison74 remarks that: “From the early seventeenth century Highland chiefs had been behaving as if they were also owners of the clan land. The law accepted this claim. As a result it was legally possible for chiefs or landowners to rearrange the holdings of their tenants as they wished …” She continues with comment to the effect that England later opposed the chieftainship ideal reducing the clan chiefs to “simple landowners”. While other projects were introduced simultaneously, sheep farming was the only one to survive in the long run and the objects of the exercise became the “four-footed clansmen” of Prebble’s description.75
But if landlords and chieftains accepted their new followers they perhaps looked around for further recruits. Those with antlers as opposed to horns were brought in very much at the ‘tail end’ of the Clearances as Salaman remarks. “After the middle of the [nineteenth] century … the wild deer of the mountains were recognised as a realisable asset, resulting in vast tracts of the countryside being let for the purpose of sport to wealthy Englishmen. The sport began in the 1860s and gradually acquired sufficient momentum to drive out the sheep and their shepherds as well as the few remaining inland crofters, from great areas of the Highlands and Hebrides.”76 It was, then, not so much a question of further recruits but alternative recruits although Salaman has overstated the situation somewhat. Sheep farming remained the major livelihood for the landowners and the provision of deer hunting was an additional luxury both in terms of activity and contact with members of an alternative aristocracy. But if there was sport for the landowners, there was as much for the increasing numbers of deer poachers and sheep rustlers whose missiles were aimed at filling the cooking pot. The dispossession of land created a concomitant disloyalty to laird and landlord at a time when smuggling and other disruptions were levelled at the new moral order. It was a question of food from any source and wild animals, even plants found their way more and more to the table of the temporary but and ben. Inevitably there are no records relating to the contribution made by such illegal and ad hocsources but we can only surmise that they were extensive in scale.
It is necessary to distinguish between “Highland Clearances” 77 and “Clearances”. Prebble’s study of the former title focused upon a specific historiography while Mitchison78 saw that the latter term incorporates “the fact that considerable transfer of lowland population also took place in the course of the adoption of ‘improvement’ from 1770 onwards.” There were several separate factors at work not least of which was the influence of the now British Parliament which was to introduce new laws and taxes including several on food and drink. 
Leaving aside general rebellions in the style of the 1745 opposition to control through smuggling and food riots, the agricultural community had enough to fight against. They were under pressure to ‘enclose’ the land by putting up fences, growing hedges etc. and saw this as a threat to their food supply already below poverty level. The Scottish landlords, however, had finally seen the potential benefits to them of ‘enclosure’ through the medium of their parliamentary associates as Green’s generally applicable remarks support:
“The enclosure of land was not a new process. It had been practised extensively ever since Plantagenet times, though normally only in sheep country. Where-ever it had been undertaken it had aroused considerable popular and political opposition. What was new in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Enclosures was the increasing speeds with which they were pushed through and the small amount of political opposition they aroused. Such opposition as there was seemed to be populist, polemical and literary rather than Parliamentary.”79
From the Union to the early nineteenth century we see numerous changes as would be expected within a hundred years. Making the almost inevitable comparison with the situation in England the major difference centres upon dispossession of land. The main population shifts were from mountain to coastal region and, towards the end of the century, from there to the city. Discounting also the new seaside location where little or no preparation had been made (especially in Sutherland) it would have taken two or three generations for dietary patterns to settle down while different food sources were evaluated. Herring fishing and kelp were to prove almost of equally short duration and it was perhaps unreasonable to expect that people would adapt well to a new environment and life-style. Conversely, it is equally reasonable to expect them to move to the cities with the expectation of a better life. Sadly, that was not achieved.
General Review of the Agriculture of the
Countries of Roxburgh and Selkirk …
….With observation on the means of their improvement.
Drawn up for the consideration of Board of Agriculture and 1798
 Rev Robert Douglas, D.D. Minister at Galashiels
Published byRichard Phillips, London 1798. 
In the Introduction a summary of the weights system is described. “In Roxburghshire hay, wool, lint, butter, cheese, tallow and raw hides are sold by the Scotch ‘tronstone’ which equals twenty four pounds in the English or avoirdupois system. In Selkirkshire the stone by which the above articles are sold contains only twenty three pound eight ounces English or Avoirdupois. Note: A pack of wool consists of twelve of these stones. In both countries all kinds of grain, meal flour, pot barley, iron, cattle, butcher meat and fish are sold by the Scotch, troy or Dutch stone which equals seventeen and a half pounds English or avoirdupois. This stone contains sixteen pounds troy or Dutch, and the pound is seventeen and a half ounces English or Avoirdupois”. There is a note that grain and cattle are rarely sold by weight, but their value is commonly computed and spoken of by this standard. Flour, when bolted and dressed is sold by the English stone of Fourteen pounds. The boll or load of meal is sixteen Scotch troy stones. There is a generalisation that the stone is sixteen pounds and not fourteen pounds as in England.
“The Linlithgow firlots are the standard measures in Scotland for all grains. There are two of them; one for wheat, rye, pease, beans, and white salt; the other for barley, oats and malt. The former contains 2197,335 solid inches, and twenty one and a half pints, each pint being 103,404 solid inches. The latter contains 3205,524 solid inches and 31 of the same pint. The Winchester bushel being 2150,420 solid inches, is very little less than the Scottish firlot of wheat. Relative to these standards the measure of Roxburgh and Selkirkshires are as follows;
In Roxburghshire
“Wheat, pease, beans, and rye are sold by the boll of five firlots, each firlot containing 2274,888 cubic inches and twentytwo pints, being three Scotch mutchkins or nearly one and one tenth English quart above the Scotch standard. The boll is equal to five firlots three and three quarter pints Scotch standard and equals five bushels three packs two pints and a fraction, English standard.
In Selkirkshire
“The firlot is one tenth of a pint larger, which gives only a very trifling increase in the boll. nb. in both countries this boll is falling into dissuse, and in the following work has reference only to the fiars and average monthly returns of the prices of grain to government. These grains commonly sold by the boll of six firlots instead of five. To this boll the author uniformly refers, except as above, and the reader will feel that in Roxburghshire it is precisely equal to four of the county firlots for oats, barley and malt as under”. Then follows further details of other measurements. Other works described elsewhere in the present book deal with the poverty of eighteenth century Scotland. Douglas gives perhaps a different perspective “A considerable number of men, in this country and the neighbourhood, earn a comfortable subsistence, by keeping one or two horses and a cart, and undertaking to make repair highways to carry materials for building, poles, lime for manure, goods to or from market, or to plough fields; and they contract to perform these operations by day, by measurement, by weight or by the lump, according to the nature of the work or things carried. These men are here-meant by jobbers”.
Moving on to describe the tenants within the farms “One tenent frequently possesses two, and sometimes three (farms); and there are instances of the same person having both an arable and a sheep farm, to obtain the double profit arising from rearing sheep to a larger size, by wintering them on after grass and turnips, and fattening them and their lambs earlier and better for the market. From eight hundred to three thousand acres is the most common size of sheep farm”. While a few winters if described have qualities lacking in the early population of Scotland Douglas may take an alternative view. “The character of farmers like the size of their farms, admit of much variety. No profession affords more scope for displaying abilities; and no county can boast of a more ingenious and respectable body of farmers. Many of them have received a classical and some a liberal education. While the cultivation of their fields and the state of their flocks and herds are pleasing proofs of acting industry and professional knowledge, the style of their dress and of their table, are indications of easy circumstances; and the general strain of their conversation and manners discovers that frankness and candour of mind, which is unfettered prejudices of every kind, and equally open to impart or receive information”. The author, however, adds a rider: “It cannot be expected, that this description is equally applicable to them all”.
He speaks of the “happy alteration which has taken place, both in the system of agriculture, and in way of living, it is slowly extending its influence to the narrow minded and slothful”. In the midst of various agricultural details which follow there are references to the domestic scenery. “Finer linen, and more decent clothes, are worn. Carpet, the spit, and the social ball, begin to make their appearances in houses where they were entire strangers. And a desire is evidently kindling, of mixing more in good company, of keeping a more plentiful table, and of learning the practices and sharing the profits of good husbandry”. “Those excesses of the bottle, both in ale houses and at home, which formerly characterized them, and led to the neglect of necessary business, have now given place to the more rational and temperate use of that cheerful enjoyment. They are still extremely social when they meet, and hospitable to strangers; but seldom indulge in these pleasures to such a degree, as to divert their attention from their more important concerns”.
The farmers and their immediate families made good use of libraries. “From their frequent intercourse with each other, and with strangers, and from the books that they purchased or peruse from those public libraries, of which many of them are members, they have access to become acquainted with the most approved practices in the line of their business through the kingdom ,…”
Chapter III is headed “Buildings” and deals with farmhouses, offices and repairs. “The farmers are, by no means, so well accommodated (as the Peers in their hunting seats either with dwelling houses, or offices; both being, in general, paltry and ill built. Most of the dwelling houses are of one storey, low in the roof, badly lighted, and covered with thatch”.
“In farms, where little or no corn is raised, a barn might still be useful, to hold wool and cheese in their seasons, and to serve various other purposes; … The cottages, attached to farms for the residence of shepherds and married servants, are wretched habitations, dark, smokey, and insufficient defences against wind and rain”.
Chapter IV is entitled “Mode of Occupation”. and deals with the size of farms which is variable from 50 to 6,000 acres and 1,500 to 2,500 is thought to be a moderate size for a farm which is only fit for pasture. This chapter goes on to describe the people. “The character of the farmers admits of much diversity”. Then follows a description somewhat agricultural in content. However, “In general, they all deserve the praise of being frank, communicative and hospitable. Their tables are much better provided, than the appearance of their houses affords any reason to expect; and there are, in their looks and manners, a cordial welcome, and an urgency to partake of their meat and drink, which strongly indicates a kind heart. They few of them live in elegance and plenty, have a plain dinner well dressed and served every day, and a bottle of wine or a cheerful glass of punch for a friend”.
The debate continues on a more ‘equestrian plane”. The horses enabled them to “meet together at markets and fairs: but, of late there have been few or no instances of their neglecting necessary business for the sake of their bottle, or companions, or indeed for any other enjoyment”. …“Their chief defect is a degree of indifference for that kind of knowledge, which can only be acquired from books, or from more frequent and enlarged intercourse with mankind. Very few of them have hithered to become members of a public library at Falkirk”.
Later on, in a Section headed “Expence and Profit” we observe that “There is so great diversity in the nature and size of farms and in the mode of management, that an account of expence and profit can scarcely be given, which will apply to more than two or three farms in the county”. We see details of sales mainly relating to sheep, that cheeses were mentioned in the same heading as “skings of sheep and lambs who die” (morts) where the sub-total is £50 in a grand total of £627 in which the farmers profits “appears to be £109.60”.
Within the chapter on arable land we are told “In the higher parts of the country, there are very few turnips, and no peas. It is impossible to observe a regular rotation, where oats occupy at least 6/10 if not 9/10 of all arable land, where the small remainder is divided pretty equally between turnips and barley, and where red clover is rarely if every raised. There is, however, every appearance of turnips becoming more general; and farmers may be tempted to sow a red clover, although they cannot protect it from sheep during Winter, and can only reap vantage from it for a season, not probably as a hay crop, but at least as enriching the pasture, till the white clover becomes more abundant”. From the ensuing discussion it is clear that the turnips and clover “are desirable both for their flocks and their fields;…”. 
Later, we are told “Though less peas are sown now than formerly, yet a greater quantity is annually raised”. Extending the discussion to oats and barley we are informed that “The average quantity of these three grains sown upon an English acre, is nearly as follows: oats - 8/10; barley -5/10 or 11/20; and peas -7/12 of their respective bolls. Their average produce, on the same acre will be, oats, 3 1/2 bolls; barley, 4 1/2 bolls; and, peas 4 bolls.”
Then again, we are told “Twenty years ago, i.e. in 1778 there were scarcely ten acres of turnips in the whole county; those raised in some corners of cornfields in different farms, were generally destroyed by the sheep; and the few ridges annually sown around Selkirk and Galashiels, were greedity devoured by children and curious people, as soon as the bulb was formed. In spite of these obstacles, the culture of them has become gradually more general, and is still rapidly on the increase. Attention, care and good fences protect them from sheep; and the depredations of idle boys are less now, that their curiosity is regratified,…”. However, the inidcations are that sheep consumed the turnips as opposed to their being held in any esteem for human stomachs… “More of them are applied to rear and improve the conditions of cattle and sheep,…”.
Then we learn that “potatoes found their way into this county some years before turnips; though I cannot learn that they were planted, except with a spade, till the year 1772 or 1773, or that any kind was known, except the red and a few kidneys. About that time, some of the common white kind made their appearance, and in a few years entirely supplemented the others. About that time, too, they began to be dropped in every furrow made by the plough, which practice was tenaciously retained, till the larger returns procured by planting them in every third furrow, or in ridges at the distance of 27 or even 36 inches, and the obvious advantage of getting the land cleared and pulverised by the plough, gradually obtained, for these last they methods they decided preference. They became quite common, through the whole county, about the 1778 or 1780s. By that time, a change of feed was brought from Langholm; red-nebf were introduced; potatoes constituted a chief article of food for a great part of the year, and ever since, enough of them have been raised to supply the consumpt of the inhabitants, and to furnish a considerable quantity of feed to the contiguous parts of Midlothian and Tweedale”.
Intersection introduces us to “crops not commonly cultivated”. …“A few acres are sometimes devoted to wheat. It is managed in the same manner as in Roxburghshire, and yields good returns, but is, in the several respects, hurtful to the ground”. Then follows the comment that “astonishing crops have been raised - rye; but there is little demand for this grain,…”. “Beans are sometimes, though very seldom, sown among peas. A few rows are also to be seen, in some fields, … and of cabbages. But there is very little soil in the whole country of a sufficient depth for raising either of these, or carrots, though all of them have been produced of an excellent quality on particular spots”.
Later in the same discussion comments are passed about the cultivation of yams and “their growth is much slower” than potatoes. “There can be no doubt that Swedish turnips would thrive well in the whole arable district. Some of them have weighed a Dutch stone. But, without, a confederacy of neighbouring farmers to raise fields of them every year, they cannot force their way into general use; and it is not clear that they merit so much attention. They are eat, with prodigious avidity, by every passenger, especially in Spring:…”.
Chapter VIIII is headed “Gardens and Orchards” and we are told that “It cannot be expected, that, in a county so small and so devoid of towns and villages, there should be gardens and orchards, producing pot-herbs and fruits for sale. But all the common and several rare vegetables for the kitchen, and those fruits for the table, which are found in similar climates, are raised, of an admirable quality, in the gardens of the resident gentlemen.
All the farmers have gardens; but in some places, the soil and climate will bring nothing to maturity, except a few hardy vegetables: in most places, gardens do not merit much attention, and do not receive even a little that they merit; yet there are instances, though by no means numerous, of their being managed with skill and care. Much more can be said for the garden belonging to tradesmen, cottagers, and the inhabitants of Selkirk and Galashiels. Many of them are neatly dressed, and yield a profusion of useful vegetables, and are ornamented with shrubs, flowers, and bushes, bearing the smaller fruits. There are a few orchards, most of the fruit at gentlemen’s tables being raised on walls,…”.
The ardent scholars will no doubt scurry to other books and produce trentises on when this or that vegetable was first grown. May he consign them to where the seeds were sown… two spits deep!
1 - The book is held in the Sixth Floor Special Collection, Edinburgh University Library and the shelf mark is ED.63(4147)