10.7.1 Movement of People

For the first time thanks to documentary references it is possible to get a better idea of movements of people, and from the 19th century this is possible in detail. Although the traditional view is that people stayed in the area they were brought up in, this was certainly not true for much of the population. We can begin by distinguishing between a change of residence and movement in general.

The turnover of tenants in the pre-clearance era was probably greater than is often assumed, although most tenants probably remained within the parish of their birth, especially given that upland Highland parishes could be very large.  There was also emigration in the pre-clearance period and the beginnings of seasonal migration to the Lowlands for work (Richards 2007, 33). Military service took significant numbers away from their home. Many children and young people in the pre-clearance period spent time as servants in other households. Some became agricultural labourers or household servants and were subject to the annual contracts, but they did not necessarily move to a new employer every year.

The clearances saw thousands of people forcibly moved from their homes to make way for large arable or sheep farms. The social and historical consequences have been explored by a number of authors (Richards 2007; 2008). In some cases communities were resettled on the same estate, but sometimes they chose to relocate to another estate or county (Richards 2007, 40ff). Some relocated to planned villages and urban settlements.  Such movement was not voluntary although it could involve an element of agency on the part of those who were cleared. Many of the dispossessed emigrated, resulting in Highland culture transported to North America, Australia and elsewhere and in some cases material goods being sent back to the Highlands. On the other hand, those who resettled tended to hold their tenancies over several generations.

The archaeological evidence of the clearances has received less attention than the documentary evidence. Not many rural homesteads have been excavated (see 10.3) despite large numbers being ruinous in the countryside. Excavation of these sites could provide more detail of the day-to-day lives of people both before or after clearance.

The ‘improvement’ movement and reorganisation of farms saw the movement north of farm tenants, farm managers and agricultural workers, including Border shepherds, but also skilled tradesmen, from counties such as Morayshire. Professionals such as estate managers could also be from outwith the region as could even be minor estate officials.

Short-term movement of individuals from the Highlands ranged from the performance of daily tasks to seasonal migration.  Inevitably, the lairds, at the upper end of the spectrum were highly mobile, with many having properties elsewhere. Some migrated between summer and winter quarters. They might also travel between the Highlands and Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Inverness where they might have had a town house. However, many people shared in the need to travel to a greater or lesser extent. Ministers travelled to preaching places or presbytery meetings, tenants travelled to buy meal or attend regional markets, while cattle and sheep drovers became accustomed to travelling long distances sometime going deep into England. With improved routes in the 18th century, more tourists travelled throughout the Highlands, in part drawn by the romanticisation of the Highlands (see 10.1); an influx that brought changes as well (Dingwall 2021; Leask 2021).

Abertarff House, townhouse of the Lovats. ©Martin Briscoe

Recent research, for example by David Alston (Slaves and Highlanders), has shown that participation in the slave trade salvaged the fortunes of many Highland landowners in the second half of the 18th century. Plantations established in Central America still bear Easter Ross place names. Some enslaved people were brought back to the Highlands; there were more mixed-race children in 19th century Inverness than at present. This legacy is all but invisible. To some extent the relatively recent focus on slavery has drawn attention away from the undoubted contribution to Highland development of wealth generated on other continents, especially India (Grant and Mutch 2015).

Also difficult to trace in material culture are the Travelling people who have a long presence in the Highlands. Among these groups are Highland Travellers, who long moved about the Highlands on traditional routes, preserving a shared culture and self-image, not to mention their own language. A campaign group has been formed to focus on the identity of Indigenous Highland Travellers (Travellers Times). Travellers from elsewhere in Scotland and the British Isles also travelled into the Highlands seasonally, some staying and intermarrying (Neat 1996, 20–22; Grant 2007, 127). Some Highland Travellers also would travel into the lowlands of Scotland or into other parts of the British Isles to live, work, attend fairs, take part in trade of horses etc, and some brought items, usually china or glassware, back for trade into Highland homes (Neat 1996, 4; Grant 2007, 116; Ramsay 2021; Case Study Material Culture of Highland Travellers).

Although some Travelling families continued to build traditional bow tents, these largely went out of use in the Highlands in the late 1970s (Neat 1996, 230). Photographs (including the Shennan collection in the Highland Photographic Archive), memories (Neat 1996) and a reconstructed tent at the Highland Folk Museum (Ramsay 2015) offer an idea of the traditional bow tents.  Archaeologically, evidence of accommodation in tents and caves is largely limited to occasionally midden material, heaps of stones left at campsites (Neat 1996, 230) and the odd walls sometimes built for shelter in caves where Travellers were known to have resided (Anderson-Whymark 2011). While some families wintered in larger tents with a taller central barricade, others overwintered in houses (Neat 1996, 5).

Reconstruction of a bow tent at the Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore. ©Susan Kruse

Metalworking was long a central part of Traveller lifestyle, but it is difficult to determine how far back this self-identity and the itinerant metalworking lifestyle can be traced back. Many of the other crafts made and sold by Travellers were organic, for example wooden flowers, baskets, clothes pegs, heather pot scrubbers, horn spoons and earlier powder horns and leather/wooden targes; few have survived, or been identified as Traveller material culture (Case Study Material culture of Highland Travellers). The Highland Folk Museum archive contains the catalogue of its founder I F Grant, which sometimes notes provenance: where objects were bought or if they were made by Travellers (Rhona Ramsay pers comm). The material culture of the Travelling Folk, and visibility of Traveller culture in museums, is currently the subject of a PhD thesis by Rhona Ramsay (Ramsay 2021). More work identifying Traveller workmanship, mapping the remains of campsites and routes across the Highlands and their place in Highland culture is needed.

Selection of tinsmith products made by Travellers on display at a temporary exhibition at the Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore ©Eric Grant

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