10.14.3 Land and Economy

The first signs of commercialisation and capitalism in Argyll were seen prior to 1600 and were developed initially through droving and fishing by the Campbells and their followers. This has been dealt with in some way in the history of the Campbells (Campbell 2004) but less so for other parts of Argyll. Drove roads have been dealt with in general terms (Haldane 1997) and in recent research undertaken by Donald Adamson at the University of Glasgow (Adamson and Bailie 2015a and 2015b). The agricultural Improvements were initially attempts to increase the financial contribution of estates through drainage, enclosure, crop rotation and stock breeding. This saw improvements in the construction of houses, stone field walls, and an increase in the amount of cultivated land. As population numbers peaked, landowners preferred to turn joint tenancy farms into sheep runs and either allowed leases to lapse or enforced clearance.

One notorious example can be found in the 1848 forced eviction of the Poltalloch Estate occupants of Arichonan, on the slopes of Gleann a’ Ghaolbhan near Tayvallich. The violence of the encounter prompted much contemporary publicity and resulted in the incarceration of several protesting tenants (see NR79SE23; McFarlane 2004). The site of the former township itself was surveyed by RCAHMS in 1985 and incorporates a range of structures relevant to the history of rural life and the impacts of capitalist-driven improvement, including substantial standing remains of ten buildings, accompanied by sheep fanks and a series of stone-walled enclosures and laneways. A slab lined bridge and a rock-built spring well survive in good condition. Additionally, there are traces of earlier buildings, possibly of 17th-century date, which appear to have been partially robbed for the renovation and rebuilding of later structures. The most substantial remains on the site are of a later 19th-century cottage interpreted as the home of a shepherd. This is an aspirational piece of Improvement architecture incorporating schist window sills, door jambs, and fireplaces. Arichonan is notable for the survival of elements of vernacular architectural tradition, particularly evidence for the use of raised crucks (RCAHMS 1992).

The story of individual settlements vary greatly and examples of sudden eviction are perhaps less than is thought, but given the narrative of clearance, eviction and emigration (within Scotland and with the rest of the world) this could be looked at in more detail. It has been suggested in Kilmartin parish that most people leaving the land did not go far and thus led to the expansion of small towns and villages.

The nature of agriculture was traditionally self-sufficient and a mix of stock rearing and crop cultivation. This depended on the practice of transhumance where animals were taken to summer grazing in the hills, away from the growing crops. Shielings are the temporary shelters used by people in the summer while away from the main farm. The landscape is littered with evidence for this practice in the form of shielings, enclosures, areas of cultivation and tracks into the hills. Perhaps because of their ubiquity and paucity of material culture, the shieling sites have not been very popular subjects of study. While people have been encouraged in some areas to record shielings and deserted settlements through the Scotland’s Rural Past Project, there has been little overall synthesis or analysis of the results. The General Enclosure Act of 1801 allowed landlords to join the land of the small tenant farmers to make larger cattle or sheep farms which often meant evicting the small scale tenant farmers. Joint tenancy farming, although sustainable if grazing levels were controlled, was seen as inefficient and old fashioned. In the absence of a political revolution as experienced in France, the alternatives to clearing people off the land were not explored at the time, but there is the opportunity now to consider the agricultural sustainability of these sites.

Such an effort is that being made by Kimberley Noble (AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award with UHI (Archaeology Institute at Orkney College) and RCAHMS. Her PhD is looking at aspects of the sustainability of pre-Improvement townships in the Highlands. There are three research questions which focus on aspects of the sustainability of the pre-Improvement townships; how the Improvements altered aspects of rural settlement dynamics; and an evaluation of the effectiveness of non-intrusive methods in understanding aspects of settlement. There are two main methodological approaches: one will be to consider sustainability through an examination of aspects of township ecology with a particular focus on the archaeological evidence but utilising documentary sources as well. The second approach is to gain an in-depth understanding of the wider landscape in which the case-study sites are situated. She hopes to do this using GIS to create maps with multiple layers of evidence and to discuss township siting and distribution patterns in relation to a variety of ‘natural’ and ‘social’ factors including topography, geology, route-ways, administrative and service-centres etc

It is perhaps surprising how many old industrial sites are to be found in the landscape. These are the results of capitalist investments or landowner speculation (see Bonawe: Case Study). The fact that these areas are now de-industrialised is as interesting as the process of industrialisation. Such ‘failure’ could be the result of running out of raw materials, changes elsewhere making the industry uneconomic (see Pollphail Village: Case Study), climate change or bad management. But they are tangible evidence of the non-successful evolutionary lines, study of which might still have benefits. Not all industrial sites have become neglected. The Crinan canal, for instance, still provides yachts with a very welcome shortcut, and the whisky Industry is still thriving. The construction of the West Highland Railway was a massive earth moving project that disrupted roads, farms and crossed property boundaries and is still carrying trains to and from the cities to the west coast. The forestry ‘Industry’ has thrived since the Second World War bringing some land into state ownership, but evidence suggests the woods have been managed for far longer. More detailed woodland studies are required to understand the extent and nature of the local practices.

The Gardens and Designed Landscape Inventory (Historic Environment Scotland) includes many of the major examples in Argyll including the extensive designed landscape at Inveraray (see Inveraray – The Birth and Development of a Planned Town in Argyll: Case Study), and the smaller Ardchatten Priory Gardens. The only modern Argyll example of a lost garden in Scotland’s Lost Gardens is that of Carnasserie Castle in Argyll (Brown 2012, 340). However, there are many smaller or less significant examples in the landscape as shown by the recent discovery of a designed landscape at Inverioch or New Tarbet in Arrochar, despite it being clearly depicted on Roy’s Military Map (James 2014). The Glorious Gardens Project, which is being piloted in Falkirk and the Clyde and Avon Valley, is an example where local volunteers undertake site visits and recording of gardens and this could be extended to all areas of Scotland.

Read the related case study Case Study 17: Pollphail Village

Read the related case study Case Study 18: Inveraray – The Birth and Development of a Planned Town in Argyll



Read the Case Study: Inverary

Read the Case Study : Pollphail Village