The Silent Clearances

The Lowland Clearances began well before the time often mentioned period between 1760 and 1830.
They continued long after.  The 17th century onwards saw a time when great changes took place - not all were for the worst and not all for the good. Here is our cut and snip version.

It was time of excitement and invention, expansion and growth of a stable and drifting population, a fervent explosion of ideals on a land which often embraced rebellion. Uncertainty, old scores, greed mixed with courage melted in  a poetic home loving people.

picture of horse and plough
Imagine a part of the country where farming was done in rigs or unit strips.

Each unit rotated so it would be a matter of luck if a good harvest came  your way. Then the forming of Ferm Toons where the importance of the toon was  governed d by the number and size of the plough teams. A steady increase of  population demanding more housing, and additional land needed to feed the  residence. Old bartering systems were still in place where even the rent could  be paid in grown or raised products. If it became difficult to pay your lord and  master r it would be possible to work off a debt. This system of the land  superior had existed since Norman times. One of a vassal at the beck and call of  the land  owner.           

Under this feudal arrangement our famous poet Robert Burns (1759-1796) and his father toiled in a never ending circle of financial problems, where most profits inevitably fell into the hand of the land superior.

Against the poor  the lairds prevails With all their wicked words.
The Levellers Lines  precis the difficulties of the times.

To give sustenance to the Lothian's products and profit were available.  Milling, one of Scotland's oldest pastoral commerce's was driven by water  power. The farmer took his wheat grain to be ground into flour, Oat grain to make oatmeal to produce a staple diet of Scots porridge, rich in protein, an essential in a harsh climate.  

In 1707 with the coming of the Union, English markets augmented  productivit y and by the end of the 19th century steam replaced the wind and  water mills where possible. A ready supply of wood in the wild forests of  the lowlands cut by hand to make houses and buckets. To make wagons, furniture,  fencing, factories and pit props. From water to steam and circular saws making  all these items in quick time.

People in this climate need good strong  cloths and the ancient textile traditions of preparing wool of flax and spinning  into yarn. Women by spinn ing wheels cranking endlessly in candle lit rooms  making fine thread. A new pace began in the 17th century as mechanisation in  cotton preparation and carding took away the lively hood of many a skilled  spinner. Woollen mills in the 1820s became factories to keep up with natural  growth and chan ges of fashion.

Cotton mills grew in towns and cities  fostering a boom in workplaces. Fuels were required at greater speeds and  quantities from the lowland earth .

With hard work and immense risks to fuel, the  expansion of moving machines making and cutting to serve more of peoples  needs.

Watt's steam engineCoal was a perfect source to feed the smelting plans to heat the kilns to separate metals. High silicon clay cut from the west made even more effective  heating capabilities to purify iron and magic metals. Metals vital to make steam  engines to pump water from underground, engines to draw materials, cr ops and  people along metal rails.

Improved mobility on land and sea, more efficient  ploughs and fish hooks. The way to fish for a long time was done by lines of  lengthy string tied in thousands of hooks, bated by women experts. Herring, a  fish that migrated, had a Scottish season where coastal boats and sea vessels  made a living and a way of life. Cockles and muscles sold in town and cities,  herring mixed with oatmeal, kippers for the breakfast table.

The prevailing  view would be that the population would be happy and excited at the changes and  improvement to feed families and put a roof over your head, but.

In 1690 the powerful land owners used the law as a bludgeon to grasp large portions of common land. Driving many thousands of lowland farmers and worke rs  out of business, to enable them to build up their estates. Land owners had found that sheep needed the precious grass to  graze on to produce food and wool from the same animal. This created a  movement of people drifting to find a secure employment. Town and village  p opulace moved to cities for the new coming industrial prosperity.

By 1700  and 1823 around one in every three folk became city dwellers and established a  diverse culture. Municipal life began its build up and spread town and cities  into old farm land and forests. Those left behind in the country had to sustain  life of sorts while waiting the whim of the Laird. Rents inflated and conditions  became stricter as a method of forcing them out. Th e screw turned, it was a case  of improving farm methods imposed by the land superior, or make changes that may  be beyond financial capabilities or pack up.
Some richer farmers made  improvised villages to house the unemployed as a ready made cache of labour.  They would be used or rented out to others duri ng harvest or sent to the  factories. Most of the money earned fell into the ha nds of the superior.

The Security of Tenancy agreement granted by Parliament seemed to have been ignored in the lowlands denying them refuge and judicial protection. The act become a shield for the greedy and left the poor to suffer the rises in cost s  which they had to be pay. Market forces are a risk and do not differentiate  in some cases, with its highs and lows. Some of its effect on the rich  devastating. Most of that ri sk factor was fundamentally absorbed by the poor  tenant, in rising rent and ne w ideals for profit. As farming methods  improved, new skills were needed and those not capable o f change became part of  the labour force of the growing industries. Men and women once so proud of  their villages now associated themselves wit h the towns or cities they lived in.  Edinburgh people were called townies as a way of saying they were different from  the rustics.

Mass labour in ship building introduced a fresh pride in the  new found reputation of a particular work area such as old Govan Ship Yard.  Miners identified themselves with the output of local pits. Railway  workers in uniform and women in shops were proud of the companies that employed  them. As the empire grew and orders swiftly accumulated, cert ain industries  attracted more people away from other enterprises. The fishing industry became a  way of life as markets in town and cities of Scotland and England expanded to  the continent. We at home needed our kippers or herring in oatmeal for  breakfast.

The Great War of 1914-18 took away a great deal of the fishing profits on the loss of markets in Europe. North Sea Gas invaded the providence of the  mines, service industries attracted the skilled office worker. Women became  an integral part of industry and services, then advancing into politics to lead  and advise. We recognise change is inevitable in order to survive.

People need food, a roof over their heads and a job to provide for them.
picture of a modern combine harvester
If it isn't provided locally, naturally we look to other places. Far more  of the lowland population were swept way in these developments known as the  Lowland Clearness, than we ever imagined. From what can be considered a loss has  brought prosperity of a kind to the lowlands. Yet it is evident that not all is  well. If you wonder where the people of the low lands moved to all you have  to do is look at America, Canada and Australia. There you can see the  positive influence of the lowlands on those countries . On he other side of the coin. I walked through Dalkeith and it looked bare and clear of  activity, once a lively leading town, now a place to park a  car.
This short version cannot cover  every event, only a  guide.         
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