Sunday, October 12, 2014

Guisachan - Part 3

In Part 2 I described how Guisachan Estate had been purchased in 1855 from the Frasers of Culbokie, who had held it since the 16th century, by Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks MP, who had transformed the estate by building a new mansion house, model farm and village for his employees.

By the time Marjoribanks had completed his changes, there was nobody living on the estate not dependant on him for employment. This transformation provoked Colin Chisholm, a witness before the Napier Commission, to describe "a number of warm-hearted hospitable tenants of small holdings on the estate of Guisachan", who had been "turned out of their farms" by Lord Tweedmouth (as Marjoribanks became in 1880). His Lordship took exception to this and hurried before the Commission a few days later to give his version of events. His evidence is a fascinating account of the transformation of the estate.

When he bought the 22,000 acre estate in 1855, Tweedmouth found a population of 227 including those residing at Guisachan House (presumably domestic servants) and sixteen tenants who, between them, paid an aggregate annual rent of £692 (about £65,000 in today's money).  Of these tenants, two were large sheep farmers, brothers called Cameron from another part of Inverness-shire who had come in 1847. Between them, they paid £499 (72% of the rent roll) and held 20,300 acres (including 101 acres of arable and 74 of improved pasture) or 92% of the estate. The other 14 tenants were crofters who between them held 64 acres of arable, 21 acres of improved pasture and 1,650 acres of moorland.

Tweedmouth was candid with the Commission that he hadn't bought Guisachan for its agricultural rental but for its qualities as a grouse moor, having been its sporting tenant since 1851 - hardly surprising from the man who invented the Retriever breed of dog.

He also admitted that none of the tenants - sheep farmers or crofters - remained on the estate now (1883) but denied Colin Chisholm's charge that they had been "turned out": the Cameron brothers, the sheep farmers, in common with others of their profession at the time, had not been prospering for a while and one emigrated to Australia with Tweedmouth's assistance in 1856 while the other moved to Fort William the following year.

As regards the crofters, they lived in four townships: Auchblair, Tomich, Easter Auchnaheglish and Wester Auchnaheglish: the two latter townships are still visible east of Tomich on the Ordnance Survey 6 inch map surveyed in 1872:-

The crofters all held 19 year leases which expired in 1864 and none of these was renewed. Tweedmouth's evidence to the Commission about what happened to the tenants was nuanced:

"Some three or four had previously [to 1864] asked to be relieved of their crofts but there was not one removed or one who left until provided with either a better farm or an occupation more suitable to himself." 

He went on to detail the fate of each tenant: three died before their leases expired and their heirs had asked Tweedmouth to take their crofts back in hand. Another had emigrated to New Zealand in 1863. That left ten crofters who lasted to the end of their leases of whom three moved to other places in the area while seven remained living on Guisachan becoming wage labourers on the estate.

When does refusal to renew a lease become "eviction"? Or, in more charged language, a "clearance"? And is it any better if an ex-tenant becomes the employee of his former landlord? Tweedmouth was pressed hard on this: wouldn't it have been preferable to have given new leases to at least some of the crofters in slightly enlarged holdings? The chair of the Commission, Lord Napier, was blunt with his fellow peer:-

"I would ask you generally whether, as a matter of policy, you think that the substitution of a class of persons, however respectable and well treated, in the position of dependants, for the small old tenantry, however ill off, but themselves susceptible of improvement —whether the substitution of the one class for the other is, on the whole, a desirable thing?" 

Tweedmouth's response was equally robust:-

"I can answer you if you tell me what on earth I could have done with the 150 people who were on the property in 1855, irrespective of the sixteen tenants, because it was a case of this kind, whether the sixteen tenants were to leave or the 150 or 160 other people; and I thought it better to provide for the larger number."

His point is one that emerged constantly during the course of the Napier Commission: crofters were poor but at least they had some land and were thus relatively well off compared with the landless squatters (or "cottars") who populated many estates in the Highlands where employment was scarce. These people were often the remnants of the aboriginal tenantry cleared from their land holdings during earlier phases of the Clearances and perhaps the 150-60 "other people" on Guisachan dated from 1825 when the sheep farms were first created on the estate. Whatever, Tweedmouth's response to the problem he inherited was not to not renew any of the farm leases on the estate (large scale sheep farmers or crofters) but rather to take the land back in hand to create a farm big enough to be able (in addition to his sporting establishment) to employ the entire population of Guisachan: a different response might have been to renew some or all of the crofters' leases and pay for the emigration of the rest. It's a case of damned if you do and damned if you don't which shows that "the Highland Clearances" are not as black and white as often portrayed.

Incidentally, as well as renting Kerrow Farm from the neighbouring Chisholm estate, Tweedmouth also rented their Glenaffric Deer Forest on the north west of Guisachan where he built Affric Lodge at the east end of Loch Affric:-

Affric Lodge - picture credit dooglenicholson

Now, I said in parts 1 and 2 of this article that I would be talking about how Lord Tweedmouth became embroiled in litigation with an American neighbour, W L Winans. On reflection, I think the Winans litigations (for there was more than one) in this part of the Highlands merits a blog of its own so I'm going to pass on to the decline of Guisachan.

Lord Tweedmouth died in 1894. He was succeeded by his son, Edward, also a Liberal politician who rose to become First Lord of the Admiralty but not before a financial crisis in the affairs of the Meux Brewery, the principal source of his wealth, had obliged him to sell Guisachan in 1905.

Before moving on from the Tweedmouth era, though, it's worth mentioning that, if you google "Guisachan", you get a lot of references to a house (pictured above) in Kelowna British Columbia which is now run as a restaurant and wedding venue. This was built by the 2nd Lord Tweedmouth's sister and her husband, the Earl of Aberdeen: he went on to become the Governor General of Canada.  

Back to Guisachan in Scotland, the purchaser was the exquisitely named Newton Wallop, 6th Earl of Portsmouth, yet another Liberal politician pictured below:-

The Portsmouths appear to have sold Guisachan in the 1930s (the 8th earl having been, for a change, not a Liberal politician but - of all things! - a Republican member of the Wyoming House of Representatives!) by when country sporting estates on such a scale of grandeur were becoming a thing of the past. I don't know the exact sequence of events but the Friends of Guisachan website has information about a sale of part of the estate in 1935 in the following lots:-

Lot 1 - Guisachan House and policies: 143 acres
Lot 2 - Home Farm: 2,870 acres
Lot 3 - Tomich Village (all the houses etc. still belonged to the estate):  19 acres
Lot 4 - Deer Forest: 4,200 acres 
Lot 5 - Hilton Cottage: 10 acres
The whole - 7,242 acres

That's obviously less than the 22,000 acres bought by Lord Tweedmouth in 1855 and my guess is that the rest, mostly at the west end, had been sold privately to the Forestry Commission. I don't know exactly know who bought what at the 1935 sale except that Lord Islington, a former Governor General of New Zealand, bought Lots 4 & 5 (Hilton Cottage and Deer Forest) while Guisachan House remained unsold. It was briefly let as a centre for fitness training summer schools but such plebian activities didn't endear themselves to Lord Islington's widow who, with a view to denying its use to any more uncongenial neighbours, bought the house in the late 1930s and promptly closed it down and took its roof off . In due course, it passed to her grandson, the journalist and historian John Grigg. His son Anthony still owns the property - known as Hilton & Guisachan now - to the present day.

Hilton Lodge
Elsewhere, the Home Farm still exists with the clock-towered steading having been converted into holiday accommodation marketed as Tomich Holidays. The deer forest to the west of Hilton & Guisachan known as Wester Guisachan is, I think, land which was sold off by the Forestry Commission as surplus to their requirements for planting.

Visiting Guisachan on a wet day in December 2013, the thing that struck me apart the ruins of the house itself were the trees. The oak in the picture above has been felled as seen below:-

Picture credit - Tom Parnell
 But otherwise, the trees in the policies around the house, no doubted planted by Lord Tweedmouth in the 1850s to ornament his new acquisition, remain mostly standing as you can see from the shaddows in the aerial photography below:-

Without being too poetical, it does seem fitting that nature's outlasted man's contribution to Guisachan Estate - not just the gaunt ruins of the mansion house but the other little trappings of a Victorian estate you can find around Tomich such as a squint gate post here and there: I was particularly taken with the tree that had outgrown its basket on the avenue leading to the house below:-

But more importantly, what of the people? The 150 souls Lord Tweedmouth thought it better not to renew leases in order to be able to employ? A lease gives security of tenure but what of employment? He was asked this by the Napier Commission and answered simply: "I hope those who will come after me will look after the people in the same way."

Did they? How many people are employed today within the bounds of what was Guisachan Estate? It certainly won't be in three figures. But how many people would be deriving a full time living from crofts on the estate today? Similarly few, I suspect: many would be commuters driving into Inverness for their principal source of income. As today's land reformers ponder these questions, they might reflect upon Lord Tweedmouth's view expressed to the Napier Commission that it was the coming of the Highland Railway to Inverness which had done most to depopulate the outlying glens: people had been drawn to where the railway made commodities cheaper. Today roads and motor cars are having similar effects on remote communities making them increasingly places to be slept in but not lived or worked in.

Aye well ...

Finally, if you want to go for a virtual tour round Guisachan Estate, then you can in the Google Streetview car: start here.

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