Monday, July 21, 2014

Guisachan - Part 2

In Part 1 I described how Guisachan Estate in north west Inverness-shire had been held by a cadet branch of the clan Fraser from the middle of the 16th century until 1855 when it was sold by the 11th laird.

The sale was part of a pattern whereby a huge proportion - if not the majority - of the estates which had been held by the clans in the north and west of Scotland were sold between the late 18th and mid 19th centuries due to economic pressures rather than the feuds and politics which had characterised changes of control in earlier centuries. The map below - which is by no means accurate or complete - shows in yellow some of the land which changed hands during this period:-

This transformation of ownership is a vast subject in its own right but, to attempt a crude generalisation, an earlier phase (in the late 18th and earlier 19th cents.) tended to see estates being bought by more astute cadet families or neighbouring clans: notable examples are Harris bought by Macleod of Berneray from his chief in 1772 (see here) and the clan MacKay's estate in north west Sutherland sold to the Countess of Sutherland in 1829. A later phase (in the mid 19th century) saw estates being sold to outsiders - Victorian nouveaux riches of the Industrial Revolution who craved the clan territories as sporting estates in immitation of the Queen and Prince Albert at Balmoral. The sale of Guisachan fell into this later phase except there was the curiosity that the seller invested the proceeds in buying part of the clan Donald's estates on Skye as part of the same process!

The purchaser of Guisachan was the splendidly named Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced "March-banks"), pictures above. A scion of the Coutts banking family, he was Liberal MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed before being elevated to the peerage in 1880 as Lord Tweedmouth. He had been the grouse shooting tenant for some years before he eventually bought the estate after it had been on the market for a while for £52,000 (about £5 million in today's money: what Marjoribanks described as a "fancy price before railway days") .

It's difficult to underestimate the changes Lord Tweedmouth made to Guisachan. The key difference between his management and that of his predecessors' was that, while the Frasers had seen the estate as their source of income, Tweedmouth approached it as something that money was to be lavished upon. Thus, most obviously, the Frasers' modest Georgian house was demolished and replaced by the latest fashion in Victorian gothic:-

The Frasers' tenant farmers were eased out and replaced by a single new estate run "model farm" centred on a magnificent steading complete with clock tower:-

Image copyright RCAHMS

Perhaps more than the clock tower, though, the most arresting feature of the new farm was the dairy with its stained glass windows and terazzo flooring which survive intact to the present day:-

Image copyright RCAHMS

Estate workers were housed in a new model village called Tomich specially built with 33 new stone and slated cottages and endowed with an inn and a school in one room of which church services were held. Today Tomich is a conservation area, complete with faux gas lamp style street lights and most of its houses being listed buildings:-

Tomich School (now a private house)

With his servants all gainfully employed and comfortably housed, Lord Tweedmouth pursued his sport (and developed the ultimate breed of sporting dog, the Golden Retriever) and it was all so idyllic that, after his death, his children erected a fountain in Tomich to his memory:-

Picture credit Dave Fergusson
Picture credit Dave Fergusson
But not everybody was happy. A discordant note about the management of Guisachan was sounded in evidence before the Napier Commission of 1883 - the Royal Commission set up to investigate the plight of the tenantry in the north and west of Scotland and which led to the crofting legislation. Lord Tweedmouth had to hasten to appear before the Commission to defend himself. And as if that wasn't enough, he soon found himself embroiled in litigation with a neighbouring sportsman, a megalomaniac American industrialist who'd also come in for criticism before the Napier Commission from the same source. I'll come back to all that in the next chapter of the story.