Letterfearn, 3 August 1883 - William Grant & Alexander Maclennan

WILLIAM GRANT, Crofter's Brother (42), assisted by ALEXANDER MACLENNAN, Crofter's Son (38), Letterfearn—examined.

31456. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Have you any statement to make9
—We have.

Statement of William Grant, a delegate from Letterfearn.
—My father was a tenant in Easter Achanataird, and paid rent to four successive proprietors. His summing was two cows with their followers, sixteen sheep, and five hoggs, and paid £6, 12s. 6d. as rent. When all the tenants were removed from the said township, in order that the same should be added to the farm of Leackachan, my father was not one penny in arrears with his rent, as his receipts can yet show. He was removed to our present abode, getting only an acre of land. At present in Letterfearn one crofter has three acres two others have two acres each, thirteen have one acre apiece, seven others have the eighth part of an acre each, fifteen families are without any lands whatever, and there are seven paupers two of whom have one-eighth each. The reason why our part of the parish is so crowded is due to the evictions that took place in the other parts of it, in order to make room for large sheep farms even as far back as the times when the Earls of Seaforth were proprietors. Some of those evicted families were sent in among the Letterfearn people. Our lots being so small, many of us have had to use the same land entirely for potato crops, without change for thirty years. We have to pay a rent of £ l , 10s. for the old Scotch acre for our lands,—also 5s. a year for sea-ware, which we can only use every second year. As the sea-ware allotted to us is not sufficient for our needs, we must buy more of it from the neighbouring farmers. In the parish of Glenshiel no crofter, either on Sir Alexander's estate or on any other landlord's, has one cow's grazing rented from them. .We get the summer quarter's grazing from the farmers at the rate of £1 per cow. The rest of the year our cows have to be tethered on our own small lots or fed in our byres. This spring our worthy proprietor has kindly advanced seed potatoes at 9s. per barrel, which we would be glad to receive almost at any price.' '

Statement of Alexander Maclennan, delegate from Letterfearn.
—My grandfather and father were paying rent to four proprietors in Wester Achanataird. My father was removed from the grazing lands without being in arrears with his rent. All the other and tenants were removed at the same time in order that their grazing lands might increase the late Mr Finlayson's farm, who was at that time the proprietor's factor. Our houses, which were then situated on the high ground, were broken down, and our present ones built almost on the seabeach, so that when an unusual high tide happens to come many of them are flooded. Ordinarily there is very little work going on on our side of Loch. Occasionally we may get some day's employment in the woods from the forester. We crofters sent a petition to Sir Alexander sixteen months ago, praying that whenever the lands we formerly occupied would be again at his disposal, that he would kindly direct his factor to reinstate us in them at their present rent. The factor visited us, and promised to increase our holdings. If what we learn from other sources be true, the land proposed to be given to us is entirely inadequate to our wants.'

31457. How many families are there altogether at Letterfearn ?
—Sixteen having land, and fifteen having no land.

31458. How long have those who have no land been there ?
—Those in the township in which I live were deprived of their land thirty-one years ago, when it was added to Leackachan.

31459. When was the land allotted as it is at present at Letterfearn ?
—They were deprived of Druidaig about thirty-six years ago, and of West Achanataird about thirty-four yeais ago. Achanataird was added to Druidaig.

31460. Is Druidaig a sheep farm ?

31461. When did the division of the land as it is at present take place 1 Was it done at once or by degrees ?
—It was done gradually. First Druidaig, which the factor took into his own hands, then West Achanataird, which the factor also took into his own hands ; and then East Achanataird was also added to Leackachan.

31462. Was the land redistributed on each of these occasions after some had been taken from them ?

31463. Were the crofts subdivided and re-allotted, or left as they were?
—It was allotted or subdivided into small lots.

31464. Were the rents going down also ?
—When the grazings were taken away the rents were reduced, of course.

31465. How does it happen that one crofter has three acres, another two, and thirteen only one acre apiece ?
—Because that was the factor's way.

31466. How many of these have cows?

31467. None of those who have only one-eighth part of an acre can keep a cow ?

31468. How do those seven people who have only one-eighth part of an acre, and the other fifteen who have no land at all, live ?
—They go about here and there often to offer assistance for potato land to help them to live.

31469. Have some to go far away for that purpose ?
—Some of them go three or four miles, and some cross the loch to plant potatoes.

31470. Where do they get work?
—There is very little work on this estate except some wood work, especially after gales.

31471. Do you not go to the south or to the east coast for work ?
—Hardly any of us go there, but we fish about the place.

31472. How do you make money enough to pay for the place on which you live ?
—Some years we do pretty well by the fishing, and other years not, and in that case the merchant gives credit till such time as we are able to pay him.

31473. Is there a man in every family of the place ?
—Yes, usually.

31474. You chiefly depend for your living upon fishing ?
—We have no other source of living but that.

31475. Is that herring fishing ?

31476. Where do you fish?
—For two years chiefly in Loch Hourn, very little being got in Loch Duich.

31477. Are you well provided with boats and nets?
—Some are and some are not, but they are improving in that respect.

31478. Are they getting a larger class of boats?
—Yes, they have been getting larger within the last few years.

31479. Where do you get them from ?
—They are built at Dornie. The people buy timber and employ a local carpenter.

31480. If the quality of your boats has been improving, it would seem that your own condition also is improving ; is that so ?
—The chief reason is that we have to go to Loch Hourn, and big boats are more suitable; and several of us usually join and go in company.

31481. Are the people of Letterfearn very much in debt?
—They are so generally before the fishing begins.

31482. Are they much in debt to merchants for food ?
—Some of them for meal and other provisions.

31483. But on the whole you are not so sunk in debt but you will be able to get over it before the year's end ?
—If there is a good fishing, but if not our debts will be heavier.

31484. How are you off for a harbour?
—We don't complain at all of it.

31485. Your houses are not good?
—They are not.

31486. Who built them?
—At first they were scattered, but when the people were huddled together the houses were all within the water mark, and in consequence they were sometimes flooded, and some of our gear was injured.

31487. Did your fathers get any compensation for the houses from which they were removed?
—They got no compensation, only they built these houses for them, and usually two or three families were put under the same roof.

31488. Are they so still?
—In the same way.

31489. But are the families not separated by walls?
—There is a wall erected between them.

31490. How many rooms are there in those houses?
—In some one and others two.

31491. Does the tide come into them sometimes?
—Yes, very often.

31492. To what depth ?
—In three houses it was calculated that it rose to the height of three feet.

31493. When did that happen?
—Three years ago during the great tide.

31494. Does it ever happen with an ordinary high spring tide?
—-Occasionally, generally in the spring.

31495. Why were the houses built so close to the sea?
—Because it was the proprietor's order, or his factor's.

31496. Was it done for the convenience of the people, or to save the land?
—I think it was to save the land that they built them so near the sea.

31497. You say you sent a petition to the laird about sixteen months ago and that you were visited by the factor, who promised to increase your holding; have you had any communication with him on the subject since then?
— The factors came to see us when we were assembled in the schoolhouse.

31498. When ?
—The first time they came, and said they would send now to the proprietor and see whether he would grant the request or assist us in any way. They came to us again, and they were promising a piece of ground; and then they came a third time, and said the land was given to us. They showed no boundaries and pointed out no land, but told us it was in the upper part of the township, and when the Whitsunday term passed they spoke to us and asked why we did not put out our cattle on the land. But at that time the cattle had been sent as usual to pasture on the farmer's land. Since then, within the last two or three days, they have been seeing us again, when they said they would give us land to support fifteen cows, but those who know what stock land will carry say that it won't carry more than seven, and others who are judges of the value of land declare the value to be, say £1 .per cow of rent. But the factor's rent was to be £15. Those who have the land already, because of its deterioration by the steepness of the slope and floods and the continuous cropping, say they would be entitled to get the whole of this new land along with their crop.

31499. What is the rent that the thirteen pay for the one acre ?
—30s. for the land and 5s. for sea-ware, although they cannot cut it but every second year.

31500. To whom do they pay for the sea-ware ?
—To the proprietor.

31501. Has that always been the custom ?
—Yes, it was more than that at one time.

31502. How is it you can only have it every second year?
—Because it takes two years to grow.

31503. Professor Mackinnon.
—This pasture which has been promised to you, the factor says is sufficient for fifteen cows, and you say only for seven ?

31504. Is there plenty of ground round about to support a cow for each of you ?

31505. Suitable ground ?
—Quite suitable for cattle.

31506. Since you got this very small croft how do you expect to make your living ? Is it by crofting and fishing?
—During those years in which the fishing would not do so well the land would be a great help to keep us out of debt.

31507. Might not there be a danger, that people would spend too much time upon the croft and too little upon the fishing?
—Fishing has a time for itself.

31508. Do you think you could work a good croft and still attend to the fishing in its own time ?

31509. What is the fishing time here?
—During autumn.

31510. How much land was it you asked the proprietor to give you ?
—We wanted to get all we had formerly.

31511. And that is now added to the farm of Druidaig?
—It was added partly to Druidaig and partly to Leackachan.

31512. And if you got that, you would put up houses as they were before ?
—We would try to do so with help.

31513. Have you any idea of the stock you had in old times when you had these places ?
—Two had one cow, some of them had also sheep ; the rent ranged from £3, 10s. to £5.

31514. Supposing you were to get the land you had before, do you think you would be able yourselves to stock it again ?
—If the price of sheep were as formerly we could easily do it, but the price of sheep is now so high that we might have considerable difficulty in doing it. But still we would try.

31515. You don't think the proprietor would lose anything by giving you back these lands ?
—It was a loss to the proprietor when our land was taken from us.

31516. Do you think that your people were paying more rent for that land than the proprietor is getting now ?
—Yes, they were paying more. When it was given to the farmer he got a reduction of £10.

31517. And you would be willing to pay for it now what the present tenant is paying for it if you got it back ?
—We would do so rather than want, but if we could get it cheaper we would prefer it.

31518. Can you give any reason why the proprietor took that from you and gave it to another man for £ 10 less of rent?
—I cannot say whether the proprietor wished it or not, but probably the factor did it, wishing to add to his own farm of Druidaig; and meanwhile he gave it at a lower rent to another man Macrae, finally meaning at the same time to add it to his own farm.

31519. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you know the estate of Glenshiel pretty well ?
—Yes, I was a shepherd a long time.

31520. Are there any crofters upon Baillie's estate of Glenshiel ?
—Not one.

31521. Is it a pretty considerable estate ?
—Yes, very large.

31522. Were there small people upon it once?
—Yes, up in the glens here and there.

31523. And some alongside the loch ?
—Two. You see the foundations of the houses still.

31524. Have you heard any of your predecessors mention how many people were removed from Glenshiel ?
—I cannot say as to that.

31525. Must there have been a considerable number, judging from the remains ?
—That is quite apparent from the appearances of habitations. They were numerous in the glens in former times.

31526. Wrhat became of these people? Were they put out of the country altogether or sent to adjoining proprietors ?
—Some of them left the kingdom, and others were sent down to the sea-shore.

31527. Upon other proprietors, I presume ?
—Most of them settled upon other proprietors.

31528. Had the person who was the proprietor of Glenshiel at that time any other land than what now belongs to Baillie ?
—We cannot say ; it was one Dick, an Englishman, who was proprietor.

31529. Was he long proprietor?
—Yes, he was some years.

31530. What became of him?
—He died in Rattagan.

31531. Is the farm of Rattagan a very suitable place for cultivation by crofters ? Is there a good deal of land ?
—It was in small crofts at one time, and is the most suitable land of any—excellent land for the purpose.

31532. Did you bear that the people who have removed were well off in their circumstances ?
—They were comfortable enough as long as they had the land.

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