Traditional Highland life
Before 1755 over half the people of Scotland lived in the Highlands. Most Highlanders spoke Gaelic, a language similar to Irish. Their culture and traditions were different from those of people in Lowland Scotland.
Many Highlanders belonged to clans. Clan members gave their support to their chief in return for protection and leadership.
Most Highlanders were farmers. Poor families lived in stone cottages or 'blackhouses'. Often a whole family shared one room. By the 1800s this old way of life was changing.
The Sutherland Clearances
Many Highland farm families were forced from their homes by landlords. These removals became known as the Highland Clearances.
The Duke of Sutherland owned vast areas of the Highlands. He was one of the richest men in the world . To 'improve' his lands, he replaced farmers with sheep. The sheep wool was sold to make more money. By 1820 he had almost 120,000 sheep!
Patrick Sellar worked for the Duke. He and his men were mean to Highland farmers and burned their homes. 150,000 poor people lost their homes during the Clearances. Patrick Sellar himself became a rich sheep farmer.
Some Highland families went away to the cities. Many emigrated to America and Canada.
At first, people outside the Highlands knew little of these sad events. In 1840 the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle newspaper published letters from Donald Macleod, who had seen the Clearances for himself. Donald Macleod left Scotland for Canada. He published his stories of the Clearances, calling them 'Gloomy Memories'.
Some poor Highlanders rented small plots of land, called crofts. They scraped a living from fishing, weaving cloth, or working as servants for rich landowners.
Crofting was a hard life and crofters were often unfairly treated. This led to trouble, especially on the Isle of Skye, when crofters refused to pay rent to their landlords. Many people supported the crofters, and in 1886 the government made a new law to improve life for Highland crofters.
New Lives in the City
Many Highlanders moved to cities to find work. Used to fresh air and open country, they were horrified by the overcrowding and dirt of city life.
Glasgow was Scotland's biggest city. It had 30,000 people in the 1770s, but over 200,000 by the 1830s, and by 1901 its population was 1 million!
Poor families often lived in one room, with no kitchen or bathroom. In tenement blocks, lots of people had to use just one toilet. With no proper drains, streets were filthy and smelly too! Disease spread quickly. In 1832 cholera killed over 3,000 people in Glasgow.