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20 August 2014
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The Highland Clearances

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Meet The Clan
1800 A Highland Township
1814 Evictions
1821 A New Beginning
 

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The Highland Clearances: Text Only Version: 1800 - A Highland Township

Introduction

Callum MacAllan

"It's the year 1800 and what a happy time it was for my clan. We lived our simple lives on the land and found little to complain about. Read on to find out more.

I live in a croft house with my wife, her mother, three bairns and our animals. Aye, the cows and the hens live at one end of the dwelling and we at the other. Well, it keeps us all warm! There is a peat fire in the middle of our end of the house. That is where my wife cooks up a thin porridge, cabbage broth or potatoes and turnips in a large cauldron that is hung from the ceiling. Sometimes we have mutton, and the children make cheese from the cows' milk. Our plates are made from wood, and our spoons of either wood or animal horn. These chairs, and the chest here, I made myself from wood. Our beds are just boxes filled with heather or hay for comfort. My wife's mother uses the spinning wheel to spin the wool to make fine warm socks for us. There are no windows. Well, it keeps the heat in and the cold out. There is a hole in the roof to let the smoke from the fire out of the house. The smoke is useful for preserving food like fish. It gets very black inside the house, though. That's why they call these houses blackhouses."


Donald MacDavid

"Our croft house was built by my grandfather, Angus MacDavid. The walls are made of thick stone and the roof from wood, and a thatch made from straw or rushes. When these houses were built people had to use whatever materials could be found locally and often wood from old boats was used. There is just one door, through which both people and animals go into the house. People from the lowlands think it strange that we live with our animals but that is our way of life. We think them strange with their fancy ideas and language - English my father says it's called."



Clan Chief William MacAndrew

"I live in Glenmorven Castle, which has been home to the MacAndrew Clan Chiefs for hundreds of years. There are portraits on the walls of some of my ancestors who passed my title to me. In the dining room my wife, the Countess Louisa, and I are served splendid meals usually consisting of tender beef, vegetables and fine wines from France. The cutlery and the goblets are made of silver and the plates from delicate porcelain. The room is lit by candles in heavy silver candelabras. The children dine separately in the nursery, of course, with their governess who also teaches them to read and write in English instead of Gaelic. I want them to attend an expensive school in London so they must learn English. But all this is a costly business and it strikes me that I am not getting enough money from my land. The tenants pay next to nothing in rent and, because their methods are only useful for small-scale farming, there is little hope they will ever be able to pay more. Things are going to have to change."



John MacAndrew

"I'm the tacksman. In Glenmorven we have a small church. The minister's name is Angus MacAllister. The crofters and cottars are extremely God-fearing people, with much faith in the minister. They listen to what he has to say. This could be very useful to me and the clan chief. You see, I have an idea that will replace the farmers in this valley with sheep. The price of wool is very good and the Blackface or the Cheviot sheep could do very well here. The clan chief will like my idea because it will bring in more money, and because the Minister has been chosen by the chief he will help us by telling the farmers they must do as they are told."



Mary MacTavish

"I'm Mary MacTavish, the cottar. I work for the crofters on their rigs. These are strips of land where they grow their crops. I help by digging, or putting seaweed down as manure on the land. Manure improves their crop. After that I help with planting potatoes and weeding. In the Autumn, at harvest time, I help gather the potato crop and carry it home. We use creels for that - wicker baskets - that we carry on our backs. Often I have to walk for miles. It is hard work but we are happy. We've been hearing talk, though, that the laird in his fine castle wants to make changes. It's a worrying time."



Real Life


Outside a Croft

Many croft houses were destroyed during the evictions. Those that were left became ruined over the years. This croft house has been rebuilt in the way that it would have been built originally. The walls are made from stones carefully built on top of each other. Wooden beams are used to support the roof. Turf or heather divots are then laid on top. To make the roof watertight straw or rushes are thatched over the top. The thatch is secured with rope made from heather.


Inside a Croft

A lot of time was spent round the peat fire in the centre of the room as it gave off warmth and light. Inside the croft house, the family would sit on low wooden chairs or stools called creepies. The smoke was not as thick near the ground. The fire burned day and night ensuring the family were kept warm. At night time, it was not unusual for the whole family to sleep in one bed.


Castles

The castle belonged to the clan chief. It would have been home to his family for hundreds of years. When a chief died, the castle would be passed to the eldest son who would usually become the chief. This way the castle and the land was always owned by the family. Castles were built at a time when clans battled over land. The purpose of the castle was to protect the chief and his family from attack.


Cooking Pots

Cooking pots were mostly made of cast iron. They would have been balanced over the fire and used to cook a family's daily meal. Some cooking pots hung from the ceiling on a pot chain just above the fire. Oats, potatoes and kale were what most crofters survived on. Those who lived near the sea would eat fish too. Oats would be boiled in a large cooking pot and made into gruel. The potatoes and cabbage would be mashed together to make clapshot. Bannocks were also made from oats. The oats were pressed together to make oat cakes and cooked on a girdle above the fire.


Peat Spades

Peat was very important in highland life. It was the main source of fuel for heat and cooking. The peat had to be cut from the ground and dried before it could be used. A peat spade or tusker would be used to cut the peat into strips. Usually the men would cut the peats in the spring time before going off to their summer jobs. Then the women and children would load the peat into a basket or creel and carry it home on their backs. This was heavy work as the croft was often several miles away. Once home, the peat would have to be stacked up to keep it dry.


Now travel to 1814 or 1821.



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