"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."
"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."
"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."
"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
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.
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.
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 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 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.