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Crofting

Crofting

Before 1745, clan chiefs had measured their status by the number of fighting men they could raise, but after Culloden there arose a need to make their land profitable.

The rise of crofting
Sheep farming was introduced and many people were evicted from their homes to make way for it. Though some emigrated, most were cleared to coastal areas where landlord provided small plots of land, or crofts, in return for an annual rent. The land was often poor and the crofts were small. This obliged the crofter to take on other work that earned money for the landlord, for example in the kelp and fishing industries.

The croft
The croft was a small area of rented land on which the house was built ‒ originally a traditional ‘blackhouse’. A crofter would probably keep a cow or two, chickens, and perhaps a few sheep. Oats and potatoes would be grown, manuring the ground with seaweed, cow dung, and old thatch from the roof. Peat was cut and dried for fuel. There was access to the common grazings for cattle and sheep.

The fight for security of tenure
Because they did not own the land they worked, crofters lacked security.. Rent could be increased at any time, there was no recognition of improvements made to the land, and the landlord could evict them at any time. A decline in the kelp industry around 1820, the Potato Famine of the 1840s and the conversion of large tracts of land to deer forest made things worse. Large-scale evictions and emigrations followed. Crofters began to protest and press for legal rights.

The Crofters' Act of 1886
In 1883 the Government appointed a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Crofting Conditions, which published its findings in the Napier Report. Following the Napier Report, the Crofters Commission was set up to see that crofters were given security of tenure, a fair deal on rents and compensation for any loss of land.

Today’s crofting township
The traditional blackhouses have all but disappeared. They have been replaced by solidly built two-storey dwellings or by modern bungalows. Potatoes, oats and grass crops are still grown but small farm machinery is used much more widely. A local Grazings Committee is entrusted with looking after the common grazings and seeing that all crofters keep to the rules.

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