In 1812, the Board of Agriculture (London) published a 'General view of the agriculture of the County of Caithness', together with maps and an appendix relating to Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster entitled 'An Account of The Improvements carried on by Sir John Sinclair, Bart., on his Estates in Scotland'. The estates in question covered the parishes of Thurso, Halkirk, Reay, Wick and Latheron. This map shows the planned layout of the village of Halkirk.
Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster (1754-1835) was a landowner, politician, early improver, agriculturist, statistician and ambassador for his country. Born in Thurso Castle into a branch of the Sinclair Earls of Caithness, he went on to study at the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Oxford before being admitted to the Faculty of Advocates. He was returned as MP for Caithness in 1780 and sat in the House of Commons almost continually until 1811. Sir John was the first president of the Board of Agriculture and founded a society for the improvement of British wool. In 1805 he was appointed commissioner for the construction of roads and bridges in the north of Scotland. He also supervised the compilation of the first Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799).
On his Caithness estates, Sir John initiated improvements in agricultural methods such as drainage, field enclosure and crop rotation. Large tracts of arable land were let out to individual tenants and new breeds of livestock were introduced, including Cheviot sheep. Displaced tenants were given smaller parcels of land to work. As part of his improvements Sir John also built the new town of Thurso and the port of Scrabster. His aim was to keep the people on the land, either in the larger, newly-improved farms or employed in local industry such as brewing, tanning and woollen manufacture. However, he was thwarted in his attempts by the area's isolated position and high transport costs. Eventually, some of his tenants, such as the families who were moved from the fertile ground at Langwell to the coastal village of Badbea, were forced to emigrate.
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