Report on the Right Honourable the Earl of Breadalbane’s Perthshire property, by James F. Wyllie his Lordship’s factor - 1831
Agreeable to your Lordship’s instructions I proceed to prepare a report in which I will study to class my remarks in as concise a form as possible. My acquaintance with the country is short; my knowledge of it is therefore in many instances neither so full, nor perhaps accurate as could be wished. The importance however of submitting to your Lordship without further delay any remarks connected with the future arrangement of the estate induce me to attempt the task.
It is proposed to class this report under the following heads;
- Lands under Lease
- Plantations and Sawmills
- Turnpike and Statute labour roads
- General remarks
1. Lands under Lease
Under this head, I beg leave to notice 1st the Grazings many of which are extensive and valuable. As in all countries, there is much room for improvement in the breed of stock – on the meadowlands, houses etc. – at every opening men of capital and enterprise should be secured. It is incredible the effect produced in a district by planting spirited individuals at different points-they are looked up to and acquire an influence over their neighbours who find it their interest and pleasure to follow such an example. I need hardly add that it is necessary in order to induce another and secure the interest of such people to grant leases of some length.
Wood is at present yielding a fair price – if the autumn cattle markets advance, the ensuing spring may be favourable for setting land, and a single season is of consequence in carrying into effect any measure for improvement of the country.
The disadvantages arising from the small size of these are too obvious to require remark. A superfluous population – useless beasts of burden, and farming implements to provide and support - they consume the produce of the soil and are a very heavy tax upon the proprietor.
The land is in irregular patches – miserably cultivated and houses and fences in ruin giving an appearance of poverty and wretchedness to the country -the people are indolent and slovenly and stock and produce of all kinds is generally speaking of inferior quality.
These are a few of the evils resulting from the existing arrangement of this part of the property. The care nationally appears to be disposing of the superfluous population and enlarging the possessions. Such a change judiciously and firmly carried through holds forth the following among other advantages - an improved population, an improved management and probably an improved income. What has been expended in supporting so many families, useless horses and implements will be laid out upon the land, and otherwise turned to the proprietor’s advantage – the country will be laid into regular square divisions and the soil cultivated in such a manner as to be productive and pleasing in appearance.
The first and great difficulty in the way of such a change is the disposal of the families to be dispossessed. Delay however I would submit to your Lordship will increase this difficulty. Every succeeding year the population are becoming more numerous and more poor. At present it is believed that though much reduced a great proportion still possess the means of emigrating. In cases where it appears beyond doubt that the party is in indigent circumstances I beg to recommend to your Lordship to give every possible encouragement to emigration. Freights are at present extremely low. By such means the country may be much relieved, and that comparatively speaking at a trifling pecuniary sacrifice, of a class of persons who from early habits of idleness, want of employment etc. must inevitably become a burden on their respective parishes.
Supposing this first difficulty is overcome, the next measure, and one of great importance, is to increase the size and let the possessions anew to respectable active men. In doing this, the following are in my opinion the considerations to have in view;- the square and compact form of the possessions, easy access to roads, to the Hill and to water and proportioning good and bad land. Suitable neat steadings of houses so situated as to have the nicest effect and afford easiest access in the management of the possession.
In my opinion four shift rotation of crops is too severe for this country. The possessions when enlarged will however admit of being laid into six divisions, which I strongly recommend, and may thus lay in grass two years after each course of cropping. I need not point out to your Lordship the importance of giving every facility to the tenantry in working lime for the improvement of their farms and buildings.
The present souming regulations appear to me to be defective, insofar as they do not provide against overstocking – neither for the proper classing of the stock – the mode of proportioning the common hill also admits to improvement. Keeping in view always the improvement of the breed of cattle and sheep, it is a great consequence to prevent overstocking. I therefore beg leave to propose getting a correct return of the stock that each common pasture can keep. The different kinds of stock to be so arranged as to promote the improvement of each and the tenants to have hill pasture in proportion to the rent paid - every pound of increase entitling to a certain additional souming.
With regard to the mills on the property I beg leave to report as my opinion that a number of these are unnecessary – they form a heavy burden on the tenantry without rendering any equivalent service. There are good useful mills at Turrerich, Aberfeldy, Acharn and Lawers. In addition to these, mills at Killin, Ardtalinaig, and a small one at Edinample are considered sufficient.
The system of the thirling tenants to a mill is generally speaking now given up. A servant of the public where entirely dependent on his own good conduct and exertions is always most useful. In the future arrangements I beg leave to recommend one rule being applied to the whole property as to the rate of mill dues – that the Miller should in every sense be responsible for the state of repair the mill and buildings without calling for services from tenants – that he shall pay to the landlord such rent as will yield a fair percentage for the outlay and on the other hand that the mill dues will be such as are usually paid where similar arrangements exist on other properties.
Crofters and villagers
These may with propriety be said to form a great burden on a property, particularly in a country where there is a superfluous population and want of employment. I am inclined to view this system of Crofts as a decided check to industrious habits – the labourer becomes apt to trust too far to its produce without keeping in view the expense of cropping and risk from the seasons etc.– he becomes less anxious to gain money by his labour indeed too generally with the crofter does it form a secondary consideration.
Habits of industry are thus destroyed ,– when aged they are consequently in the greatest indigence, and in too many instances become parochial burdens, their children like themselves bred up with the same ideas, marry young without the means of supporting a family and do not scruple to cast off their aged parents – this evil in the nature of things must increase unless it meets an effectual check.
For these reasons I submit to your Lordship that to reduce instead of increasing this class of persons, appears an object worthy of the greatest attention, particularly as there is an obvious want of employment in the district and I beg to recommend as the first step the removal from the property of the bad characters, the idle and dissipated.
On the Annandale property, long leases of a number of pretty detached spots have been given to persons with a little capital on condition that a certain description of house is built and that the ground is laid out in a neat manner – the length of lease is regulated by the amount of outlay and the proprietor reserves power to take up the lease at any period in the event of an obnoxious tenant on paying a proportional part of the outlay. The neighbouring country is benefited by such persons spending a good deal of money among them, while the real value and appearances of the property is much improved. Killin and many beautiful spots along both sides of the lake are admirably adapted for such a plan and I have no doubt if your Lordship feels inclined to give effect to it that there would be numerous respectable applications. Killin and its neighbourhood as a place of summer resort is rarely equalled. In the neighbourhood of Killin it may be here observed, there appears some good situations for the purposes of machinery which are worth keeping in view.
2. Plantations and sawmills
In general they are in the most thriving condition – the want of thinning however has been injurious in many parts. It is proposed to divide these into classes and submit a few remarks upon the present state of each, with such suggestions as may occur for their future management.
Old plantations. In many parts choked up with beach and other inferior wood which is of little or no value, and by sharing in the nourishment and presenting free circulation is most hurtful to the finer trees whose roots and branches are hampered. In several parts I consider the woods injured by water – this from the steepness of the ground generally is obviated at the most trifling expense. In a manager of such woods it is most essential that taste is combined with judgement – while it is suggested to thin gradually the inferior stunted and least valuable always giving way to the finer woods and attending to the most necessary parts first, variety in the appearance must be studied and the effect is ascertained from every point before applying the axe freely, – it is also most necessary to guard against opening up any exposed point.
A considerable quantity of stave wood may be taken out of different places.
Younger plantations. These without almost any exception require gradual thinning – in many places there is little or no hardwood, and the fir tribe from being much confined are ill rooted and cannot be relied upon becoming old wood. In some cases the woods are of a height at which hardwood might with propriety yet be introduced.
Copse or natural woods. Thinning of these has not been practised – consequently the growths are stunted – it is submitted that a thinning at from 5 to 7 and another at 12 to 15 years old, would be advantageous – the proceeds from the second thinning will in general be found to cover the expense of both, the growth of the remaining plants will be healthy and vigorous – the bark of superior quality and consequently the value increased and the appearance much improved.
Considerable cuttings of stave wood may be made at the west end of Lochtay with advantage.
General remarks. In several woods there is a good deal of ground waste or at least covered with dwarf birch, alder etc. only - of no value but as firewood – the clearing of such ground and planting with more valuable kinds should be kept in view.
The fences around many of the woods particularly in the Taymouth district have fallen into bad repair and form no protection. A few small surface drains where real injury is done to the planted trees by water flowing over the surface are recommended as a great improvement at trifling expense.
In my opinion there is no change on a property so important as that of extensive fine plantations. Injury may be suffered by doing too little - irreparable injury is sustained by doing too much or doing it injudiciously. On the other hand the efforts of a skilful active zealous workman on so extensive and valuable a subject, are important beyond all calculation.
Sawmills are of great value where there are extensive woods. Since foreign timber fell in price and the extent of plantation in Scotland vastly increased the home-grown wood has become almost unmarketable, the expense of manufacturing and carriage not admitting of competition - this remark applies particularly to the inferior sorts of timber and it is for this description of which thinnings chiefly consist, that it is desirable to find a market a good sawmill will lessen the expense of cutting up very much – not less than one half I believe the expedition is found of great advantage also. I cannot recommend letting sawmills on such a principle as the Taymouth one is at present on the following grounds; –
It is the tenant’s object to cut up what pays him best, without regard to the proprietor’s interest – there is opportunity afforded for dishonesty if the tenant is so disposed as all wood of the Proprietors and his is conveyed to and mixed in the same yard. The income is a mere trifle compared to the return it ought to make under proper management while your Lordship is paying for sawing timber double the rate at which a contract is entered into at Killin a few weeks ago.
Turnpikes. The advantage which these are to the property is very great indeed. The general state of these is promising and if the opening to Dumbartonshire was completed, of which there is a fair prospect, in a few months, we may anticipate a considerable improvement on all the lines. On the future management of the roads much depends - in every case I recommend the repairs being executed by contract on a particular specification and under strict inspectors which I hope the new ground officers will prove.
I am inclined to think that lowering the rate of toll duty on the Glendochart road by and bye might have a very favourable effect on the other two Trusts – there would be an increased travelling on the roads, which, while it added to the revenue of the Loch Tayside and Glennfalloch Road, might maintain the present income of the Glendochart Trust and prevent evasion.
The statute Labour Roads are in some districts in pretty fair order. This however is not general, the conversion money levied from the property will however if properly applied in future make them all sufficiently good – and here it is also very important to observe the economy with a view to reducing this burden upon the property if possible – all the work should be done by contract, and the roads of greatest service to the property be particularly attended to.
There is at present a considerable surplus fund – upwards of £200 and opening from the lakeside through Glentalanaig or from Ardeonaig towards Comrie appears to be an object worth keeping in view with this fund. Such a road would be of importance to a large district of the property and would not I think prove detrimental to any of the turnpikes.
4. General remarks
The Parks at Taymouth and Finlarig appear to me to be disposed of to advantage at present. At Taymouth the Parks might be much improved by drainage in various places – the Finlarig parks are much overgrown with bramble and have suffered greatly from neglect in killing the moles.
Lead Mines Clifton and Slate quarries Glenlyon. I have visited both places and though there may be difficulties in the way and no great revenue arise from them at least for some years, I consider that it would be a great object to work both of these;- as affording considerable employment in the respective districts and benefiting the funds of the different turnpikes in which your Lordship is deeply interested.
Banks of rivers. I consider it of importance to have these minutely examined every spring and a report of the state given in time to have the damage by the winter floods repaired during summer – the advantage of attending to such work and time will be found very great.
Ground officers. Your Lordship is aware how inefficient the present establishment is. The wages annually paid t0 them (including inspection of stocks on the lakesides) exceeds £120. I am convinced that three respectable men possessing activity and intelligence would perform the whole duties and in a manner much more satisfactory. If one of these was qualified to measure land and assist me in directing improvements, the surveyor, whose yearly allowances may be stated at £100, might be dispensed with, – he I am sorry to report is also quite inefficient, as an habitual drunkard, his example is productive of the very worst effects. The ground officers will also act as inspectors on the turnpike roads and as Baron officers, from which an annual saving of fully £50 will arise – this necessary change will thus prove a measure of economy.
In my opinion there are also too many wood and game herds;- this establishment would I think be more efficient if the number was reduced and the whole time and attention given to the change – the duties of the situation require activity and unremitting attention. The present yearly payment of these officers amounts to £75.
Payment of labourers wages – there does not appear to have been any stated rule hitherto – one set paid monthly another only once in four or six months. As an improvement I beg leave to suggest that all wages be paid regularly once in six weeks or two months. The accounts will thus be kept fully more distinct;- at all events they will be easier understood by the labourer who will derive great benefit from such an arrangement. He will pay ready money for all necessaries and can thus select the best and cheapest market – and not so when labourer buy on credit – they are too apt to contract debt, and are thus at the mercy of their merchant, whom they cannot then leave whatever may be the disadvantages.
To improve a country it has been justly observed, first improve the people, – the labouring classes are certainly indolent and slovenly, not exerting themselves beyond barely providing for present wants, and have no idea whatever of the comforts of cleanliness, – in these respects a good deal may be done however by encouraging the industrious, and giving small premiums where dispositions for neatness appears – and at the same time to remove from the property the worthless and idle on every occasion – the establishment of a Parish Savings Bank at each end of the lake would prove very useful to this class of people. The liberal manner in which your Lordship has promoted and encouraged education over the property will no doubt, under the zealous superintendence of the more active clergymen have the most beneficial effect upon the rising generation.
In various districts where agricultural associations have been formed and carried on with spirit for the purposes of improving the breed of stock, cultivation of land, improvement on the cottagers etc, by competitions and giving premiums, they have been signally successful. If arrangements for the future management were once formed and carried into effect there is a fine field for such an attempt on your Lordship’s extensive property which in my opinion would be productive of the best effects.
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