Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Friday, 27 March 2015

More on Pennylands...

In an earlier piece, I referred to a note from April 14th 1884 in the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland called 'What is a Pennyland? Or Ancient Valuation of Land in the Scottish Isles'.

Its author was Captain FWL Thomas and a recent exchange regarding the redoubtable Fred's work in Harris led me to revisit his works in the online catalogue of the National Library of Scotland.

In 1886 volume 20 of the Proceedings appeared including a continuation piece that was published posthumously, Fred Thomas having died at the age of 69 on 25 October 1885 at his home, Rose Park, in Trinity, Leith.

On page 211 of the volume he states, giving his source as the Old Statistical Account:

In Harris, 1792, the ancient and still common computation of land was a penny, halfpenny, farthing, half-farthing, clitag, &c.

A tacksman might hold 20d.—that is, an ounceland; while a small tenant or crofter usually held a farthing land.

The stock or souming for a farthing land was four milk cows, three or four horses, and as many sheep on the common as the tenant had the luck to rear.

The crop might be computed, in general at four or five bolls, and the rent was 30 or 40
shillings, besides personal service, rated at one day's work per week.”

In the 1895 Crofters Commission Report the souming of each croft in Strond was 1 horse, 4 cows and 20 sheep which I calculated* to be 68 'sheep grazing units', or sgu.

At the same time the crofters in Direcleit were allowed just 4 cows and 20 sheep, or 52sgu.

A little over a century earlier a small tenant was allowed 4 horses, 4 cows and as many sheep as he could rear which means well over 96sgu were deemed acceptable.

This is one of the clearest illustrations of how the imposition of crofts held direct from the landlord contrasted with the lot of the small tenant renting from a tacksman.

We may note, for comparison, across the Sound of Harris that:

In North Uist, 1794, the small tenants usually held a ½d. land, on which they kept 6 cows, 6 horses, and raised enough grain to keep them all the year round.”

6 horses and 6 cows gives us 144sgu from a half-pennyland, demonstrating once again that the lot of the small tenant was vastly superior to that of the crofter a century later, and reinforcing the difference whereby a crofter HAD to supplement his income in order to survive.

*”The grazing of stock shall be calculated on the footing of one cow being equivalent to eight sheep, and one horse to two cows or sixteen sheep. Source: Crofters Commission Report 1896.


  • THOMAS, F.W.L. 1886, "Ancient Valuation of Land in the West of Scotland: Continuation of "What is a Pennyland?"", Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Proceedings, vol. 20, pp. 200.

No comments:

Post a Comment