Lowland Clearances 9

Much is known about the Highland Clearances in Scotland which resulted due to the shift from agricultural farming to sheep farming. However, little is known or discussed about the Lowland Clearances. These clearances took place from the Central belt down to the Borders and affected an enormous number of people.The event which triggered the Lowland Clearances was in response to the Industrial Revolution and was known as Farm Improvements. For centuries, Lowland Scots had lived off the land. Tenant farmers, known as Crofters, rented land from the landowners, worked the land, and paid a portion of their financial or crop return to the landowner as a form of rent. Tenant farmers hired Cottars, day workers, to assist at times of planting and harvesting. These day workers were one small step above destitution. This back-breaking work provided a meagre subsistence.

By Robert Maxwell of Arkland 1695-1765 Public Domain

Where the Highland Clearances were swift and brutal, the Lowland Clearances were carried out over time. The landowners drew up leases for the tenants with a number of conditions that were required, including a more profitable and less communal form of farming. At the end of the lease, many of the leases were not renewed. Further, if the conditions were not met or not met to the satisfaction of the landowner, the lease could be terminated without recourse.

Individual farms were replaced, not by sheep, but by larger, more commercial farms. The old system of runrig farming, a communal system where everyone shared in both the successes and failures of their portion of land with the rest of the crofters, was replaced with larger “Farmtouns” that were more modernized and resulted in larger crop yields. The handful of animals were no longer put to pasture on the outskirts of the crop fields. Instead, larger herd were put to pasture on the hills and crags well apart from the crop fields. The newer, larger, more modern farms essentially did away with the need for the day workers or Cottars. An entire rung of the agricultural hierarchy was wiped out with the stroke of a pen at the signing of the new leases.

Runrig Farming near Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland

Runrig Farming near Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland

The option of paying rents in kind was eradicated with the requirement now being for cash payments. Those unable to pay had their leases terminated. In addition, the rents for the new, more modern farms were much higher than they had been for the crofting families. This created another “legal” means of clearing people off the lands as they were unable to pay their rents to their landlords.

The displaced Cottars were forced into nearby towns and cities to find work. Some were successful in the manufactories, others were not. These men were unskilled for factory work and their adjustment to a new and unfamiliar way of life often had devastating effects from an economic standpoint.

The depopulation of the Highlands created mass emigration from the Highlands, whereas in the Lowlands, the depopulation was more sporadic, and so seemed less dramatic. Those cleared from the Highlands were often fortunate enough to have their passage to a new land paid for by their landlords. In many instances, they also had the luxury of land waiting for them upon their arrival in their new country. The Highland Clearances were much shorter lived than the Lowland Clearances and in the end resulted in lower overall numbers leaving Scotland.

The Lowland farmers were given nothing. They were expected to pay their own passage when to get to a new country. They had no land and no prospects of a job waiting for them when they arrived in the Americas. Large numbers of these Lowland Scots settled in New Brunswick and Ontario in Canada as well as in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina. Many then migrated from there to other parts of their new countries.

With the Highland Clearances, entire villages were removed from their land and ended up emigrating as a community. They also remained together in their new land, where they already had their support network with them, land to live on and make a living from. The Lowland Clearances affected a few families at a time. Because the farmers were left to their own devices, many migrated into the surrounding towns and cities and tried to find employment. The vast majority did not emigrate right away, but over time. They saw that their best option for prospering and to be able to own their own land, was to leave Scotland and emigrate to the Americas or Australia. Since these Lowlanders came in smaller numbers, they were more transient when they arrived. And based on their previous experience of trying to eke out a living in the factory towns in Scotland, they tended to assimilate rather quickly in their new homelands.

Between the Highland Clearances and the Lowland Clearances, some two million Scots left their homeland and emigrated to lands rich with the promise of new opportunities. Their mark on the formation of their new countries is evident even today and their descendants continue many of the traditions, culture and heritage that these Scots emigrants carried with them.

About Christine Woodcock

Scottish born, Canadian raised, Christine Woodcock is a genealogy educator with an expertise in the Scottish records. She enjoys sharing new resources to assist others in their quest to find and document their heritage. Christine is also a lecturer, author and blogger. She is the Director of Genealogy Tours of Scotland (www.genealogytoursofscotland.ca) and enjoys taking fellow Scots “home” to do onsite genealogy research and to discover their own Scottish heritage.

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9 thoughts on “Lowland Clearances


    Cannot understand why they banned the tartans, , know it was what the clans stood for. Hate the English for this, my nana who was a Munro whose clan actually fought for the English at Culloden used to say as she hated the English with a vengeance and the only good Sassenach was a dead one, sorry

    • Christine Woodcock Post author

      The Act of Proscription was enacted after Culloden to stench the Highland way of life for good. The Act reads:

      1746 Highland Dress Proscripton Act

      “That from and after the First Day of August 1747, no man or boy within that part of Great Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers of His Majesty’s Forces, shall on any pretext whatsoever, wear or put on the clothes, commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little kilt, Trowes, Shoulder-Belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid or stuff shall be used for Great coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the first said day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garments or any part of them, every person so offending…. shall be liable to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.”

    • Richard Nelson

      Culloden wasn’t a battle between English and Scots forces. It was a battle between the Stuart supporters, Jacobites, and Hanoverians who supported the usurper in London. There were Scots and English on both sides

  • Stephen B. McCartney

    Was c. 1816 coastal Aberdeenshire part of the Lowland Clearances
    or, was this area, immigration wise, more influenced by the fall of
    the kelp industry?