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Of course, the central notion in the phenomena called "The Lowland Clearances" was the "de-population" of the countryside.  This de-population was apparently not brutal, there were no killings and probably only a few sudden moderate-scale expulsions of people. While these removals began to accelerate dramatically in the mid 18th century, there had been at least some similar activity since the beginning of the 17th at the time of the "Ulster Plantation".

By far, the main force at work was the landlord's need for increased rental income from the land. Local factors in certain communities had a moderating effect on the extent of de-population. One such factor was the degree to which the landlords participated in "improvements" in agriculture practice. Lesmahagow Parish appears to have been at one extreme in this respect...


Organized De-Population
In Lesmahagow Parish


There was apparently no dedicated "Improver" on the technological side among the landowners in Lesmahagow Parish. In his survey of agriculture in 1773 Andrew Wight complained of the Lanarkshire tenant class: "it is in vain to expect improvement from them, unless some public spirited gentlemen would take the lead". Indeed, the "Old Statistical Account" is quite clear on the poor progress of agricultural improvement in Lesmahagow Parish to 1792:

As the greatest part of this parish, from the nature of its soil, exposure, and climate, is not the most inviting subject for cultivation, so neither have improvements in agriculture made great progress in it. Fallowing is not practised, except in a few farms in the lower ground [near the River Clyde]; nor is paring and burning the thick turf on the old pasture, which would tend much to forward vegetation in a cold country, thought of. The ancient distinctions of croft [infield] and outfield are still kept up; and the greatest part of the manure made about the farm laid upon the former. The latter, after lying a few years in pasture, and sometimes a little compost laid upon it, is cropped with oats for two or three years, and again left to rest. Upon the crofts the seeds of clover and rye-grass are now frequently sown, and a crop or two of hay taken; and after the land has been two or three years pastured, it is cropped, first with pease, then with barley, with two plowings and dung, next oats, & c. Lime, except by a few people, is but sparingly applied [as a fertilizer]. The Scotch plough, nearly in the same state as it has been for this century past, is almost universally used, it being only near the [River] Clyde where any modern improvement is begun to be introduced.

The Lesmahagow landlords thus probably had minimal effect on population change through agricultural improvement on the "technological side" -- that is, additional rural labour to effect improvements was not required. However, on the "organizational side" of estate management, it would appear that some of the landowners had been quite busy for about forty years. The Parish population had steadily increased to about 3,700 by 1755: "since that period, the number of the people has been upon the decrease, as well as the fertility of the soil". By 1792, the population was now only 2,810 -- almost a 25% decline. Rev. Thomas Linning had counted eighteen empty farmhouses and cottages in the east half of the Parish in 1783.

The author of the 1792 Statistical Account made several observations on the decline of cultivation:

Upon the whole, the soil of the parish is far from being of the most fertile quality, and is better adapted to pasturage than tillage. Here it deserves to be remarked, that tillage has been pursued to a much greater extent, at some former period, than at present; for there are every where to be found, even almost to the summits of the highest mountains, large tracts of land, which have been regularly formed into ridges, and smoothed by repeated culture, now overgrown with bent, heath, and mosses. How it comes to pass, that land on which corn would not now ripen, should have been attentively cultivated some centuries ago, is left to the curious to enquire; for there is no tradition to be traced here, which would serve to throw any light upon the subject... Oats are the principal grain; and, from the report of the tenants of the mills in which they are ground, the quantity produced seems to have greatly diminished in the course of the last 20 years.

Perhaps these hilltop muirs had been cultivated many centuries before, just after the wholesale removal of the great forest. With the forest gone, there was practically no opportunity for natural re-generation. The southern Ontario Indians, on the other hand, did not decimate the forest. Rather, they worked a patch of ground for several years and then moved on to a fresh spot. The surrounding forest was quite capable of restoring nutrients to the garden soil. Indeed, all over Europe, it was not that the "ground failed to produce its increase", but rather, that the gardeners had failed the ground.

The author of the Lesmahagow Statistical Account seems to suggest that sheep now dominated this higher once-cultivated ground:

It has been already observed, that the greatest part of this district, from the inequality of the surface, the nature of the soil, and the great elevation of the country, is better adapted for pasture than cultivation. The high moorish parts of the parish are chiefly applied to rearing and pasturing sheep, and some are kept through the whole [of the year].

While most of the Old Statistical Accounts were written by the Parish Ministers, the author of the Lesmahagow Account is anonymous. From the tenor of the discussion, it appears that the author was a landowner and perhaps a recent arrival in the Parish. For this reason, the Lesmahagow account may put a unique spin on the immense value of the Old Statistical Accounts. The comments relating to agriculture practically ignore related social issues. In particular, the Lesmahagow author does not provide any real detail with respect to the pronounced population decline. In this respect, the Lesmahagow Account contrasts sharply with the Account for the Parish of Libberton, only ten miles to the east, written by Rev. John Fraser:

This depopulation may be attributed to the following causes: 1st: To the non-residence of gentlemen on their estates... 2dly: To the demolition of the villages and cottages, and the letting out the lands in large farms... Since 1760, the plan, in this country, has been, to destroy the villages and cottages, and throw the lands into as few hands as possible. The evils, which must attend the continuance of this plan, it is not difficult to conjecture... The number of farms, as already observed, is greatly diminished, and will be diminished more and more in the course of four years; that being the time when a great many of the present leases will expire... the parish is in general uninclosed... It is to no purpose to sow turnip and artificial grasses, while the fields remain open to the inroads of all kinds of cattle during the winter.

Similarly, Rev. Joseph Henderson of the unimproved united Parishes of Wistoun and Robertoun concluded:

The decrease [in population] is easily accounted for: from one farmer now occupying what several had occupied formerly; from arable land being converted into store or sheep farms; from a greater number of cattle and horses being reared; and from people of late years, particularly young persons, removing to places where there are manufactures and public works.

The tendency in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire to place sheep on ground that had previously been cultivated by several farmers was, of course, founded in the landlord's need for secure income to finance his other activities in the broadening and more demanding international marketplace. In this late eighteenth century period before crop and tillage improvements were locally practised, Rev. Robert Inglis of Carmichael Parish, immediately east of Lesmahagow, noted that:

Agriculture is for the most part carried on in the old manner ... The climate and soil continue great discouragements to the exertions of the farmer. For after much expense and toil, by one night's frost, or a continuance of rainy weather in harvest, his hopes are often disappointed, and he seldom knows what it is completely to have a fully ripened crop.

In Douglas Parish, to the immediate south of Lesmahagow:

The greatest part of this parish seems better adapted for grazing than tillage, and would probably turn out to greater advantage that way, for servants wages are greatly advanced, and the return in corn being so very small, little profit can arise from an arable farm.

Hence, it made more sense to the laird to pasture sheep than to gamble on receiving no rents from farmers who lost their crops. Four decades later, however, technological and soil management improvements and new crop rotations and refinements made it more practical for Lesmahagow farmers to attempt to vigourously cultivate even the higher ground.

There must have been a fairly significant migration from Lesmahagow to the workshops, mills and construction sites in Glasgow, Paisley and other urban centres during the last few decades of the eighteenth century. The draw of the "industrial revolution" perhaps contributed as much to rural depopulation in Lesmahagow as evictions in favour of sheep.

As agricultural re-organization and improvement progressed through the Lowlands in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; as the notion of commercialization crept into estate management practice; as local and regional trade displaced self-sufficiency; and as ability to pay the rent superseded time-honoured rights to the land -- the lower classes of rural folk came to depend less and less on the land while the larger tenants tended to prosper.

The Scarboro Heights Record V11 #4