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Dependence on the Land

Nearly all in Lesmahagow in 1650 were dependent on the land to some extent: subsistence (generally) for the lower classes and rental income for the upper. The farmservants, "cottars", sub-tenants, main tenants and landlord (or "laird") in the pyramidal estate hierarchy all depended both on the capacity of their ground to produce food and on the ability of those both above and below to meet their respective obligations to the estate economy. The more people that the estate ground could feed and otherwise support, the greater rent that the laird could collect. Tenants were generally bound by the terms of their lease to take their grain to the laird's own mill. But successful operation of the laird's mill -- a vital component of the estate economy -- depended (partly) also on his political success within and beyond the parish. A landlord in serious debt to another baron could conceivably allow his mills to deteriorate.

In general, as long as the land produced the expected amount in a given year, life for all could go on much as usual. But a major crop failure affected everyone who was associated with the estate. George Lockhart, the seventeen year old laird of the rich Carnwath estate based ten miles east of Lesmahagow, wrote to his guardian, Sir James Scougall of Whitehill, in February 1698...



In actual practice under the late-feudal system and customs, the tenant's obligations (rent and service) were generally unchanged when the lease was renewed. Upon the tenant's death, his lease was generally turned over to his son, again unchanged in most cases. Thus, through these "rent controls", the landlord's income and control over the land were somewhat fixed. This rather static late-feudal system of isolated agricultural activity obviously did little to encourage innovation and industriousness.

Over time, however, the landowners participated more and more in regional and national activities outside the parish. The costs of those activities steadily increased and, accordingly, there was increasing need for mechanisms to boost income (particularly in cash) from the land. The unwritten constitutional relationship between people and the land changed slowly but surely for several centuries. The rights to the land of the lower classes were necessarily altered as time went on. Late seventeenth century agricultural legislation suddenly gave the landowners considerable power to reorganize and consolidate land that had been worked cooperatively by many under the runrig system. By the mid-eighteenth century, many landowners were taking full advantage of the opportunities provided by the legislation: those who worked the land were now losing their rights to the land. But it was not until the repeal of the corn-laws in the mid-nineteenth century that the land was largely stripped of its fundamental role in the socio-economic system. The nation's constitution was thus then profoundly altered as industrial and mercantile interests began to take precedence over agricultural interests.

From When The Ground Fails: An Economic Watershed
The Scarboro Heights Record V12 #3