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Table of Contents
General social, economic and agricultural aspects
of the Lowland Clearances
-- a profound land-use revolution --
begin on this page
You can also click the "Up" button to go to an index of pages regarding our
evolving values with respect to the land and my perspective on the right
of real estate ownership.
In this particular section of my web site, we'll explore the evolution of our values
with respect to land ownership. While a good number of
us today are land and real property owners, such was definitely not the case 200 years ago
in Scotland. Very very few people at that time were of the land-owning class.
Accordingly, our first article takes a look at the land-owning class, represented by
the heirs of James Corbet of Stockbriggs, and their legal troubles at the dawn of the
modern market economy. The story of Stockbriggs Estate is a
fascinating study of land occupation. We are fortunate that a large collection of court
and family papers has survived to tell this story. The following, from our forthcoming
publication, Catching Up With the Market Economy,
is a brief introduction to this important chapter in our evolving relationship with the
land. From there, we'll look at some aspects of the tenant structure
on the estate.
The Sequestration of Stockbriggs Estate
Background and Summary, 1806-1820
The Scottish legal term "sequestration" may be
generally taken to mean "bankruptcy". Our chapter heading is somewhat misleading
inasmuch as the estate of Stockbriggs was itself not in financial difficulty. Rather,
during the economic depression, one of the three co-owners of the estate had several
outstanding debts: one of his creditors became somewhat nervous and "attached"
(took control) his share of the rental income from the estate. Other creditors of this
part-owner, logically, did not wish to be left out: they too initiated legal action to
gain control over some of the rents.
The individual debts do not appear to be large. For example, "The first of
these arrestments is that at the instance of Sir William Forbes & Co. for a private
debt of Mr. Scott ... The gross rents of which Mr. Scott's third was thus attached ..."
totalled only £200/4/1. This private debt was evidently of the order of the annual rent
on a moderately sized Lesmahagow farm. The relative smallness of the debts underscores the
atmosphere of "nervousness" within the business community.
The ensuing years of legal complications must have, at least, been very frustrating for
the tenants who, out of some legal necessity, filed actions of their own. John Lawson of
Cairnmuir, "Writer to the Signet" (or a senior lawyer), was appointed
"Judicial Factor" or (administrator) by the Court of Session to manage the
financial affairs of the estate vis a vis the many claims on the rental income.
The reader is encouraged to consult the Glossary.
Succession to Real Property, 1806
The legal problems on Stockbriggs Estate began as early as 1806 with the death of James
Corbet, the proprietor. The following material from a Court of Session "Report"
summarizes an interesting example of a rather complicated succession to real property.
The Estate of Stockbriggs belonged to James Corbet, who by a settlement of this
date [March 20, 1786] "disponed the lands in favour of himself in liferent, and after
his decease to James Corbet his son and the heirs whomsoever of his body in fee, whom
failing to himself and his own nearest and lawful heirs whomsoever." James Corbet
mentioned in this Settlement was an only son, and he having died in February 1806
unmarried and intestate, the Estate devolved on his two sisters Mrs. Janet Corbet widow of
John Balfour late of the Island of Jamaica,
and Mrs. Christian Corbet wife of Alexander Scott then residing in Glasgow, as pro
The title of these two ladies, so far as it regarded one third of the Estate, was
soon after their succession, called in question by Mr. George Brown Kerr of America, who
stated himself to be the lawful son of Ann Corbet, a daughter of James Corbet Senior by
Agnes Martin, to whom it was alleged he had been married during his residence in America,
and the marriage dissolved by her death, before his marriage in this Country with the
mother of Mrs. Balfour and Mrs. Scott.
Mr. Kerr, having served himself heir to his mother, immediately instituted two
separate actions against the Co-heiresses in Scotland. The one an action of division of
the Estate into three equal parts, and the other a process of Mails and Duties against the
Tenants [legal action to gain control over rents]. These actions were met on the part of
the Co-heiresses by an action of reduction [dismissal] of Mr. Kerr's service upon the
ground, first that it had been obtained irregularly, and upon incompetent evidence; and
secondly, that Mrs. Ann Corbet, Mr. Kerr's mother, was a natural daughter of Mr. Corbet
Mr. Kerr has died since these processes were brought into Court, but they are still
in dependence with his Representatives; and in the Reduction a proof has been allowed to
be taken in America of the legitimacy of Mrs. Ann Corbet. As from this circumstance it
would be sometime before the actions could be brought to a conclusion, Mrs. Balfour and
Mrs. Scott were in the meantime, allowed to retain the pro indiviso [undivided] possession
of the Estate, on their finding caution [guarantees] to account to Mr. Kerr for his share
of the rents, in the event of his succeding to establish his claim.
In consequence of this arrangement...
Financial Embarrasment and Nervous Creditors and Guarantors, 1815-1817
The Report proceeds to outline the sequence of events during the economic recession
that resulted in the court appointment of the Judicial Factor.
In consequence of this arrangement Mrs. Balfour and Mrs. Scott continued an
uninterrupted intromission [dealings with property] with the proceeds of the Estate up to
the end of the year 1815, when the affairs of Mr. Scott having got into embarrassment his
creditors proceeded to attach Mr. Scott's share of the rents in the hands of the tenants,
and by this procedure gave rise to the actions of Furthcoming [to force non-delivery] and
Multiple poinding [to determine conflicting claims] which remain to be afterwards noticed.
In consequence of the state of Mr. Scott's affairs and the embarrassments in which
the Estate was thereby involved, Messrs. Clark and McKirdy who had become Cautioners for a
third of the rents in the manner already mentioned, having taken alarm, obtained from Mrs.
Balfour and Mr. and Mrs. Scott an Heritable Bond and Disposition over the Estate for
£3000 in relief of their obligation for the part of the rents already drawn [collected],
and judged it necessary also to present a Petition to the Court to have their Bond of
Caution delivered up. While matters were in this situation, Mrs. Balfour one of the
Co-heiresses died in the month of March 1817, leaving a Trust Disposition and Settlement
of her whole property. Her Trustees on entering to the management found her affairs in
considerable confusion, her right so far as regarded one third part of the Estate was
called in question, her Cautioners had applied to have their security withdrawn, and that
part of the rents to which she had an undoubted but pro indiviso title was attached by the
Creditors of her Sister's husband. It was under these circumstances that it was judged
adviseable to have the Estate placed under Judicial management, and on the joint
application of Mrs. Balfour's Trustees and of Mr. and Mrs. Scott with concurrence of the
Heritable Creditors and other Claimants on the Estate, the Lords of the first Division of
the Court were of this date [1817 June 18] pleased to award a Sequestration, and to
appoint Mr. John Lawson Writer to the Signet to the office of Judicial Factor on the
Estate. Under this appointment Mr. Lawson...
The Judicial Factor, Estate Management and Legal Tangle, 1817-20
Thus, by 1817, in the depths of the economic recession, Scott's creditors were anxious
to gain control over both Scott's and Mrs. Balfour's trustee's shares of the rents.
Further, the Guarantors were just as nervous as the creditors. The Judicial Factor
reasonably anticipated the cooperation of the concerned individuals. "In this
expectation he was unfortunately disappointed", however, as the economic
depression and, possibly, other factors caused a "mad rush" to gain control over
the estate rents.
Under this appointment Mr. Lawson has since continued the management, and has
annually lodged the accounts of his Intromissions; but as these have not hitherto been
audited and settled, he in the month of June 1820 presented a Petition to the Lords of the
first Division of the Court in which after narrating the circumstances which led to the
Sequestration of the Estate, he goes on to mention "The Petitioner had been nominated
Common Agent in the Process of Multiplepoinding raised by the tenants on the Estate
previously to his appointment of Judicial Factor, and he conceived that after that
appointment if the Creditors were not interpelled [interupt order] by it from using
further arrestments, they would at least find it their Interest not to do so, after the
Estate was thus placed for the obvious interest of all concerned in manibus curia. In this
expectation however, he was unfortunately disappointed and one arrestment after another
was used in the hands of the tenants, and also in his own. The Petitioner thus situated,
had no alternative, when he went to collect the rents as they became due, but to give his
personal guarantee to the tenants that they should be protected against any claim of the
arresting creditors. Two Processes of Furthcoming were afterwards instituted against the
petitioner and the tenants, at the instance of Mr. David Robertson a Creditor of Mr.
Scott, which now depend before Lord Alloway, and another Furthcoming was instituted, but
has not been insisted in by Mr. Wordsworth another Creditor of Mr. Scott. So that besides
the old processes, which existed before the Petitioner's management, these three
Furthcomings, and a relative Multiplepoinding at his instance have since come into court.
"Since the commencement of the Petitioner's management he has regularly and
periodically lodged the Rentals of the Estate and his Factory Accounts as directed by the
Act of Sederunt, and in now applying to your Lordships to get these regularly audited and
afterwards approved of, under the usual remit, he has felt it his duty to bring under your
notice the processes already alluded to. For the Petitioner humbly apprehends that altho'
a remit be made in the usual terms to the Auditor or an Accountant, it will be a matter of
extreme difficulty, if not altogether impracticable, to audite the general Factory
Accounts, unless he has power at the same time to make up relative states in the various
processes alluded to, which are so intimately connected with the general management and
intromissions of the Petitioner. And your Lordships will be pleased to observe, that were
the factory accounts examined separately and a balance found due by the Petitioner, he
would not be in safety to pay away that balance even upon your Lordships warrant, until
the claims of the arresting Creditors under their respective actions against him and the
tenants should be settled.
"The Petitioner, therefore, in order to remove the difficulty which has been
stated, would humbly propose that in place of your Lordships' remitting the factory
accounts to an Accountant, you will be pleased to remit the process of Sequestration, with
the Factor's Accounts lodged under it, to Lord Alloway, before whom all the other
processes depend, with instructions to his Lordship to remit the whole to an
accountant" On advising this Petition their Lordships were of this date [1820 June
29] pleased to Remit the Process of Sequestration of the within mentioned Estate, and the
Petitioners Factory Accounts to Lord Alloway, with power to his Lordship if he should see
cause to audite and settle the said accounts in pursuance of the report of such Accountant
or auditor, or to do otherwise in the said matter as to his Lordship should seem just.
The cause was accordingly afterwards inrolled before Lord Alloway, and his Lordship
by Interlocutor of this date [1820 July 6] was pleased to remit the Petitioners Factory
accounts to the Auditor of Court to examine the same and report thereon. His Lordship
likewise of same date pronounced another Interlocutor [court decree] conjoining various
processes of Furthcoming and Multiplepoinding relative to the rents of the Estate
depending before his Lordship, and "in the whole actions thus conjoined, remitted the
accounts of John Lawson as Judicial Factor foresaid to the Auditor of Court to examine the
same and report thereon to the Lord Ordinary." It will therefore be necessary that
the Auditor should narrate the proceedings which have taken place in these different
processes thus conjoined...
These legal proceedings must have frustrated the tenants of the estate -- the initial
problems really were not of their making. The complex Scottish legal system was an
important factor in the re-ordering of the economy during the agricultural and industrial
revolutions. Suffice it to say at this point that the legal system did it's best to invest
in the business of farming on the estate. Had this matter gone to court 30 years later, it
is likely that the farms would not have been so supported.
From Catching Up With the Market Economy
The Scarboro Heights Record V11 #11
Refer also to the pages beginning at Tenant