The Lowland Clearances
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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 indiviso Proprietors.

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 Senior.

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 Structure.