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Typen kleinbäuerlicher Siedlungen auf den Hebriden (Types of Crofting-Settlements of the Hebrides)

Harald Uhlig
Erdkunde
Bd. 13, H. 2 (May, 1959), pp. 98-124
Published by: Erdkunde
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25636534
Page Count: 27
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Typen kleinbäuerlicher Siedlungen auf den Hebriden (Types of Crofting-Settlements of the Hebrides)
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Abstract

The author's general treatment of the Scottish Highlands and the Hebrides ("Erdkunde", 1959, p. 22-46) is now supplemented by some examples of crofting-settlements. They represent selected types, which may also facilitate comparisons with other European settlement forms. Being the surviving area of the last tribal organisation (clan-system), NW-Scotland is of great importance inspite of all later transformations. The hamlet of Keills (Isle of Jura) represents a relatively well preserved "clachan", only gradually depopulated. In 1871 it was still inhabited by 6 crofters and 5 cottars, whereas today only one croft remains with non-agricultural part-time occupation (a — fig. 1 and 2) and a second (b) fully agricultural. The third (c) is lapsing, because the crofter died and left only two aged sisters. One cottar's house (d) is occupied by a retired woman; e and f are used as holiday-cottages (absentee-tenants!); nearly half of the settlement is lying in ruins. The former infield (A) is situated on the naturally well-drained slope immediately above the "clachan", fringed by the "head-dyke" (peat-wall) and inside by an old wall of loose boulders. There are still 12 strips to be recognized (former run-rig shares?); today they are lotted to a—c and tilled together with the former outfields (B—I, now being square-fields ("Block-Flur") but with evidence of former open strips too) in an improved long-ley rotation. Beside the relatively best soil and natural drainage as well as its site and its form, the former infield is also outstanding by its Gaelic field-name: "geadhail", which means "the field", whilst the former outfields carry further denotations, e. g. "the field of the big cairn" etc. (comp. fig. 1). The term "geadhail" applies also to the infields of some other remaining "clachans"; it deserves further research to determine if it may have had a more general significance, like the "méjou" in Brittany or the "Esch" in Lower Germany. The former outfields are situated on a raised beach with peaty soil; the most waterlogged parts of it and the peats behind the present beach are occupied by former "lazy-beds" (K—M, fieldnames: "the big peat" etc.). They were the "potatoland" of the former cottars, which received no share of the arable land. Tarskavaig (Isle of Skye) shows forms of transition. The older nucleus (1811 five — probably large — families) was up to 1843 enlarged by a scattered settlement (with regular crofts) of victims of the clearances of former neighbouring villages. The only piece of level ground with the best soil (raised beach) is still occupied by open arable strips (B and D — fig. 3), probably indicating the former infield, in this case consisting of two parts. This fits with two small loosely-grouped parts of the settlement, lying immediately at the upper ends of the strips: A (today 3 crofts) and C (ruins of black-houses), possibly succeeding the original settlement. The present-day croftland is partly scattered. Some isolated fields are periodically ploughed within the inbye-land, prior to 1880 there have been furthermore 3 enclosed patches of tillage in the common moors, ploughed in shares equivalent to the number of crofts. The survival of periodically lotted run-rig fields, held in common by several townships, on the "machair" of Iochdar (Isle of South Uist), is examined to indicate consequences of the formerly tribal property. This area was thoroughly investigated by Dr. J. B. Caird, H. A. Moisley, M. Sc. (who has mapped the diagram, fig. 4, not yet printed hitherto) and Dr. J. Tivy (all of the Department of Geography, University of Glasgow). The author received generous information from their material, which has been only partly published until now. In this paper, special attention is dedicated to the form and function of the run-rig fields: long, open strips, grouped to "sguran", which have some similarity to a "Gewann". The long-ley utilisation (due to the persisting run-rig pooling still without reseeding of grass!) is enforced by the quality of the machair-soil. In respect to its land-use and site, the machair is generally regarded as an "outfield". Functionally, however, it seems to be of greater significance, as this area carries today (as well as prior to the 19th century!) the great majority of the arable fields and as it unites the adjacent townships to one run-rig community. Before 1805, the older "clachans" had own infields besides those common fields; some of them, however, were situated on the machair too. Since that time they have been allocated to individual crofts. The relics of the older forms dealt with in these first three examples are in contrast to the majority of younger settlements. The earliest — and most unfavourable — of them sprang up from former summer-dwellings (shielings etc.) about 1780-1850 in the bays of the east coast of the Outer Hebrides, as a result of over-population and clearances of the older settlements in the west. They were laid out in the form of loosely grouped hamlets with irregular compact crofts around the bays. The unfavourable peaty or rocky soils restrict all cultivation to "lazy-beds" — which are in the older settlements predominantly utilized on marginal land by the minor social classes of the cottars and squatters. Rainigadale (Isle of Harris) (fig. 5) demonstrates with an amazing number of disused lazy-beds the depopulation and the extensive character, of crofting-agriculture. Due to its remoteness, this example is especially extreme; therefore it is compared with the village of Scadabay, having better access to traffic and more flourishing part-time occupations (fishing, weaving). The lazy-beds are distinguished into permanent ones, beds for several years and temporary ones (1-2 years)- according to the soil conditions. They are cultivated by spade or still with the old Cas Chrom. The absence of the nucleus of a hamlet distinguishes the next type, the irregular scattered crofting township, from the former, whilst it is in general rather similar. In most cases the latter is somewhat larger, based on a greater potential settlement-site. In favourable locations (examples are cited from the Isle of Skye) their cultivation takes place on level fields, in the most cases, however, it is split up on lazy-beds too (fig. 6). The relatively recent origin is most obvious in the last type, the regular striped and lined-up crofting-settlements (fig. 7). They originate from about 1820 up to the 20th century. Their sites are usually somewhat superior to those within the narrow bays. With the exception of the regrouping of some older "clachans" and the latest re-settlements of the machair-land of the west-coasts, their sites were usually cleared from the moors. One compact croft-strip contains shares of all available soils (for this reason they are sometimes extremely stretched out and narrow, in certain cases even supplemented by uncontinuous parts). With their direct connection of the regular crofts and the houses, which are lined up on a road, a beach, a river etc., they are rather similar to the German "(Wald-, Moor- etc.) Hufendörfer". But the "Hufen" of the latter are larger and were only in a few cases supplemented by common moors and in their majority arranged in two rows of houses with their compact fields on either side of a road. In further contrast to the German "Hufen", even this type of individually designed, compact crofts preserved the old tradition of throwing open all inbye-land for common pasture after the harvest. Only recently has the fencing of the crofts made progress and single crofters are starting improvements. The old "clachan" with its group of open infield-strips, sited on the best drained land, is an equivalent to the Lower German "Drubbel" with its "Langstreifenflur" on the "Esch", but also to related types of other nucleated old hamlets of Europe. They seem thus not to be ethnically united, their relations are based rather on sociological and economic parallels. There exists no direct evidence for tribal organisation in the "Drubbel" and therefore it seems possible, that the "clachan" with its run-rig property represents a still older phase of an evolution from tribal to individual property and settlement. The sequence of the types dealt with in this paper shows formally some line of evolution too. Whether this is also genetically relevant, can only be discussed hypothetically, e. g. whether the township-groups with common run-rig fields originated by the branching off of younger settlements following to divisions of small tribal units? G. R. J. Jones has revealed such a development in mediaeval Wales. In Brittany and Ireland exist very similar groups of old hamlets, which may have had the same roots. The arrangement of the fields in open strips originated from the (former) run-rig shares. This resulted in an appearance rather similar to that of the "Gewannflur", but without the "Zelgen" of an open (three-)field-system, which in Central Europe underlay causally the "Gewannflur"! There was no impulse for the latter system on the Hebrides, as the nature restriced the cultivation to spring-sown crops (in long ley rotation with grass). In contrast to the remnants of run-rig communities, the younger, loosely grouped hamlets in the bays consisted from their very origin of compact crofts (= "Einödflur") and never did have common arable fields. Therefore they are not equivalent to the "Drubbel", but to the "Streuweiler" (= scattered hamlet) of the mediaeval colonisation in the mountains of Southern Germany. Likewise, the irregular scattered crofting townships find their formal equivalent in the youngest "Streusiedlungen" on the highest parts of the Central- and East German mountains (Erzgebirge, Riesengebirge), but very similar types are also to be found on several peninsulas of Brittany and in Ireland. The regular striped and linear crofting-settlement seems to represent the youngest offshoot of the type of the regular "Hufendorf", which is in Central Europe the most effective form of the late mediaeval settlement, but also appears in some Slavonian countries, in Normandy and, in the 18./19. century, in Ireland as well as in the French-Canadian colonisation.

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