Harray, Orkney, 21 July 1883 - Peter Smith

PETER SMITH, Garth (52)—examined.

23800. The Chairman.
—Has your family been long settled here ?

23801. How long has it been settled here—how old is your family in its present property?
—My father lived on the farm which I occupy during his lifetime, and the farm belonged to my predecessors for I cannot tell you how long. They have always lived in this place.

23802. When you speak of occupying, you mean possessing?

23803. Your family have always possessed the land in this place?
—I cannot tell you how long ago exactly the farm was purchased, but it has been in the possession of my predecessors for upwards of 100 years.

23804. Do you think there are many of the small proprietors here who have possessed their lands for 300 or 100 years. Have you heard that stated?
—I am not aware of having heard that stated.

23805. Have you ever seen any ancient titles—any ancient parchments or deeds—in their possession?

23806. What is the size of your property—how many acres is it?
— About thirty-six acres arable.

23807. And how much of pasture?
—Of infield there is about four or five acres, exclusive of a lot of commonty outside, of twenty-six acres.

23808. Besides the arable portion you have commonty?

23809. Is that commonty divided among the proprietors?
— The commonty of Harray was divided probably twenty years ago. I was not in the country then.

23810. But now it is divided?

23811. And are the different portions of the commonty fenced from each other with wire fences?
—None at all, so far as I am aware.

23812. They are divided merely by marks—by indications?
—Some of the proprietors have run ditches, but not in general.

23813. How do they prevent their stock from mixing with each other? do they tether them?
—There are very few stock in the pasture on the commonty; the stock is kept principally now on the farm; the commonty is not used as much as it used to be by cattle pasturing on it.

23814. Do they make no use of the commonty except to cut peats?
—They put cattle on it occasionally, but not generally.

23815. When they put cattle on it, do they tether them?

23816. Is the commonty very wild ground — heathery?
—There is some of it bad ground that is not fit for cultivation in its present state; other parts, again, are in a state that it can be cultivated, but still it is very poor.

23817. Is it a common thing for the proprietors to enlarge their arable land by taking in a portion of the commonty?
—Yes; it is occasionally done when the commonty is contiguous to the farm.

23818. Have you yourself taken in any part of your commonty?
—About five acres.

23819. And have you found that that was remunerative—that it was just as good as arable?
—No, far from that. When we bring it into cultivation we let it lie for a number of years, and in that time it will probably be beginning to grow heathery again, and then we break it up and sow it down with grass for a number of years. In fact it does not pay us to cultivate it in arable rotation, it is so poor.

23820. How do you manage about your small estates after your death? Are they divided or are they always left to one member of the family ?
—I do not know exactly; but I suppose the general way is that the property goes to the one individual —the landed property.

23821. Is it the practice of small proprietors generally to devise their property by will; or do they just leave it to the course of the law of the country?
—I think the practice varies considerably in that case; there is no general practice so far as I am aware.

23822. But I understand you to say that it is not the practice to divide the land between the sons?
—No; not that I am aware of.

23823. Since you remember, has there been any subdivision of these little estates; or do they remain just as they were in the old times?
—There has been no subdivision so far as I am aware, of any consequence.

23824. In the case of the large farmers, what becomes of the younger sons?
—They find employment elsewhere; a great many of them go to the colonies. Not many of the younger sons remain at home at all.

23825. Are these small properties generally heavily mortgaged, or are they pretty free of debt?
—I could not speak positively upon that point, but I don't think there is much debt.

23826. You don't hear that complained of ?

23827. And in your recollection has there been a great improvement in the appearance of the properties and the method of cultivation?
—Yes, a very decided improvement.

23828. Do you frequently put up stone walls—fences?
—We put up fences occasionally, and some proprietors have used them pretty extensively to enclose almost the whole of their properties.

23829. And is that going on at the present time?
—Always a little.

23830. Is the breed of cattle improving?
—I expect it is.

23831. What breeds do you use generally?
—Shorthorn as pure as we can.

23832. Your land is all ploughed, not worked with the spade?
—It is all ploughed.

23833. Do you ever use oxen in ploughing?
—Not on our farm, but it is used occasionally in small places.

23834. Not on the larger farms?
—No, not generally.

23835. Have you got any crofters living among you —any small tenants?
—I don't believe there are more than ten small tenants in the parish, so far as I am aware—ten or twelve.

23836. Are they very small poor tenants, or are they pretty good farmers?
—They have just the farms let—according to the size of farms—from two or three acres to forty or fifty acres, according to the size of the property. Some tenants occupy some of the larger farms in the parish.

23837. Have those small tenants any pasture on the hill ?
—They are at liberty to pasture on the hill allotted to the property.

23838. And that commonty is divided?
—Each proprietor knows his own commonty; it was all divided a number of years ago.

23839. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you know which of your predecessors bought the land—was it your grandfather or some one farther back?
—It was some predecessor of my mother, but I cannot remember now exactly.

23840. Have you got regular title-deeds to your property?

23841. Do you know from whom the property was bought?
—From a party who evidently lived in the Island of Sanday, so far as I am aware; the most ancient papers we are holding state to that effect.

23842. Supposing you go back more than 100 years, was most of the property then in the hands of small holders like yourself?
—So far as I am able to judge, the present state of things has existed from time immemorial; in fact, I cannot give you any idea how long.

23843. Are the most of the people who hold land like yourself well off in their circumstances?
—I should judge so —that they are pretty comfortable generally throughout the parish.

23844. Do you consider it a great privilege to be proprietor of your own land? much more so than to be paying rent to another man?
—Certainly, it is an advantage.

23845. You feel it to be an advantage?
—Yes; but I have heard it reported that sometimes the tenants of the Earl of Zetland are as well off as our Harray lairds.

23846. What family have you —you are a married man?
—No I am not.

23847. Take the case of a person in your own position who is married, and suppose him to have three sons, what becomes of the two younger sons? He first, no doubt, gives them a good education. Do they leave the place and go out into the world?
—That depends on their own free will; they are not compelled to go out, but in general they find occupation elsewhere.

23848. They could not all remain at home upon the one place?
—It depends on the arrangement they make together—if they choose to work the farm. There is no general rule adopted so far as I am aware.

23849. And, in point of fact, the land, as you have stated, is not subdivided?
—No, not generally, I think.

23850. Is it always the eldest son, or is it the favourite son of the father, or the man in possession?
—I think it is, in general, the eldest son.

23851. Are your titles registered?
—All our titles are registered.

23852. As a rule does the property go to the eldest son?
—I should say yes, as a rule. Of course there may be an exception at a time when the father sees fit to give it to another; but, in general, it goes according to law.

23853. Do you require, in working your little property, any outside assistance?
—Yes, we always require hired servants.

23854. Do you get them from year to year or do you only call it labour as you need it?
—We hire them from year to year, and some of them have been with us a good many years.

23855. Are the poor rates in the parish very low?
—This is a united parish; Harray and Birsay are united so far as poor rates are concerned. The poor-rates this year will be about 10d. in the pound.

23856. It is from Birsay that the poor people come?
—No, not them all; but I suppose the greater number of them are there.

23857. Is it or is it not the case that there is a comparatively small number of paupers is this parish?
—There are very few.

23858. I presume that any near relations—say women who have come to years, connections of small proprietors—these small proprietors would not allow them to go on the poor's roll unless in exceptional circumstances?
—I think it is sometimes the case, even in Harray, that poor people are supported by their relatives rather than allow them to go on the poors' roll.

23859. Is it generally the case among the small proprietors that they don't allow their poor relations to go on the roll?
—I would not say as a general rule, but it is sometimes done in Harray, that parties in circumstances to require aid are supported by their nearest relatives.

23860. Are you all quite contented in this parish—have you no grievance whatever?
—I cannot speak for others, but I suppose there is no grievance we need care to mention. There is no grievance I am aware of worth mentioning.

23861. Are there sales going on—is the sale of a small property a common thing; or do the people contrive to stick to the properties?
—There are sales of property occasionally.

23862. Who buys? Is it the neighbours, or new people who want to become proprietors?
—Generally parties through the country. There have been farms sold in Harray of late years, and they have been bought up by parties living in other parts of the mainland of Orkney.

23863. We have been told that a rumour has got abroad that the Commissioners now sitting have come here for the purpose of raising assessments. Did you here any story to that effect?
—No, we did not hear it, and we would not have believed it if we had heard it.

23864. You have been reading the newspapers, and have observed the nature of the inquiries as they have been going along?
—Yes, I have been doing so all the time since the Commissioners came through the country.

23865. Do you wish to make any voluntary statement to us?
—No, I am not prepared to make any statement. I came here simply from curiosity. We did not hear of your coming until two days ago. We have no delegates appointed; we just came from curiosity to hear what was to be said. I did not expect or intend to give evidence or make any statement.

23866. The Chairman.
—If there was no warning it was because we did not suppose that the people here had any grievance
—being proprietors and independent people. We did not suppose they had the same sort of complaints to make.

23867. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Do you pay any feu duty?
—Our feu duties were purchased upwards of sixty years ago, I think.

23868. And you are perfectly free—there is no feu duty?
—No feu duty.

23869. Was that purchased from the Earl of Zetland ?

23870. Sir Kenneth Mackenzie.
—Where do you get your hired servants?
—Through the parish generally.

23871. Are they sons and daughters of the lairds in the parish1?
—They are not always lairds, of course,—working people; their daughters more frequently hire out as servants than the daughters of the lairds.

23872. There are working people living in the parish?

23873. Do they pay rent for their houses these working people?
—I think so in general.

23874. What sort of rent do they pay for it —money or service?
—I think in general it is money.

23875. Have they land along with their houses?
—Generally small portions of land are allotted with their houses. Some labourers have built houses on the commonty belonging to the proprietors, and they get as much of commonty as they like to cultivate.

23876. What sort of rent do they pay for it ?
—That depends on the kind of commons they cultivate and undertake to cultivate.

23877. Do they build their own houses?
—Generally, I think.

23878. And they pay a nominal rent for the land before they take it in?
—They pay a nominal rent for a number of years —a mere nominal rent generally.

23879. Are there many persons in that position in the parish?
—Not a great many.

23880. You say that a number of the younger members of the families, of the proprietors in the parish go out into the world —go to the colonies and into trade—is it considered an advantage to stick to the land rather than to be sent out into the world?
—I suppose it is considered an advantage by the party to whom the land belongs to stick to it.

23881. I mean, a member of a family would prefer to have the land left to him rather than to go out into trade?
—It is generally when the proprietor has the land that he sticks to it in preference to employing his time in any other business.

23882. Any of them would prefer to have the land rather than go out into the world?
—I think so.

23883. But some of the members of families of proprietors have been very successful, have they not, in other parts of the world?
—Yes, perhaps some of the younger members have been fully as successful as those who stick to the land.

23881. Yet the young men would prefer to stick to the land?
—Yes, I should think so.

23885. When there is land for sale here is there much demand for it ?
—Yes, there is a very keen competition.

23886. What sort of prices does it fetch—how many years' purchase?
—I am scarcely prepared to answer that question; the farms which have been sold of late years have been sold very high.

23887. What in your opinion is a high price? Take a farm worth £40 a year on the valuation roll, what would you call a high price for that, would you think it dear at £1000?
—No, a farm that would fetch £40 of rent would sell at a much higher figure than £1000, according to the prices of the farms that have been sold. There have been farms sold of late years that would not bring £40, which have- realised more than £1000.

23888. Would you think £1200 too much for it ?
—Not according to the rate at which farms have sold.

23889. You would not think that dear as farms have been going?
—I think as farms have been going that would not be considered dear.

23890. Do you find agriculture a profitable business here ?
—Of recent years it has done very well; of course it depends a great deal on the prices we obtain for stock. We depend principally on stock-raising here.

23891. Do you think that if there were land for sale, and the Government were to advance money for the purchase of it in small farms, persons could be found to purchase it and to pay 6½ per cent, of the purchase money—that would redeem the price in twenty-five years ?
—I can scarcely express an opinion upon that point.

23892. That would be paying nearly double the rent on a £40 farm. If you paid £1200, that would be £80 a year, over the twenty-five years, to make it your own. Would it be possible for a purchaser to make that money out of the farm?
—I scarcely think it, after paying the necessary expenses.

23893. Would he be able to pay £60 a year, having this hope of making it his own at the end of the period of years?
—I scarcely think he could be able to pay £60.

23894. You think the rent which is valued is as much as a man can make out of a farm, generally speaking ?
—I think so.

23895. Professor Mackinnon.
—When you allow a tenant to settle upon the commonty and take in so much land at a small rent, I suppose he never gets any lease of it, or anything of that sort ?
—There are tenants settled on parts of the commonty belonging to the proprietors in Harray who have leases.

23896. From the proprietor of the commonty upon which they have sat down ?
—Yes, but we don't have a great extent of commonty, and could not expect to let any part of it.

23897. And it is not very common to grant' leases to tenants when making places for themselves on the commonty ?
—Yes, they get a lease now and again.

23898. You say that subdivision is a comparatively rare thing on these properties. Is it a rare thing also for a neighbour to purchase an adjoining property when it falls vacant, so as to have two instead of one ?
—When it happens that the property is for sale it sometimes occurs that the adjoining farmer buys it. I know instances of such a thing taking place; but it is not often done.

23899. The wish to become proprietor is very general and very keen, is it?
—One would imagine so, from the keen competition that takes place when the farm is for sale.

23900. And when one gets the property and the titles, he has the power to dispose of it to any one of his children ?
—I think so.

23901. In the case of a large family, where there are no means left except this property, what arrangement is made for the other members of the family by the one who suceeeds to the property ?
—I suppose it depends on the arrangement that is made by the proprietor before his decease.

23902. What would be the common arrangement in the place in the case that I have stated, where there are two or three sons and two or three daughters, and the property is left to one—do the rest get anything at all?
—I am not prepared to express an opinion on what is generally done in that case.

23903. Is it usual for the one who succeeds to pay the others so much?
—It is generally the case that the one who succeeds pays something to the younger members of the family when he succeeds to the property.

23904. You stated that you have heard it said that tenants of Lord Zetland were more comfortable than Harray lairds?
—Not more comfortable; but as comfortable. It is generally reckoned that they are as comfortable as some of the Harray lairds.

23905. Suppose they were so, would the people of this place prefer to be tenants of Lord Zetland or Harray lairds?
—I don't suppose they would like to change.

23906. Even supposing they would be as comfortable?
—I think their impression would be not to leave certainty for hope.

23907. They set value on the feeling of proprietorship?
—I think so.

23908. You say that there are about ten tenants in the parish. Their position is just as though you had let your own property to a tenant?

23909. And do they hold it upon lease?
—I think they do, generally; but I cannot state positively. It is a private matter between the tenants and the proprietor. I know that some hold upon lease, and some just from year to year.

23910. The Chairman
—Does a proprietor ever let his little estate to a tenant and go away and engage in some other industry?
—Well, I am not aware.

23911. It would be very uncommon?
—It would.

23912. Do the proprietors ever hire land from others and become farmers on other land; or do they restrict themselves to their own property?
—In general, in this parish, they restrict themselves to the cultivation of their own property; and some, when they retire from farming, leave the property aud let it to a tenant.

23913. You raise a good deal of oats and barley?

23914. Do you consume the grain which you raise for the food of the family, or do you use it for feeding the stock, and buy grain for the purposes of the household?
—We use as much as we require of the grain we raise for the family, and what we don't require we dispose of.

23915. The family generally consumes the grain they actually raise on the ground?
—Yes, in part; they buy other things also.

23916. You don't raise any wheat?

23917. And do your families generally purchase wheat flour?
—Yes, it is very generally used in this parish along with the grain we raise ourselves.

23918. Do you use your own wool —is there any domestic manufacture of cloth?
—Not to any extent; there is some wool manufactured into blankets on a small scale, but not to any extent.

23919. If you pleased you would be quite at liberty to make up your own wool for your own use, but you prefer to buy clothes?
—We sometimes send our wool to the south to be manufactured into cloth, as well as plaiding and blankets.

23920. And you get it back again?

23921. Are there no local weavers who could weave it on hand looms?
—There are only weavers who manufacture plaiding and blankets, but there are no woollen manufactories for the manufacture of tweeds in

23922. You could not get your own coat made in a cottage on the hand loom?
—No, we don't prefer that.

23923. Perhaps you prefer the manufactures of the south, or would you prefer the cloth made in the country and of your home grown wool ?
—It is not much that is used of the home wool; it is generally the tweeds and other kinds of material manufactured in the south that are worn.

23924. Do the poor cottars use cloth manufactured from the wool in the place?
—I don't think there is much difference in the clothing of any cottars.

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