Raefirth, Mid Yell, 14 July 1883 - Rev James Barclay

Rev. JAMES BARCLAY (80)—examined.

18941. Sheriff Nicolson.
—You are parish minister of Mid Yell?
—Yes, it was a double parish originally, but South Yell was disunited from it recently.

18942. Do you belong to a family of this country?

18943. Are you a native of Shetland?
—I am.

18944. How long have you been minister of the parish?
—Since 1844.

18945. Where were you before that?
—I had no parish before that.

18946. Is there much change in the condition of the people since you came here?
—A very great change.

18947. Is it for the better or the worse?
—For the better; very much for the better.

18948. Would you be so good as to state in what respect?
—In respect of the circumstances of the people generally. For instance, there was no work of much consequence here when I came, with the exception of fishing, but now the people have work at their doors. Formerly you could get a girl to work for you at 6d. a day; now you cannot get them under Is. 6d., or 2½d. an hour. That is so far an improvement in their circumstances. Their buildings are also improved.

18949. What are the wages of a man?
—When I came here 10d. to Is. a day, and I am now paying myself as high as 2s. 6d. for boys, and 5s. for a mason.

18590. And is there more work for them now than there was?
—A great deal.

18951. Of what kind?
—Almost every kind. This herring fishing gives every one a chance of employment—boys and girls and men and women. They are all employed; whereas formerly there was very little work. Although there was herring fishing then, they could not afford, and did not come to anything like the wages they are giving now.

18952. Is there work to any considerable extent going on in connection with the land?
—Not much in connection with land. You see they are both crofters and fishermen combined, and at one season of the year there is very little done on the land.

18953. Are there any large farms in this parish?
—Not very large. The largest farm I know is in West Sandwick.

18954. What is the extent of it—what rent?
—I could not mention the rent exactly; it is £100 odds, I think.

18955. Is the most of the land occupied by crofters?
—Yes, the most of the land; but there is a good deal of land unoccupied—in sheep farms As nearly as I can calculate, there are about 300 odd merks of land occupied by sheep; of course, that reduces the number of the inhabitants very much.

18956. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—And how much by crofters'?
—I do not know where the crofters who used to live here are.

18957. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Has there been much change in that respect since you came?
—Yes, a great deal.

18958. Has part of the ground been put into sheep pasture and taken from small tenants?
—A great deal.

18959. Have any of the small tenants been removed out of the parish to make way for sheep farms?
—Not, I think, in this parish —not many. I do not know about North Yell.

18960. But some of them have been deprived of some of their pasture in order to increase the pasture of sheep farms?
—They have, and I think that is a great injury that is at the bottom of the discontent, and it is very natural that it should be.

18961. Has it led to much discontent in this parish?
—Not so much in this parish as in the neighbouring parishes. There has been a good deal of common taken from the people in this immediate neighbourhood, but then it is enclosed, and they get the benefit of it, so that you cannot say that is a hardship; I rather think it is favourable to them.

18962. Is part of the scathold fenced?
—Yes, I think so. It keeps out outsiders, and they get the benefit.

18963. Is there any considerable number of small tenants in this parish who are able to live upon their crofts, independent of any other occupation?
—No, I know of none. If they were to take larger farms, and had fixity of tenure, they might do it; but they have many other ways of providing for themselves—their cattle, and sheep, and ponies, and the fishery—and they take them all combined.

18964. Is their condition generally in this parish comfortable, or the reverse?
—I should say very comfortable.

18965. There is never anything approaching destitution?
—Not since 1847 and 1848, when the potato failure was.

18966. In respect to clothing, do you think they are better off than they used to be?
—Yes, they are more fashionably clothed, at any rate.

18967. Are the children generally well clothed?
—Generally; perhaps they require a little more attention to be paid to them.

18968. Are there any children so poorly clothed as to make it a reason for their not attending school?
—I suppose they will put in that as one reason.

18969. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Or the church?
—Yes, 1 cannot complain of want of clothing of the people. The fact is that in these forty years a complete change has taken place among the people both as to food and clothing, and in every respect. But, so far as I can see, the crofters and landlords are living in perfect cordiality and peace. I do not think myself they require anything, unless it be fixity of tenure or leases, and that the forty days' notice to quit be altered; that is a terrible hardship. I do not see how the crofter can possibly improve the place if he has no fixity of tenure.

18970. Mr Cameron.
—You mean by fixity of tenure security of lease?

18971. You don't mean fixity of tenure?

18972. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Some have leases?

18973. Any considerable number?
—-No, you will hear crofters complaining of their rent being too high, but they forget that, at the same
time, the profits have increased to three times the amount In regard to the cattle, in 1844 I could purchase a cow for 35s. or 40s.—a native cow, a farrow cow—and a calf at £3. This year you could not get the same class of cattle under £5 or even £7. The rents have not risen to that extent; so that, looking at it from a purely commercial point of view, the people are the gainers.

18974. Are there no cottars at all?
—No, I don't exactly know the meaning of that.

18975. A cottar is a working man with a house and a bit of land sufficient to raise a few potatoes and a little corn?
—There are very few of these. We have a good many small places of that sort; we call them housewives, those who are on the poors roll, but that is the only class of cottars I know of. You will see yourselves round here that the houses are very good for fishermen. These houses have been newly built. No doubt, a great many of the people require better houses; but they don't provide them themselves; the landlord provides the houses.

18976. Have there been a good many new cottages built?
—Oh, yes, a good many.

18977. Good slated houses?
—Not many slated houses except here, about Mid Yell. In the country generally they are thatched houses. They are now getting felt roofs.

18978. Are these found as satisfactory as slate?
—I should think not.

18979. Or as thatch?
—It is better than thatch.

18980. Does the custom still prevail of having the fire in the centre of the house?
—Oh, yes.

18981. Is it generally the case?
—In the old houses; but when they get new houses they use chimneys.

18982. Are there any houses in this parish in which the cattle are accommodated under the same roof with the family?
—Not now.

18983. But they used to be so?
—Oh, yes; people thought it was very warm and comfortable and healthy.

18984. Have they improved in the tidiness of their habits about their houses?
—They are improving; it will take some time to do that.

18985. In respect of education, do you think it has made great advances?
—There cannot be much; until the Education Act was passed there was only one school in the double parish.

18986. Then the people in a great part of the parish were without education?
—They educated themselves. There was generally some lad went about; and they seemed to be more anxious about schools then than they are now.

18987. I suppose they complain of the taxation?
—It is very heavy.

18988. What is the rate in this parish?
—The school rate and poor rate are 6s. 6d. between them—half on the tenant and half on the landlord; and then, adding other taxes, it comes very hard.

18989. How many schools are there in the parish now?
—Six board schools. You see the population is scattered round about the shores—there is no interior population—only along the coast; and you must have schools within three miles of each other, and it is a very heavy burden.

18990. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—You said there were not many people removing from your parish, or giving way to sheep farms, but that there was such in neighbouring parishes?

18991. Mention the neighbouring parishes?
—I can only mention what takes place in my own districtNorth Yell and Fetlar.

18992. Any more ?
—I don't know.

18993. And Unst?

18994. You mentioned that some people had leases here?-
—- There are a few of them.

18995. I presume on all bigger farms like West Sandwick the tenant has a lease?
—I think they have.

18996. Would anybody improve his land unless he had a lease or some hold?
—I think not.

18997. You would not be disposed to do so yourself?
—No; I would not. A man who has no security may be turned off on forty days' notice. It would take sometime before they would pay up the improvements.

18998. You have stated that the condition of the people generally has improved within your own observation?

18999. Do you think that several of them, if they got the opportunity of enlarging their crofts, and had a little more security in their position, would be disposed to improve?
—I think many of them would.

19000. For instance, to-day we had a walk in this immediate neighbourhood, and the fields are very dirty and full of weeds—most slovenly—can you make any excuse for people tilling in that way?
—The combination of fishing and crofts—the one spoils the other. They give more attention to what pays them best.

19001. You stated that a good deal of improvement and progress have been made within your recollection; is that progress and comparative comfort of the people entirely owing to the development of the fishings rather than to anything done in improving the land or the facilities
afforded them?
—It is only of late that the fishings have increased.

19002. But before then were the circumstances of the people improved?
—Yes, they were greatly improved.

19003. But not so rapidly?
—Oh, dear, no. During the last five or six years a great improvement has taken place in the circumstances of the people.

19004. Do you think some of them have been laying by any money?
—I am sure I cannot say. I suppose they would.

19004*. I am only putting that question with regard to the desire for more land and bigger crofts,—that they would be able to stock them?
—I think they would.

19005. You stated that a cow a good number of years ago would cost 35s. to 40s., and that now it would cost something like £6 or £7. Now would one of these small crofters be able to rear an animal that would bring that price at the present day?
—I should think so. I have a small property of my own, and I have some tenants and crofters on the glebe lands, and one crofter can pay me £5 odd, and raise fourteen head of these cattle,

19006. Have you seen him do so?
—I have.

19007. Should not a man like that rather be encouraged?

19008. Would they not really form the wealth of the country?
—Surely; but it is rarely you get such an active man.

19009. But when you have such a man he ought to get encouragement?

19010. And I hope you encourage him by not raising his rent?
—No. not in that way. He has three farms close together.

19011. The Chairman.
—You mentioned that every class of people found employment and advantage in the fishery?

19012. The women and younger people among others?
—Quite so.

19013. Are you speaking of the women belonging to the locality, or do the fish-curers import labour from other places?
—They have been obliged to import labour through the scarcity of gutters.

19014. Where do they hire that class of women?
—At various places in the north of Scotland—Peterhead, Aberdeen, Inverness; and indeed they have come from as far as Argyleshire.

19015. When they bring them over here, do they bring them in gangs?
—In considerable numbers; it depends on the number of the fishing boats they have.

19016. Do they make a proper provision for their lodging and entertainment here?
—The best they can. Here, in this place, they have built wooden houses for them.

19017. Is that sort of trade under any inspection or regulation?
—Not that I am aware of; it is only of late that has begun here.

19018. Do you think there is a proper sort of lodging provided for them?
—Generally these houses are put up quickly, and they all have stoves in them to enable them to do the necessary work. I hear no complaint.

19019. You have not heard any complaint of irregularity or immorality?
—I think the people have been very quiet. This is the first time we have had these strangers, and they appear quiet and decent people. I have heard no complaint of any of them, so far as I could learn.

19020. Are they decently dressed?

19021. Do they go to church?
—Some of them.

19022. Are there men brought as well as women?
—Lads are attached to the boats; each boat has about six men and a boy.

19023. Is there any drinking amongst that class of people?
—A good deal, I suspect.

19024. Any among the women?
—I cannot say; I have not heard of any. In various places in Unst all the public-houses stopped for a certain time. They stopped selling any spirits during the fishing season in Delting and various other places.

19025. But there is nothing like an outburst of intemperance?

19026. You mentioned that the union of fishing and crofting had a bad effect upon the cultivation—in producing a slovenly sort of cultivation. Do you think it would be advisable or advantageous to divide the two classes or not?
—I am sure I cannot say.

19027. I mean, do you think it would be better to give the crofters their crofts and to place the fisherman in habitations apart without any interest in the land; or do you think that a portion of land is essential. to the fisherman?
—It is essential, I think, in the present state of matters. They require milk and cattle.

19028. Have you heard this question discussed or considered?
—No, I have heard it mentioned, but not discussed, and I do not see very well how they could do without land.

19029. Is there any other statement you would like to make spontaneously about the people?
—No, I cannot say there is. I think myself, generally speaking, the people in this parish have no great cause of complaint. Their rents, no doubt, have been raised, but the produce of their farms has been raised —cattle, sheep, and ponies. When I came here eggs were selling at l½d. a dozen, and now they are selling at 6d. You could get a capital lamb then for 2s., and now it would cost you 5s. I have seen a lamb sold for Is.

19030. Mr Cameron.
—What do sheep sell for?
—You will get a real. Shetland sheep of good size for 10s.

19031. What age?
—Three or four or five years old.

19032. What will it weigh?
—40 lbs.; and you would have got the same kind of sheep for 5s. or 6s. before. But there is a good deal of mixture in the sheep now.

19033. Do the sheep vary according to market prices going for sheep in the south, or does the price remain pretty much the same?
— It remains pretty much the same

19034. At what time do they sell the sheep?
—The month of August or now.

19035. Do you know anybody who has sold this year?

19036. Where do they sell them?
—I do not know.

19037. Are there markets here?

19038. Who buys them—do dealers come round?
—No; for instance, if I want a sheep, I go to purchase it.

19039. But there are 5000 sheep?
—That is a different thing.

19040. Does anybody buy them from outside?
—Yes, they go down to Lerwick.

19041. Does the price in Scotland regulate that price here to any degree?
—I do not think it; not so far as I know.

19042. Have you any idea what the population was about forty years ago in your parish?
—Between 1700 and 1800.

19043. And. what is it now?
—Nearly 1900.

19044. It is rather greater?

19045. Do you think that the land would sustain a larger population than that?
—Yes, I think it would. I think if you take into consideration the number of merks of land that used to be under cultivation, say, 300 odd merks, and give a population of five to each farm, you would bring up the population to about 2300.

19046. Your part of the parish is not overcrowded?
—No, it is not

19047. How do you account;for the heavy local taxation in Shetland?
—It is very difficult to say.

19048. Have you ever heard any reason assigned?
—Many reasons; but I could not venture to state what the cause of it is. The poor rate and school rate are very high —6s. 6d. in pound.

19049. It appears to be a general rate in the island?
—I suppose so.

19050. Has anybody ever tried to find out the reason?
—There is no apparent cause. There is no greater poverty here than in the Highlands, where the rate is not so high

19051. How do you account for it?
—It is easy to account for the school rate; and there is one reason, for instance, for the poor rate being high, and that is the number of lunatics we have to support.

19052. Has the number of widows, in consequence of the dangerous life the men lead, anything to do with it?
—To a certain degree, but not much.

19053. Is there any poorhouse in the parish?

19054. Has that anything to do with it?
—Yes, a good deal.

19055. Do many of the young women go south for employment?
—Yes, a good many, as servant girls.

19056. Do they do well in the south, so far as you know?
—Yes, I have known some of them do very well, while others did not.

No comments:

Post a Comment