Saturday, 17 March 2012
A Story Wrought in Glass
A few days ago, Amber and I chanced on the old parish church in Croick. If you think Cottarton is remote, try out Croick which is fifteen miles from the nearest shops, in an empty glen and not a farm in sight. Only a few scattered houses. You can walk for miles and not see a human soul. The adjoining glens contain the Alladale Estate, the site of an ecological restoration project. It's an idyllic spot with a dark history.
While taking us on a safari tour of Alladale Estate, our guide John, told us about the days of the Highland Clearances, when hundreds of families were forced from their homes to make way for large sheep farms. In 1845, after a prolonged struggle, 18 families, some 90 people, from the glen of Glenvalvie were evicted from their homes. They sought refuge in the nearby church of Croick only to find that the local factor had locked the doors against them. The people spent the night in the churchyard, using tarpaulins to shelter from the wind and rain. Before they left, some of the women used their jewellery to scratch their names, and their story in the windows. We were able to make out a few of those scratches.
"Glencalvie people was in the churchyard here May 24 1845"
"Glencalvie tenants residing here"
“Ros James Borthwick”
“The Glencalvie tenants reside in the kirkyard in May 24, 1845”
"Glencalvie people, the wicked generation”
The latter scrawl suggests that the church leaders persuaded the people that they were being punished for their sins.
Interestingly a nearby plaque makes no mention of the doors being locked. Rather, it states that the people voluntarily decided not to enter the church as to do so would be sacrilegious. That’s not the story the locals have passed down to their children. Nor does it accord with the following letter to the Times newspaper in 1845:
Behind the church, a long kind of booth was erected, the roof formed of tarpaulin stretched over poles, the sides in with horsecloths, rugs, blankets and plaids ... Their furniture, excepting their bedding, they got distributed amongst the cottages of their neighbours; and with their bedding and their children they all removed on Saturday afternoon to this place. In my last letter I informed you that they had been round to every heritor and factor in the neighbourhood, and 12 of the 18 families had been unable to find places of shelter........
History is re-written by the winners.
We don’t know where the people went. Some ended up in cities, others crossed the Atlantic to Nova Scotia. It's sadly ironic that these days Glencalvie doesn’t host any sheep, in whose names the atrocities were committed. The sheep farming of old is no longer economical.