Change in stewardship

Stacks Image 341
The later stages of the passing of Mackay lands to the Earl of Sutherland marked a change in the stewardship of land by its owners. Many argue that it was not for the best and it has had an everlasting effect on both the people and land around Strathy.
Stacks Image 344
Prior to the clearances starting in the late 1700's there were four crofters working the land in Strathy. The clearances marked a realisation of the landowners that their land was worth more with sheep and deer on it than with tenants or crops. Indeed such was the desire for deer hunting by the likes of the Earl of Sutherland that he insisted that the building of the Inverness to Wick railway line did not follow the shorter route along the coast but was diverted inland as far as Forsinard.
Stacks Image 347
Initially during the late 1700's families were relocated by their landlords to areas along the coastline. A little north of the east coast village of Helmsdale the settlement of Badbea lies testament to the conditions that these disposed people found themselves in. However landlords soon found that they had little taste to deal with the families they had moved off the land and the evictions became increasingly violent. Henchmen would be employed to serve eviction notices (often verbally and with no warning) and would then proceed to burn the homes and other buildings in the hamlets. There is some evidence that some perished in their burning homes, others died due to exposure or starvation if they were evicted in the winter months.
Stacks Image 350
With no taste to help these people there was an active policy to forcibly move people onto theemigration boats bound for Canada, the USA or Australia. Written records were forbidden and so it is difficult to quantify the number of families butchered or forced off the land that they had occupied for generations. Some researches have looked at agricultural and tax records and have estimated that 750,000 men, women and children suffered the consequences of the land owner's greed.
Stacks Image 353
This was the context of much of the north of Scotland during the 1700's and 1800's. Strathy was by no means unaffected. Strathy and the neighbouring village of Armadale were clearance villages where some disposed families were resettled. In 1790 Captain John Mackay sold the land in Strathy to William Honeyman, an Edinburgh lawyer. Honeyman was later to become Lord Armadale of Strathy when he was appointed a judge in Edinburgh's Court of Session. He also has the dubious distinction of probablybeing the first land owner in the north of realising his land was more valuable tohimwith sheep than tenants. However he was distanced from the process by letting much of the land to Northumberland farmers and can be considered to be an absentee landlord. By 1809, the laird's house in Strathy was in a "ruinous state" according to John Henderson's tour of the Sutherland.
Stacks Image 356
Honeyman divided the estate into three parts: Strathy Mains (the lands at the estuary of the river behind the laird's house); the old sub tenanted settlements stretching for five miles up the Strathy River and occupied by ten families; and his new creation the Armadale Sheep Farm. By 1812 the Armadale Sheep Farm boasted being one of the largest in the country with two-thousand head of Cheviot sheep. Honeyman sold the land at Strathy in 1813 to the Marquis of Stafford, husband of the Countess ofSutherland for £25,000. The two to three thousand sheep of Armadale swelled the Sutherlands sheep head to count to upwards of 18,000 sheep. Two years later the clearances were continuing and families in Upper Strathy had been cleared to the coast along with those from Strathnaver. Strathy Mains, the main farm on the Strathy Estate was split into the now recognisable East and West Strathy.
Stacks Image 359
From the estate map of 1815 the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland's desire for "improvement" can be clearly seen. Settlements down the Strathy River, such as Bowside and Achrugan, were to be cleared and families resettled in "allotment" communities in Baligill, Strathy Point, Brawl and Portskerra. These "allotments"are still seen today in the 1:25,000 scale OS map (OS Explorer 449 Strath Halladale and Strathy Point) as thin strips of land that were meant to be sufficient to allowafamily to survive. Often the quality of the soil was such that upwards of 75% ofthe land area was unfit for cultivation. This was at best fortuitous for the landowners and at worst was by design to ensure that the families were encouraged to go elsewhere. Elsewhere was to the industrial revolution and all its squalor or further a field to Canada, Australia etc.
Stacks Image 362
Perhaps the best description of the history of the area between the clearances and the end of the First World War is given in " North Coast Diaries " by Frank Bardgett. The village has had four churches; built between 1828 - 1910, two of which are now used for other purposes. The earliest church was built to a Thomas Telford design in 1828 and is located at the bottom of the valley to the west of the river.
Stacks Image 365
As testament to the resilience of the Strathy people they utilised the limey rocks of the Baligill Outlier and built two limekilns. Built probably around c.1820 and c.1870 they were stone lined and were fuelled by peat. Also a meal mill from c. 1800 was converted to a woollen mill in c.1860. Traces still exist of a dam and lade.