Stephen Worth

Stephen Worth, University of the Highlands & Islands: Upon the margins: Why did many post-Improvement farms in the Scottish Highlands prove unsustainable?

The Agricultural Improvements of the 18th and 19th centuries completely altered the landscape of the Scottish Highlands, sweeping away the communal open fields and summer grazing of cattle on the hills, and replacing it with the regularly shaped fields we see today.  These new farms where run by single tenant farmers, keen to join in with this new capitalist based, scientifically driven farming system.  However, replacing traditional methods with new did not result in success for all.  Many of these new farms failed, especially on the marginal lands of the Scottish Highlands.

This research focusses on these failures; looking specifically at the Grampian Mountains, a region little studied historically or archaeologically for this period.  It seeks to discover why so many of these new hill farms failed. To do this a cross disciplinary approach has been chosen, using historical accounts from estate archives balanced with archaeological investigation, including building survey, landscape research and geo-scientific analysis.

This thesis seeks to discover if there were common causes for failure.  Did landlord interference or excessive rentals cause failure, did environmental factors play their part or did the opening up of global markets and mass production ultimately doom these smaller Scottish farmers.

Awarded: Carnegie PhD Scholarship

Field: History

University: University of the Highlands and Islands

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