Highland Clearances: Croick Church 1

This little church is near to where we live. To get to it, one drives up a most beautiful gladed single track road for several miles, with a river running on the left and evidence of crumbling ruins of once busy crofter’s homes all around. It is a poignant sight, as one thinks of these families with young and old bundled up on carts, along with any of their goods that they could carry…cast out of their homes and watching the thatched heather roofs set alight to prevent their return…forced to wander to new places either here in Scotland or abroad to America, or Canada to try to start all over again.  But first they went to their church and sought shelter in its churchyard, whilst wondering what to do, trying to make sense of what had befallen them. It was almost impossible to photograph the exterior of the church, it lies low set, whitewashed and obscured behind the green foliage. Maybe in winter I should return again! Many accounts/ ‘rewriting of history’ of the clearances suggest that the landowners were in some way being ‘kind and thoughtful’ to the tenants, [like people said about St Kilda too] that the people lived in abject poverty and thus the landlords were relieving them in some way of this poverty by forcing them out to start again elsewhere.  But as the records show, here, in this valley, although not wealthy by any means…the crofters did make a living and were paying their rent on time. No amount of rewriting history and ‘PR spin’ changes that.

Crocik 14

The population of Croick parish at the time that the Church was built was made up, as in many other parts of the Highlands, of small tenants who practised subsistence farming on patches of arable land in the straths and from shielings on the hill grazings. By the end of the 18 th century commercial sheep farming was being introduced into the Highlands in general, and into Ross-shire in particular by Sir John Lockhart Ross of Balnagown.

As it became progressively adopted by the landlords it brought with it a complete change in the lives of the tenants. The changes, known as The Clearances, did not reach Croick Parish until 1842 when James Gillanders, factor to the Robertsons of Kindeace, attempted to evict the tenants of their Glencalvie property in order to make way for sheep. His efforts were at first strongly and successfully thwarted but he eventually succeeded on 24th May 1845 when 18 families – some 90 people – were cleared from their homes in Glencalvie in which they had lived for generations. Prior to their departure many took shelter in impoverished booths erected in the Croick churchyard and their wretched plight is recorded in messages scratched on the outside of the east window of the Church.

It so happened that a correspondent from the Times newspaper witnessed these sad events and a facsimile of his graphic despatch to his editor in London reporting them has been placed within the Church. A reproduction of the scribbled message can be seen.

A further clearance, from Greenyards in Strathcarron in March 1854 which came to be known as The Massacre of the Rosses, is also recorded in a message on the window.

If you double-click on the photo below of the Times report, you will be able to read it quite clearly.

Croick 12


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