Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the month “December, 2015”

Gledfield Free Church

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Gledfield Free Church, Ardgay, Highlands

Back in May when Hamish and I travelled around the Highlands we passed through Gledfield, the home of my Scottish Ross ancestors. We saw an old church that had no sign outside but which I took to be the Gledfield Free Church. I took a few photos and found myself wondering exactly how it was being used now, since it seemed to have ceased its function as a house of worship.

Yesterday I received the following information in an email from Peter Reynolds of peterreynoldsbooks.com. It brought a smile to my face:

I see the old Gledfield Free Church is for sale. http://bellingram.co.uk/property/the-old-free-church-ardgay-sutherland/ Driving past, it was not immediately obvious that it had been converted to a house. There is actually a lot of property in Ardgay on the market at the moment.

I remembered a census record from 1881 that I had seen some time ago on Ancestry.co.uk when I was researching Catherine Ross (Urquhart) and looked it up:

1881 census
Name: Catherine Ross
Age:80
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1801
Relationship: Mother
Gender: Female
Where born: Golspie (G), Sutherland S.
Registration Number: 71A/1
Registration district: Kincardine
Civil Parish: Kincardine
County: Ross and Cromarty
Address: Gledfield F. Church
Occupation: Annuitant
Household Members:
Malcolm Ross 41, Jane Ross 29, Hector Ross 38, Catherine Ross 80, Elizabeth Stewart 14.

I still don’t really understand why the family address is listed as Gledfield Free Church. Surely in 1881 the building was still being used as a church, and not as a home. Looking more closely at the census record reveals that Malcolm Ross was the head of the household and that his occupation was “Master Blacksmith And Farmer (Of 11 Acres, All Arable, Employing 2 Man 1 Girl).” Jane Ross was his wife and Hector Ross his younger brother. Malcolm and Jane never had any children and Hector never married. Hector was a journeyman blacksmith. Elizabeth Stewart was their domestic servant.

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Greenyards

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Greenyards Estate in the Strathcarron

The last clearance in the Strathcarron was at the end of March, 1854.

“… the eviction concerned twenty two families who were the residue of the much greater population which had been cleared in the name of the octogenarian landlord, the notorious Major Robertson of Kindeace… The people’s record was stainless; nor were they a penny in arrears. Some of the menfolk of Greenyards were currently serving in the 93rd regiment at Sebastopol in the Crimean War. The community was under notice of removal to make way for sheep.” (Richards p.345)

The eviction achieved notoriety and was labelled “the massacre of the Rosses” by a contemporary writer, Donald Ross, because of the injuries sustained by a number of people, mostly women, who resisted the authorities who came to turn them out. The Sheriff of Tain and thirty five men arrived at dawn on the 31st of March and were met by a crowd of some 300 people (although Donald Ross’s estimate of the number in the crowd was much lower). The newspaper reports of the Greenyards events created a sensation in Scotland.

“The basic facts of the case:… a body of baton swinging police… ploughed into a crowd of women, and they… inflicted severe, almost fatal, wounds upon them. The police sustained no injury… it was undoubtedly a trial of strength between the peasantry of Ross-Shire and its police force… In the aftermath four of the people [taken into custody] at Greenyards were sentenced at the Circuit Court in Inverness to a long confinement and hard labour in prison. One year later (February 1855) the clearance at Greenyards was completed, to the accompaniment once more of allegations of cruelty, but without resistance.

“A civil force had been brought in from Tain. The furniture of the evictees was put out into the nearby fields; the fire in the hearth was extinguished and the inmates were ejected like a band of felons. One bedridden woman was placed, in her bed, in the open air, exposed to the piercing cold in intense frost and snowstorm until she was rescued by a neighbour from across the Carron.” (Richards pp.351-352)

This event occurred just a few miles up the valley from Gledfield, where James Ross and his family lived. By 1854 James was around 60 years of age and his sons had taken over the smithy. The twenty two families who were evicted were their near neighbours, even if they lived in the valley and not in the village. James and his family would have known many of them, as the people of the Strathcarron generally passed through Gledfield on their way to the bigger centres of Ardgay, Bonar Bridge, Tain, Dingwall and Inverness. James and his sons were the village blacksmiths and had much contact with the people of the valley.

James had been born in or around the so called Year of the Sheep (1792) when the men of Ross had gathered in Strath Oykel to drive the invading sheep south. He was a young man in 1820 when the Strath Oykel Clearance took place after a confrontation at Culrain, just up the road from his home. In 1845 he watched as the people of Glencalvie left the Strathcarron, driven away by the above named Major Robertson, who owned the land. Finally in 1855 he saw his neighbours from Greenyards pushed out by the same laird. James had raised a family of 13 children. By that time his son James had already left Scotland and was married and living in Wales. Two years later, in 1857, two others of his children, Andrew and Helen, would leave Scotland and migrate to Australia, where both would marry and raise families in the beautiful Bellinger Valley of New South Wales. Eleven years after Andrew and Helen left, his son James, who had moved to Birkenhead, near Liverpool in the intervening years, would also leave for Australia with his wife and children. The youngest daughter, Jane, 22 at the time, sailed with them. James senior died in Gledfield later that same year, 1866. He had seen the departure of many people from his beloved valley, the Strathcarron. Some had been driven away, evicted from the land by apparently heartless landlords. Others, including four of his own children, had left of their own freewill. His son James settled in Sydney, Australia, and his granddaughter, Winifred Ross, was my grandmother.

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Carron River near Greenyards

Quotes taken from Eric Richards’ book, The Highland Clearances. 2013

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