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October 27th 1787

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The Moss Lairds of Blair Drummond

Lord Kames was one of the notable agricultural improvers of the 18th century. At the age of seventy, through his wife, he came into possession of Blair Drummond near to Dunblane.

At the time Blair Drummond contained the so-called Moss of Kincardine, a large area which was of little use agriculturally. It was covered with a thick layer of peat up to ten feet deep; but below the peat there was a rich alluvial clay which would grow excellent crops. The problem was to remove the peat, and Lord Kames conceived the idea of cutting the peat into pieces and floating them down to the waters of the Forth.

The area was let to tenants in lots of eight Scots acres (1 Scots acre=1.26 acre), on long leases of 38 years. For the first seven years no rent at all was paid. In addition, wood was provided for building a house and each tenant received 2 bolls (2.5 cwt) of oatmeal while the building was taking place.

At this time there was a corn mill on the estate, and the waters powering the mill were directed to flow through the mosslands. A passageway two feet wide was cut and the peat was spaded into the water. When one area had been cleared in this fashion, a new passageway was formed, so that in all cases the peat could be thrown directly on to the water. In this way, during Lord Kames’ lifetime, about four hundred acres were cleared, much of it the so-called low moss which was only about three feet deep.

In order to get to the high moss area, which had peat up to ten feet in depth, a roadway twelve feet wide was constructed at the edge of the low moss area. The high moss area, while it obviously took longer to clear, had the advantage that much of it was of high quality and could be used as fuel by the tenants. Some was even removed and sold in Stirling and Doune. The work of reclamation continued after Lord Kames’ death and in 1787 a water wheel was designed by a Mr Meikle which extracted water from the River Teith, raising it some 17 feet and storing it in reservoirs. It was then released at given times carrying off the peat thrown into the channel.

By 1796, nearly eight hundred people were living in the area, 90% of them from the Highlands. Being Gaelic speaking, they formed a very close knit community. In addition, as the Old Statistical Account has it “not a single instance has occurred amongst them of theft, bad neighbourhood or any other misdemeanour that required the interposition of the civil magistrate.” 

The early settlers were known rather contemptuously as ‘moss lairds’ but with the obvious success of the scheme, the excellent crops grown and the prosperity of the tenants, the initial scepticism withered away and if the term 'moss laird' was used at all, it denoted more admiration than disparagement.

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