Finding the Lost Glebe [2] – Karl Max and Ewen Campbell

It is surprising to think that the current extent of our Community Estate is maybe in part down to Karl Marx!

A rising public clamour against the ‘monopoly of land’ in the 1860’s and 70’s was then sweeping through the European Continent, and embodied by the London based writings of Karl Marx, not least by the publication of his seminal work—’Capital’.

This consequently prompted a concerned British Establishment to try to rapidly extinguish any spark of revolutionary sentiment in the United Kingdom.

With echoes to the present day, the Establishment felt that many perceived exaggerations and false assertions had been made by the opponents of the landed classes as to the over-concentration of land ownership within a small ruling elite, so they decided that reliable and independent data was needed to refute the attacks.

So a Land Ownership Commission was set up, and during 1872–73, it complied – from ratings records, the holding size, in acres, roods and poles, and estimated yearly rental, of all holdings over 1 acre.

It was laid out by county and landowner with a principal identifying address being given for each landowner.

When the Scottish return was published in 1874, it showed that the Glebe at Keose had a rental value of £45, but at just 531 acres in size,  it was less than half the size of the current estate.

That was just perfect timing for the Rev. Ewen Campbell, and his fight with the Lews Estate for a new church and a bigger and better area of land.

The Rev. Campbell’s background and character is an interesting one.

He was born in Skye in about 1814 where his father Archibald was a schoolmaster in a number of places, and his mother Matilda was of the Macleod of Dunvegan family. Archibald emigrated with his wife and seven children to Nova Scotia in 1830, and taught in a number of places before settling in Whycocomagh.

The book, ‘the History of Inverness County, Nova Scotia’ states that Ewen, the eldest son, was a merchant in Whycocomagh for a number of years. He built a brig which he sailed, with his brother Donald, across the Atlantic to England.

They sold the vessel there and Donald made for the East Indies, but his ship was lost at sea. Ewen returned to Scotland to study for the church ministry.

He came to Keose in 1870 as something of an enigma. On one hand, he was single, and appears to have been a hard headed, stubborn, forthright, unyielding and litigious man – with a comfortable income, virtually no congregation, and with time on his hands to pursue his own interests.

On the other, curiously, he is described as “in private a man of most genial disposition and largest charity. Within the bounds of his parish, and indeed, far beyond them, the name of the minister of Lochs was a household word for “help in the time of need”. The sick found in him their healer, the weak their defender.”

A writer in the Stornoway Gazette in 1930 wrote initially about the minister’s time at Knock, and then at Lochs:

“He [Ewen Campbell] had an impressive personality. He was a better physician than preacher. Many sought his medical advice, few his spiritual.

He had a genius for putting his finger on the spot, and it was well known that the path to his manse was beaten hard by many who came to him in the shade of the evening, while the path to his church was virgin green.

He was an original and brave lecturer, and the public of Stornoway were often entertained by his racy utterances. His accents ring in my ear until this day – ‘The Elizabethans, dirty fellows all of them,’ ‘Shakespeare, if his mother woke up she wouldn’t know her boy,’ ‘St Petersburg, a city built on mud.’

He left Knock for the parish of Lochs 60 years ago exactly.’

Ultimately the fight for the Glebe went all the way to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, and in 1874 the minister was successful in getting his glebe formally designated, and the land it covered was greatly extended to include Swordale and part of Miavaig.

He set about rigorously policing these new boundaries. This appears to have caused some resentment with the local Keose crofters who had perhaps got used to former ministers turning a blind eye and being more tolerant of grazing animals who ventured onto the glebe.

This squabbling by the crofters of Keose over the glebe and its demarcation lines would continue for many years, and come to the fore again following the breakup of the glebe in 1932.

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