Land Ownership and Use

Land Ownership and Use

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Early farming units consisted of very small parcels of land attached to a basic one room cottage, where a family would endeavour to survive through binding themselves to the landowner in a form of serfdom.

Entitlement to remain on the land was dependent on the able bodied members of the family working for their master. In return for their labour  each family was permitted to cultivate their small plot of land, usually with a crop of oats and perhaps potatoes augmented by the keeping of a cow for milk. This would give a yield sufficient for the needs of only the family and offered little opportunity for creating excess products for sale.

Agricultural implements were very basic and this meant that most of the farmer’s work was of a heavy nature.  

Serfdom survived virtually unchanged until the advances in society in the 18th Century when the bondage of serfs became unacceptable and freedom of choice was on offer. With the new attitudes came new ideas, concerning agricultural land management. These changes included the enclosure and drainage of land, with attendant developments in both animal husbandry and crop rotation. To ensure the widespread adoption of these improvements meant an investment which was often beyond that of the average farmer and therefore fell to the landlord to finance the costs incurred.

The ownership of land had by tradition been passed from generation to generation of families, usually within the ruling class. This group, through time, fragmented their land holdings by selling off parcels of land to raise money. The new owners, or heritors as they became known, often had little experience of farming and were dependent on finding suitable tenants to take over the cultivation and management of their land, at a price of course.

With the change of emphasis from subsistence farming to serving the needs of a landlord, the smallholders had to find ways and means to increase their income. Already within the Mearns, farmers had discovered that they were able to grow particularly good grass crops. This in turn led to an ever expanding and successful dairy industry for which Mearns gained a premier reputation in surrounding areas. The near vicinity of the southern suburbs of the ever growing towns of Glasgow and Paisley offered the farmers of Mearns a ready market for their products.

Milk products such as butter, cream, butter-milk and cheese became the mainstay of the economy of the Mearns even after the arrival within the parish of the industrial cotton/silk mills, dye and printworks and their accompanying operatives. Indeed this population explosion within the tight-knit rural community only added to the success of the farms as the demand for their products grew locally.

However, not all land within the parish boundary was of good enough quality to supply its tenant with a good living. Beyond the village of Newton, journeying south, it is obvious even to today’s observer that the land subtly changes appearance. Large areas of moorland and mosses occur in often exposed locations and were a constant challenge to the resident farmers, many of whom, as a means of earning an income, introduced sheep and black cattle, both of which were able to survive in such an unpromising and challenging environment.

The importance of the farming industry in the parish is seen by a survey carried out in 1831, the results of which showed that out of a total of 456 families living within the parish 149 of them were directly engaged in agriculture. The total acreage under management amounted to some 101,578 acres and was owned by a total of 47 heritors. Agricultural land rentals of the time extended from £1-6-0d to £2-4-0d- an acre depending on its situation and quality.


On an average farm, such as those to be found within the Mearns, at least two or three sturdy menfolk were required to handle the physical day to day  running of the farm. Sons were a great asset to the farmer, as from an early age they were a ready supply of cheap, if not in some cases unpaid. labour!  Should sons be in short supply and the need arose to engage staff from outwith the farm, this was often achieved at hiring fairs.


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