The Congested Districts Board 1898-1912

The Congested Districts Board was established by the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act of 1897, on the model of the Congested Districts Board for Ireland, to improve industries and infrastructure in the crofting counties which suffering from overpopulation and poverty (see Powers below).

Initially 56 parishes or parts of parishes in the north, west and islands of Scotland were identified as both crofting and congested but the members of the board soon recognised that this was too narrow a field, and in 1911 – not long before the Board disbanded – they established formally that all of the seven Crofting Counties, namely Argyll, Inverness-shire, Ross and Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland, excepting 12 town, burgh or large village parishes within these counties, would fall under their purview. In total 151 of the 163 parishes of the Highlands and Islands were officially ‘crofting’. Lewis was considered an especially difficult case and a Local Committee of representatives from public bodies was formed in 1903, to make recommendations to the Board.

The Board’s method of providing aid was principally the provision of direct grants, specialists and facilities in response to particular local need, and their approach was often openly experimental. The Committee operated for 14 years, from 1898 to 1912, and produced an annual report summarising local and district developments and expenditure. From 1 April 1912 its powers and assets, including some land it had purchased for new settlements, passed to the Board of Agriculture for Scotland.

In the course of its existence, the Congested Districts Board established 56 new land schemes, for populations of from 3 families to 149 (Glendale in Skye) and even 500 (Kilmuir). It had no power of compulsory purchase, however, and limited funds, so the level of assistance it could provide was outstripped by demand. In Lewis, for example, recommendations regarding farms to be broken up for potential crofters was in the hands of the Local Committee, which was chaired by Major Matheson, then the owner of the island.

For a discussion of the merits and shortcomings of the CDB, see James Hunter, The Making of the Crofting Community (1976, 2000), Chapter 11.

Major Works in Uig

Valtos Pier

A grant of £1800, agreed 13.5.1899

Miavaig Slip

A grant of £222, agreed 11.11.1908

Molenish Road (Mealista)

a grant of £152, agreed 10.12.09

Cliff Road (The Dromannan)

a grant of £250, agreed 31.3.1911 (after the works?)

Geshader Path

a grant of £74, agreed 31.3.1911 (after the works?)

Mangersta Path

a grant of £290, agreed 27.3.1912

Ungeshader path

a grant of £54, in progress in 1909

Carishader fence

a grant of £100, agreed 7.2.1908

Islivig fence

a grant of £78, agreed 29.6.1909

Mangersta fence

a grant of £100, agreed 29.6.1909

There may have been other significant works, as the annual reports appear to be variable in their detail.

The one land scheme established with the CDB’s assistance in Uig was Mangersta, where 13 crofts were allotted in 1911 (see the Board’s report on Mangersta (link to follow), and its reasons for not breaking up Reef Farm in the same way). The total expenditure of the Board for Mangersta is as follows – some included in the figures above:

Sheep stock*                  £ 200
Valuation                        £ 142.3/10
Drains, fencing etc       £ 118.13/7
Rent                                   £ 105.0/0

Total                                 £  565.16/7

*The Board was expressly forbidden from assisting by way of grant or loan the stocking of a new croft, so this presumably is compensation to the outgoing farmer (Donald Mackay).

Powers of the Congested Districts Board

Section 4 (1) of the Act 60 and 61 VC, Ch 53, reads as follows: –

In applying the Congested Districts (Scotland) Fund the Commissioners may take such steps as they think proper for: –

  1. Aiding and developing agriculture, dairy farming, and the breeding of livestock and poultry in congested districts; and
  2. Providing suitable seed potatoes and seed oats and implements and dairy utensils and machinery or appliances for the making of butter or cheese for crofters and cottars in congested districts; and
  3. Providing, subject to the provisions hereinafter contained, land for sub-division among or for enlargement of the holdings of crofters and cottars in congested districts for the purposes of cultivation or grazing, in such manner and upon such conditions and after such adaptations as shall be determined by the Commissioners; and
  4. Aiding migration of crofters and cottars from congested districts to other districts in Scotland, and settling any migrants under favourable circumstances in the places to which they first migrate; and
  5. Aiding and developing fishing (including industries connected with a subservient to fishing) and the erection and formation of fishermen’s dwellings and holdings in congested districts; and
  6. Aiding the providing or improving of lighthouses, piers, or boat-slips, public roads and bridges, and footpaths and footbridges, and meal-mills, in congest districts; and providing guarantees for telegraph extensions, or such other postal facilities (including money order and saving bank business) as may be within the power of the Postmaster-General grant under guarantee; and
  7. Aiding and developing spinning, weaving, and other home industries in congested districts; and
  8. Subject to the consent of the Treasury: aiding the providing or improving of harbours.
  9. The Act empowers the Board to give their assistance either by way of gift or loan, or by way of sale at cost price, and subject to such conditions as they think fit.

The Board may buy land by agreement and, before disposing of it for the purposes of the Act, they may divide and fence it and make roads, and execute such works as those for drainage, water supply, etc., which can in the opinion of the Board, be more economically and efficiently executed for the land as a whole. The Board may also erect or aid in the erection of adaptation of necessary buildings on the land.

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