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The Barony of Kinneil & ‘Improvements’ of the 18th Century

This feature is contributed by Friends of Kinneil Committee member, Iain Kirkman: can you help with his research into the agricultural history of Kinneil Estate?

Plan of Kinneil Estate, 1875 – available in much finer, zoomable, detail at https://maps.nls.uk/view/216443738 and drawn from the 1850s Ordnance Survey maps ( https://maps.nls.uk/os/25inch/ ) [Reproduced with permission of the National Library of Scotland maps division https://maps.nls.uk/ under Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 licence]

The Kinneil Estate is part and parcel of the Bo’ness landscape, but the present parkland is just a small part of what was once the Barony of Kinneil. The Barony – once in the ownership of Scotland’s Hamilton family – used to cover most of the land between Inveravon and Carriden, from the foreshore to Linlithgow Loch.

Until the later eighteenth century, the landscape wasn’t the orderly patchwork of fields and roads that we see now. Like most of Scotland – the Lowlands as well as the Highlands – there will have been few boundary walls or fences, just open fields and scattered hamlets of 2 – 6 households known as ‘fermtouns’. There were very few roads and the open fields were divided into ‘rigs’ (ridge and furrow’), perhaps 25 feet wide by 800 feet long, and managed under a system known as ‘runrig’.

In the course of the eighteenth century, this open field arrangement was swept away to be replaced with the more or less geometric field system we can see today. Most people have heard of the Highland Clearances but it is perhaps less well known that the same process occurred in the Lowlands and Southern Uplands some time before it was applied in the Highlands. This has been called the Agricultural Revolution, Enclosure, or Improvement, but in recent years historians have begun to use the term ‘The Lowland Clearances’.

In the Barony of Kinneil, which became present-day Bo’ness, ‘inclosure’ was managed by John Burrell, the Duke of Hamilton’s Chamberlain in the 1760s and 1770s. Dr John Roebuck, co-founder of Carron Iron Works, was living at Kinneil at this time. Roebuck is known as an innovative scientist and industrialist, but he applied his talents to agriculture too. A 1778 report notes that Roebuck has “eminent skill in chemistry, and in every art that relates to agriculture; and he has employed that art in improving a farm he has from the duke…”. It would be interesting to find out which farm, and whether Roebuck and Burrell collaborated on the enclosure and improvement of the Kinneil lands.

Burrell’s improving activities on the Duke’s lands in Lanarkshire and on Arran have been discussed [see footnote 1], but we haven’t (yet?) found any detail of his work in Bo’ness. However, his impact can be seen by comparing just two maps. The post-1745 William Roy military map of Scotland shows the open field landscape between Kinneil House and Carriden as ridge and furrow, with scattered hamlets – Kinglass, Drum, Little Carriden, Muirhouse, Borrowstoun and New Borrowstoun (now Bo’mains).

The comparison with the 1875 plan of Kinneil Estate (drawn from the 1855 first edition of the Ordnance Survey local maps) is striking. The open fields have been replaced with what is very nearly today’s pattern of fields and roads, except where present-day housing estates have been fitted into the field boundaries. Some of the hamlets are gone – those that remain are now farms, linked by new roads. The people who lived in the fermtouns – tenants, sub-tenants, cottars and labourers – have moved into newly built accommodation in Newtown – five new rows of houses at the cross-roads of the Borrowstoun and Linlithgow Roads – into Borrowstounness, or still further away.

It may be that the story of how this process took place in Bo’ness is yet to be written. T J Salmon’s classic book ‘Borrowstounness and District‘, written 150 years after Burrell, covers John Roebuck’s industrial enterprises in Bo’ness but makes no mention of John Burrell.

The Friends of Kinneil are hoping to find out more about this period of our history through one of our member’s researches at the University of Edinburgh. The aim is to look at various sources – surveys, maps, estate papers, correspondence and petitions, court records, John Burrell’s journals, to piece together a more detailed picture of how the Barony of Kinneil – and its people – became present-day Bo’ness and its people.

Many a Bo’ness family can trace their ancestors in the district back through many generations. Do you have any family memories of the farming past of the town, or stories you may have heard of how the agricultural revolution affected them? We’d love to hear from you!

Please add your comments to today’s post on our Facebook page, or e-mail the Friends of Kinneil.

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Footnote 1: ‘The Improvement of a Great Estate’ in T M Devine, ‘The Transformation of Rural Scotland: Social Change and the Agrarian Economy 1660-1815‘ (John Donald Publishers, 1994); Thorbjorn Campbell, ‘Arran: A History‘ (Birlinn, 2013)