The Carbeth Clearances

The Carbeth Clearances: An Item For The Land Reform Agenda.

Dumgoyne and the Campsies

Ten miles north of Glasgow at Carbeth, over 100 tenants face eviction from their homes, or rather huts, they built at their own expense. For the best part of a century~ these huts, for which the tenants traditionally paid a fairly low ground rent, have formed an almost unique social experiment. Recently the owner massively hiked rents, with the suspected hidden agenda of clearing the hutters from land which was formerly valueless, but is now within striking distance of suburban Glasgow. Land here is valued at monopoly money per acre.

The rises led to a bitter rent strike, and huts of leaders of the struggle were mysteriously torched to the ground. Yet it was the estate owner, Barns-Graham, former election agent of Tory MP. Michael Forsyth, who was able to secure a massive police presence at peaceful hutters ‘ protests. The courts ruled against the hutters, who had only customary rights, and eviction orders were issued against rent strikers. One of the leaders of the hutters, Bill McQueen recently lost his appeal, and is faced with a legal bill – for Barns-Graham ‘s legal costs. These were awarded against Bill, who is 70, lives solely on a state pension, and whose only asset is the hut he rebuilt after it being torched. This could now fall into the landlord ‘s hands, as Bill has been declared bankrupt by the courts.At the moment the future for the hutters looks problematic.

(In the light of the struggle of the Carbeth Hutters against eviction, Ian R. Mitchell looks at the rich history of the settlement. This is an extract from his forthcoming book, Walking through Scotland’s History. (National Museums of Scotland.)

From Clydeside To Countryside: The Carbeth Experience.

The twenties and thirties were a time of social explosion in every sense. As cafes and cinemas revolutionised social life, so organisations like the Youth Hostels and the National Trust opened up the countryside for urban dwellers. Many working class people participated in these movements, but not everything was provided for them; quite remarkable efforts were made, often by people in the most difficult circumstances, to forge their own social landscapes, and walking played its part in this.

Before the First World War the socialist Clarion Cycling Scouts had often assembled at Carbeth, about 10 miles north of Glasgow, where they pitched their tents before heading off into the wider countryside. After the war, a landowner Barns-Graham, allowed an ex-serviceman to build a holiday shack, a sort of dacha, on his land at Carbeth, In time other builders followed, and soon a village of very similar huts, with bitumen roofs and green timber walls, sprouted throughout the forest landscape, these built at the hutters’ own expense. Hutters paid a nominal rent, and facilities were primitive, and installed at the residents’own expense. Soon the place became a veritable holiday camp, and a burn was dammed to make an outdoor swimming pool in this co-operative version of a Butlins. Most of the hutters came from the west side of the Glasgow conurbation, from places like Scotstoun and Yoker, but especially from Clydebank just outside the city boundaries. And many of the hutters walked to Carbeth, there to spend the weekends, or their summer holidays. The suburban rail way ended at Milngavie, and in pre-car days the option for those coming from Glasgow was on foot, approaching the huts through a defile called with typical Clydeside humour, The Khyber Pass, a distance of about four miles from the station, burdened with the accoutrements of plebian pleasures.

But the Bankies coming to Carbeth had a bigger problem; to get to Milngavie meant going into Glasgow first, time consuming and expensive, so most simply walked over the Kilpatrick hills from Clydebank to Carbeth. An old right of way went from the Kilpatricks to Craigton on the Drymen road, and thence they walked by Craigallion Loch to Carbeth. Despite the now almost ubiquitous car some through necessity or choice still walk even today from Clydebank to Carbeth, as Bill McQueen told me, though most huts have at least an old banger or van outside. Those lucky enough to have a dacha also profited when the Blitz hit Clydebank, when housing provision for the displaced was a problem, in some cases local families decamped to Carbeth, again climbing the Kilpatricks where initially many of them had fled to escape the German bombers, and crossing to Carbeth and safety, victims of war like the Bosnian refugees we have recently seen. Indeed so great was the displacement to Carbeth than many children spent much of the war there, attending the local school at Blanefield, and the men from the yards visited their families at weekends, again walking over the hills.

Carbeth played a further role, in getting the urban working class adventurer further out onto the Highland hills. Many of the early Clydeside mountaineers were victims of the Depression, unemployed from the shipyards of Scotstoun and Clydebank, and there was an overlap between these and the hutters. The climbers, many of them in the legendary Creag Dhu, met at Craigallion Loch, a little south of the huts, where a fire was reputedly never allowed to go out, such was the coming and going of walkers, mountaineers, and tramps. From Craigallion Loch they pushed further northwards;the Campsies, along the water pipeline track to Loch Katrine, and westwards to the Cobbler, occasionally hitch-hiking but largely on foot. I. Thompson’s biography of the Clydeside socialist mountaineer Jock Nimlin gives details from Nimlin’s diaries of when he was unemployed, which show that he was as welcome at the huts of Carbeth as he was at the Craigallion fire. He, like many others, would walk or hitch out from Glasgow, and using Carbeth as a base, undertake massive pedestrian expeditions into the Highlands, often engaging in casual labour on farms and estates, before dropping back to the fire at the loch, or the hut of a friend at this suburban staging post for the exploration of the Highlands. ‘Slept at Carbeth’ and ‘Home by Craigallion’ are frequent entries in Nimlin’s diaries.

In the thirties the huts were occupied by victims of the slump, today quite a few of the occupiers are similarly casualties of the restructuring of the West of Scotland’s industrial base, this time in a permanent shift away from the ring of the hammer. The future of the settlement is uncertain, possibly depending on an organisation like Historic Scotland to recognise its unique value and protect it. Certainly issues like these need to be added to the land reform agenda of the Scottish Parliament, an agenda too often seen as a ‘Highland’ issue. The old swimming pool is silted up and reed grown, but contrary to what Thomson says in his Jock Nimlin, Craigallion Loch is still very much there, and indeed is passed by tens of thousands of people doing the West Highland Way each year. Hopefully they, whose mountain exploration is programmed and comfortable, might give a thought to these tatty but cosy huts, which for a previous generation were the springboard to an Undiscovered Scotland, and give the fight to preserve this unique experiment their support.

Copyright I.R. Mitchell

Read about Ian Mitchell

Messages of support, donations to: Bill McQueen c/o Blanefield Post Office, Stirling.

(The hutters are currently trying to raise funds for a buy out after a long drawn out struggle between Allan M Barns-Graham of Carbeth Estatew and the Hutters Community. – Pat Byrne, August 2011)

West Texas Highs; Be In Your Own Movie by Ian R. Mitchell

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