Clashmore & The Carnegie Hall – A History
Clashmore may not be an ancient village but it has an interesting history.
Early18th century Sutherland was very different to the Sutherland of today. At that time the bulk of the population lived in the inland glens where they worked the land and raised cattle. Coastal settlements were few and far between. However, times were changing.
It can be argued that the Battle of Culloden sounded the death-knell of the old Highland Clan system, and the reprisals and gradual economic decline that followed put enormous strain on the people. Many chiefs and landowners lost or sold their land in the ensuing decades and a new breed of landlord appeared on the scene: businessmen at heart, brought up on the new ideas of the Agricultural Revolution. Many of the new lairds - landowners - had little or no affinity for Highland history, culture or way of life – or commitment to the people.
They found great tracts of reasonably productive land occupied by large numbers of people - their tenants - who eked out livings on tiny plots of land using primitive, uneconomic farming techniques....and paid very low rents as a result. Meanwhile, Britain was at war with France and the demand for wool for Army clothing and blankets was high, as were wool prices. Where better to keep sheep than on the land occupied so uneconomically by their tenants? There was money to be made – but only if the tenants were removed.
The result was that from around 1790 to the middle of the 19th Century, many Highland landowners put up rents on their land, evicted their tenants when they couldn’t pay, and brought in large herds of Cheviot sheep and English-speaking shepherds from the south to replace them.
Balnagown Estate, south of the Dornoch Firth in Easter Ross, was the first estate to be cleared in 1790; Strath Oykell, west of the Dornoch Firth, was cleared in 1800, and so it went on. 194 families were cleared from Skibo Estate during the "Clearances", as this period came to be known.
The people removed in this way were clearly in trouble – their homes could be burned, their crops destroyed and they had nowhere to go. They were destitute. Some moved to the new model villages like Golspie and Helmsdale that were being built by the Sutherland family to encourage their former tenants to take up fishing; others moved to the cities of the south to work in the factories springing up in the Industrial Revolution; and others moved far away, particularly to Canada.
Maps of south East Sutherland show a great increase in the number of settlements in the Clashmore area between 1755 and 1841 and it seems that the eastern part of the Skibo Estate became a reception centre for the cleared. The village of Clashmore was established as a result (Clashmore is Gaelic for “big hollow”). Indeed, a dedicated reception centre for the displaced, “The Dornoch Inn”, was built in the village in 1819 by the Marquis of Stafford, later to become the first Duke of Sutherland. The Inn was to become the Skibo Estate factor’s house and is now a private home.
Clashmore’s location was fortunate in other ways. The first road capable of taking wheeled vehicles in Sutherland had been built along the north shore of the Dornoch Firth (and through Clashmore) in the early 19th century, and from it a track led to one of the most important ferry crossing points in this part of Scotland - at Meikle Ferry, some 2 miles away.
Indeed, Clashmore was the location of an occasional cattle tryst (fair), where farmers would bring their cattle together so that Lowland drovers could walk them south to the great markets of Crieff and Falkirk, from where they would be walked still further south, even to London. These gatherings would also bring people together to exchange and barter other foodstuffs and goods before the advent of shops.
In 1822, a list of all males in Dornoch Parish over 16, excluding servants, demonstrates the essentially rural population in the parish at that time. Many artisans practiced their crafts on farms rather than in villages. Clashmore appears to have had a very small population, occupations being given as follows:
By 1837 the village had established itself as a local hub, and a trade directory of the time listed the following (it may be that some men had more than 1 job):
Innkeeper & vintner 3
Corn miller 1
Clashmore had arrived. However, the village had developed very slowly and still looks pretty much as it did 100 years ago, though all shops and trades have sadly gone.
Clashmore in 1857
Village Gatherings & Clashmore Hall
When people in small rural communities had to make their own entertainment, before the advent of TV and radio and cars to whisk them off to the bright lights, they would gather in a particular house to chat, tell stories, sing songs, listen to someone playing a musical instrument or maybe dance.
These houses were known as “ceilidh houses” – from the Gaelic ceilidh - visit. Larger gatherings took place in churches or outdoors, depending on their purpose.
In the 19th Century, new villages sprung up and the people had to find somewhere to meet to discuss matters of importance and to relax socially. Ceilidh houses were clearly inadequate for large numbers and so village halls gradually started to appear, often funded by local landowners or through public subscription.
Clashmore was very lucky. It had Andrew Carnegie, the richest man in the World in his day, as its local landowner!
Carnegie was born in Dunfermline in 1835, left for America with his family when he was 12, went straight to work for a railway company and then went into the steel business, where he made his fortune and became “The Steel King”.
Although he epitomised the American dream and became an American citizen by choice, he never lost his love for Scotland, (he was also known as “The Star Spangled Scotsman”). On the birth of his daughter Margaret, in 1897, he set about finding a Scottish home for his family – or rather a Highland home. He found Skibo Castle Estate, bought it in 1898, and used it as his summer home until 1914, when the First World War started. He died in 1919 having been unable to return to Skibo – his “Heaven on Earth”.
Construction workers at Skibo Castle - around 1900
Despite being one of the greatest and, in some ways, most ruthless capitalists that ever lived, Andrew Carnegie had an unusual approach to money. He believed that one should work as hard as one could to make it, but that “The sole purpose for making money is to give it away”, and that “To die rich is to die disgraced”. Accordingly, following his retirement in 1901, he became one of the greatest philanthropists that has ever lived.
Carnegie’s money was used to fund a wide range of initiatives, including almost 3,000 libraries, technology and scientific colleges, world peace, and around 7,000 organs for churches and halls (making him the world’s first organ-donor!), and his money is still doing good today.
Many communities in and around the Dornoch Forth benefited from his largesse, not least, Clashmore, much of which Carnegie owned and where many of his workers lived.
In 1907, for the benefit of his own workers and the community generally, he built Clashmore Village Hall, which included a small Library. It is now a B Listed building.
Clashmore Hall was for many years managed from the Skibo Estate factor’s office, though each of the many local groups that used it ran its own affairs.
Carnegie Hall in the 1920s
These included big dances and concerts; sports and games like badminton, whist and beetle drives; and weekly Sunday School. In addition, church services were held on many Sunday evenings and the Scottish Women’s Rural Institute also met there. The SWRI was something that Mrs Carnegie believed strongly in and Clashmore SWRI was the first in Sutherland.
During the Second World War Canadian foresters were brought over and lived in a camp nearby. They would come along and entertain whenever the opportunity arose.
Today the Hall has a lively Committee and attracts a wide range of events on a year round basis: including Essential Scottish Opera, Aly Bain & Phil Cunningham, touring theatre productions and musicians, ceilidhs, wedding receptions, birthday parties, SWRI meetings, craft fairs, whist, meetings and AGMs…. and the occasional Scottish Government reception.