Scottish land measures

James Robertson.
General View of the Agriculture in the County of Inverness...
London: Printed for Sherwood, Neeley and Jones, 1813.
Pages 75 and 76.

SECT. I.- Size of Farms, and Character of Farmers.

MANY of the estates in the county under consideration, were never measured, so that the rule of letting land by the acre is by no means general. In this state of things, recourse was had to fix the rent of arable land by the quantity of grain which ought to be sown upon a defined portion, and the rent of pasture by the soums* of cattle it would graze. Another mode of estimating the extent, and consequently the yearly value of arable ground, in one or more farms was, in early ages, and still continues to be in some cases, by the daugh†, the aughten part, the boll; in other cases by pounds (Scots), the mark-land, the penny, and halfpenny, of which I could not obtain an explanation altogether satisfactory; and therefore suppose these different terms expressed some old valuation, long ago exploded, at or before the time when a more recent valuation was established in the reign of Charles II.

With regard to this last valuation, it merits attention, that however accurate and just it might have been, as a rule for ascertaining the value of land when it was established in that reign; yet by the eventual change of the circumstances of the country, it has now become extremely capricious and unequal, as a just mode of ascertaining the comparative value of different kinds of soil; and consequently must be an unjust rule for laying on public burdens.

• A soum is understood to be the grass of a full-grown cow or ox. A horse is estimated at two soums; and in most Highland countries, four sheep, but in some cases five, are reckoned one soum; and all young cattle in proportion as they approach toward their full size.

† These daughs and bolls refer to an old standard of valuation of ground, not entirely forgotten. The divisions of land marked by pounds and marks, &c. are frequent in the lower parts of Scotland; bnt daughs and bolls are unknown any where south of Inverness-shire. Every daugh seems to have consisted of forty-eight boils, which comprehended a greater or smaller district of country, according to the quality of the soil. The aught or aughten part (which appears to be a corruption of the eighth part) consisted of six bolls. This denomination was subdivided still lower, into pennies, &c. The era of the introduction of these divisions of land, both in the South by pounds, &c, and in the North by daughs, &c, is beyond record; and even tradition itself is silent on the subject. One thing, however, is certain, that these valuations existed, and furnished not only a rule for levying rents, which in the North must then have been paid in grain, but also fixed the general and known levy of soldiers, when men or horses were required for the service of government, in the event of a national war, and a rule to the chieftain for raising his followers, even in making predatory inroads upon his neighbours. This subject ought to be resumed, in treating of the mode most effectual in preserving the population.

Cosmo Innes.
Lectures on Scotch Legal Antiquities.
Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1872.
Pages 271-273.

We find in these rentals indications of the Old Extent and its relation to the actual rent and value of the land. A plough or land consisted of 8 oxgates or 104 acres. This we found to be the measure in the Merse and Teviotdale, and it applies very well to the shires of Aberdeen, Banff, and Moray.

Now a ploughgate of land is found to have been rentalled in the old extent (which is nothing else but a rental of the times of the Alexanders) at three marks or forty shillings, and in this I think we have the foundation of the old county qualification throughout Scotland. A proprietor of a ploughgate held of the Crown had a vote for a member of Parliament, and that is expressed in parliamentary language to be a forty-shilling land of old extent.

Observe the forty-shilling land is the same as a three markland; but knowing that a forty-shilling or three markland is a ploughgate averaging 104 acres, we find that a markland ought to be on an average 34 2/3 acres.

The money measure of land established by the old extent of the Alexanders over all Scotland, or else some other money valuation and measure of land, was for some reason more used and longer preserved on the Western coast than in the more agricultural part of Scotland. I have shown you how, at the very turning of the declivity from east to west, in the great Gordon territory, and just where wind and water shears, you come from land designated by ploughgates and oxgangs to lands designated in merklands. Various reasons will suggest themselves for the difference. Among others it may seem that some agricultural enterprise was already at work by which arable land was increasing in great arable districts, and when such improvements had rendered the old rental of Scotland no longer available, the landlords and tenants were driven to a measurement available in all situations, and suiting itself to the amount of cultivation.

A Davach is somewhat more difficult of explanation. It was a measure of land known chiefly over the north-eastern counties. In the earliest charters of the bishopric of Moray, a very great number of the parishes of the diocese are described as having a terra ecclesiastica or kirkland of half a davach in extent. I have tried to ascertain the extent and average value of these church lands, but without success. In a cultivated country, long subsequent rents or valuations helped but little to ascertain a term of ancient measurement. I wish I could submit an etymology for the word satisfactory to you or to myself. But it has happened here as in other cases, my Gaelic oracles give no certain sound in the matter. My friend the Rev. Dr. Reeves has spared no trouble, and has brought into the field two great Celtic scholars, Mr. Stokes and Mr. Hennessy. I myself naturally lean much on Mr. Skene, but whether the word 'davach' has reference to some certain number of oxen for pasturing the land or for tilling it, or finally to be paid as rent for it — or whether it means a vat or certain liquid measure by which the produce of the field or the lord's proportion of the produce is to be measured — I am not yet in a position to assert with any confidence. So situated, I beg to leave here the etymology, and to give you in a few words instances that seem to me to settle the meaning and extent of the word “davach.”

On the 4th October 1381, in a court of Adam Bishop of Aberdeen, held at the Chapel Mount of St. Thomas the Martyr, beside the canonry of Aberdeen, for the production of charters of tenants claiming to hold from the Lord Bishop and the church of Aberdeen¹—one of the tenants, Bernard de Cargill, undertook to produce his charter showing how he held the lands of Cloveth from the Bishop and the church of Aberdeen.

The Bishop's lands of Cloveth, which had been given by Malcolm Canmore in dower to the church, according to the evidences and registers of the church, are entered in these registers as half a Davach.

In the Bishop of Aberdeen's rental, dated 1511, the same lands of Cloveth are entered as two ploughs. It seems to follow that the lands of Cloveth, of the extent of half a Davach, consisted of two ploughs, and that a whole Davach would be equal to four ploughs.

Such is the guidance of record. That the understanding of the country was the same, appears from a MS. account of the Scottish bishops, preserved in the library at Slaines, and which, though without date, can be ascribed without much doubt to the year 1726. That MS., evidently the work of an intelligent churchman of the district,² contains this account of the valley of Huntly: "Strathbogie3 was of old divided into forty-eight Davachs, each containing as much as four ploughs could till in a year."

The "Aucht-and-forty Dauch of Huntly" is still spoken of in the north, and by the natives of the district with affectionate remembrance.4

1 Aberd. Reg., vol i. p. 135.

2. Antiquities, Shires, vol. iv. 460. We are indebted for its publication to the late Joseph Robertson.

3. Antiquities, Shires, vol ii 164.

4. At farmers' meetings in our own time a favourite toast was "The auld aucht-and-forty!"

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