University of Aberdeen Takes you to the main page for this section

Click to see more about this image...

The Inheritance
Reform to 1850
Twentieth Century
Entire Collection
Search the Collection
Radical Songs
Further Reading

The Voice of Radicalism

Rural Radicalism - 1850-1900

Stories of the Highland Clearances: the removal of Crofters from their land by the lairds to make way for sheep, are a matter of history. Crofters were radicalised by the Highland Land League, and sent their own Crofting MPs to Parliament after they got the vote in 1885. Similar circumstances encouraged rural radicalism in the North East of Scotland. Thus, Liberalism in the North East of Scotland had to become more radical.

The major sources of discontent were:

  • The Game Laws. These laws prevented tenant farmers from protecting their crops against rabbits, pheasants and other creatures
  • Hypothec, or the right or claim of a landlord over his tenant’s belongings. This made it easy for a landlord to take over a tenant’s property when he fell behind with the rent
  • The general power relationship between landlord and tenant.

Squatter Commonties

Early expressions of rural radicalism were the Commonties. These were communes, small rural communities, built on common land by landless squatters.

The most famous was on Bennachie It lasted until 1859, when it was taken over and destroyed by the lairds (landlords)

Commonties were also established at Correnie (Aberdeenshire) and Cowie (Stonehaven).

Rural Radicals

William McCombie of Tillyfour, ‘The Grazier King’ was a popular big tenant farmer who spoke up for small farmers and farm servants against the landlords. He became the Liberal MP for Aberdeenshire from 1868-1876. His supporters included:

  • The Aberdeen Free Press
  • J.W. Barclay, an Aberdeen merchant and farmer; MP for Forfarshire and vice-president of the Farmers’ Alliance
  • McCombie’s son, H.D. McCombie, who formed the West Aberdeenshire Radical Association.

Further Developments

  • A meeting attended by 6,000 farmers in December 1881 led to the creation of a Scottish Farmers’ Alliance
  • In Kincardineshire, William Alexander of the Bent developed radicalism in and around Laurencekirk
  • In 1886 the Scottish Land Reform Alliance was founded in Aberdeen under radical control.

Generally, the small burghs and their local press were hotbeds of rural radicalism.

Parliamentary Representation

After 1868 it was almost impossible to be an MP in the North East without agreeing to support the demands of tenant farmers.

1850-1900 >>

Lottery Funded - Big Lottery Fund

Historic Collections · Kings College · Old Aberdeen · AB24 3SW

Tel:(0)44 1224 274312 · E-mail:

Page design by DISS Web Design Unit