Scotlands History

The Napier Commission (Royal Commission on the Crofters and Cottars of Scotland)

A crofter is a person who occupies a smallholding.  A cottar is a tenant who works on the croft/farm and lives in a farm cottage.

Up to 1880, the legacy of the Clearances for remaining crofters was: soil depleted by sheep grazing, land turned over to deer forests, and crofts lying empty because they were too small to provide a living. In late 1881, a band of crofters from the township of Braes on Skye demonstrated forcefully against increased rents and loss of pasture rights. Rents were withheld until rights were restored, resulting in eviction notices.

The Battle of the Braes (1882) involved barricades and demonstrations, and had to be curbed with troops and a gunboat. But nobody was shot, and the crofters had made their point.

In 1883 a Commission was set up under Lord Napier and took evidence of extreme hardship across the Highlands and Islands.

From the Napier Commission came the Crofters’ Holding Act of 1886. It established the Crofters’ Commission to guarantee fair rents, security of tenure and some compensation for land improvements.  Called ‘the Magna Carta of Gaeldom’, it recognised at last the distinctive land tenure system of the crofting community.

Many areas in the 1890s were named as Congested Districts, with not enough resources even for subsistence living. It wasn’t until the Crofting Reform Act of 1976 that crofters could buy out their own crofts and manage them more effectively.

  • photograph of Glendale and Loch Pooltiel, looking across the Minch to the Outer Hebrides

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