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11.7.2020 : 19:55 : +0100


Times Past

After the defeat of the Jacobite clans at Culloden, in 1746, the Hanoverian government took control of the Highlands of Scotland with ruthless efficiency. At the same time, the role of highland chiefs changed because their land was no longer a resource for tribal survival and defence but had become a legal possession; one that was subject to rural market forces.

The new Hanoverian order, enforced by redcoat soldiers based at Forts William, Augustus, and George, also ended the costly insurrection between clans. This peace led to a period of unprecedented growth; the newly organised rural economy thrived and population numbers soared. However, this boom did not last. When recession came, it brought the very real prospect of famine in the Highlands. At this time stories of opportunities in the Americas beckoned. Some landowners who recognised that they could no longer support their kinsmen, actively encouraged emigration and offered financial assistance to those wishing to leave. However, others did not. Instead, they saw only the promise of greater profit from sheep. These landowners and their agents abused the economic situation to their own ends and forcibly dispossessed families from their ancient homes. The Highland Clearances were therefore a period of emigration that was managed both benevolently and malevolently. It is the latter that sticks in the memories of those who stayed behind and is especially applicable to Knoydart.

Clan Donald, the largest and most powerful clan in the Highlands, was the original owner of thousands of acres of peninsula way back in the mists of time and in the 16th century part of the clan, the MacDonnells of Glengarry, began operating independently and assumed territorial rights.

In the middle of the 19th century, Josephine MacDonnell was in charge when the land was cleared of crofters and turned over to sheep and deer.

The land changed hands repeatedly over the eighty years until the 1930s, when Alan Ronald Nall-Cairn, later Lord Brocket, a Tory MP and Nazi sympathiser, purchased it.

After the war, in 1948, the famous Seven Men of Knoydart launched a land raid in an attempt to live independently from the landlord system. The raid was unsuccessful but Lord Brocket, the most infamous of absentee landlords, sold the land soon afterwards.

There followed a series of short-term owners, including Lord Hesketh. From 1952 the Crossthwaite-Eyre family and then Major Nigel Chamberlayne-Macdonald, owned the land for 20 and 11 years respectively. They did their best to maintain and improve the area.

Between them they were responsible for the construction of the Village Hall, two Estate Houses, the Pier, the Hydro Electric Scheme, and the road and tracks to Airor, Inverguiserain, Follach, and Loch Dubhlochain. Besides this various properties were upgraded and retainers and cottages made over for life to some employees.

In 1983 Philip Rhodes, a Surrey businessman, bought the estate and set up the holding company Knoydart Peninsula Ltd. He then began selling large and small packages of land around the periphery of the peninsula, reducing the size of the estate from 58,000 to 18,000 acres. This process was regarded by many as asset stripping but at least it provided opportunities for new blood and shared ownership. Several of the businesses which now exist, the range of holiday homes and the diverse nature of the community stem from Rhodes' time.

The remaining estate was sold to failing Dundee jute company, Titaghur, for £1.7m in 1993.

Chairman Reg Brearley, a member of the General Synod of the Church of England and owner of Sheffield United, said he wanted to turn the estate into a training camp for underprivileged teenagers but was refused planning permission.

Neighbouring laird Cameron Mackintosh, the West End impresario who spent much of his childhood near Mallaig, was part of a consortium which made an £800,000 bid in 1995, but it was rejected.

In 1998, Knoydart Peninsula Ltd's mounting debts left the estate workers without salaries. Another English businessman, Graham Avery, took control before passing it on to an associate, Stephen Hinchcliffe, a man who, in November 1998, was described by a High Court judge as "unfit to be involved with the management of a company".

Control of Knoydart Peninsula Ltd was assumed by the receivers in October 1998.

Attempts were then made to draw up a long-term lease whereby the Foundation would rent the estate from the Mackintosh Foundation. In spite of the best efforts of all concerned the lease option failed in January 1999. It was swiftly followed by successful negotiation between the receivers, the Bank of Scotland and the Foundation partners. The estate was purchased for £750,000.