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Utopia Britannica

British Utopian Experiments 1325 - 1945

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Scotland had its own homegrown utopian tendency as well as importing various schemes from South of the Border. Many later projects being attempts to stem mass emigration.

St Kilda C1500 -1950
A small archipelago of islands lying 110 miles west of the Scottish mainland - the remotest inhabited place in the British Isles. Varying in population over the years from 80-140 the St Kildans lived in isolation in what amounted to an island republic governed by its own island parliament. Living off seabirds and Soay sheep they held all goods in common, knew nothing of money until the mid 1800s and operated a system of barter right up until the islands were evacuated in 1930. In 1931 St Kilda was sold to the Marquess of Bute, a keen ornithologist. He bequeathed them to The National Trust for Scotland in 1957. The Islands are now in the care and keeping of the Trust which organises annual working parties to keep the cottages, cleits and other structures in good repair. There is also a small military base on Hirta.
GRID REF: NF104991
REF: The Life & Death of St Kilda. . / St Kilda. and other Hebridean Outliers.

Buchan Ha 1784-1787
FOUNDER/LEADER: Elspeth Buchan
Scottish prophetess, Elspeth Buchan and her followers the Buchanites moved to New Cample Farm in Nithsdale, Dumfrieshire after being hounded out of Irvine. They lived temporarily in an old barn whilst they built a rough community house known as 'Buchan Ha'. Here they suffered further persecution, but managed to stay on growing to 60 members until local magistrates forced them out.
GRID REF: Nithsdale
REF: The Second Coming. JFC Harrison.

New Lanark 1785 -
FOUNDER / LEADER: David Dale / Robert Owen.
Extensive cotton mill and tenement complex below the Clyde Falls, started by David Dale and made famous by the work of Robert Owen. After Owen sold his interest in 1828 the mills were run by the Walkers, a Quaker family, and later by the Gourock Ropework Company, who continued to operate the mills until the 1960s. Major restoration work has turned the site into a major tourist attraction.
GRID REF: NS880425
REF: Historic New Lanark /Co-opera tion & Owenite Socialist Communities. www.robert-owen.com / www.newlanark.org

Auchengibbert Farm 1787- 92
FOUNDER/LEADER: Elspeth Buchan
A wild moorland farm in the parish of Urr, Kirkcudbrightshire where the Buchanites moved after 'Buchan Ha'. Here they ran their own farm, made spinning wheels and span yarn for local factories. After Mrs Buchan death in 1791 the community broke up with some emigrating to America. 14 remaining members lived until 1808 at Larghill and then at Crocketford, the last Buchanite dying there in 1846.
GRID REF: Location Unknown
REF: The Second Coming. Harrison.

Catrine Mills 1787 - 1801
Cotton mills, workers’ housing and school built by David Dale in partnership with Richard Arkwright. Dale was a philanthropic Glasgow business man who set up the mills at New Lanark and whose daughter married Robert Owen. He also had interests in mills at Blantyre, Newton Stewart, Rothesay and Spinningdale.
GRID REF: NS511263
REF: Historic New Lanark

Tobermory 1788-1844
Settlement set up by the British Fisheries Society consisting of store house, customs-house and 2 streets of houses with large gardens and access to pasture and peat. By 1793 there were 32 settlers. Prospered later when Caledonian Canal opened. Sold 1844.
GRID REF: NM506554
REF:British Fisheries Society 1786-1893.

Ullapool 1788
Second British Fisheries Society settlement with storehouses, net drying sheds, school, 'Red Herring House', shops, inn, pier & breakwater along with 40 'thatched huts' each with half acre plots & grazing rights. Thomas Telford acted as surveyor for the society. By 1808 population reached 669.
GRID REF: NH128942
REF: British Fisheries Society 1786-1893.

Lochbay 1788-1830
British Fisheries Society settlement similar to Tobermory. More fertile land allowed settlers to live entirely from the land undermining attempt to set up fishery. Sold in 1830s
GRID REF: Location unknown
REF: British Fisheries Society 1786-1893.

Pultneytown 1803-1892
Most successful of the Brithish Fisheries Society settlements built on 390 acres next to the village of Wick. Planned by Thomas Telford. Laid out to follow contours of the land. Development was a rapid success with a resident population of 2000 by 1830 swollen to 7000 in the fishing season. Sold in 1892.
GRID REF: ND367503
REF : British Fisheries Society 1786-1893.

The Edinburgh Practical Society. 1822
Owenite society that claimed 500 families as members - ran its own co-operative store to raise funds to set up a community. Some evidence that some families lived communally in Edinburgh. Members went on to be active at the Orbiston community.
GRID REF: Location Unknown
REF: Co-operation & Owenite Socialist Communities.

Motherwell 1820's
Site proposed by the British and Foreign Philanthropic Society for the first Owenite Community. Robert Owen bought 600 acres of land, owned by Hamilton of Dalzell for the community. After 3 years of inactivity the scheme was overtaken by plans for the Orbiston Community nearby.
GRID REF: Location Unknown
REF: Heavens Below

Leather Workers Community 1820's
Shortlived community experiment set up in Combe's Edinburgh Tanyard - the leather workers lived communally and operated a profit sharing scheme.
GRID REF: Location Unknown
REF: Co-operation & Owenite Socialist Communities.

Orbiston 1825 - 27
FOUNDER/LEADER: Abram Combe / A.J. Hamilton
290 members of the community nicknamed 'Babylon' worked as weavers, blacksmiths, joiners, cabinet makers, wheelwrights, printers, painters, shoemakers, tailors, seamstresses and harness-makers. They ran a successful ironfoundery on the 291 acre site that included a 5 storey main communal building, school, apartments & communal dining facilities. 75 acres of the land was cultivated with vegetable garden & orchard. The land being manured with waste from the community sewage system. The community folded after disputes about levels of communality and the death of Abram Combe.The site was bought by Mrs Douglas, a local landowner who ordered all trace of the community to be removed. A housing estate now covers part of the site and the community is remembered in street names such as Babylon Rd.,Community Rd., Hamilcombe Rd. & Register Avenue.
GRID REF: NS728530
REF: Co-operation & Owenite Socialist Communities / Adventures in Socialism

Colinsburgh Building Club 1826
Six blocks of 8 flats built as a mutual aid self-build scheme.
GRID REF: NO478433
REF: Building Communities.

Pollokshields 'Garden Suburb' C1851
Extensive Glasgow suburb developed from the mid-19th century onwards by the Maxwell family. Cliamed in retrospect to be UK's first planned Garden Suburb.
GRID REF: Glasgow
REF: http://www.pollokshields.demon.co.uk/about.html

Edinburgh Co-operative Building Co Ltd 1861 - 1945
Between 1861 & 1883 the co-operative built a series of model housing schemes on various sites throughout the city. Became ordinary building contractors in 1945.
GRID REF: Edinburgh.
REF: Colonies of Stockbridge. R.J Pipes.

Stirling Model Village 1880s
FOUNDER/LEADER : John Christie.
Proposed model village to have comprised of workers’ cottages with land attached, for rent or sale, arranged around a square with a fountain and public hall.
REF: The Homesteads: Stirlings Garden Suburb.

Brig O'Turk Artists Colony C1880
Summer colony for the 'Glasgow Boys'.
GRID REF: NN737066
REF: The Good & Simple Life

Cockburnspath Artists Colony C1883-86
Coastal artists colony of the 'Glasgow Boys'. Edward Walton, James Guthrie, Joseph Crowhall & Arthur Melville. Were resident from 1883-6 afterwards returning during the summer months - could be seen with their easels pitched anywhere painting under umbrellas. Artists were drawn to the area right up to the 1960s.
GRID REF: NT776710
REF:Cockburnspath:A history of a People & a Place. S.Smith.Dunglass Mill Press1999

Kirkcudbright Artists Colony C1880s
Artists’ colony set up under the influence of George Henry & E.A. Hornel from Glasgow School of Art. The colony features in the Dorothy Sayers Book Five Red Herrings.
GRID REF: NX687510
REF: The Good and Smple Life

Toynbee House C1905
Glasgow University Settlement .
GRID REF: Location Unknown
REF: Listed in Labour Annual 1905

Queen Margaret’s Settlement House C1905
Womens University Settlement .
GRID REF: 75 Elliot St Anderston
REF: Listed in Labour Annual 1905

Vatersay 1907
Crofts set up after land raid by men from Barra. Government bought island at an exhorbitant price from Lady Cathcart to regularise the situation.
GRID REF: Off Barra
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Stirling Homesteads 1909-75
Small Homesteading scheme that grew out of the Garden City and Scottish Arts & Crafts movements. 10 Arts & Crafts style houses were built on the Stirling Castle estate - making them the only utopian experiment to be set up on Crown property. The homesteaders also worked smallholdings. The community continued as a co-partnership housing society until the early 1970s when the Crown made moves to end the experiment. A skeleton association still exists for some of the remaining homesteaders with the rest of the properties being sold off as they became vacant.
GRID REF: NS779942 Stirling
REF: The Homesteads: Stirlings Garden Suburb.

Westerton Garden Suburb 1910 - 1970s
Tenants Co-partnership scheme consisting of 84 houses on Westerton Farm. WW1 interupted the scheme after only a third of the planned development was built. Went into voluntary liquidation in 197s and sold houses to sitting tenants.
GRID REF: NW edge of Glasgow.
REF: A Garden Suburb for Glasgow: The Story of Westerton. M.Whitelaw

Tirree C1913 /18
Series of crofting Land Settlement schemes under the 1911 Smallholdings Act. on land owned by the Duke of Argyll, one of the few landowners sympathetic to the schemes. Later following a land raid a further scheme was set up for ex-servicemen.
GRID REF: Tirree
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Shetland 1914 /18
Series of crofting Land Settlement schemes creating new and enlarging existing holdings.
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Gretna Garden Village C1915-19
Estate built on modified Garden Suburb lines by the government for First World War munitions workers Estate was designed by Raymond Unwin & Courtenay Crickner and included a laundry, central kitchen, dentist’s, post office, cinema, institute and school. The estate was alongside a large area of temporary accommodation 'huts', housing some 10,000 workers. The estate was used as a model for the 'Homes Fit for Heroes' programme after the war.
REF: Homes Fit for Heroes. M.Swenarton

Rosyth 'Garden City' 1916 -
Scheme on Admiralty land for workers at Rosyth Docks and on the Forth Bridge. Original plan for 3000 houses cut back by Admiralty. Some 150 houses built with YMCA, institute and bowling green by The Scottish Labour Housing Association.
GRID REF: NT103826
REF: The Story of Rosyth. 1982

Arabella Farm 1918
Land Settlement scheme under the Small Holdings Colonies Act. The 643-acre farm was split into 21 6 - 50acre holdings with central farm used as demonstration & training centre.
GRID REF: NG Easter Ross
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

South Uist 1918 - 24
A number of crofting Land Settlement schemes were established after land raids despite the opposition of the owner of the island, Lady Cathcart.
GRID REF: NG South Uist
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Lewis / Harris 1918 - 25
Islands bought by W.H.Lever soap magnate and founder of Port Sunlight. Lewis was to be the 'Port Sunlight of Fishing'. Lever bought 350 British high street fish shops as outlets for the scheme. The Lewis project failed, but the fish distribution company became MacFisheries.
GRID REF: NG013864
REF: Lord of the Isles. N.Niclson 1960.

Shinness 1919
Croft Land Settlement scheme on the 16,000-acre farm of Shinness offered to the Board of Agriculture by the Duke of Sutherland. Holders ran the Shinness Sheep Stock Club Co-operative Soc. Houses on the scheme suffered from poor construction, but were not renovated till after WW2.
GRID REF: Shinness
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

West Watten 1919
Crofting Land Settlement scheme.
GRID REF: Caithness
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Eoligarry 1919
Crofting land settlement scheme set up following threats of land raids.
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

'the Promised land' 1920/33
With flags flying and pipes playing ex-servicemen drove their stock on to farmland 'promised' to them as smallholdings by the Duke of Sutherland in protest at government inaction. They were persuaded to leave pending negotiations with the owner. 13 yrs later 13 holdings were created.
GRID REF: NG Kirkton
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Ormsaigmore 1921
Crofting Land Settlement scheme.
GRID REF: NG Ardnamurchan
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

North Uist 1921
Crofting Land Settlement schemes set up farms of Balranald and Paiblesgarry following land raids.
GRID REF: North Uist
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Sunart 1922
50,000-acre estate bought by the Board of Agriculture for smallholdings. Much of it was open moor & mountain and only a few holdings were set up.
GRID REF: Argyll
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Keoldale 1922
43 crofts established after long negoitiation and threats of land raids. Holders set up a Club-Stock Co-operative Society.
GRID REF: NG Keoldale
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Stratherrick 1922
Small Land Settlement scheme
GRID REF: NG Dell Farm
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Beolary 1924
Forestry commission farm bought for Land Settlement scheme by Board of Agriculture, 9 holdings established.
GRID REF: NG Glanelg Parish
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Strathnaver 1927
Croft Land Settlement scheme on the farm of Rhifial in an area previously notorious for its land clearances.
GRID REF: NG Strathnaver
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Scibercross 1930
Crofting Land Settlement scheme.
GRID REF: NG Scibercross
REF: Fit For Heroes? L.Leneman

Duncraig C1937
Ruskin inspire experiment carried out by Sir Daniel Hamilton.
GRID REF: Plockton. Rossshire
REF: Community In Britain

'Camphill House' 1939 -
Series of residential communites set up by Karl König and a small group of Austrian refugees. First at Kirkton House, a 25 acre estate nr. Insch. Then in the larger Camphill House on Royal Deeside with 170 acres. Murtle House and 35 acres were added in 1942 as the scheme expanded. They were the only educational provision for the mentally handicapped at the time and were supported by the Macmillan family. The Camphill Movement went on to found communities worldwide.
GRID REF: Nr Aberdeen
REF:Candle on the Hill: Images of Camphill Life.C.Pietzner. Floris Books.

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Site last updated 3.1.2007