The Seven men of KnoydartKnoydart, in the North West Highlands, is a spectacularly beautiful location. It's a peninsula containing approximately 85 square miles (around 22,000 hectares), there is a total of something like 8 miles of road in the area - totally un-connected to the rest of the UK road network. The only ways to get to Knoydart are on foot or by sea. If you go by water, it's foot traffic only (no vehicles), on foot, you'll have a long walk (16 miles - that's something like 25 kilometres for those of you who are metric) through rough country. Admittedly, it will be through some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe.
However, no matter how spectacular the location, no-one can actually eat the bloody scenery. Thus, when a succession of potato blights and the failure of migrating herring shoals brought famine and poverty to the area, the Factor was ordered (in 1852) to clear the tenants to make way for sheep. Four hundred people were evicted and transported to America. In the early 1930's, a young English aristocrat, Alan Ronald Nall-Cain (Lord Brocket), bought the estate. He then sacked and evicted estate workers (who lived in “tied houses” - this being part of their wage), preferring to use the land only for recreational shooting and fishing, which caused much local resentment.
Brocket was a lawyer, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a Nazi. He was a close friend of von Ribbentrop and he received a personal invitation from Hitler to be his personal guest at the Fuhrer's fiftieth birthday celebrations in April 1939. he continued to support the Nazis into and beyond World War II and came close to facing treason charges. In fact, had he not been a member of the aristocracy, he would have been arrested, tried and in all probability would have suffered the appropriate penalty.
During the war years, the Knoydart Estate served a very useful purpose in the Allied war effort, much to the displeasure of Herr Brocket. It, along with other locations in the Highlands - notably Inverlochy - was used for the training of Commandos and other Special Forces.
When peace returned in 1945, the British troops left and after some time, Lord and Lady Brocket returned to Knoydart. In a new post-war spirit of peace and reconciliation, Lady Brocket's first order to her employees was to completely remove all the furniture and fittings from the house and throw them into the sea. All other items which those nasty Allied servicemen also might have touched suffered the same fate - even every single toilet, (seat included), was ripped out and also thrown into the sea.
Continuing their "morally responsible policy", the Brockets also sacked many staff and replaced them with "loyal" gamekeepers to scare off unwelcome intruders such as leisurely hill-walkers, any children playing on the beach and unwise straying shepherds who were additionally warned they might accidentally get shot in mistake for red deer.
The locals may have been silently enduring all this up to now, but then the pressure cooker blew. A war for freedom had just been fought at great cost and a new social liberty and equality was expected. Returning young men needed a plot of land to build new peaceful lives and by now they were slightly out of patience with this arrogant bastard and his like. On 9th November 1948, the seven, veterans of the recent World War, invaded the Knoydart Estate, staked out 65 acres of arable land each and 10,000 acres of hill land and settled in. Perhaps that sounds a lot, but as part of the whole estate, it was miniscule.
News of the land-raid (or sit-in or squat) was widely reported in Scotland, but the British Establishment reacted in the normal way (by ignoring it). In Scotland by contrast, there was great interest.
Ignoring all the publicity, Brocket struck back with that landlord's legal remedy, a "Get off My Land !" Court Order. The "Seven" meanwhile were invoking the Land Settlement Act of the post-WW1 era, which permitted returning ex-servicemen to take over land which was under-used and farm it as their own. The vast Knoydart estate was certainly under-used, being nothing more than a rich man's outdoor playground.
The "Seven" also believed that the landslide Labour Government elected at the end of WW2, would not let them down when it counted. They hired a lawyer, who assured them that they only needed to follow a number of legal processes in order to almost certainly win their case. Now, this road to victory was best served in the modern day and age, by first vacating the squatted land. Once off the land, they lost their best bargaining chip and were on a hiding to nothing. Brocket's legal minions mercilessly harassed the Seven.
Then the Labour Government, setting a precedent for all future Labour governments, ignored the legitimate aspirations of the men and and caved in to the pressure from the British establishment.
Lord Brocket, a hallowed Nazi member of the British aristocracy, won through the application of money helped out by his Etonian cronies. The Seven Men of Knoydart became legendary heroes to the cause of land-use rights as well as to many of the Scottish working class. Alas, today they are only a footnote in history. The Brocket family is also history. The Knoydart estate however is different. Today Knoydart belongs to those who live there (mostly).
Unfortunately, none of the “Seven men of Knoydart”, or any of their descendants now live there. The last surviving member of the seven, Archie MacDougall, died in 1999, just as the Knoydart Trust were taking ownership of the peninsula.
This event is commemorated in the song below:-
It was down by the farm of Scottas Lord Brocket walked one day
When he saw a sight that troubled him far more than he could say
For the seven men of Knoydart were doing what they planned
They'd staked their claims, they were digging drains on Brocket's private land
You bloody Reds, Lord Brocket yelled, What's this you're doing here
It doesn't pay, as you'll find today, to insult an English peer
You're only Scottish half wits but I'll have you understand
You Highland swine, these hills are mine, this is all Lord Brocket's land
Then up spoke the men of Knoydart, Away and shut your trap
For threats from a Saxon brewer's boy we just don't give a rap
Now we are all ex-servicemen who fought against the Hun
We can tell our enemies by now and Brocket, you are one
When the noble lord he heard these words he turned purple in the face
He said, These Scottish savages are Britain's black disgrace
I know it's true I've let some few thousand acres go to pot
But the lot I'd give to a London spiv before any bloody Scot
You're a crowd of tartan bolshies but I'll soon have you licked
I'll write to the Court of Session for an interim interdict
I'll write to my London lawyer and he will understand
Och, to hell with your London lawyer, we want our Scottish land
Then up spoke the men of Knoydart, You have no earthly right
For this is the land of Scotland and not the Isle of Wight
When Scotland's proud Fianna wi' ten thousand lads is manned
We'll show the world that Highlanders have a right tae Scottish land
(as sung by Hamish Imlach) / Tune: Johnston's Motor Car / Written by Hamish Henderson
As usual, weel writ an fascinatin. Ta Chooks.
Ah nomenate Chookie fer a gong as scribe extraordinaire.
thanks for the edgy occasion... agin