Lybster, Caithness, 4 October 1883 - Adam Sharp

ADAM SHARP, Proprietor of Clyth (66)—examined.

38167. The Chairman.
—Do you wish to make a statement in consequence of what has been related here to-day ?
—At this late hour I shall not detain you long. Your Lordship and the Commissioners will easily understand the difficulty I labour under in making any adequate answer off-hand to statements that have been under careful preparation for months past; and that difficulty is mixed up with the acts of my predecessors, so that there is a double difficulty. I have very little to say on the matter further than that I have no wish, and I have, of course, no power, to make parties pay more than they are willing to pay. I may mention that a great many of the leases have been renewed on the voluntary offer of the occupants. That has not been so in every case, but a great many of them have been renewed at the voluntary offer of the occupants. Mr Cormack, who has been a very respectable man, made a very nice statement, and justly and truly told that he went in upon another man's lease. He came to me and asked as a favour if I would accept him as a tenant. I had very good reason to be proud of him as a tenant, but it was not my doing if the rent was too high; and I may mention that his place is, perhaps, exceptional on the property, because the average rent is not nearly so much as his, over the property. The property is rented at from 10s. to perhaps 35s. for some very fine land; but that land here, I venture to say, is as good land as there is in Scotland. I assert without any fear of contradiction that there is as good land on the coast as your Lordship and the Commissioners will see in Scotland. The climate may not be so good, but I affirm it is as good land, and I pay double the rent myself for no better land in Morayshire. I really have nothing further to say. I may add what Cormack omitted to mention about the arable land. In addition to what he calls eleven acres of arable land, and the improved land he has taken in, he has upwards of thirty-five acres of pasture.

38168. What kind of pasture?
—A sort of rough pasture, not fine pasture, but good useful pasture.

38169. How long is it since you have been the proprietor here?
—Twenty years.

38170. When you state that the tenants have taken their holdings at an increased rent by voluntary offer, I should like to understand exactly what is meant by that. Have most of the small tenants got leases or not?
—Yes, a great many of them have leases; some have none.

38171. Taking the case of a tenant who has a lease, when the lease expires in a case of that sort, how do you proceed? Do you fix the rent which you think just or not in your own mind, and ask the tenant whether he will give it?
—Sometimes I do, and sometimes he makes a voluntary offer to me.

38172. What is most usual? Does he generally come and make you a voluntary offer ?
—He generally applies for a renewal —sometimes before the lease expires.

38173. Have you a factor?
—No, I manage myself.

38174. He comes and makes a voluntary offer?
—Yes, and we have, perhaps, a year or two over it before the lease expires, —what he would be willing to give and what I would be willing to take.

38175. And at the expiry of the lease, up to the present time, what increase of rent have you generally expected or received?
—Since I entered the property twenty years ago there is just about one fourth part of an increase. The statement which has been made in regard to the percentage of increase is not correct. At the time I purchased the property, as the basis of the agreement between Sir Tollemache Sinclair and me, £3399, 11s . was the rent submitted to me.

38176. That was the basis of rental submitted to you at the time of purchase?

38177. In what year was that?

38178. Was that the amount of the rent actually paid to your predecessor in the estate?
—That is the statement I got as the basis of the agreement.

38179. Was that gross rental?
—Gross rental.

38180. And what is the gross rental at this moment?
—Last year the gross rental was £4248. There has been a reduction on the fishing stations, and a rise of about £120 on the shooting grounds, so that the increase is something over a fourth part, or over £1000.

38181. What was the highest rental ever received? Was it higher two or three years ago, or is it now at its maximum?
—It has been very stationary for four or five years.

38182. Would you kindly now give us what was the agricultural rental about the time you purchased the estate, and what is the agricultural rent now?
—At the time I first purchased the estate the agricultural rent would be a fraction under £3000.

38183. What is the same agricultural rental now?
—A little over £ 4000.

38184. So the increase upon the agricultural rental has been 25 per cent.?
—Yes, something over that.

38185. Can you tell us how that compares with the general increase in the same period of agricultural rental in the county of Caithness?
—I don't know much about the county of Caithness, but I know that in many other parts of the country the rental has been increased much more than that in twenty years. I cannot speak much of Caithness; I don't reside here.

38186. You are not able to state what it is upon any of the neighbouring estates?
—No, I know nothing about that at all.

38187. In any case has a small tenant left you and removed himself rather than pay the rent which you thought would satisfy you?
—I am not aware of any case at present in these circumstances.

38188. You don't remember anybody leaving you?
—Not on the plea of rent. It may occur in twenty years. I don't remember everything that happens in twenty years, and it is quite possible that might have been the case.

38189. Have there been many removals or changes by people going away?
—There have been a good many in the course of twenty years, and a good many people have come in.

38190. If at this moment you have a vacant croft —a small holding—to let by the removal or death of the existing tenant, do you find a number of applicants?
—Yes, I generally find more applicants than I can supply.

38191. And do you find they are applicants who are willing to take the holding on your terms?
—In that case I leave it to their own voluntary offer. I ask them to make me an offer. I never ask a rent from an incomer.

38192. You don't specify the sum to the incomer?
—No, I merely ask them to make an offer, and then I accept whom I choose.

38193. Do you find that the incomer is generally willing to pay the amount which was paid by the outgoer?
—Yes, and over it for the most part.

38191. Then there is no difficulty in getting small tenants here?
—I have never experienced any. When it is at the top of a hill there is a difficulty in finding a tenant for a time, but generally any place about the coast will let at once.

38195. Is sub-letting forbidden?
—I never prevented any one subletting who chose to do it.

38196. Have you any examples of tenants sub-letting to others and removing elsewhere?
—No, I am not aware so far as I remember at present. They sometimes sub-let houses and bits of land to their own friends, but there is not much of that.

38197. When the tenants sub-let to others in their own condition do they get an equal or a higher rent than your rent?
—I think they get more. I don't know, but I think they get more when they sub-let.

38198. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Have you laid out much upon the property since you bought it?
—I am not a rich man, and I have not been able to lay out very much; I have laid out perhaps £2000 altogether.

38199. Is that chiefly on the larger farms and on houses?
—I laid out a good deal on the farm I had in my own hand a while, and I have laid out a good deal on the Mains of Clyth. That has, of course, added to the rental.

38200. But you cannot say you have laid out much on what may be called the crofting part of your tenantry?
—I have put in some drains and such as that for them.

38201. You stated that the rise of 25 per cent., which you admit has taken place in your estate, is not out of proportion to what it has been in other counties. Would you say that in your own county of Moray the rents of agricultural subjects have, as a rule, risen 20 per cent, within the last twenty years?
—I think they have; I think they have risen more.

38202. Purely agricultural subjects?
—Yes. They have been rising recently. For the thirteen years preceding the last five years there was a very heavy rise.

38203. The Chairman.
—Has that rise not been reduced again the last two or three years?
—In some cases it has been reduced slightly in my part of the country.

38204 If a farm is out of lease at the end of a nineteen years' lease in your part of the country, does the proprietor find a tenant for it at the same rent?
—Yes, and very often more. There have been cases of increase lately in Banffshire and Morayshire.

38205. Sheriff Nicolson.
—Have you any difficulty in getting your rents paid ?
—Well, I have always a little difficulty that way. It has been so, more or less, since I entered the property; and about as much the first year as it is yet.

38206. Have you much arrears?
—Well, there are too much.

38207. And you have been sometimes obliged to resort to legal measures to recover the rent?
—-It is very seldom I do that, if I can avoid it at all.

38208. Do you think the land is worth to the people the increased rent that is put upon it in comparison with what it was twenty years ago ?
—I consider it is. The price of stock is doubled. Sheep and cattle are doubled in price since then, and I thiuk that compensates for the rise of rent.

38209. Have they not made considerable improvements on the land themselves ?
—Well, there has not been much improvement since I came to the property. There have been some little patches of land improved.

38210. Don't you think it right to give them the benefit of the improvements they make themselves?
—So they do. They get that.

38211. In what shape do they get it?
—If a tenant has a lease, and if he improves waste land at the beginning of the lease, I think he is fully paid by the time the lease expires for all his outlays. I have known labourers take land in the south and trench it 14 inches deep for two years, and get a crop; and I think if land is worth improving at all, if he improves it in the first years of the lease, he is fully paid before the expiry of the lease, or the land has not been worth improving.

38212. And if the man's rent has been doubled in the course of the twenty years, and he has spent about £150 upon it, you think it fair that when he goes out he should receive no compensation for that?
—I hold he is compensated by the crops he has had off the land.

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