Carbeth Land Buy-Out

Travelling North West out of Glasgow on the A809, wealthy suburban housing estates give way to rich farm-land and pristine tgolf-courses, the land opens out towards the Campsie Fells and Trossachs.  Here you are in prime des-res commuter belt countryside and you could be forgiven for driving past the Carbeth huts without noticing them; but a keen eye will see them dotted about the hillside behind the Carbeth Inn. If you stop and wander up the track behind the Inn, you’ll discover a magical web of tree-lined lanes and pathways along which are scattered approximately 140 small wooden huts in various styles; Some are brand-new with double-glazed windows and state of the art renewable energy systems, others date back to the 1920’s, some are a patchwork of reclaimed and recycled materials and some have been disintegrating through lack of attention.  Hardly surprising given that everything at Carbeth has been in limbo for the last 13 years, but finally change is in the air, and after a monumental 13 year rent strike things are starting to shift.

The Hutters of Carbeth have reached agreement with land-owner Allan Barns-Graham to attempt the 1st community land-buy-out in Central Scotland.  Last week signatures were exchanged, hands were shaken and everyone smiled for the cameras as the ink dried on the legal documentation giving the Carbeth Hutters the right to buy the land beneath their huts.  Steering away from past animosity and looking towards a rosy future where “Carbeth becomes a model of economically sustainable, ecologically sound recreational living for the 21st century” (from joint press release) The Hutters now have the mighty challenge of raising £1.75 million to secure the future of hutting at Carbeth.

The Carbeth huts and hutting community were established during the 1920’s when people flocked out of the city to escape the fogs, fumes and hellish living and working conditions of the city. Allan Barns-Graham, grandfather of the current land-owner,  was sympathetic to the plight of working class people from Glasgow and Clydebank as well as being tolerant of the socialist ideals championed by The Clarion movement. He initially allowed his land to be used by Clarion Cyclists as a camp-site, and later allowed huts to be built huts which provided a bolt-hole from the city for working class families and ex-servicemen.  In his will Barns-Graham stated that “My estate of Carbeth shall not be feued or leased in such a manner as to interfere with the tenancies or rights of the original hutters” and furthermore that his heir should “look after the Estate and the hutters without remuneration”.  Unfortunately his will did not extend to the activities of his Grandson, who, soon after acquiring control of the estate pursued a policy of rent hikes and attempted evictions.  What he didn’t bargain for was the hutters’ sense of belonging to the land which they had loved, cared for and nurtured over generations, and to his cost he discovered these were socially and politically active working-class people – and they were not going to be pushed around.

Some hutter’s remained loyal to Barns-Graham but the majority began withholding rent and contributing a nominal annual fee to a ‘Common Good Fund’, money which was to be used for legal fees in case of eviction attempts. The Committee which managed the rent strike, held the community together and negotiated for years on end with the estate has now used the Common Good Fund as the down payment on the ‘Option’ to buy the land.  The community has now just 2 years to raise the finance required to secure the land.

There is overwhelming support within the hutting community for the land buy-out – and while change isn’t easy – particularly if it involves finding lots of money in the middle of an economic recession – everyone, including Allan Barns-Graham wants to see hutting at Carbeth continue.  The Hutters are especially keen to make it happen without eroding the ideals of access to countryside for low-waged and working class people. “We have worked long and hard to secure what is a very special opportunity to own and care for 90 acres of beautiful green-belt land here at Carbeth so that hutters can carry on the soul nourishing tradition of hutting for generations to come” says committee member Gerry Loose. “We are acutely aware that if we don’t buy the land, somebody else will – and that somebody could charge whatever rent they want and fail to look after the interests of hutting at Carbeth, we know that it isn’t going to be easy to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds in the current economic climate but if we pull together, unite as we have always been – a community and work together then anything is possible”.

The hutters would like to extend an invitation for people to come along and explore Carbeth.  In the next 2 years the hutters will need lots of support, funding, media attention and solidarity.  There are also opportunities to buy huts and sites and join the hutting movement into the future.

For details of how to find or get involved with the Carbeth Hutting community see their website here.

Comments (18)

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  1. Scunnert says:

    “What he didn’t bargain for was the hutters’ sense of belonging to the land which they had loved, cared for and nurtured over generations, and to his cost he discovered these were socially and politically active working-class people – and they were not going to be pushed around.”

    Wonderful stuff. I wish them the very best in this struggle.

    1. Thmas Hawthorn says:

      I think we should congratulate Mr Alan Barns Graham for his agreement to sell part of his heritage to these people. Staying in a place for many years gives you no rights at all to say you own it. Well done Alan Barns Graham.

      1. gerry loose says:

        “Staying in a place for many years gives you no right to say you own it.”

        From “one of these people”

      2. gerry loose says:

        “Staying in a place for many years gives you no rights at all to say you own it.”

        From one of “these people”

  2. Well done Hutters, and that’s a great short account you’ve written of it, Fran. It’ll get my fifty quids-worth when the can goes round.

    In 1999 Chris Ballance, later an MSP, involved me in his rent-stike defence in Stirling Sheriff Court. I subsequently wrote a paper on this bizarre event in a journal called Ecotheology, which quoted Hutter Jimmy MacGregor in these wonderful words:

    “As a lad, my idea of Shangri La was a wooden hut in Carbeth… [Our parents] came out, partly to attempt to live off the land, partly to ease the financial burden on their families, and partly to escape the crushing hopelessness and boredom of unemployment. They lived really rough; great friendships were formed … there were great sing-songs, and men signed on there to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. The story now is that the fire was never allowed to go out.”

    All that said … well done Mr Allan Barnes-Graham for having agreed to this sale. May bygones one day be bygones.

  3. Gerry Loose says:

    Glad to have your support, Alastair.

    We’re all delighted at Carbeth that the agreement is now legal. We manage the land for two years, then buy it. We are however, pragmatic. There’s the small matter of money to find. While we have managed to find the deposit on the Option to Buy, there is a very long way to go yet. Carbeth Hutters Community is in the process of becoming a Scottish Charity. The day that happens, fundraising will start in earnest. You’d be astonished how may folk have a connection to Carbeth in some way or other – like Jimmy MacGregor, passing through or spending those sunny summers here; generations of folk, now amounting to a diaspora: in Scotland, Australia (there’s a Carbeth there) NZ & elsewhere – & we’ll be calling on all of them to share stories & perhaps to contribute to the Buy-Out Fund. There will be rewards!
    Any one out there is welcome here; especially if you have good ideas for fundraising or community unity!

    Into the 21st century with landownership!

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi Gerry, please keep in touch, Bella would like to support the fundraising efforts in any way we can. In solidarity, Mike

  4. Gerry Loose says:

    Much appreciated, Mike!
    Now I’m off for a weekend of talks & meetings – at Carbeth.
    Might get to tend the garden a little, too; the apple trees need pruning.

  5. I first visited Carbeth about 50 years ago and, as Jimmy MacGregor says, it was a legendary place back then where Glasgow people with little money could enjoy the countryside at weekends and holidays and make friendships round the campfire.

    These last 13 years have been an uphill struggle for the Hutters who had to dig deep into their reserves of courage and determination in order to hold on to their little piece of paradise. Now that they have succeeded in finding a solution to what seemed like an intractable situation it’s up to the rest of us, including the Scottish Government and other public agencies, to dig deep financially to enable them to achieve the first community buy-out of land in central Scotland.

    The islanders of Eigg and Gigha and the Assynt and South Uist crofters have shown what great things can be done with community ownership of land. All credit to the Carbeth Hutters who stuck together through these hard times and to Gerry Loose in particular – poets can make a difference!

    1. Gerry Loose says:

      thanks for your support & thanks too for pointing out the need for Scottish Government support in what after all is one implementation of what I hope is only the start of their policies on land reform.
      The parallel with Assynt, Eigg, Gigha, Uist & others is a good one – communities can own land & control their own affairs for the common good – where a single landowner cannot; or in some cases will not.
      This first community buy-out in central Scotland is historic.
      But I’d like to say that I’m just a Johnny-come-lately compared to your own association with Carbeth & that of others. In particular, the dogged, day in day out resistance in the early days of folk like Jane Kirkwood, Tommy Kirkwood, Billy Coote, Bill & Margaret McQueen, who were on picket lines & were taken to court in eviction battles, was inspirational & genuinely community motivated.
      Bill McQueen in particular, still active in hutting & on the new Board, even then a pensioner, was made bankrupt in a court case, & saw his hut mysteriously burn down in an arson attack. Billy Coote, also, lost his dog when his hut was similarly destroyed at the height of the dispute 12 or 13 years ago; Chris Ballance’s hut was also burned down.
      Those days are over, but the memory lingers & fires us all to move as a community to full ownership & full control. My part in all this is small & part of the actions & negotiations of the current committee; though many times back then, I confess I wondered if I would get to Carbeth to discover smoke & ashes where my hut had been.
      Inclined to agree with you about poets, though: to paraphrase Shelley “Poets are (among) the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

  6. joanne boggis says:

    great news for the hutters

  7. Bob says:

    Well done Great news hutters. Lets make more of it. Bob. Common Good Awareness Project

  8. Credit where it’s due, Gerry, to all those hutters you mention who stuck it out through very hard times and whose solidarity has won through in the end. Where are things now with obtaining charitable status and the campaign?

  9. Gerry Loose says:

    Norrie, the roll call could go on – & one day I’ll write up all those names & events!

    Right now, the campaign moves on, with just about all hutters signing up to new agreements with the Community Company, which now manages hutting areas (about 90 acres). This is allowing us to begin to stand up financially; but more importantly it’ll allow us to begin fundrasing, having raised, committed & paid a significant 6 figure sum of our own money as seed to help us raise the full purchase price.
    Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator currently has our application for charitable status – we expect a decision imminently.
    Watch this space (& others) for updates in the campaign!

  10. Graham Ormiston says:

    Hi we owned a hut next to iain and Liz Cornwallis from 1990 til 1993 we loved it and fondly remember Tiny, Joe God rest him , Tam Hanratty, Tommy Kirkwood , Eddie and Jinnet, Bill McQueen and his brood of grandchildren down at the loch. We came out every weekend and stayed most of the summers, our kids loved it but, alas, when we moved to Ayrshire to the country it wasnt sensible to go from the country to the country for weekends..Oh how we remember the hutters showers , the smoke from the log fires (in the huts) , the calor gas lights, the telly from the car battery, were we deprived?, we wouldnt call the Queen our cousin, well done to all those who fought so hard for so long
    Graham and Margaret

  11. Iain Cornwallis says:

    Iain Cornwallis
    September 2016.
    Last week me and my friend Sue Reid Sexton spent the day research updating in Carbeth. I have been known in Carbeth since 1966, (see below) and Sue’s books Mavis’s Shoe & Rue end Street feature Carbeth.
    This snipet from a planned book should spark a few happy memories among hutters.
    Lizzie “G” 1966:
    Has a love of Scotland especially it’s countryside. She is a normal 18 year old who likes pop music and TV. She has a job in Singers (Clydebank) which is boring. She likes going to the LaScala picture house at the top of Kilbowie Road, She’d seen Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday three times, The idea of a holiday touring adventure with boys in a converted double decker bus was greatly appealing. Sometimes she goes to Carbeth with her chums If they can get a lift to Baljaffray crossroad where they get the blue Alexander Midland bus (No.8 to Drymen) Which drops them off just past the Carbeth Inn at Jimmy Robertson’s tiny ramshackle shop (also converted from a bus) If Lizzie’s dad George was in a good mood he would take the girls the whole way, which was very cramped in a Ford Anglia. Sometimes if they were lucky George would turn right along the Cuilt Road which took them to within 10 minutes walk to the natural open air swimming pool. Hugly popular with hutters of all ages, but especially with teenage boys who could show off at the double sided high diving board and the new super bouncy spring board. A small hut with a tiny window was the positioned at the entrance to the pool and the large boys and girls changeing huts. Lizzy handed her shiny silver sixpence to the youth with the beatles haircut and got a ticket which lasted for the full day. She learned that is name was Iain Cornwallis. His mum had a hut on Cuilt road, and at weekends, when Iain wasn’t working as an apprentice electrical engineer in John Brown’s shipyard, he od-jobbed for Barny the land owner. /continued

    Iain Cornwallis (Hutter)1966 -1994
    Odd-jobbed on Carbeth estate. Managed the outdoor swimming pool. Played Guitar in the Carbeth Inn at night. Founder member of the “rates protest” and went to Stirling Councill Office in Stirling, with Bill McQueen to plead the hutter’s case.
    Iain also founded Carbeth Music Limited which opperated from 1986 until 2014. and was personal guitar teacher to Darius Danesh (Pop Idol) and Richard Park (Radio Clyde & Fame Academy) Iain has recently written the music “Mavis’s Shoe” see below

    1. Craig Millar says:

      I loved the piece by Iain Cornwallis, it brought back wonderful memories.
      Carbeth attracted many musicians, artists, authors, and free thinkers from all over Scotland. It was a place for outdoor types, activists and radicals.
      Following his father’s death, Iain became Lord Cornwallis (10thEarl). When this secret came out we mercilessly pulled his leg, but he took it in good humour.
      Other Carbethians were Artist John Logan Morrison (JoLoMo), Author Sue Reid Sexton, Cellist & Filmaker Seylan Baxter and local Poet Donny Graham. Among visitors were Politician Donald Dewar, (Statue at top of Bucannan St. Glasgow), Broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove, Comedian Riki Fulton, Singer Marty Pellow (Wet Wet Wet) Clydebank’s John Reid (Father of Television weather presenter “Heather the Weather”
      Happy Memories !

      Craig Millar

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