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Times were Hard

Times were Hard

by Kinloch Historical Society

Delving through old records and books can have its rewards. We can gain an insight into life as it was for our parents, grandparents and the generation before that and we often come across items that give us graphic glimpses into an existence that was harsh and uncompromising.

A letter written in February 1888 to the head teachers in the Parish of Lochs suggests that children were arriving at their schools ill clad and hungry and that they should be given a porridge breakfast to help sustain them. This prompted the Glasgow Relief Committee to volunteer to send fortnightly supplies of meal for porridge.

An extract from a Royal Commission Report, entitled The Conditions of Cottar Population which was published following a visit to the Parish of Lochs and Stornoway makes distressing reading.

We visited, personally, 108 houses in the parishes of Lochs and Stornoway, conversing with the inmates, questioning them as to their families and resources and examining their bedding and food supplies; we afterwards submitted the information thus obtained to the criticism of the Inspectors of the Poor and the estate officials. On all sides, not only among the cottars but among the crofters also, we observed evidence of the deepest poverty and dejection. The soil is of the poorest; everywhere the potato crop is nearly consumed; almost everywhere the meal furnished by the Destitution Committee was represented as the only alternate diet except small fish; few have money and fewer still have credit with the local merchants. In short, within the next two months, as far as we have been able to discover, the bulk of the population in Lochs and elsewhere will be brought face to face with the necessity of killing their cattle and sheep to sustain life, while those who have no stock must either appeal to the Parochial Board or starve.

No doubt there is a lamentable absence of energy and activity among the people; strong men are to be seen at home idly watching the privations endured by their wives and children. Crofts already too small to maintain one individual are made the home of three or even four families; grown-up children, who should long since have opened a career for themselves are still inmates of parents' houses and a listless apathy is everywhere apparent. This apathy perhaps is due to their hopeless position. We regret that during the progress of our enquiry, we were unable wholly to dissipate hopes raised by our proceedings.

According to their findings, widows in Lochs were living in abject poverty as one entry shows:

Widow (not strong), 3 children. No earnings. Stock: 1 sheep, no hens, no potatoes, no meal, no money, a little tea. No blankets.

It is practically impossible for us to imagine how it was for these mothers to bring up their children in these conditions and there is no doubt that the provision of a porridge breakfast was a blessing. How different for us now. Porridge has become the 'in' breakfast for those wanting to lose weight and those wanting a healthy lifestyle and as we pop our breakfast into the microwave, we should spare a thought for the hard times of our forebears.

Title: Times were Hard
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Story
Date: 1888
Record Maintained By: CECL
Subject Id: 37691