Most people in Colintraive in the 1700s would have lived in multi tenanted farms similar to those described by Thomas Pennant in ‘A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides’ 1772:
“The method of letting a farm is very singular: each is commonly possessed by a number of small tenants.….who live in houses clustered together so that each farm appears like a little village.”
With the introduction of sheep, times were changing and between 1755 and the 1790s the population of Inverchaolain, the parish which includes Colintraive, almost halved, dropping from 944 to 504.
The minister of Inverchaolain, the Reverend Mr Hugh McTavish, surveyed the situation in his ‘Statistical Account’ of about 1790. “It has been humorously observed, since flocks of sheep have expelled the droves of cows which formerly were kept in this part of the country, that the district should be called Sheep-all instead of Cow-al…..This has been owing to a practice,….. of letting large tracts of ground, to one or two individuals for sheep grazing, which were formerly occupied by eight or ten different tenants.”
The people who had occupied the land moved into the growing industrial towns around Glasgow and the minister optimistically suggests that:
“Happily for them, they were mostly removed to “the neighbouring towns, where they found sufficient employment, and where many of their children, by advantages of education, have raised themselves up to independence, to become useful members of the community, and a support and comfort to their parents in their old age.”
These changes did not come without opposition. The insecurity brought on by the lack of leases or very short leases coupled with evictions caused dissention and the local Commissioners of Supply (controlled by the major landowners) noted in 1750 that in Inverchaolain Parish:
“…..threatenings have been lately emitted by several persons legally removed from their possessions.”
The change from cattle grazing to the pasturing of sheep altered the nature of the land replacing the heather covered hills with grass, partly through the practice of burning the heather in the springtime.
“All the mountains, some years ago, were covered with heath, but many of them now, by being pastured with sheep, are mostly green.”
‘New Statistical Account’ 1799
A typical house in Cowal was described by Mr J E Bowman in 1825:
“It was of an oblong shape, about six yards long by three wide and the roof very steep, particularly at one end. The interior was dark and gloomy, for there was neither window nor lattice; and the little light that was admitted through the roof and the door place, was barely sufficient to shew the blackened sides and the slender poles which scarcely supported the roof. There was no chimney; and the draught was therefore so imperfect, that its smoke completely filled every cranny of the hut.”