The Congested Districts Board (Scotland) was established by the Congested Districts (Scotland) Act 1897 to administer funds made available by the British Government for the improvement of congested districts in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. For the purposes of the Act, a congested district was defined as “any place within the Highland Region, the islands areas of Orkney, Shetland or the Western Isles or the Argyll district other than the former burgh of Rothesay and the former district of Bute”.[1]

The Highland Clearances from the mid-18th century until the mid-19th, were a significant reason for the existence of congested districts in Scotland. For instance, almost the entire population of crofters had been evicted from the small Hebridean island of Vatersay by 1850/1851 to make way for a large farm, most of them to the nearby island of Barra.[2] But there the amount of land available to support the population was shrinking, as people were forced off the better land to make way for sheep farms, leaving some with no land at all to support them and their families.[3]

Among the Congested District Board’s responsibilities were the encouragement of agriculture by distributing seed potatoes, seed oats, supplying stud animals and agricultural appliances and machinery; assisting the fishing industry by improving lighthouses, piers and harbours; and the development of home industries such as spinning and weaving.[1] But although it was part of the board’s remit to increase the amount of land available for crofting, and hence the migration of crofters to less densely populated areas of Scotland, it had no power to make compulsory purchases.[4]

The Congested Districts Board was abolished in 1911, when its functions were taken over by the Board of Agriculture for Scotland and the Scottish Land Court.[5]

See also

  • Vatersay raidersTen Scottish cottars who were imprisoned in 1908 after illegally setting up homes on the small Hebridean island of Vatersay.