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could be solved by the formation of a joint-stock company. London was swarming with speculators. One of these was Mr. Case Billingsley, of the York Buildings Company. In the midst of their difficulties he approached the Government with a scheme, and the Government heard him gladly. The Water Company was a paying concern, but by a clause in its charter he was able to show how it could enter into other enterprises and acquire property in other places besides the immediate precincts of York House and gardens. In a few weeks he raised a sum of £ 1,259,575 for the purchasing of the forfeited estates in Scotland. The public had evidently complete faith in the soundness of the York Buildings Company and their new venture. In a few months the £10 shares of the company rose to £305 per share. The public confidence in the company was, however, shortlived. On the 16th August, 1720, the £10 shares were selling at £295. A fortnight later they had fallen to £55, and in a few days more they were unsaleable.
But this is anticipating. After the company had raised the capital, the Government began to sell. The first estate exposed for sale was that of the Earl of Winton. It was knocked down to the company for £50,300. The next was the estate of Lord Kilsyth. It also was knocked down to the company for £16,000. The sales went merrily on till the whole of the estates were disposed of. The largest number of these were sold to the York Buildings Company. For these forfeited estates the Government received £411,082. After, however, : the discharge of all debts, expenses, and liabilities, the whole sum yielded to the Government by the forfeitures amounted to the wretched pittance of only £1107.
In the year 1720, when the South Sea Bubble col
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lapsed, the York Buildings Company found itself in severe financial difficulties. By performing mysterious and unaccountable financial somersaults, the company struggled on and maintained its existence. Being now the largest landowner in Scotland, its difficulties were not wholly financial. The sympathy of the tenants was with the forfeited proprietors. The rule of an English company was distasteful to the people. In the circumstances of the time it was not easy to get the judges to declare the law, and after its declaration it was still less easy to get it enforced. In addition to all this, the state of the country was miserable. Bere and oats were the chief crops. The farmers used the worst grain for seed, and the return was only three bushels for every bushel sown. The potato was not to be introduced for other twenty years, and the turnip was still further in the future. The ploughs were made of wood, and cost eightpence each. A wright could make three ploughs in a day. The harrows had birchwood tynes. The tynes were hardened by being hung in proximity to the kitchen fire. The carts were rude affairs, wholly made of wood. The axle was fixed in the nave of the wheels, and revolved with them. The cost of these vehicles was 25. 6d. The roller was unknown. The clods in the fields were broken with wooden mallets. The flail was used for threshing, and the wind for winnowing the grain. The wool was oftener pulled than shorn from the sheeps' backs. The price of a sheep was 5s.; a grazing quey, 35. 4d. ; a cow, 30s.; a horse, £4. Rent was paid in kind, and was styled ferm or farm, hence the word farmer. Pigs were scarce, and there was a prejudice against them. Yarn was the laborious product of the rock and spindle.
How the company was to exact its rents from such poor people was a problem which at once presented
itself for solution. To let their farms and pasture lands in the ordinary way and to the ordinary tenants was absurd on the face of it. The tenants would rather have paid their rents to the old proprietors than to the alien company. Mr. Case Billingsley, the speculator, was equal to the occasion. He let the estates to middlemen, and left these middlemen to sub-let to the tillage tenants. The project was fairly successful. In 1721, the baronies of Fingask and Kinnaird, formerly the estate of Sir David Threipland, were disposed of for nineteen years, at a rent of £480 6. 3 d. The barony of Belhelvie, in Aberdeenshire, and the estate of Panmure were next let. The first for a lease of nineteen, the second for one of ninety-nine years.
The estate of Kilsyth was disposed of about the same time to James Stark, Bailie of Kilsyth, on a nineteen years' lease, dating from 1721, at a gross rent of £800 a year, besides a fifth part of the coal wrought by way of royalty. This approximated very nearly to the value put on the estate by the forfeiture commissioners in 1716-17. Their estimate was :
The company were careful in making their agreement with Stark, as they seem to have considered that the estate of Kilsyth was susceptible of considerable improvement, and held resources that might be profitably developed. The company held their tenant bound to plant two trees for every tree he cut down, and to make plantations of oak, elm, ash, and fir in certain enclosures. They kept Dullatur Bog in their own hands, reserving to themselves the right to drain and improve it as they saw fit, and they undertook to make good to Stark any damage he might sustain by the carrying forward of these operations. Stark had made a bad bargain. After being in possession of the estate for two years he became bankrupt, and prayed the company to take the lease off his hands, which they did. James Stark's connection with the estate did not then terminate. For the next five years he acted as factor for the York Buildings Company. For the first four of these years he returned to the company £634 per annum. For the last year his return fell to £522.
Lord Kilsyth had been greatly popular in Stirlingshire, and his friends seeing the York Buildings Company getting deeper and deeper into trouble with the estate, opened up negotiations with them to get the patrimony once more restored to the Livingstons. But for Daniel Campbell of Shawfield, in the parish of Kilsyth, it is probable this arrangement would have been carried through. He represented how such a restoration would be dangerous to the State, and made a counter movement on his own behalf. Campbell was successful. He secured a ninety-nine years lease of the estate at an annual rent of £500 a year, including minerals. He was relieved of all obligations as to planting trees, and he secured into the bargain all the company's rights in Dullatur Moss. The draining of the bog was never attempted by Campbell. It was not carried out till the formation of the Forth and Clyde Canal, when the frogs, panting for water, swarmed in millions over the parish
and neighbourhood, as if the locality had been smitten by an Egyptian plague.
Landowners have always had a weakness for borrowing money, and it appears when the estates of Viscount Kilsyth were attainted, although his rental stood between £800 and £900 a year, he was owing the Bank of Scotland the sum of £166 135. 4d., and for the payment of this apparently small sum the Earl of Kilmarnock and the Laird of Orbiston were the joint cautioners. This other anecdote is worthy of note in passing. In January, 1746, when the young Pretender's army passed through Kilsyth on its march to Stirling, Prince Charles passed the night at Mr. Campbell's of Shawfield. The steward was ordered to provide the best provision he had, and promised payment. Next morning the young Prince informed him that he would reckon with him when his master came to account to him for the rents of the forfeited estates of Kilsyth !
It was not enough that the York Buildings Company possessed these vast estates throughout Scotland. There was no end to their ambition. They took forests on the Spey, and set up as wood merchants on a large scale. They also became charcoal manufacturers, and sent large shipments of that material to the Continent. They also set up iron furnaces, and manufactured “Glengarry" and “Strathdown” pigs. They took the coal pits and salt pans of Tranent, and this venture they followed up by establishing a great glass-making manufactory at Port Seton. Having been unfortunate in timber, in charcoal, in iron, in coal, in salt, and in glass, the company next turned their attention to lead and copper, silver and gold, and leased the extensive mines possessed by Lord Hopetoun and other proprietors, the development of which was pushed on at great cost and with extraordin