Improving the Nation
: investigating the principles of improvement in the new planned settlements of rural Scotland, c.1700-1815

  • Micky Gibbard

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Eighteenth-century Scotland was an age in which a significant degree of rural change took place, much of which took the form of ‘improvement’ in agriculture and industry. Planned settlements were viewed as part and parcel of this improvement and, as a result, are amongst the most conspicuous features of rural and coastal Scotland, with as many as 500 settlements established throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Much of the literature on planned settlements has been quantitative and empirical in nature and has suggested a predominantly economic imperative behind their history. In light of more recent historical trends, however, a revision is timely.

    This thesis argues that the relationship between planned settlements, landowners, and their motivations and origins is more nuanced than has been previously suggested and that a quantitative history of the planned village movement is difficult obtain. The thesis explores improvement and the planned village movement qualitatively to understand the networks and structures that facilitated improvement, with a particular interrogation of the role of private landowners. Four case studies are utilised to reflect the widest possible range of planned settlement experiences whilst retaining as much archival detail as possible. These include Inveraray (Argyllshire), Callander (Perthshire), Tomintoul (Banffshire), and Ullapool (Ross-shire). Inveraray will feature heavily by virtue that the thesis was co-supervised and undertaken in partnership with Argyll Estates. Additionally, the focus on Inveraray is due to the rich archival material in the Saltoun Papers, held in the National Library of Scotland, and the Argyll Papers, held at Inveraray, to which His Grace the Duke of Argyll has given unprecedented access.

    The thesis is split into three parts investigating different elements of improvement and the planned village movement. Part One will explores the networks and structures around the movement in the eighteenth century, contextualising its concepts and ideology. Establishing this at the earliest opportunity is essential before employing a more qualitative investigation of the landowner as an individual. Within this part, an empirical background of the case studies will be included so as to foreshadow later analysis. Part Two will explore the landowner and will set out a theoretical framework within which to explore the motivations of landowners in the foundation of planned villages. It works on the premise that we can best understand the planned village through the deconstruction of the landowner and the constituent parts, or traits, of landownership: commercialism, beneficence, moralising, and consumption. This will establish the grounds for an analysis of aspects of power held by the landowner within planned villages, particularly in relation to spatial theory, which forms the focus of Part Three. Without an understanding of the space of the planned village it is impossible to appreciate the true extent of its complexities and Part Three will serve to demonstrate how the abovementioned landowning traits manifested themselves within the physical space of the planned village. Overall, the combined parts will contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the planned village movement and argue that continued work in this direction is necessary to revitalise research into planned settlements in Scotland.
    Date of Award2019
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsScottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities & Scottish Funding Council
    SupervisorGraeme Morton (Supervisor), Annie Tindley (Supervisor) & Alison Diamond (Supervisor)


    • improvement
    • rural
    • Scotland
    • Highland
    • planning
    • agriculture
    • land ownership
    • Argyll
    • development

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