Case Study 2: High Morlaggan, Arrochar

High Morlaggan, Arrochar (CANMORE ID 301028)

Sue Furness and Fiona Jackson, High Morlaggan and Hidden Heritage Project

Figure 5: High Morlaggan under excavation ©Morlaggan Rural Settlement Group

Background

The High Morlaggan project [https://highmorlaggan.co.uk] was a community heritage and archaeology project based near Arrochar, Argyll and Bute (Figure 5). Its aims were find out more about the deserted rural settlement of High Morlaggan (Canmore ID 301028 in terms of:

  1. The longevity and phasing of the settlement
  2. How the buildings interacted with the surrounding landscape
  3. Who had lived there and how they might have lived
  4. Raising awareness within the local community, of High Morlaggan itself, of other similar deserted settlements, and of cultural heritage in general

The site was chosen based on the curiosity of community members regarding the visible remains, personal connections with past inhabitants, and willingness of the landowner to allow access. Community members set up a constituted body (the Morlaggan Rural Settlement Group henceforth MRSG) to allow them to apply for funding as required.

The High Morlaggan project was not planned as a complete project, but comprised a series of discrete but interlocking projects (documentary research, survey, community excavation, school involvement (Figure 6), interpretation and dissemination) designed to address specific aims. These activities were carried out by community members and/or by a range of organisations/individuals, most notably Kilmartin Museum, Argyll Archaeology, Scotland's Rural Past, Association of Certified Field Archaeologists, Northlight Heritage, George Haggarty, and many more, either on a voluntary basis, or variously funded by Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, Heritage Lottery Fund, Argyll and the Islands LEADER, Scottish Community Foundation, the Clore Duffield Foundation, and the Robert Kiln Trust. Given the community-based nature of the project, it 'evolved' over a long period of time (approximately 2003-2013), during which time it received vital input and funding from numerous sources.

Findings

Figure 6: School drama production at Auchindrain Township ©Morlaggan Rural Settlement Group

The findings of the project were:

  1. Documentary evidence indicated that Morlaggan was continually occupied from at least the 1400s until the early 1900s.
  2. Landscape survey revealed the remains of rig and furrow, and woodland analysis and dendrochronology indicated that the settlement had been surrounded by woodland, while later inhabitants had planted hawthorn hedges and either planted or preserved rowan trees within the settlement.
  3. Documents from the 1700s onwards indicated up to four families lived at Morlaggan, living by crofting, supplemented by income from various manual jobs. However, analysis of over 13,000 sherds of pottery, largely dating to the 1800s, revealed that the interiors of the houses may have been more decorative, and the inhabitants lives more comfortable than anticipated, providing important insights into the social history of the era/region. Notably, the pottery comprised numerous complete tea and dinner services, with interesting implications for the trading of pottery in relation to the settlement's access to the Clyde. According to pottery specialist George Haggarty, "The trading patterns, especially of ceramics, within the West Highlands during the post-medieval/industrial period are presently little studied and poorly understood, and to this end the work carried out at High Morlaggan is a beacon of light in a dark room."
  4. Increased interest in heritage led to a subsequent community heritage project (the Hidden Heritage project), and to ongoing consideration by the local Community Development Trust of trying to gain funding for a heritage centre.

Continued Local Priorities

MRSG aims to continue to involve the community in researching and documenting local historical sites of any period, using documentary research, surveying, and excavation. We also continue to promote the benefits of both active involvement in heritage research and utilisation of the information gathered, in terms of increasing health and wellbeing, improving community cohesion, engendering a sense of place, and boosting the local economy.