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Insights into the Parish of Farr

The Highland Archive Service writes regular articles for a variety of newspapers across the Highlands. Here is a extract from our latest Northern Time article about the parish of Farr in Sutherland.

The 2nd Statistical Account, written in 1834, describes Farr with these words: “The parish is about forty English miles long, from Baligill in the north-east to Muadale in the south-west; and varies from eight to twenty miles in breadth, the narrowest part being in the middle of Strathnaver. It is bounded on the north by the Northern Ocean; on the east, by the parish of Reay in Caithness; on the south, by the parishes of Kildonan and Lairg; and on the west, by the parish of Tongue. Its figure is irregular.”  The parish contains some stunning scenery with caves, sea arches, mountains and valleys including Strathnaver, described by the writer of the account  thus, “Considering the extent of this strath, the beauty and variety of the scenery, which almost invariably attract the notice of the traveller of taste, and the richness of the pasture it everywhere produces, this valley is undoubtedly the finest and most interesting Highland strath in the whole county of Sutherland”.  It is of course, now a name familiar to many due to the Highland Clearances and the infamous Patrick Sellar.

Traditionally the surname most strongly associated with the area around Farr was Mackay, and this can be seen in this image of the 1811 census. Most people will be familiar with the census, taken every ten years, and some will know that this has been happening in a similar format since 1841 (1941 excepted) but what is perhaps less well-known is that there were in fact censuses taken in Scotland every ten years from 1801 onwards.  These were much more basic in nature and were often little more than headcounts in each area.  Pre-1841 censuses don’t survive in great numbers but we hold the 1811 for Farr, Golspie and Assynt (all of which include names) and papers relating to the 1821 and 1831 censuses in Sutherland.

Farr is well-represented in our local government collections (i.e. education, poor relief).  This is particularly the case for poor relief records – we have a comprehensive set of these for the parish, including records of application for relief, general registers of the poor, letter books, minute books and many other items from the 1840s onwards.

There is also a range of material relating to the area in our deposited collections (wide-ranging documents given us to for safekeeping by businesses, families, clubs and individuals).  Among these collections is the extensive and fascinating R91 Northern Constabulary collection.  Within this are records relating to Sutherland County Constabulary and police daily occurrence books for Melvich and Bettyhill stations from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The example shown below is from P.C. Sandieson’s journal of 1906 and reports his patrols of August 11th (including visiting Farr School and attending the arrival of the mails) and his presence at church on August 12th.