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  #1  
Old 05-02-2012, 10:37 AM
Machine Elf Machine Elf is offline
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Emigration from Europe and the demise of small towns

The Proclaimers are most famous in the US for one particular song, I'm Gonna Be (500 miles). They had another song that was less famous here, titled Letter From America; it tells an interesting story of people leaving Scotland to resettle in the US. There's a section in the song (video here) where they recite a long list of Scottish towns and villages that have apparently been abandoned due to emigration.

Question:
Was the magnitude of population outflow leaving Europe at any time so heavy that this (i.e. the economic/social implosion of small towns and villages) was a widespread phenomenon as the song suggests?
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  #2  
Old 05-02-2012, 10:46 AM
naita naita is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Machine Elf View Post
The Proclaimers are most famous in the US for one particular song, I'm Gonna Be (500 miles). They had another song that was less famous here, titled Letter From America; it tells an interesting story of people leaving Scotland to resettle in the US. There's a section in the song (video here) where they recite a long list of Scottish towns and villages that have apparently been abandoned due to emigration.

Question:
Was the magnitude of population outflow leaving Europe at any time so heavy that this (i.e. the economic/social implosion of small towns and villages) was a widespread phenomenon as the song suggests?
In Norway the pressure driving emigration was opportunities you couldn't get at home because of population growth, when some people left they created space for those remaining. I think practically all emigration in Norway was spread out, no whole villages emigrating.

ETA: Of course. Some marginal farms may have been permanently abandoned, but generally there were people in line to take over any land that was left behind.

Last edited by naita; 05-02-2012 at 10:51 AM.. Reason: Adding a caveat.
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Old 05-02-2012, 11:01 AM
nudgenudge nudgenudge is offline
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The lyrics are not so much saying that those places have been abandoned. I think they're contrasting historical migration from more traditionally Scottish locales (Lochaber, Sutherland, Lewis, Skye) with the more recent economic decline of post-war industrial "new towns" (Bathgate, Linwood, Methil, Irvine, in the other verse). These are substantial towns, not villages.
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Old 05-02-2012, 11:16 AM
MarcusF MarcusF is online now
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Originally Posted by nudgenudge View Post
The lyrics are not so much saying that those places have been abandoned. I think they're contrasting historical migration from more traditionally Scottish locales (Lochaber, Sutherland, Lewis, Skye) with the more recent economic decline of post-war industrial "new towns" (Bathgate, Linwood, Methil, Irvine, in the other verse). These are substantial towns, not villages.
This.

Bathgate, Linwood, etc. are industrial towns in decline but certainly not abandoned. On the other hand there are many empty and ruined crofts and hamlets in the Highlands and Western Isles from the time of the Clearances. The outflow - to the expanding industrial cities as well as overseas - then was certainly enough that places were abandoned but this was due to deliberate policy by the landowners, not economic pressure.
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  #5  
Old 05-02-2012, 11:54 AM
Exapno Mapcase Exapno Mapcase is offline
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The large-scale emigration from Europe to America lasted from 1850 to 1920 so no single generalization is possible. It was also a very lumpy process, in that at different times the peak flows were from different countries and regions. And within that, the population was not evenly distributed through the country but primarily was from certain areas or classes or professions or religions.

A lumpy process therefore gives much greater odds to certain small places being essentially wiped out.

Take Ireland during the Great Famine.
Quote:
During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the island's population to fall by between 20% and 25% [from about 8 to about 6 million].
With that great a decline, primarily from farming areas, it seems certain that particular areas would fall below viability.

No later emigration was of this magnitude, but the numbers were large for the day. Immigration the the U.S. peaked at 1 1/4 million in 1907. Starting in 1890, Eastern European Jews from a number of countries, Slavs from a number of countries, and Italians made up the bulk of the inflow. Jews were often limited in their ability to own land, so they were concentrated in towns and villages. That again raises the likelihood of small villages disappearing over time.

In a world of much smaller population than today - the U.S. itself had only 75 million in 1900 - having hundreds of thousands or millions move away was gigantic. And the U.S. wasn't the only recipient of bodies. Other countries saw many immigrants move there and the internal migration of farm workers moving to the new industrial jobs in the cities probably dwarfed external migration in most places. There are tens of thousands of villages in the U.S. that no longer exist for that reason, having been incorporated into expanding cities by annexation or swamped by the expansion of metropolitan areas.

Villages that survive may be the exception rather than the rule almost everywhere, depending on your definitions.
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Old 05-02-2012, 12:09 PM
md2000 md2000 is online now
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A huge number of small scots highland villages disappeared during the "highland clearances" of the 1800's.

Sometime in the late 1700's, a variety of sheep was bred that would thrive in the rougher climate of the Scottish highlands. Meanwhile, the industrial revolution was gaining steam (so to speak). Mechanized processes could produce wool cloth from raw material with significantly less manpower that the manual process.

Another historical peculiarity was that the Scottish lords actually owned all that land under the feudal system, and their clans were generally just sharecroppers on the land with no personal claim. So, in the fine tradition of capitalists and aristocrats everywhere, when sheep became more valuable than people, they simple told their clan "get yer butts off my land, laddie!" - then they replaced them with huge herds of sheep.

The kindest at least tried to find settlements across the empire for their people. The least kind simply told them to get off and let them find their own place or starve. Thus we have Mac-this-and-that all over the English world, we have places named Nova Scotia and Kildonan and Strathcona and Glengary and so on, but those original highland places are basically empty.
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Old 05-02-2012, 01:30 PM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
A lumpy process therefore gives much greater odds to certain small places being essentially wiped out.

Take Ireland during the Great Famine.

With that great a decline, primarily from farming areas, it seems certain that particular areas would fall below viability.
You can still see the effects of the famine physically, most clearly in western counties of Ireland where famine villages and famine ridges are a common enough sight.

There's also the fact that the island hasn't yet returned to 1840 population levels. With regard to areas depopulating, it can be seen clearly on the Irish Famine Data Atlas. Death, emigration, and urbanisation led to townlands that once had maybe 1,000s of people latterly having 100s. If you select say County Galway in the Famine Data Altas you can see plenty of townlands where the population dropped 60% just between '41 and '51.

Last edited by An Gadaí; 05-02-2012 at 01:33 PM..
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Old 05-03-2012, 02:50 AM
Nava Nava is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Machine Elf View Post
Was the magnitude of population outflow leaving Europe at any time so heavy that this (i.e. the economic/social implosion of small towns and villages) was a widespread phenomenon as the song suggests?
The phenomenon of the dissapearance of small towns/villages is quite widespread in Spain, but not necessarily linked to emigration abroad: internal migration was a huge force during the last two centuries and is still worrisome in some areas, although now there's inverse forces (people "going back to the farm"). People leaving "for the big town" is a common theme in Spanish music, you find examples pretty much in any genre.
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Old 05-03-2012, 07:09 AM
Aspidistra Aspidistra is offline
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I may have posted this story before...

About 15 years ago, during a visit to the UK, we ended up on the island of Skye. Now my husband was brought up near Orbost - a middle sized town of a couple of thousand folks in the eastern side of Victoria. And it happens that there is an Orbost on Skye, so one of our projects for that visit was to see it.

Luckily, we didn't blink at the wrong moment, because it turns out that Orbost on Skye is a thriving township of all of about three dwellings, two of which had no particular signs of occupation. But the third of these had a rather chatty middle aged lady pottering around outside, and she invited us in for a cup of tea and a look at some of her books on the history of the area, which she was rather keen on.

Lo and behold, we read that up until the 19th century Orbost was quite a respectable sized town of 150 people or so. But then in about 1850, due to bad harvests/changing economic conditions/can't remember what else they all upped stakes and emigrated as a group to Australia.

Wonder where they ended up...
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  #10  
Old 05-03-2012, 08:59 AM
hibernicus hibernicus is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by An Gadaí View Post
If you select say County Galway in the Famine Data Altas you can see plenty of townlands where the population dropped 60% just between '41 and '51.
Everything you've said is true, and extremely tragic. However, given the question in the OP, it's worth saying that no Irish town of any size disappeared or was abandoned at that time (or ever). There was massive rural depopulation but the largest settlements to be abandoned were probably villages with 10s of houses.

Coming back to the song referenced by the OP, my understanding is that the refrain "Lochaber no more, Skye no more..." simply means that the emigrant will not see those places again, and does not imply that those places will cease to exist.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:09 AM
Floater Floater is offline
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Originally Posted by MarcusF View Post
On the other hand there are many empty and ruined crofts and hamlets in the Highlands and Western Isles from the time of the Clearances.
I was told when visiting Islay that the population of the island had dropped from ca 28 000 (I don't recall the exact figures) in the early 19th century to ca 2 500 nowadays.
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Old 05-03-2012, 09:12 AM
silenus silenus is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
Coming back to the song referenced by the OP, my understanding is that the refrain "Lochaber no more, Skye no more..." simply means that the emigrant will not see those places again, and does not imply that those places will cease to exist.
Agree. Compare the lyrics in the OP with those from another song about the same subject:

Farewell you roads to Spinningdale,
this chapter now will close
To the ghosts that thay lie at
Carbisdale and the downfall of Montrose
To Ardgay and to Invershin, no
more I'll walk your sands
For I have to leave my
memories on the Braes of Sutherland

I now will leave my native
home for the shores of America
My love I leave behind me
now, I can no longer stay
The orders from the castle come
by the Duke's right hand
I fear that I must leave thee
there on the Braes of Sutherland


"Braes of Sutherland" - Wolfstone
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  #13  
Old 05-03-2012, 09:45 AM
Machine Elf Machine Elf is offline
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...and the Dope comes through again. Thanks, everyone, for your input; this has been very interesting and informative.
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  #14  
Old 05-03-2012, 10:05 AM
md2000 md2000 is online now
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IIRC, the islands were the last places to experience the highland clearances, the people being driven off by the lords from places like Skye (the MacDonalds?) as late as the 1860's?

Many lords soothed their conscience by actually paying the cost to transport their former tenants to America or Australia.
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  #15  
Old 05-03-2012, 10:19 AM
An Gadaí An Gadaí is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
Everything you've said is true, and extremely tragic. However, given the question in the OP, it's worth saying that no Irish town of any size disappeared or was abandoned at that time (or ever). There was massive rural depopulation but the largest settlements to be abandoned were probably villages with 10s of houses.
I forgot when posting that the term townland might not be clear to a non-Irish poster. You're absolutely correct that the settlements would indeed have been tiny although there must have been many of them. There's something almost eerie when you're in a depopulated area in the west and you notice the famine ridges, places now devoid of human life must have been teeming in the early 1840s.

Depending on what you classify as a town I wonder if the islands off Ireland might have some substantial abandoned settlements. Looking at the 1841 census figures for the islands versus today there are some islands that have lost 1,000s in population down the years. I've not been on any of the islands though and from googling the closest thing I can find is the abandoned village on Achill but it seems a special case as many of the houses were summer homes.
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Old 05-03-2012, 10:31 AM
Floater Floater is offline
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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
... the lords from places like Skye (the MacDonalds?) ...
Probably McLeod.The clan seat is Dunvegan castle on Skye.
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  #17  
Old 05-03-2012, 12:35 PM
flodnak flodnak is offline
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Originally Posted by naita View Post
In Norway the pressure driving emigration was opportunities you couldn't get at home because of population growth, when some people left they created space for those remaining. I think practically all emigration in Norway was spread out, no whole villages emigrating.
That's my impression, too. There are certainly abandoned villages to be found in Norway, but they were abandoned in the past century, not due to emigration to other countries but migrations to cities and larger towns. Some small places in Finnmark may never have been resettled after they were burned down in 1944. Far more places, on islands and little coastal inlets and isolated valleys all over the country, were abandoned in the 1950s until today, as one by one people moved away and no one moved in to take their place. Many of these depended on farming marginal land that could no longer be made profitable, and when the farms were abandoned, other local businesses lost their customers, and house by house the lights went out for good.
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  #18  
Old 05-03-2012, 01:02 PM
Baron Greenback Baron Greenback is offline
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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
IIRC, the islands were the last places to experience the highland clearances, the people being driven off by the lords from places like Skye (the MacDonalds?) as late as the 1860's?
The Crofters Act, which gave security of tenancy and thus stopped the evictions, wasn't implemented until 1886.
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