The X fac­tors

Long vil­lanised as es­tate stooges, fac­tors pro­vide an es­sen­tial link be­tween land­lord and ten­ant – and act as a vi­tal con­duc­tor for eco­nomic change

The Field - - CONTENT - writ­ten BY emily ar­buth­nott

The role of the es­tate fac­tor, as ex­plained by Emily Ar­buth­nott

When I be­came en­gaged to my now hus­band, sev­eral peo­ple re­marked on how ro­man­tic it was to be be­trothed to a Scot­tish laird. As though he was go­ing to whisk me off on his mighty white steed (he doesn’t ride) to a midge­free, pin­na­cled utopia where we could gaze, windswept, across hill and glens. In fact, ever since we first be­came ro­man­ti­cally in­volved at one of Durham Univer­sity’s two night­clubs, when I was ac­tu­ally covertly in love with the cap­tain of the rugby first XV, I have en­dured com­ments about me “snar­ing a laird”. Many of the stereo­types syn­ony­mous with Scot­land have be­come so em­bed­ded in our cul­tural con­scious­ness that we have col­lec­tively given cre­dence to th­ese car­i­ca­tures, be it Tory toffs in tweed, war­rior-like High­landers or the vil­lain­ous, fe­ro­cious fac­tor re­sem­bling the char­ac­ter Colin Ray of Glenure in Robert Louis Steven­son’s Kid­napped.

Above: game­keeper Jim Miller, fac­tor An­son Ma­caus­lan and a guest who has com­pleted a Mac­nab on Brae­more and Lang­well es­tate (right)

“Praise for a fac­tor was not a very com­mon fea­ture of Gaelic po­etry,” com­mented his­to­rian Leah Len­e­men, with some un­der­state­ment. Just as Sir Wal­ter Scott’s in­ven­tion of tar­tanry, de­fined by RC Thom­sen as “the idea of a glo­ri­ous, ro­man­tic past in the wild Scot­tish High­lands”, is a myth, so, too, is the fig­ure of the tyran­ni­cal fac­tor. As paid es­tate man­agers, work­ing on be­half of an of­ten ab­sent landowner, Scot­tish fac­tors trump all other con­tenders for the role of cor­rupt and cal­lous bad­die. Ru­ral rent-col­lec­tors who make the Sher­iff of Nottingham look rea­son­able. Pro­fes­sor Eric Richards de­scribes fac­tors as be­ing an “en­tire pro­fes­sion across many gen­er­a­tions, con­signed to the hate­box of his­tory”.

dis­cre­tion and loy­alty

It is lit­tle won­der, then, that the ma­jor­ity of fac­tors I spoke with for this ar­ti­cle were loathe to say any­thing on record for fear of be­ing mis­con­strued, es­pe­cially in the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate. Fac­tors tend to be the epit­ome of dis­cre­tion and loy­alty, un­will­ing to at­tract any ire against the es­tate they work on or to­wards the peo­ple they work for.

The ma­jor­ity of es­tate fac­tors have car­ried on a pa­ter­nal­is­tic tra­di­tion

A fac­tor in Aberdeen­shire de­scribed what hap­pened when he had a biomass boiler in­stalled in the grieve’s house, to heat the home and a swim­ming pool.

He goes on to say, “The boiler com­pany asked for my en­dorse­ment in a pro­mo­tional video, de­tail­ing how the con­stant heat gen­er­ated by biomass sys­tems was ideal for heat­ing swim­ming pools. The video was taken by a Sun­day tabloid, which ran with a story about how pub­lic money was heat­ing an aris­to­crat’s swim­ming pool.”

I can hon­estly at­test that the per­cep­tion of fac­tors as a threat to ten­ant farm­ers in Scot­land could not be fur­ther from the truth. Ev­ery fac­tor I spoke to pos­sessed a seem­ingly in­fi­nite knowl­edge, a pas­sion for ru­ral Scot­land and had a rea­son­able and con­sular ap­proach. Through­out his­tory, the vast ma­jor­ity of es­tate fac­tors, though pri­mar­ily con­cerned with rais­ing rev­enue for their bosses, have car­ried on a pa­ter­nal­ist tra­di­tion of re­spon­si­bil­ity and duty of care for the land and those who live on it.

There was a fun­da­men­tal shift in Scot­land, in the 17th and 18th cen­turies, from a landowner who was usu­ally at home and in­volved in lo­cal af­fairs to a landowner who was largely ab­sent. Cor­re­spon­dence of the time re­veals that this ab­sen­teeism did not seem to have af­fected es­tate ten­ants as fac­tors tended to be lo­cal men who man­aged estates ef­fi­ciently and con­sci­en­tiously. Where fac­tors were in­ef­fi­cient they were soon re­placed, as they are to this day.

Around the same time, Scot­land was un­der­go­ing an ac­cel­er­ated form of agri­cul­tural im­prove­ment. Crop ro­ta­tion, road build­ing, di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, grow­ing vil­lage pop­u­la­tions, rent in­creases and ad­min­is­tra­tion of for­feited estates af­ter Cul­lo­den all meant that the fac­tor’s small, spe­cialised area of re­spon­si­bil­ity had grown into deep and var­ied com­mer­cial en­tan­gle­ments.

Pre­dom­i­nantly, it was fac­tors who were re­spon­si­ble for the man­age­rial as­pect of the High­land Clear­ances, fol­low­ing in­struc­tions from above. They were con­tin­u­ally deal­ing with de­lays, bankrupt­cies and new own­ers, which meant that the re­set­tling and re­lo­cat­ing of ten­ants was done sud­denly, dra­mat­i­cally and, in some cases, bru­tally, caus­ing large-scale trauma. Records from the pe­riod re­veal fac­tors with di­vided loy­al­ties were sacked for fail­ing to fol­low or­ders, re­signed or had ner­vous break­downs.

“A def­i­nite chal­lenge of the job is the on­go­ing be­rat­ing of some­thing that hap­pened more than 200 years ago,” re­marks An­son Ma­caus­lan, who for the past 11 years has been fac­tor of the 50,000-acre-plus Brae­more and Lang­well es­tate in Caith­ness. Ma­caus­lan is em­ployed di­rectly by the owner, Wil­liam Par­ente, on a full-time ba­sis and is in­de­pen­dent of any land-agency firms. “I feel in­cred­i­bly lucky as I speak to my boss reg­u­larly and al­though he is not here for a big por­tion of the year, he ab­so­lutely adores the place and he knows ev­ery­one and knows ev­ery­thing about the es­tate. I see that my role is not to re­place him but be his ever pres­ence here,” he af­firms.

Ma­caus­lan was brought up in Caith­ness and had a keen in­ter­est and in­volve­ment in fish­ing and “keeper­ing”. Af­ter a stint as an agri­cul­tural con­sul­tant for Scot­land’s Ru­ral Col­lege (SRUC), he re­turned to man­age the es­tate. “I ab­so­lutely adore the place,” he says.

“I love my job be­cause of the va­ri­ety and the pas­sion of the peo­ple around me, from the game­keep­ers to the gar­den­ers to the farm man­agers. I am sur­rounded by pas­sion­ate peo­ple who care and want to do a re­ally good job on this land, which is very spe­cial.”

Faced with the prospect of land re­forms, he is fo­cus­ing on the medium to long term. “The leg­is­la­tion comes from a lack of un­der­stand­ing about what the ru­ral sec­tor is about. Most of the Scot­tish pop­u­la­tion lives in the cen­tral belt, which is ur­ban in con­trast to the sparsely pop­u­lated High­lands. How­ever, what­ever the chal­lenges we face I want to be part of the so­lu­tion”.

In com­par­i­son with his job at the SRUC, Ma­caus­lan con­cedes the only draw­back with his cur­rent role is that “it is iso­lated. Liv­ing in Caith­ness, I am prob­a­bly one of the only res­i­dent fac­tors in the county and there are very few north of In­ver­ness. But I do like the in­de­pen­dence and it is a good free­dom. A free­dom that al­lows me to con­cen­trate ab­so­lutely on what is right for my boss, the land and the com­mu­nity.”

man­ag­ing scone

Sarah Roué, the dy­namic chief ex­ec­u­tive of Scone Palace and es­tate in Perthshire, shares An­son’s be­lief that the fac­tor’s role in the cur­rent cli­mate is to deal diplo­mat­i­cally with ev­ery­one in­volved, in what­ever ca­pac­ity, on the es­tate. Roué had worked for Smiths Gore (now Sav­ills) for seven years be­fore tak­ing up her role at Scone as Sav­ills’ res­i­dent agent five years ago. “The po­lit­i­cal and leg­isla­tive en­vi­ron­ment is quickly chang­ing the way that land is man­aged. Ev­ery­one needs to be open minded and re­spon­sive to both the op­por­tu­ni­ties and threats that this will pose to the use of land. Some­times not ev­ery­one you meet will have the same out­look as you and an in­te­gral part of my role is to try and work col­lec­tively so that ev­ery­one can end up with a sat­is­fac­tory re­sult,” she says.

Aside from agri­cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence, a 21st-cen­tury fac­tor needs en­cy­clopaedic knowl­edge ac­com­pa­nied by diplo­macy, en­ergy, en­trepreneuri­al­ism, a will­ing­ness to em­brace ad­ver­sity and op­por­tu­nity and the abil­ity to take tough de­ci­sions for the longterm vi­a­bil­ity of the es­tate. Per­haps it is no sur­prise that many are un­der the em­ploy of agen­cies such as Sav­ills, Strutt & Parker and CKD Gal­braith. A res­i­den­tial fac­tor for

an es­tate in Aberdeen­shire feels that in the fu­ture his po­si­tion will go to a firm. “Fac­tors of medium-sized Scot­tish estates will in time be­come a named per­son from an agency be­cause the level of ex­per­tise that one needs can­not be sat­is­fied by one per­son. You need a team be­hind you. Large estates will prob­a­bly con­tinue to have res­i­den­tial fac­tors be­cause they are big enough to have their own ‘in-house’ teams. Such as Buc­cleuch.”

agency ben­e­fits

An­drew Aitchi­son, who man­ages the Ne­vis es­tate for Sir Cameron Mack­in­tosh, is em­ployed by Strutt & Parker and sees the enor­mous ben­e­fit of agen­cies: “The vol­ume and com­plex­ity of the day-to-day ‘grind’ has in­creased hugely since I started in the busi­ness 25 years ago and man­ag­ing that baseload ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively re­quires a range of sys­tems and a tech­ni­cally ca­pa­ble sup­port team. At the same time, the di­ver­sity of spe­cial­ist ex­per­tise re­quired has changed sig­nif­i­cantly and we now em­ploy spe­cial­ists in farm­ing and forestry, plan­ning and de­vel­op­ment, en­ergy and en­vi­ron­men­tal re­sources and spread that skill base across a range of prop­er­ties. So while the im­age of the stereo­typ­i­cal, tweed-clad fac­tor may have mor­phed into a ru­ral pro­fes­sional wear­ing a branded gilet with the con­tents of the es­tate of­fice on their lap­top, the core role of the land agent, un­der­stand­ing what the client wants to achieve and mak­ing that hap­pen, re­mains the same.”

Some own­ers of Scot­tish estates are di­ver­si­fy­ing within a tra­di­tional landowner model and the role they play in that. Ron­ald and Erica Munro Fer­gu­son, of the No­var es­tate in Easter Ross, have, to a large ex­tent, taken on the role of fac­tor them­selves. “We do use Nigel Fraser from Strutt and Parker as our pro­fes­sional ad­vi­sor. We value his judge­ment, his ideas and he has be­come a friend but in a sense of the tra­di­tional fac­tor role, we are ful­fill­ing that,” says Erica Munro Fer­gu­son. “The day-to-day de­ci­sions are made by us.” They em­ploy 26 peo­ple and man­age two of their three hy­dro-elec­tric schemes, as well as a suc­cess­ful sawmill, hol­i­day cot­tages, staffed-lodge and fish­ing and shoot­ing. The Munro Fer­gu­sons have a mod­ern ap­proach to di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion while still loosely fol­low­ing a tra­di­tional landowner model.

No­var was the first es­tate in the north of Scot­land to have a wind farm and in May they host the Sin­gle Speed Cy­cle Euro­pean Ti­tle Cham­pi­onships. The whole com­mu­nity is in­volved in this. The cou­ple are pas­sion­ate about mak­ing No­var a bet­ter place for the com­mu­nity, whether it is ex­tend­ing wood­land car parks for walk­ers to mak­ing tracks more ac­ces­si­ble. “Our wood­land tracks are fre­quently used by the en­durance rid­ing club. We want to give ev­ery­one the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy and see the land,” Erica Munro Fer­gu­son re­marks.

vi­tal con­duc­tors

The en­thu­si­asm, prag­ma­tism and pas­sion with which mod­ern Scot­tish fac­tors ap­pear to ap­proach their role un­der­mine the re­peated cas­ti­ga­tion of them as be­ing a “wall of ice be­tween the peo­ple and the land­lord”. Quite the op­po­site, they are the vi­tal con­duc­tor and ex­ecu­tor of eco­nomic change, link­ing the land­lord to the te­nancy. Fac­to­rial cor­re­spon­dence from the 18th and 19th cen­turies re­veals con­cern for the ten­ants equipoised with con­cern for the landown­ers. This del­i­cate bal­ance could only have been main­tained then and can only be main­tained now with great skill.

Fac­tors have man­aged to nav­i­gate suc­cess­ful land man­age­ment through agri­cul­tural rev­o­lu­tions, Ja­co­bite re­bel­lions, con­tro­ver­sial clear­ances, an ever-evolv­ing genus of own­er­ship and in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dums. Far from be­ing tec­tonic brutes, they are con­sci­en­tious ar­biters of what works in ru­ral Scot­land. No stereo­type can sur­pass the stun­ning Scot­tish scenery, the his­tory, the her­itage and the qual­ity of the hunt­ing, shoot­ing and fish­ing; but it is time for the hack­neyed cliché of the fiendish fac­tor to be dis­pelled as the myth it is. They are the care­tak­ers and cul­ti­va­tors of some of the most beau­ti­ful coun­try­side known to man.

It is time for the hack­neyed cliche of the fiendish fac­tor to be dis­pelled

Above: Ne­vis es­tate near Mal­laig is owned by the­atri­cal pro­ducer Sir Cameron Mack­in­tosh

An­drew Aitchi­son, who man­ages the Ne­vis es­tate in the High­lands, is em­ployed by Strutt & Parker

Sarah Roué (above), the dy­namic chief ex­ec­u­tive of Scone Palace and es­tate (above right)

Ne­vis es­tate, where the fac­tor says the vol­ume and com­plex­ity of “the daily grind” has in­creased hugely

Head­keeper Roland van Oyen (left) and owner Erica Munro Fer­gu­son (right) at No­var es­tate in Easter Ross

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