The Bennachie Colony: A Nineteenth-Century Informal Community in Northeast Scotland

Jeff Oliver* (Corresponding Author), Jackson Armstrong, Karen Milek, J Edward Schofield, Jo Vergunst, Thomas Brochard, Aoife Gould, Gordon Noble

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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In this paper we explore the intertwined issues of improvement and community relations within the context of the Colony site, a nineteenth-century informal settlement in Scotland best known through caricatures of the poor and stereotypes of rural living. Drawing on a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research framework, a collaborative initiative involving academics and community researchers has begun rediscovering and rethinking the history of the Colony. Our investigations have established a rich and unexpected tapestry of life that played out at multiple scales of analysis according to a variety of issues. The settlement’s rise and fall was shaped by wider improvement processes impacting parts of Europe and beyond, but it is also an example of how outside influences were adopted locally, resisted and adapted; material conditions that played directly into the way community relations were themselves constituted. The lessons learned have implications for the archaeology of improvement and the study of informal communities on a global scale.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-377
Number of pages37
JournalInternational Journal of Historical Archaeology
Issue number2
Early online date2 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016

Bibliographical note


The investigation of the Bennachie Colony is part of a broader initiative called the Bennachie Landscape Project, a collaborative endeavour between the Bailies of Bennachie and the University of Aberdeen. To date, funding for the project has been generously provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the form of a Connected Communities Grant (G. Noble PI) and more recently through a larger Development Grant (J. Oliver PI). The research that this paper is based on could not have been undertaken without the generous assistance of a large number of volunteers, university students and staff members. While it would be impossible to name everyone who has contributed, we would like to acknowledge the regular members of the “landscape group” whose infective enthusiasm for the project has provided a stimulating environment for learning and co-production. Particular thanks go to Jackie Cumberbirch, Barry Foster, Chris Foster, Angela Groat, David Irving, Alison Kennedy, Harry Leal, Ken Ledingham, Colin Miller, Iain Ralston, Colin Shepherd, Sue Taylor and Andrew Wainwright. Further assistance with fieldwork was provided by Ágústa Edwald, Patrycia Kupiec, Barbora Wouters, Óskar Sveinbjarnarson, members of Northlight Heritage and several cohorts worth of University of Aberdeen undergraduate and graduate students. We are indebted to the RCAHMS for assistance with plane table survey and to Óskar Sveinbjarnarson for help with mapping. Others have supported additional aspects of the Bennachie Landscape project or have provided specialist advice. Thanks go to Neil Curtis, Liz Curtis, Rowan Ellis, Marjory Harper, Siobhan Convery and the University of Aberdeen Special Collections staff. Access to undertake fieldwork was graciously provided by the Forestry Commission Scotland. Helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper were provided by Barry and Chris Foster, Ken Ledingham, Collin Miller, Collin Shepherd, Sue Taylor, Andrew Wainwright and two anonymous reviewers.


  • crofter-colonists
  • improvement
  • informal communities
  • Scottish rural settlement studies


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