Sunday, 12 May 2013

Tailzies in Skelmorlie

(The following is something I published a couple of years back - I was intending to update it, but some bizarre Google formatting would not go, so instead I have just republished it as a new post!)

Just down the road from where I live in Largs is a small village called Skelmorlie, right on the border between the historic counties of Ayrshire and Renfrewshire. The following account describes how the lands of Skelmorlie were 'entailed' through a device known as a 'tailzie', and how the terms of the tailzie were redefined by subsequent generations. To set the scene, a wee bit first about the use of tailzies within inheritance from a book I had published in 2010, Researching Scottish Family History:

"A landowner could actually dictate the course of his land’s disposal long after his death by creating a deed called a tailzie, through which he could lay down a series of conditions that had to be adhered to. The breach of such conditions could actually force his successor to give up the land altogether. Tailzies can be extremely useful in identifying entire families, as they would list the name of the person to whom the land should go upon the death of the present incumbent, but also suggest alternative lines should that person die."


"Often within a tailzie, if the line of inheritance should fall onto a daughter or other female member of the family, a condition would be set whereby she could only inherit the land if she first married somebody with the same surname as the creator of the tailzie, or somebody who would be willing to take on that name. In addition, that husband would also have to assume the set of Arms inherited by his wife, and in effect legally become a member of that family as if he had done so from birth. This would allow the identity of that family, and more importantly, the political weight of that family name, to remain undiminished in an area. Such arrangements were recorded in the Register of Tailzies from 1688... Land could be removed from a tailzie, or ‘disentailed’, from 1848 onwards, the details of which are also included in the register."

OK, here goes then - back to Skelmorlie!

On August 27th 1728 Hugh Montgomerie entailed the vicarage teinds and ten pound lands of Skelmorlie, along with additional lands in Renfrewshire at Lochliboside, Hartfield and Ormsheugh. The tailzie decreed the land should go back to his nephew, Sir Robert, Baronet, and then on to Robert's eldest male heir; but if the male lines failed, to continue to the first female line and then to her first male heir, etc. The heirs-entailed were to adopt the name of ‘Montgomerie of Skelmorlie’ and to use the family arms. When Sir Robert predeceased his uncle in 1731, the land soon found its way to his eldest daughter, Lilias Montgomerie.

Lilias was subsequently able to dispose of Lochliboside and Hartfield through an Act of Parliament granted in 1757. As they were entailed, a condition of the sale was that any money raised would have to be used to purchase lands contiguous to Skelmorlie, to then be entailed in place of the original land. To satisfy this condition, she purchased the lands of Coilsfield from her husband, Alexander Montgomerie, and in November 1757 a new deed was drawn up by the couple entailing these lands together.

In June 1774, Lilias executed a further deed in favour of her eldest son Hugh Montgomerie, Esq, Captain in the 1st Regiment of Foot, granting him and his heirs the lands of “the vicarage teinds of Skelmorlie and Montgomerie, the ten pound land of old extent of Skelmorlie, the lands of Ormandsheugh” and the “lands and estate of Coilfield”. This was never entered into the Register of Tailzies, but Hugh Montgomerie (later to inherit the Earldom of Eglinton in 1796 from a third cousin), became infeft under it in June 1774, as confirmed in a sasine in August later that year. Hugh further obtained a charter in 1784, confirming the deed of 1757 regarding the purchase of Coilfield and the disposal of Lochliboside and Hartfield, which also reconfirmed the deed of 1774. He continued to live within Skelmorlie until his death in December 1819.

Hugh Montgomerie was succeeded as Earl of Eglinton by his grandson, Archibald, who inherited both the village and the main Skelmorlie estate. Upon considering the legality of his grandfather’s deed of 1774, which he deemed to be the creation of a new title separate to that described in the previous tailzie set down by Lilias Montgomerie, and as it had not been registered within the Register of Tailzies, he felt bold enough to be able to sell not just the land of Coilfield, in 1838, but also his lands in Skelmorlie in the following year.

As the lands were believed by others to have been entailed under the earlier tailzies, Hugh's actions were challenged but his judgement on the validity of the 1774 charter was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 1843, which decreed that the document's wording was broad enough to allow for acts of sale. It therefore agreed that he could dispose of the lands and that the profits from the sales did not have to be reinvested into the purchase of new lands. The land was effectively disentailed 5 years before a new act of parliament made such an action a lot easier.

So that's a wee bit on the shenanigans that could surround tailzies!

Some recommended reading on Skelmorlie's history and the above case:

ANON. (1791-99) The Parish of Largs, By a Friend to Statistical Enquiries, Sinclair, Sir John.

BELL, S. S. (1843) Cases Decided in the House of Lords on Appeal from the Courts of Scotland, Session of Parliament 1843, Vol. 2, The House of Lords.

DOW, R. J. (1842) The Parish of Largs, Presbytery of Greenock, Synod of Glasgow and Ayr, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London.

GROOME, F. H. (1882-84) Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland. Edinburgh, T. C. Jack.

PATERSON, J. (1852) History of the County of Ayr with a Genealogical Account of the families of Ayrshire.

SMART, W. (1968a) Skelmorlie: The Story of the Parish Consisting of Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay. The Skelmorlie and Wemyss Bay Community Centre.

NB: For more on the world of Scottish land and property inheritance, read my book Discover Scottish Land Records - available in print from or as an ebook from


No comments:

Post a Comment