What was new for the Glasgow farmer in 1863?

The Glasgow Agricultural Society was a major agricultural association in Scotland in the nineteenth century. Its show was a key part of the farming year and attracted considerable attention. The show included an implement department as well as the usual displays of cattle and other livestock. 

Accounts of the show reveal the names of some of the key makers of implements and machines for farmers in Glasgow and its hinterland. They also showed what was new and innovative. 

An account of the show from 1863, at a time when Scottish agriculture was prospering and the agricultural implement trade was increasing provides some highlight on the trade and the people involved in it. The North British Agriculturist writes: 

“The eleventh annual summer Exhibition of the Glasgow Agricultural Society commenced yesterday, in the cattle market. Today the live stock were placed, and the prizes awarded. The Show, on the whole, was equal to that of previous years, although the number of entries, both of implements and live stock, was rather under that of last year; but the general superiority of the implements and animals shown amply compensated for any falling off in the number of exhibitors. 

The implements were generally distinguished by simplicity of design, with excellent material and workmanship. Mr Gray, Uddingston, was the only exhibitor of thrashing machines and portable engines. The collection of implements from Uddingston reflect credit on their manufactory. Mr Jack, Ayr, showed mowers and reapers and combined machines, apparently well designed, with the parts carefully adjusted. Messrs Thomas Perry & Son, Glasgow, had an excellent collection-a reaping machine, a haymaker, hoes, harrows, corn-crushers, and straw cutters. Mr A W Dunn, Glasgow, showed the Buck eye combined reaping and mowing machine. Two excellent one horse carts were shown by Mr J. Angus, Parkhead, Glasgow. Mr Bradford, Manchester, exhibited an extensive collection of washing and wringing machines. P. & R. Fleming & Co., had a collection of cheese pressers, milk dishes, &c, and an improved three-toed steel potato hoe. Messrs Gordon & Winter, Ayr, showed an apparatus for the manufacturing of cheese; the milk is heated, and the curd broken up by the machine.

Mr T. Hunter, Maybole, had a very good collection of harrows, &c. Messrs Kemp. Murray & Nicholson, Stirling, showed two excellent reaping machines. Messrs Brown & Young. Stirling, exhibited an improved reaping machine, and a four wheeled dog cart. Messrs Law, Duncan & Co., Shuttleworth, exhibited a good collection of ploughs, grubbers, harrows &c. This firm also showed Hanson’s potato digger. Mr McKerrow, Kilmarnock, had a good collection of grubbers, ploughs &c. Messrs T. Pearson & Co., Glasgow, exhibited corn risk stands, rick covers &c. Mr John Richardson, Carlisle, exhibited his much prized fanners. Messrs Richmond & Chandler. Mancheser, showed a limited collection of chaff cutters, mills, and kneading machines. Mr John Robson, Glasgow, exhibited an extensive collection of troughs, pipes, drain tiles, and other articles constructed of fireclay-the whole excellent in quality. Messrs Gray, Smith & Co., Glasgow, exhibited one stable stall complete, the arrangements of which appeared to be good.

Mr A. Storie, Paisley, had a good collection of ploughs and harrows. Mr Tair, Mearns, showed ploughs and a drill grubber. Messrs J. & T. Young, Ayr, exhibited a guano pulveriser, a reaping machine, a drill drop sowing machine, cheese presses, &c. Mr George Finlayson, Arbroath, exhibited a broadcast sowing machine and a turnip sowing machine, both excellent. Messrs W. D. Young & Co., Glasgow, had a somewhat extensive collection, the principal articles being rick stands, rakes, hurdles, iron fencing, wire netting, &c, The show of implements although somewhat limited, was characterised by gentle usefulness, and most articles were offered at moderate prices.”

Readers will recognize some of the names like Jack of Maybole, P. & R. Fleming, Glasgow, T. Hunter, Maybole, Kemp, Murray & Nichoslon, Stirling, and Gray of Uddingston, all who continued in business until well through the twentieth century.

The photographs of the special display of horse-drawn implements and machines was taken at the Royal Highland Show, June 2019.


An old established ploughing match – at Currie

One local ploughing match that has been carried on for many years was held at Currie, Midlothian. A match was held in the Currie parish by 1840. By 1866 there was already a Currie Ploughing Society that held an annual match at various locations in the parish. It appeared to be a large match – and also a very competitive one. 

Accounts from the Scottish newspaper press give details of the matches, including the winners and the competitiveness of the match. It is interesting to note the names of winners from the same farms, even over a long period of time. 

Ploughing match, January 1840 (from the Caledonian mercury) 
On Friday the 17th inst., thirty three ploughs stated in two fields of lea at Ravelrig, in the parish of Currie, the property of Robert Davidson, Esq, who had very handsomely given to the tenant, Mr Robert Proudfoot, Gorgie Mains, a sum to be awarded as prizes. 

The ploughmen in Currie parish have long been held as excelling in their art, and in the present instance their character was well maintained by the remarkable straightness of the furrows, and the close observance to the depth and breadth of the furrow slices, as specified by the Judges. 
The Judges, Messrs Stevenson, Penman, and Proudfoot, after a very careful inspection of the work, awarded the prizes as follows, viz-
North Field – 1st prize, John Glendinning, Currie; 2d J Gardner, Cockburn; 3d William Sommerville, Shothead; 4th James Allan, Harley; 5th Edward Fleming, Riccarton Mains
South Field – 1st prize Andrew Anderson, Harley; 2d John Binnie, Cocklaw; 4th James Dunn, Malleny; 5th Thomas Cunningham, Kenleith.
The Judges, amd a few of Mr Proudfot’s other friends, afterwards dined at Gorgie Mains, and the party sent a most agreeable evening in discussing various important points connected with the agricultural improvements of the day. 

Ploughing match, December 1866 (from the Daily Review) 
Yesterday, the Currie Ploughing Society’s annual match took place in the Tomb Park, on the estate of Malleny, the property of Captain Scott. The park has been taken on a short lease by Mr A. G. Cunningham, tenant of the adjoining farm of Rosebank; formerly it was part of the home farm of Malleny, and as such came under the cultivation of one of the lords of the manor who was rather celebrated for the attention he gave to practical agriculture. The morning broke fair, and at the time announced for the beginning of the match that there were nearly two score of ploughmen with their ploughs in order, and horse in fine fettle, waiting the signal to start. Shortly after eight o’clock they broke ground, and continued steadily at work till dusk. In the forenoon the sky overcast, and it was feared that an fall of rain was about to spoil the pleasure of the proceedings, but the clouds drive past, and the afternoon turned out clear, calm, and genial. All the competitors wrought in the one field, which is about 40 acres in extent, and is situated between the eastern approach to the mansion house and the Water of Leith. On the west side of the park, along the water side, is a fine level holm in which about twenty five of the ploughs set to work, while an equal number turned out their lots on the terrace above it, near the avenue. The declivity which runs along the middle of the field was left untouched, and formed a fine promenade for the numerous visitors, who thence obtained a fine view of the busy teams on both side of them.

The land formed a very severe test for both men and horses, as it was lea which had lain untouched by the plough for upwards of twenty years. It was very full of moss, and tough to cut. Notwithstanding the difficulties they had to contend with, the ploughmen made on the average good work, the furs being well set up, cleanly cut, at equal distances from each other, and in lines almost perfectly straight. Some of the lots, as was to be expected where the number of competitors was so large, were rather coarsely done, and the furrows more or less crooked. These were the exception, however, and the fame of Currie as a ploughing parish has been well maintained in this competition. At noon, the workers ceased from labour and partook of refreshments, which were liberally provided by Mr Cunningham. Four o’clock was the finishing hour, but several of the ploughs had not got over their ground by that time, while others were finished before it. Each lot extended to about half a Scotch acre. The judges-Mr Ainlie, Hillend; Mr Elder, Bent, West Calder; Mr Stoddart, Glencorse, Penicuik-awarded the prizes as follows:-
1. James Gilbert, ploughman with Mr Jack, Riccarton Mains, 25s, and the Highland Society’s medal.
2. John Ballantine, with Mr Brown, Cockburnhill, 20s.
3. Alex Dunn, with Mr Davidson, Deanpark, 15s.
4. David Somerville, Shothead, a quarter of mutton, presented by Mr James Wales, Currie. 
5. John Baillie, with Mr Auld, Buteland, 10s.
6. David Cooper, with Mr Robertson, Harlaw, 5s.
7. James Dickson, with Mr Davidson, Deanpark, a whip, given by Mr West, saddler, Currie.
Prizes to ploughmen under 21 years of age
1. Edward Fleming, with Mr Somerville, Shothead, 10s.
2. Donald Bell, with Mr Brown, Currievale, 7s 6d
3. Robert Baldie, with Mr Brown, Cockburnshill, 2s 6d.
Special prizes – to the competing ploughman who has the largest number of children alive-A cart of coals, given by Mr Waterston, Currie, was won by James Watt, with Mr Dawson, Warriston. 

To the ploughman who has been longest in the services of one master was also gained by Mr James Watt, he having been 25 years and a half with Mr Dawson.
Shortly after the ploughing had been concluded Mr Dawson, Warriston, secretary to the society, called the ploughmen together in the vicinity of the field, and handed the principal prizes to the winners. No dissatisfaction with the arrangements, &c, if it was expressed, and hearty cheers were given for the judges, donors of the prizes, &c.
About thirty gentlemen, members of the society, afterwards dined together in Mrs Fergusson’s Inn. Mr Rowatt, late of Currievale, presided, while Mr Dawson officiated as croupier. Among those present were Mr Ainslie and Mr Stoddart, judges; Messrs Moffat, Kinleith; Jack, Riccarton Mains; Davidson, Deanpark; Robertson, Harlaw; Cunningham, Rosebank; Herbertson. West; Waterston &c. The usual loyal and patriotic toasts, success to the Currie Parish Ploughing Society, the health of the judges, and other toasts, were drank with all the honours, while the proceedings were enlivened by an occasional song.”

The photographs were taken at the Currie ploughing match in 1986.


New threshing plant

In January 1894 Robert G. Garvie announced that he had commenced his new business at Hardgate Iron Works, Aberdeen. Previously, for the last 17 years he had been the managing partner of Ben Reid & Co., Bon Accord Works. The Hardgate Iron Works were, according to him, “entirely new, and will, when finished, be fitted out with machinery of the most approved description.” He also planned to open a warehouse and showrooms at no. 13 Exchange Street. 

By the following year Robert G. Garvie was advertising his new patent turnip sowers, a new spring tooth cultivator, chain harrows, drill rollers, pumps, manure distributors and threshing machines. 

Readers of this page will be aware of Garvie’s threshing mills. These were both mills on wheels – the travelling mills that went round farms – as well as static ones built into a steading. Having a new threshing mill installed on a farm was a big occasion. Some newspapers even recorded the installation of a new mill at a farm steading. This could be accompanied by a ceremonial threshing of the first sheaf, sometimes by a significant family member, or even a party with neighbours and others. 

Newspapers in the Angus and Aberdeen areas recorded the erection of a number of new mills from the end of the First World War onwards. Here are some accounts. 

In February 1919 the Aberdeen press and journal recorded the installation of a new threshing plant at Rothienorman:
“Mr Legge, Mill of Blackford, Rothienorman, has just installed a new threshing plant. It consists of a small petrol and paraffin engine, 3hp, complete with magnetic, by Messrs Fairbanks and Morse. The mill is 21 inches wide, with semi-high speed drum, patent shakers and blast. There are also elevators for lifting the oats into sacks, fitted by Mr Legge himself. The plant was fitted by Mr Garvie, Aberdeen, and is very neat and efficient in working.” 

In October 1925, the Dundee courier recorded the installation of new threshing plant at an Aberfeldy farm: 
“An interesting event took place at Lundan Farm, Aberfeldy, tenanted by Mr James Thomson, when there was put in motion a new threshing plant that has just been installed by Messrs R. G. Garvie & Sons, Aberdeen. The mill is at 3 feet 6 inches high speed drum, while the shakers are of the double crank pattern. The grain, after passing through the fanners, is carried to the grain loft by an elevator, and the mill is driven by a Fairbanks Morse engine. The mill was found to work most satisfactorily.

In March 1934 the Dundee courier noted the installation of new threshing plant in the Glencarse district: 
“Up to date threshing plant has just been introduced at Inchyra Manor Farm, Glencarse, occupied by Messrs Alex and Albert Hutton. 
The straw carrier conveys the straw along the loft to the flakes around the cattle courts, depositing it at intervals during the process, while the chaff is taken by means of a blast to either of the courts, regulation being possible by the turning of a switch.
The grain may be conveyed to a new granary or to the corn-room as desired. The machinery is driven by a farm tractor, and last week a stack of seed oats was satisfactorily threshed by the new mill.
Only four men were required for the work, and the dressing of the grain was perfect. Mrs Albert Hutton fed the first sheaf.” 

In November 1935 the Dundee courier noted that a new mill had been installed in the Auchterran district . It recorded it as an “interesting event”: 
“An interesting event had taken place in the Auchterran district at Powguild Farm (Mr John Cunningham). 
In presence of a large number of friends and neighbouring farmers a new threshing mill was installed. 
A pleasing touch in the ceremony was the part played by Mr David Fair, of Ballinkirk, who was tenant of Powguild 50 years ago. Mr Fair put through the first load.
The new plant, which is driven by electric power, was built by Messrs R. G. Garvie & Sons, Aberdeen, and has a high-speed drum screen and straw and grain convergers.
After the installation Mr and Mrs Cunningham entertained the company.”


Contents of an implement maker’s premises in Monifieth, Perthshire, in 1857

Advertisments in newspapers are great for revealing a wealth of details about businesses that are not always found in other sources of evidence. Accounts of premises for sale, as well as roups, provide detailed lists of the contents of a business. These can provide evidence of the scale and operations of a business. They can also show the manufactures that were being made. 

In January 1856 the agricultural implement maker and blacksmith Alexander Young of Monifieth was retiring. He had arranged a public sale of the contents of his premises including his tools and implements that he had made. This shows that he had an extensive list of his manufactures including farm carts, ploughs, harrows, wooden rollers, land rollers, harrows etc – some of the “regular” implements that he was making and supplying for his customers.

The advert is worth quoting at length for the insights it can provide into his business: 

“Premises for sale
Dundee, Perth and Cupar advertiser, 23 January 1857
Monifieth sale.
Extensive dale of agricultural implements, and wrights’ and smithy tools, wood &c
There will be sold, by public roup, at Monifieth, on the premises belonging to, and occupied by, Alexander Young, agricultural implement maker and blacksmith there, on Wednesday the 28th and Thursday the 29th January curt,
The whole stock in trade, new implements, tools, &c, belonging to Mr Young, who is retiring from the business. The new implements consist of-
6 farm carts-complete;
7 corn and light carts;
1 water cart;
20 iron ploughs;
2 turnip sowing machines;
1 malleable iron land roller;
3 wood rollers;
6 two and three horse grubbers;
4 drill grubbers;
2 land pressers, with 6 presses each;
2 jankers, with wheels, 6 ½ and 5 ½ feet high;
8 brake of harrows; 
18 pairs of wheels and axles;
2 pairs of 6-inch broad wheels and axles;
1 weighing machine;
1 gig;
5 sets of polished draught chains;
4 pairs of bellows; and 
4 anvils; and 
a number of wheel barrows.
The wood consists of –about 20,000 feet of hardwood plank, well seasoned, from 1 ¼ to 6 inch thick;
70 pairs of cart wheel naves, turned;
300 gang spokes;
80 gang felloes; and 
A quantity of larch boards and planking.

The smithy and wrights’ tools consist of-smithy tools for eight forges, including bellows. Anvils, vices, turning lathes, hooping beds, punching machine, taps, dyes, and screw plates, beak irons, screwing stocks, iron rack; blowing fan for forges; cast iron troughs; iron beams and scales, &c. Wright’s benches; pump-boring tools; saws; castings, with wheel and pinion and other gearing for wind mill; castings for a corn crusher, &c &c.
Also, an excellent threshing mill; barn fanners and furniture; second hand jankers; grubber; grass and turnip machines; carts; wheels and axles; truck and paddock; grocer’s counter; 2 guns; a cow (nearly calving); sow (in pigs); hay; firewood; and other articles.
As the sale is extensive it will commence each day at ten o’clock forenoon.
The smithy and wrights’ tools will be sold on Wednesday, and the sale of the new implements and wood will commence at twelve o’clock on Thursday
Monifieth, 29th Dec. 1856.”

The photographs were taken at the Royal Highland Show, June 2019.


Labour saving developments – for ploughing

In each of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries we have seen a number of important innovations in the making of ploughs and in ploughing. These included James’ Small’s lightweight metal plough, based on the Rotherham plough, Thomas Pirie’s double furrow plough. There were also a variety of steam ploughing and cultivation systems. From America there were also chilled ploughs, including the Oliver. 

One of the Scottish agricultural implement makers, William Wallace of John Wallace and Sons, Glasgow, set out a number of key developments in ploughs in a talk to the Glasgow and West of Scotland Agricultural Discussion Society in early 1892 which was reported in the Linlithgowshire Gazette of 6 February. The company was a key player in importing the new Oliver ploughs, chilled ploughs, into Scotland – an important innovation in ploughing at that time. 

The article is worth quoting at length for the developments it records: 

“Lecturing on this subject before the Glasgow and West of Scotland Agricultural Discussion Society, Mr Wm Wallace, agricultural implement maker, Graeme Square, Glasgow, said-If there was any implement more than another we have come to look upon as being established as a standard implement, and one that was likely to escape the notice of the restless spirit of the inventor, that implement was our common iron plough, an implement that for nearly half a century had turned the furrows on the surface of mother earth, with such good results and satisfaction to all concerned, that it was not too much to expect that, out of respect for the services it has rendered, it would have been allowed to retain its position unmolested; but it appears our Yankee friends have no respect for ancient history. Whether that is on account of their great anxiety to create a new history completely American or not, I cannot tell; but certainly they have made such radical alterations on the appearance and principle of the plough that, when our common plough and American chilled plough are laid alongside each other, a person not initiated in agricultural matters could hardly suspect that they were to be applied to similar purposes. In the construction of our iron plough, the inventor appears to have centred all his ingenuity in designing a plough with a thorough substantial frame or body, and had little regard to the weight, the ease or simplicity, in which the wearing or duplicate parts could be replaced; and I would just here venture to remark that the frame of our Scotch iron plough, with forged coulter hole, solid sheathe, and double draught lugs, is just about as substantial and excellent a piece of smith work as it is possible to produce; and I question if any other country in the world could turn out such splendid workmanship at the extremely low price it is supplied to our farmers. In fact, I have heard American plough makers declare that they could not produce a similar plough for less than three times the price the plough is sold at in this country.

In designing his chilled plough, the American inventor seems to have gone on entirely opposite lines from the British maker, as the former appears to have expended very little thought on the body or frame of his plough, the beam being simply a straight piece of oak, and the handles oak or ash braced together in the most simple and inexpensive manner. When we come to examine the parts of the plough where wearing parts are attached, it is here we find that the American has applied all his skill, as every part of the plough that is subject to be speedily worn out is fixed in such an easy and simple manner, that they can at once be replaced by an ordinary farm labourer. No doubt the exigency of the American farmer demanded a plough constructed on these lines, as it was all-important to him that he should have a plough that could at once be repaired on the farm, he being so far removed from a manufacturing centre, while the easy access of our farmers to the village blacksmith made the easy repairing of ploughs of little or no consequence, as all the Scotch plough repairs are done by local blacksmiths. It is, however, when we cone to enquire into the merits of the common iron plough v the American chilled plough as labour saving implements, that the latter stands out prominently as the plough best suited for the times we live in; hence the reason it is fast superseding our heavy iron ploughs throughout the world.

The principal points of superiority claimed in the American plough are, first, lightness of plough itself, its weight about 1 1/2cwt, weight of common iron plough fully 2 cwt; second, lightness of draught; third, capability of doing about a half more work; fourth, ease of management. The draught of an American plough, turning furrow on lea land 13 inches broad by 6 inches deep, is 2cwt. Draught of an American plough, turning furrow 10 ½ inches by 7 inches, is 3 ¾ cwt. This draught test was made by Professor Jamieson during the winter of 1884-85 at the experimental farm of Glasterbury, in Aberdeenshire. For the following draught test I am indebted to my friend Mr John Speir, of Newton- American plough in sticky land furrow 13 inches by 8 ½ inches, 25 to 28lbs; iron plough in sticky land, furrow 10 inches by 8 ½ inches, 37 to 42 lbs. In potatoes or sandy soil, American plough, 23 lbs per inch; iron plough, 46lbs per inch; clay stubble land, furrow 9 inches deep, American plough 38 to 42 lbs; iron plough, 46 to 56 lbs; light land, ploughing 3 inches deep, 12 lbs per inch; iron plough, 17lbs. From these tests it is quite safe to assume that the chill plough is at least one-third lighter in draught than the iron plough, ie., chill plough will turn a furrow 14 inches broad by 8 inches or 9 inches deep with two horses, which would necessitate three horses in the common iron plough. Various reasons could be adduced for the light draught of the chilled plough, among these being lightness of plough, and plough so constructed that it cuts the furrow in such a way that it comes loosely on to the mould-board, which is of a concave instead of a convex shape, and furrow is quite naturally thrown over without any pressure or hugging of mould-board, as is done by furrow against mould-board on iron plough. This want of pressure also obviates the lateral thrust on landside, quite a source of increased draught in the iron plough.

The bright polish of chilled mould board is also a most important factor in producing light draught; and it is here that the Oliver chilled plough retains its supremacy over the many imitations that are now made; for, no doubt, a plough with a concave mould-board, unless well chilled and retaining its glassy surface, would add to, instead of decreasing, the draught. The use of a wheel or wheels also tends to lighten and steady the draught, while the ridge-and-furrow system of ploughing, at one tine so common over all Scotland, did not permit of its adoption with such advantages as on level land; but now that eep furrows are all but abolished, the wheels might with very great advantage to both men and horses, be used on our Scotch ploughs. The ease with which a chilled plough can be controlled by an unskilled ploughman is also a point of great importance, when skilled labour is now so valuable. While I think you will agree with me that it is impossible for any plough to be made so as to be universally adopted as the plough suited for all kinds and conditions of soil, still the American plough has been shown to possess advantages which justly allow of its being classed as one of the many laboursaving implements that can, with considerable advantage, be used by the British farmer; and its light draft, and thorough pulverising and breaking up of the furrow, and turning over and completely burying all weeds and surface grass, makes it specially suited for spring and fallow ploughing; and if this plough was not used for any other kind of work, it would well repay the outlay incurred in its purchase, as the spring time, above all other seasons in the year, us a time when farmers’ horses are hard wrought, and farm labourers are fully employed. Surely it is a great boon when a plough can be had that is one-third easier to draw, will do a third more work than common iron plough, and at same time be wrought by any unskilled lad that can handle horses. The result of the introduction of the American chilled plough into this country has been the almost total extinction of the double furrow plough, which was invented by Mr Pirie, Aberdeenshire, about 20 years ago. A large number of these ploughs were made and sold by different makers, and, when first put before the agricultural public, many thought it was a plough likely to come into general use but after a few years’ experience, it was found that, unless for very light land, the draught was too heavy, plough difficult to work and expensive to keep in repair; and the fact that it required a three-horse yoke all militated against it; and at the present time the sale of this plough us very limited.

Before passing from the subject of the plough, I wish to refer shortly to a special pattern of Scotch plough that has been very prominently before the farmer in the west of Scotland at our ploughing matches during the past dozen years or so. I allude to what is known as the “high-cut” plough, but what I, for want of a better or worse name, would call the “labour-giving” plough; as I unhesitatingly firm that this plough has not one redeeming feature to recommend it, unless it be the fact that its work, although it takes from eighteen to twenty-two hours to plough an imperial acre, is invariably awarded the first prize by the judges, and these gentlemen usually are practical agriculturists. The principles of this plough are directly antagonistic to those of the chilled plough, as it is difficult to make, difficult to keep and put in repair, does little work, cutting a furrow 6 inches broad by 8 or 9 inches deep, hard to hold, and can only be handled by a skilled ploughman. Some may feel inclined to blame the plough maker for introducing this plough; but no doubt the inventor, seeing the class of ploughing that judges at matches were gradually drifting into, was simply catering to supply the demand. The blame rests entirely on agricultural societies for consenting to allow prizes to be given to work that took man, horses, and plough twenty hours to plough an acre. In fact, I think the farmer who uses such a plough us hardly entitled to cry out about hard times. Had the rule laid down by the Highland Society, that ten hours be allowed to plough an imperial acre, been strictly adhered to, it would at once have prevented any retrogade movement in the direction indicated.”

The photos of horse ploughing were taken at the Scottish Ploughing Championships 2016, the steam ploughing engines at Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Rally, and the tractor ploughing at the Easter Ross ploughing match.


Revealing the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers through their obituaries

Obituaries can provide much information about the men and women behind the making of agricultural implements and machines, their businesses as well as their wider contributions to the communities in which they lived. We also get to read about their characters and sometimes their temperaments. 

We have looked out a number of obituaries from some of the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers. Some of them will be well-known to modern readers, others less so. 

The first maker is James Dewar, Coupar Angus. In October 1880 the Dundee advertiser records: 

“Fatal accident to Mr Dewar, implement makers, Coupar Angus
Mr James Dewar, well known throughout the country as an agricultural implement maker, died at his residence at Coupar Angus on Saturday from the effects of an accident sustained on Thursday. While in the act if holding a block of wood to a circular saw in his works, the saw caused the block to spring back and strike him on the abdomen. He was at once attended by Mr Lowe, but medical aid, unfortunately, proved to no av. ail. Mr Dewar was an active business man, and had from a comparatively small beginning developed a large and thriving trade in the manufacture of agricultural implements, large quantities of which he sent to England, and shipped to America, in the department beating the Americans on their own ground. Mr Dewar was an enthusiastic musician, and for many years acted as precentor in the Parish Church of Meigle. He was quiet and unobtrusive in character, and was much respected in Coupar Angus, where his death has caused a widespread feeling of regret. He was over forty years of age, and leaves a widow, for whom much sympathy is felt.”

A more well-known maker was John Kemp of Kemp & Nicholson, Stirling, which was known into the 1930s. The business was well-known for making implements for the harvest field including reapers, for which it had a world-wide reputation. The Dundee Courier records in August 1892: 

“Death of a well-known agricultural implement maker
Last evening Mr John Kemp, sole partner of the firm of Kemp & Nicholson, died, after a lingering illness, at his residence there. He was in his seventieth year. His firm gained wide celebrity about twenty-five years ago by their adaptation of and improvement of the American reaping machine. Mr Kemp was born at Drumphins Farm, Fowlis Wester, near Crieff, but spent the greater part of his life in Stirling, where he was a Town Councillor and Water Commissioner and merchant of the School Board for several years.” 

The first decade of the twentieth century saw the passing of a number of key makers whose businesses were well-known and well-established by this time. Some of their names were well to be well-known through the twentieth century. 

A well-known maker in the early twentieth century was Archibald Hunter, Maybole, who died in August 1907. The Kilmarnock Herald and North Ayrshire Gazette, recorded his passing in the following way: 

“Mr Archibald Hunter of the firm of Messrs Hunter & Sons, implement makers, Maybole, died last Friday afternoon, after a short illness, at his residence, Daisybank, Culzean Road, Maybole. Deceased, who was forty-eight years of age, had a wide connection and was a very familiar figure at all the principal agricultural shows held throughout England, Scotland and Ireland.” 

Another well-known maker was Alexander Newlands, formerly of north-east of Scotland and latterly of Linlithgow. He died in October 1907. The Linlithgowshire gazette, wrote on his passing: 
“Death of a well-known townsman
We have this week to record the death of Mr Alexander Newlands. Which occurred at his residence at his residence on Friday last after a short illness. Mr Newlands, who was in his 74th year, was a well-known citizen of the burgh, and had carried on business at the Low Port for many years. He was especially well-known amongst farmers and agriculturists of the district, amongst whom he had a high reputation for the making of agricultural implements of all kinds. Mr Newlands was of a retiring disposition, and was not in any way connected with public affairs. The funeral took place on Tuesday to Linlithgow Cemetery and was largely attended.”

Another noted implement maker who died in this decade was David Hally, Auchterarder. The Kinross-shire advertiser of 19 December 1908 provides invaluable information on his exporting activities and his reputation beyond the shores of Scotland. It is a reminder that the Scottish makers made and sold to the world and not just to Scotland: 

Death of a noted implement maker
The death took place at his residence at Ruthvenside, Auchterarder, on Tuesday last week, of Mr David Hally, blacksmith and agricultural implement maker. Born at Tullibardine in 1814, he had attained the remarkably long age of 94, and was probably the oldest man in the parish of Auchterarder. It is no less than 62 years since he started business at Ruthvenside, and for the most part of that time he has been actively associated with it. He regularly attended Crieff and Perth markets, and was well known among agriculturists, In Perth market especially he was reckoned to be, if not the oldest, then at least one of the oldest attending it. The firm of D. Hally and Son, which of late years had been carried on by Mr John Hally, the deceased’s son, hold a high reputation for making of ploughs, and for several years they consigned large numbers to Australia and Americas, as well as to Ireland and nearly all parts of Scotland. The deceased, who was a Free Mason, was oldest member of the local lodge. He was held in high esteem by the community and others with whom he came in contact, and his familiar figure will be much missed. On the occasion of his ninetieth birthday he was presented by Mrs Haldane with a silver-mounted walking stick as a token of esteem and regard from three generations at Cloan. The deceased’s remains were interred in Blackford Churchyard on Saturday.”

The photographs were taken at various rallies around Scotland.


Champion ploughing matches

From the mid nineteenth century a number of champion ploughing matches were held in Scotland. These were especially noted in the north-east. They were open to ploughmen who had won awards at earlier matches – hence the matches were matches of champions pitting their skills against one another.

By the 1900s some of these matches were large affairs and were well-attended. We present some accounts of champion matches from the north-east, and east at a time they were well-established: 

On 12 March 1900 the Aberdeen press and journal, 12 March 1900 recorded a champion ploughing match at Maryculter: 
“A ploughing match of a very interesting character took place on Saturday on a fine field behind the Mill Inn, at Maryculter, in the occupation of Mr Frank Kennedy. It was open only to ploughmen of the first rank, each of whom must have taken a first prize at a competition. There were 18 entries as compared with 28 at the match which was held in the same district at the corresponding period of last year. It was stated that the smaller number of competitors this year arose from the fact that there was an important match at Elgin, at which several had entered who would have been otherwise at Maryculter. The weather was very fine and eminently suitable for the occasion, and there was a very large attendance of spectators, many of them from Aberdeen and from the district round about. The ground was of fine equal light haugh loam. Some of the competitors had been accustomed to ploughing heavier land: but the general character of the work all over was excellent, and such as one might have expected from first rate ploughmen.

The work began at ten o’clock and finished at a quarter to four, each competitor being assigned a fourth of an acre. In the course of the day the ploughmen and committee were liberally entertained to refreshments by the able and obliging secretary. Mr Frank Kennedy, on whose farm the match took place, and at the close of the day’s work the judges and friends were entertained at dinner. The judges were Messrs Stewart, Newlands, Dunnottar; Mutch, Mountgatehead, Muchalls; and Leys, Heronley, Aboyne. The following is their award of the prizes, which consisted of gold and silver medals and money prizes:-Ploughing 1-(gold medal) Francis Middleton, Galindo House, Aboyne; 2 (silver medal) John Gibson, New Park, Newhills; 3. Peter Gammie, West Tilbouries, Maryculter; John Smith, Albert Bar, Woodside; 5. Alexander Beaton, jun, Milltimber, Peterculter; 6. Robert Wilson Woodside, Drum; 7. George Forrest, Kennerty, Peterculter; 8. John Grant, South Cookey, Fetteresso; 9. Robert Gilbert Shiel, Leochel; 10. John Watt, Robertson, Peterculter; 11. Angus Simpson, 23 Chatham Place, Aberdeen; 12. W. Watt, Rothnick, Fetteresso. Best feering-1. Francis Middleton, 2. Peter Kemp. First finish-Alexander Beaton; second finish-Francis Middleton. Finish and feering-F. Middleton.” 

From March 1922, the Aberdeen press and journal recorded the Scottish Champion Ploughing Match in Perthshire. Participants were drawn from a wide area of the country. They were watched by a large crowd of spectators: 

“In fine weather the Scottish champion ploughing match was held at the Haugh of Tullymet Farm, Ballinluig, Perthshire, yesterday. There was an entry of 37 ploughs, competitors hailing mainly from Inverness, Aberdeen, Forfar, and Perthshire. Two thousand spectators viewed the competition, which produced some notably fins work.
The leading prize winners were-1 (gold medal), James Macdonald, Milton of Kincraigie, Dunkeld; 2. Andrew Leekie, Monks’ Croft, Auchterarder; 3. Christopher Duncan, Ballinloan, Blair Atholl; 4. James Robertson, jun, Drummin, Tullymet, Ballinluig; 5. James McFarlane, bank of Lethendy, Meikleour; 6. James McFarlane, Croftenloan, Pitlochry.” 

The Aberdeen press and journal recorded a championship match at Aird and Strathglass, near Beauly, in early 1924. 

“The Aird and Strathglass championship match was held on Mr McWilliam’s farm, Culmill, near Beauly, on Saturday, and created much interest among agriculturists, as it was open to the counties of Inverness, Ross, and Nairn. Thirty-two ploughs turned out, and excellent work was done. Messrs Alick Munro, Leanach, Inverness; John Munro, Eathir, Cromarty; and John McGFarquhar, Cullicudden, acted as judges.
James Webster, Fleenans, Nairn, won the championship, and led in feering and finish. He was followed by William Ross, Clunes Mains, and Alexander Jack, Little burn, Munlochy.
In the local highcutters’ class John Cumming, Wester Curdrish, led, winning the Highland Society medal for the best ploughed rig, James Knox, Fanellan; Alexander McIntosh, Teawig; and Hugh Campbell, Bruiach, followed in the order named.
Colin Dingwall, Easter Lovat, led in the chills class, Donald Fraser, Belladrum, and Andrew McIntosh, Groam, following.

In the crofter class Colin Mcrae, Foxhole, led, followed by John Watson, Newtonhill.
Hugh Campbell, Bruiach had the best turnout and James Bremner, Teawig, was adjudged the best looking ploughman. John Campbell, Balintore, had the longest continuous service. 
The judges and committee were entertained to luncheon by Mr McWilliam, and Miss Cobban handed out the prizes, being introduced by Mr Donald Maclaren, convener. Mr John Campbell, secretary, made excellent arrangements.” 

Not only were the matches competitive affairs, but they were also very much social ones. Awards for the best looking ploughman or the ploughman with the largest family or the longest service had been in place for a number of decades.

The photographs were taken at the Scottish Ploughing Championships, 2016.


Fire! Fire! Fire!

A number of premises belonging to the Scottish agricultural implement makers went on fire. Some of the fires were very destructive with the complete loss of premises, or significantly affected production of manufactures. 

The accounts of the fires in the newspaper press sometimes include detailed accounts of the premises and the businesses which are not recorded elsewhere. These accounts are worth quoting at length for the insights they provide: 

The Dundee courier provided an account of the fire at the premises of William McFarlane, millwright at Weltown, near Coupar Angus in February 1880: 

“A fire occurred at Weltown of Balbrogie, near Coupar Angus, on Sunday morning, when the workshop of Mr William McFarlane, millwright and agricultural implement maker there, was entirely destroyed, along with a quantity of wood, tools, &c., belonging to Mr McFarlane and his workmen. The premises contained three engines in connection with the works, and an extensive business was carried on. Besides the fittings and tools in connection with the works, some four threshing mills and a number of other implements in for repairs and in course of construction, besides a great quantity of wood, were burned. The place was first observed to be on fire about 7.30am by Mr David Mitchell, farmer, Downham, who resides near by, and who promptly came and gave the alarm. The fire being observed by others of the neighbours, a number of willing hands were soon on the spot; but the building, being composed of wood, was soon burned to the ground. A wooden shed, containing implements of husbandry, narrowly escaped being burned. The fire is supposed to have been purely accidental, but how it originated is not certain. The loss is estimated at about £800, and is partially covered by insurance in the Sun Fire Insurance Office. “ 

A destructive fire affected the Cragshaw premises of Barclay, Ross, & Hutchison, agricultural implement makers, Aberdeen in May 1920. The Scotsman of 10 May, suggested that the cost of the fire amounted to between £6000 and £10,000. The Aberdeen press and journal provided a detailed account of the fire that provides detailed information about the company’s Cragshaw Works which were famous throughout the works – and not only in the north-east of Scotland: 

“Big fire at Aberdeen Implement Works
Destruction put at £6,000.
The Aberdeen City Fire Brigade were out three times on Saturday. Their first call was in the early morning to a destructive blaze at Craigshaw, just beyond the city boundary at Torry, damage being done to the premises and stock there of Messrs Barclay, Ross, and Hutchison, one of the best known firms of agricultural implement makers in Scotland, to the extent of about £6,000.
The Craigshaw outbreak was observed between two and three o’clock in the morning, and it was only after about five hours’ hard work on the part of the members of the Fire Brigade that the flames were got under. The premises, which are situated close to the railway line, consist of a large range of buildings, including a corrugated iron structure 168 feet long, 30 feet broad, and 14 feet high. And a stone and lime erection 100 feet long and 46 feet broad. The corrugated iron building was practically gutted, while the other, particularly at the south end, was badly damaged. The buildings included a millwright’s shop, stores, offices, blacksmith’s shop, engineer’s shop, dressed wood store, etc.
It is not known how the outbreak originated, but it is thought to have started in the paint shop. The signalman on duty in the railway cabin beside the railway bridge at Craigshaw was the first to observe the outbreak. He immediately telephoned for the fire brigade, which was promptly on the scheme, under Firemaster Inkster. By the time the brigade arrived, however, the flames were bursting through the roof of the corrugated iron building, and by three o’clock the erection was practically ablaze from end to end.

The firemen devote d their energies to preventing the flames from spreading to the stone and lime structure. They were successful in saving the north end, but at the other end, which adjoins the corrugated iron building, the flames did considerable damage. It was not until seven o’clock in the morning that all danger was past. Two telegraph standards were badly damaged.
The works at Craigshaw were the largest of their kind in the north of Scotland. Threshing mills, manure distributors, oil engines, and a variety of other agricultural machinery and implements which were being prepared for the exhibition in the showyard of the Highland and Agricultural Society at Aberdeen in July were destroyed. 
The damage is covered by insurance.” 

Barclay, Ross, and Hutchison also had a further fire at their premises in May 1838. This affected their Abbotswell Road premises. The Aberdeen press and journal provided a short account of the fire: 

“Spark from trade blamed for causing fire
Aberdeen Fire Brigade had to answer a call to the Abbotswell Road premises of Messrs Barclay, Ross and Hutchison, implement makers, shortly before 6 o’clock last night.
A signalman in a nearby railway cabin saw smoke coming from a wood store which adjoins the main south railway, and gave the alarm.
It is thought that a spark from a passing train had started the outbreak, which was soon under control. 
The damage is slight, a number of timber beams being charred and a small portion of the wall destroyed. “

Seems that fires can affect a business on more than one occasion.


A new premises at Greenbank, Blairgowrie, for J. Bisset & Sons in 1877

There are a small number of accounts of new premises of implement makers in the newspaper press. One of these relates to the erection of the works of J. Bisset & Sons, Blairgowrie, well-known for their reaping machines and potato diggers. The company had rapidly expanded in the 1860s and 1870s. It needed new premises to undertake its increased manufactures and extend its business. 

The Huntly Express provides a detailed account of the erection of Bisset’s new premises in May 1877. This also explains the advantages of the works over its existing premises. It is worth quoting at length: 

“New agricultural implement works at Blairgowrie
Messrs J. Bisset & Sons, the well-known manufacturers of reaping machines at Marlee, near Blairgowrie, have this spring been erecting extensive works at Greenbank, close on the west of the town. These new works, which have been started this week, form a conspicuous feature of the towns as approached from the Perth and Dunkeld Roads. The building is a handsome and substantial structure, 100 feet long by 75 feet wide, and has three roofs, each of 25 feet span, and supported on pillars. It is lighted entirely from the roof. 

Although at Marlee, where they have been established for over 40 years, the Messrs Bisset had premises where during summer they turned out four finished self-delivery reapers a-day, they were obliged to decline many orders for want of the means of executing them. The new premises will not only meet this want, but also save an immense amount of cartage to and from the station, and their proximity to the town will also be advantageous to the workmen, who will more easily find house accommodation here than at Marlee.

A visit to this spacious workshop will show that the firm, who confine their manufacture to reaping and mowing machines and potato-diggers, have brought to bear o their business improved machinery and mechanical skill such as have hitherto been employed only in the construction of the higher and more complicated classes of machinery. Eight forges on the south side of the works are supplied with wind from a fan-blast. Among the more noticeable machines to be seen in the works are a more powerful self-acting steam hammer, a punching and shearing machine which goes through a ¾ inch plate of iron as easily as if it were cutting putty, several heavy self-acting turning-lathes, a machine for planning iron drill machines, a tool-grinding machine of the most improved construction, besides circular saw benches, &c. Both inside and outside are to be immense quantities of the raw or partially-manufactured material, in the form of timber, metal castings, and iron and steel forgings. 

Such extensive and well-appointed works-which are certainly the finest agricultural works in Scotland-must be of great advantage to agriculturists throughout the country, and to this town, and will, we trust, be a source of profit and pleasure to this enterprising firm, whom we wish every success in this fresh start in a business which has already made the name of Blairgowrie familiar to agriculturists throughout the country.”

Did you ever visit Bisset’s new works at Greenbank?


Fire! Fire! Fire! at Shearer’s works, Turriff

A number of accounts of implement and machinery works record them being destroyed by fire. These can provide invaluable insights into the businesses and the buildings and implement works which are not recorded in other sources of evidence.

There are a number of accounts of a destructive fire that broke out at Shearer Brothers premises at Turriff, Aberdeenshire, in January 1901. 

The Buchan observer and East Aberdeenshire advertiser provides a detailed account of the fire: 

“About 6:15 on Tuesday night fire broke in the workshop belonging to Shearer Brothers, mill and implement makers, Turriff Station, carried on by Mr Eric J. Shearer. The cause of the fire is unknown. Immediately after the men had ceased work at 6 o’clock, Mr Shearer inspected the premises, and extinguished all the lights, and locked up for the night. Less than ten minutes afterwards, he saw from a window of the dwelling-house which is adjacent to the works a reflection of fire, and on returning to the workshop found it in flames. Owing to the inflammable nature of the building and materials, even in this short time the fire had taken so form a hold that it was impossible to enter this part of the workshop. He at once raised the alarm, and with the assistance of his nearest neighbour, Mr Smith, Northern Agricultural Company, several casks of paraffin and two hand threshing mills were removed. Messengers were at once despatched for the engine at the steam mills and for the one belonging to the burgh. Both of these were on the scene with the least possible delay, the former under the charge of Messrs A. Brown, agent, and Black, miller, and the burgh one under the charge of Captain Duthie, who was a member of the brigade and a number of willing hands. It was at once seen from the hold that the fire had attained, that the buildings, being mostly of wood, it was impossible to suppress the conflagration, but through the strenuous exertions of the burgh engine, the dwelling-house was saved on the one hand, and on the other the stores of Nisbet and Co., Banff, were protected by the engine from the mills. The fire was thereby confined to the workshops which were razed to the ground. In addition to the buildings a large quantity of valuable stock and plant was destroyed, including special machines for the manufacture of power threshers and valuable designs and plans and wood patterns. In all the total loss is estimated at about £10000, and is, it is understood, covered by insurance with the Caledonian Insurance Company, of which Mr John Anderson, Town and Country Bank, is agent. Only the day before a 6-horse power threshing machine, value £80, had fortunately been dispatched from the works. Mr Shearer has of late been busy, and had been employing extra hands to cope with his orders. He had six months’ work in hand, which included eight 6-jhorse power and 40 hand threshing machines. In addition to the loss sustained, Mr Shearer will be greatly inconvenienced in the execution of these orders. 

That fire was also recorded in the Aberdeen Press and Journal with the headline “Big fire at Turriff. Shearer’s mill works burned down”

Last night, shortly after six o’clock, fire broke out in the workshop belonging to Messrs Shearer Brothers, mill and implement makers, Turriff Station, and carried on by Mr Eric J. Shearer. The cause of the fire us unknown. Immediately after the men had ceased work at six o’clock, Mr Shearer inspected the premises, extinguished all the lights, and locked up for the night. In less than ten minutes afterwards he saw from a window of the dwelling-house, which is adjacent to the works, a reflection of fire, and on returning to the workshop, found it in flames. Owing to the inflammable nature of the buildings and materials, even in this short time the fire had taken so firm a hold that it was impossible to enter this part of the workshop. He at once raised the alarm, and with the assistance of his nearest neighbour-Mr Smith, Northern Agricultural Company-several casks of paraffin and two hand-threshing mills were removed. Messengers were at once despatched for the engine at the steam mills, as also for the one belonging to the burgh. Both of these were on the scene with the least possible delay, the former under the charge of Messrs A. Brown, agent, and Black, miller; and the burgh one under the charge of Captain Duthie, who was ably assisted by members of the brigade and a number of willing hands.
It was at once seen-the buildings being mostly of wood-it was impossible to suppress the fire; but through the strenuous exertions of the burgh engine, the dwelling-house was saved on the one side, and on the other the stores of Messrs Nesbit and Company, Banff, were protected by the engine from the flames. The fire was thereby confined to the workshops, which were totally destroyed.
In addition to the buildings, a large quantity of valuable stock and plant was destroyed, as also special machines for the manufacture if power threshers, and valuable designs, plans, and wood patterns. In all the total loss is estimated at about £1000, and is, we understand, covered by insurance with the Caledonian Insurance Company, of which Mr John Anderson, Town and County Bank, is agent in Turriff. Only the day previous a six-horse power thrashing machine, valure £80, had fortunately been despatched from the works. Mr Shearer has of late been busy, and had been employing extra hands to cope with his orders, he having six months’ work in hand, which included eight 6-horse power and 40 hand thrashing machines. In addition to the loss sustained, Mr Shearer will be greatly inconvenienced in the execution of these orders.” 

Shearer Brothers rebuilt its works at Maybank Works, Balmellie Street, Turriff, and continued its operations. It continued to make a range of manufactures, including threshing mills, until the early 1970s.