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Harvesting grain with the scythe in 1854

What was it like cutting the grain harvest in the mid-nineteenth century before reaping machines started to become adopted?

Harvesting tools and machines have had many significant changes in the last two centuries. In the mid-nineteenth century the scythe was seen as a more labour efficient way of cutting the grain crop over sickles. Today we think of cutting the crop by scythe as antiquated. However, even into the second half of the twentieth century that hand took still had its uses: for example opening fields for the binder or cutting out laid patches of crop. In the Western Isles it continued to be used as the main harvesting took on some farms until that time or later.

Henry Stephens, whose The Book of the Farm was revised and updated on a number of occasions from 1844 provides a detailed account of cutting the grain crop with the scythe in 1854. This is what he writes:

“Reaping with the scythe is a nice operation, and requires considerable skill. The scythes should be mounted and made fit for work some time before being wanted in the harvest-field. There should be a number of small articles always ready in the field in case of accident, the procuring of which wastes much time, when not at hand. These are, a small hammer for fastening the wedges of scythe-ferules and of rake-handles; bits of old sole-leather for bedding the tines of the scythes upon; pieces of cord for tying anything; small large-headed nails for fixing the stays to the end of the scythes; a large coarse file for rubbing down the turned-up point of a scythe, when it happens to come against a stone; a sharp knife for cutting bits of leather, and for removing any raggedness upon the rake or cradles.
The various forms of scythes are the cradle-scythe, the straight-sneded scythe, and that with the bend sned; and the greatest favourite amongst mowers is the cradle-scythe, because it is easiest to wield by the arms, and does not twist the lumber-region of the body so much as the 2 common scythes; and, I may remark, that it is the last effect which forms the greatest objection against the scythes in ordinary use. And yet it is not easy to see why the use of the cradle-scythe, which is borne by the arms alone, in front of the body, and which does not admit of being balanced in one hand like the other scythes, should be less fatiguing to work with; yet there is no doubt of the fact, and, on that account more work is done with it.
In commencing to cut a field of corn with the scythe, and that side should be chosen from which the corn happens to lie, if it be laid, and if not, then the side from which the wind blows. The scythe makes the lowest and evenest stubble across the ridges, and then also most easily passes over the open-furrows. Other things being favourable, it is best to begin at that side of a field which is on the left hand of the mowers. If all these conveniences cannot be conjoined, as many as can should be taken advantage of. The ground should have been rolled, and all large stones removed in spring, otherwise the scythes will run the risk of being injured in the face by stones, and even by clods.
I have already said, that reaping with the scythe is best executed by the mowers being in what is called heads, namely, a head of 3 scythesmen, 3 gatherers, 3 bandsters, and 1 man-raker, or of 2 scythes-men, 2 gatherers, 2 bandsters, and 1 woman-raker. On a large farm the heads may consist of the former, and on a small one of the latter number. The best opening that can be made of a field for scythe-work, is to mow along the ridge by the side of the fence, which is kept on the left hand, from the top to the bottom of the field: and while one head is doing this, let another mow along the bottom hedge-ridge, the whole length of the field, and this open up 2 of its sides. After this, the first head commences moving at the lowest corner of the standing corn, across 6 ridges, or 30 yards, which is as far as a scythe will cut corn with one sharping. Suppose all these preliminaries settled, the scythesman who is to take the lead first sharpens his scythe. In sharping a scythe for cutting corn, the scythe-stone has to be put frequently in requisition, for unless the edge is kept clean, the mowing will not only be not easy, but bad; and unless a scythesman can keep a keen edge on his scythe, he will never be a good mower, and will always feel the work fatiguing to him. The sharping should always be finished with the straik or strickle. The stone need not be used at every landing, the strickle answering that purpose; but whenever the scythe feels like a drag on the arms, the stone should be used. In mowing, it is the duty of the mower to lay the cut corn at right angles to his own line of motion, and the straws parallel to each other; and to maintain this essential requisite in corn-mowing, he should not swing his arms too far to the right in entering the sweep of his cut, for he will not be able to turn far enough towards the left, and will necessarily lay the swath short of the right angle; nor should he bring his arms too far round to the left, as he will lay the swath beyond the right angle; and, in either case, the straws will lie in the swath partly above each other, and with uneven ends, to put which even in the sheaf is waste of time. He should proceed straight forward, with a steady motion of arms and limbs, bearing the greatest part of the weight of the body on the right leg, which is kept slightly in advance. The sweep of the scythe will measure about 7 feet in length, and 14 or 15 inches in breadth. The woman gatherers follow by making a band, from the swath, and laying as much of the swath in it as will make a suitable sheaf. The gatherer is required to be an active person, and she will have as much to do as she can overtake. The bandster follows her, and binds the sheaves, and say 2 of the 3 bandsters, set the stooks together, so that a stook is easily made up amongst them; and in setting them, while crossing the ridges, they should be placed on the same ridge, to give the people who remove them with the cart the least trouble. Last of all comes the raker, who clears the ground between the stooks with his large rake, of all loose straws, and brings them to a bandster, who binds them together by themselves, and sets them in bundles behind the stooks. This is better than putting the rakings into the heart of a sheaf, where they will not thrash clean with the rest of the corn; and, moreover, as they may contain earth and small stones, and also inferior grain, from straws which may have fallen down before the mowing, it is better to thrash bundles of rakings by themselves”

It was quite a skill to work with the scythe!

The photographs were taken at Lanark Auction Market.

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The exhibition of agricultural implements and machines at the Highland Show in the Dumfries Show District between 1830 and 1910 – Part 2

Earlier in the week we started to look at the exhibition of agricultural implements at the Dumfries Show of the Highland Society from 1830 to 1910. Today, we will look at some of the implements and machines exhibited at that show.

The wide range of implements and machines exhibited at the Dumfries show were sometimes described in detail in reports on the show in the provincial newspapers and the agricultural press. In 1895 the North British Agriculturist commented that James Gordon had ‘an immense variety of ploughs, harrows, mowers, binders, weighing machines, measurers, grinding mills, chaff cutters, meat coolers, corn bins, and churns; in fact almost everything that is wanted on a well-appointed farm.’ Others had a more limited range, or only one type of implement or machine. For example, in 1860 Peter Anderson, Innermessan, Stranraer, had a two horse plough for general purposes.

The implement and machine makers had a range of trades that shaped their manufactures. The largest makers, usually located in foundries, manufactured a range of implements and machines from metal. They included ploughs, implements to prepare the seed bed, sowing machines (having both metal and wood), horse hoes, hay rakes, potato raisers, turnip cutters, sheep fodder racks, feeding troughs, barrows and field gates. Carts were made by general implement makers as well as specialist cartwrights. Other specialist activities included the making of dairy utensils and machinery, threshing mills and a range of barn machinery, including fanners and bruisers, which were made by makers with specific trades. For example, William James Kelly, Dumfries, who exhibited dairy implements at the 1910 show was in 1912 a dairy utensil manufacturer, ironmonger, and a tinplate worker and brazier. Thomas Turnbull, Dumfries, who exhibited a range of implements between 1870 and 1910, including threshing machines, was a millwright as well as a mechanical engineer, engineer and ironfounder and agricultural implement maker.

The exhibitors from the Dumfries show district largely focused on the manufacturing of implements and machines for specific tasks, especially ploughing, cultivating, sowing, and food processing and dairying. This focus is not surprising given the focus of the agriculture of south-west of Scotland on the rearing of livestock and dairying. They therefore manufactured (and exhibited) implements and machines that met the local needs of the farmer and agriculturist. Indeed, there were particular implements and designs of them associated with the region. For example, in 1895 Gavin Callander exhibited ‘two heavy grubbers of the Dumfries pattern’.

There was a distinct relationship between the Dumfries-shire made implements and machines and the county and region they were used in. Some makers expressed this through the trade names of their manufactures. Thomas Turnbull manufactured his ‘Dumfries’ broadcast sower for grain and grass from 1870. James B. A. McKinnell, Dumfries, had a ‘Dumfries’ grubber in 1878. Gordon & Coltart had a two and three horse ‘Dumfries’ grubber and ‘Galloway’ turnip cutter in 1886. In 1910, Eric Nicholson, Annan, made the ‘Annan’ oil engine in a series of four patterns.An important aspect of implement and machine making by exhibitors in the Dumfries show district was the manufacturing of turnip sowers. An analysis of the show catalogues (or Catalogue of Implements, Machines, and Other Articles) for the eight Dumfries shows between 1845 and 1910 reveals that they were exhibited by a total of 91 exhibitors. Those from the Dumfries show district were well represented, though their numbers fluctuated between shows; they had the smallest presence at the 1910 show. Of the 22 exhibitors from that show district, 19 exhibited a turnip sower at one show, while a further two did so at two shows; one exhibited at three shows. Before 1878 all of them exhibited machines that they had made. After that date six of them exhibited ones from other makers: in 1878 James Gordon and James Payne both exhibited machines from G. W. Murray & Co., Banff Foundry, Banff. Some exhibited machines made by local makers. In 1895 and 1910 Gavin Callander, Dumfries, exhibited a machine from James Gordon, Castle Douglas, as did Thomas Turnbull in 1910. In 1910 John Charlton & Sons, Dumfries, had one from Lillie & Co., Berwick on Tweed.

Another area of importance for a number of the implement and machine makers in the Dumfries show district was the making of dairy utensils and machines. They were included on 59 stands at 8 shows between 1845 and 1910. They comprised a wide range of utensils and machines, such as churning machines, curd mills, curd cutters, curd makers, milk pans, milk stirrers, milking pails, milk ripeners, milk coolers, milk cans, butter workers, butter churns (end over end, barrel, disc), whey drainers, cheese vats, cheese presses, refrigerators, measuring cans, and sundry small dairy utensils. The number of stands with them varied greatly from show to show. With the exception of the 1870 show, the Dumfries show district always supplied exhibitors of them to the Dumfries show. Most of these exhibitors exhibited at only one show, though John H. Ferguson, did so at two and John Gray, Stranraer, at three. By 1886 John Gray was ‘well known in the south of Scotland as a manufacturer of dairy requirements’. Most of them made their own utensils though some, including John McKerlie, exhibited ones made by other manufacturers such as D. Noble, Stranraer. In 1878 James Payne sold cheese presses from J. & T. Young, Ayr, a curd cutter from A. Pollock, Mauchline, Ayrshire, and barrel churns from R. Tinkler & Co., Penrith; all were leading makers. In 1910 Robert Armstrong exhibited sundry small dairy utensils and acted as an agent for one of the well-known English dairy and refrigerator makers, R. A. Lister & Co., Dursley.

The manufactures of the implement and machine makers in the Dumfries show district did not provide the full range of implements and machines that were required by the farmer and agriculturist in that show district. Especially as agriculture became increasingly mechanized from the mid nineteenth century onwards, these makers together with other businesses, such as ironmongers, were also selling a range of other implements and machines made by other manufacturers in order to provide a comprehensive range to the farmer and the agriculturist. They were able to become agents for some of the leading makers in England and America, and in doing so, introduced new technologies into the show district, such as chilled ploughs and reapers and mowers.

In 1895 the Glasgow herald summed up the character of the exhibitors in the implement yard of the Highland Show at Dumfries. It stated that:

“Although there are not many manufacturers in the immediate vicinity, makers in all parts of Scotland and England find it to their advantage to exhibit at Dumfries. In this respect its proximity to the Border is a further inducement to Southern firms to place their manufacturers on view.”

The character of the show districts and the geography of the show districts from one another, observed in relation to the Dumfries show district, was also noted in relation to the other show districts throughout Scotland. Large numbers of exhibitors from the Glasgow and Edinburgh show districts were found in their home show districts. For example, in 1882, some 74 of the 201 exhibitors at the Glasgow show were from that show district, while at the Edinburgh Show of 1899 some 24 of the 221 exhibitors were also from that show district. In 1893 some 34 of the 196 exhibitors at the Edinburgh show were from that show district. Other rural districts, notably Stirling, Inverness and Kelso, provided smaller numbers of exhibitors to their home show districts. For example, at the 1883 show at Inverness, some 17 of the 105 exhibitors were from that show district. At the 1900 Stirling show, 18 of the 176 exhibitors were from that show district. Geography was also an important factor for exhibitors from other show districts attending shows. For example, there were small numbers of exhibitors from both Edinburgh and Glasgow at the Inverness show in 1883 and 1911. There were also few exhibitors from Aberdeen at both the Kelso and Dumfries shows. Therefore, the Dumfries show reflected a number of wider patterns of exhibition that were also found in the other show districts.

The Scottish exhibitors were augmented by a growing number of ones from England, especially from 1870 onwards, though their numbers fluctuated from show to show. In Dumfries their number was higher than in most of the other show districts. As one observer noted, Dumfries was, ‘considering its situation and accessibility to implement makers on both sides of the Border’ an ‘attractive show location’. The number of English exhibitors was generally lowest in Inverness and Aberdeen, furthest from the Scottish Border and highest at the most important Scottish shows, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as those on the Scottish border.

While the exhibitors from the Dumfries Show District did not themselves manufacture all of the agricultural implements and machines used by farmers and agriculturists in that show district, they made an important contribution in making particular types of them while also selling ones from other makers throughout Scotland and further afield. An examination of the implements and machines exhibited at the Dumfries Show in 1886 shows the place occupied by these exhibitors in the supply of implements and machines in the Dumfries show district. The implements on the 130 stands (24 were held by exhibitors from the Dumfries show district and a further 64 from England could be classified into 71 different categories or types. Some of these were small, with only one or two exhibitors, though others had large numbers. For example, there were 15 exhibitors of steam engines, 16 exhibitors of root pulpers, slicers and cutters, or the 17 exhibitors of ploughs.

The exhibitors from the Dumfries show district exhibited implements and machines in 45 of the 71 categories. Those from the other show districts in Scotland were represented in 56 categories, while those from England were recorded in 46 of them.
The exhibitors from these three provenances – the Dumfries show district, the rest of Scotland, and England – played a number of roles in exhibiting their implements and machines. Some were the only exhibitors of particular types or categories of implements and machines. For example, there was one such exhibitor from the Dumfries show district, 10 for the rest of Scotland and 8 from England. The Dumfries exhibitor specialized in cream separators while the Scottish exhibitors did so in potato planters, rakes for attaching to reapers, rick and stack stands, hay or rick lifters, hay and straw barrows, hay loaders, saddle harrows, turnip thinners and water barrows. The English makers specialized in bone crushers and mills, butter washers and coolers, root washers, horse hoes, scythes, stone breakers, straw trussers, and traction and locomotive engines. The English makers were were-renowned for making these manufactures, and for which there were no makers in Scotland.

The character of the Dumfries show and the exhibitors of implements and machines was shaped by a number of factors. The first was the character of the Dumfries and Galloway region as a rural area with a focus on the rearing of livestock and dairying (before 1900 the show had strong exhibitions of Galloway cattle, there were only small displays of Aberdeen Angus and Shorthorns; it was the home district of the Ayrshire cow). As a rural area, it had a relatively modest manufacturing base, also reflected in the number of agricultural implement and machine makers, whose numbers were much smaller by comparison to other areas of Scotland, especially the Glasgow show district, with its heavy industries. Because of its location, close to the Scottish-English border, it was an important show district for the attendance of English agricultural implement and machine makers; their number was larger than in most of the other show districts, especially from the 1870s onwards.

As a result of these factors, the Dumfries show was characterized as having a small core of local exhibitors within the area of the show district augmented by significant numbers from other parts of Scotland and England. Two show districts each provided significant numbers, Glasgow and Edinburgh with the latter generally having half the number of the former district. The remaining districts in Scotland generally provided around twice the number of exhibitors to that of the Dumfries show district. Exhibitors from England comprised around three or four times the number of ones from the Dumfries show district. These exhibitors together with their exhibits, created a distinct show with its own character.

The exhibitors from the Dumfries show district ranged from small businesses to the most important agricultural implement and machine makers in the district. Some were renowned makers and were also well-known throughout Scotland, as also overseas where their manufactures were used. The basis of their exhibits were manufactures that reflected the character of the agriculture in the show district district. They included ploughs, cultivating implements and machines, turnip sowers and cutters, threshing machines, and dairy implements and machines. Their implements and machines were associated with the region through their trade names and the names of their makers. They were augmented by other manufactures from throughout Scotland and England, especially as agriculture became increasingly mechanized. The exhibitors from the Dumfries show district and their manufactures were therefore part, and a distinct part, of a wider tradition of agricultural implement and machine making throughout Scotland and also Britain, exhibited at the Highland Show.

The photographs were taken at the Dumfries vintage rally, 2014.

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A famous plough maker from Aberdeenshire (who came to the Lothians) – Alexander Newlands

North-east Scotland, and especially Aberdeenshire, is famous for its plough makers. Well, there’s George Sellar, Huntly, Thomas Pirie, Kinmundy and Robert Mitchell, Peterhead. And there is also Alexander Newlands of Inverurie. You will probably know the latter as Newlands of Linlithgow.

Alexander Newlands was born in 1834. He spent his early years working for George Sellar & Son, Huntly, “with whom he has had great experience” in general country work – “plough and other Agricultural Implement Making, and Horse-Shoeing”. In June 1860 he took over the stock in trade of William Crichton, blacksmith, Port Elphinstone. He did not stay in Port Elphinstone for long. By 1864 he had moved to Inverurie where he had set up shop at 43 High Street.

1868 was an important year for Alexander Newlands: it was the first one that he exhibited at the Highland Show which was being held in Aberdeen. He exhibited a two horse plough with steel mould and a ridging or drill plough, both of which he made himself.

Alexander was an ambitious and successful plough maker. He recognised that while there was a trade for his implements in the north-east, he could expand his business elsewhere. On 11 September 1880 he sold, by public sale, the property at 43 High Street. He took the ambitious step of moving to Linlithgow, the county town of West Lothian, to expand his business. In 1884 his son, also named Alexander, joined him in business, which became Alexander Newlands & Son, Provost Road, Linlithgow. The name of St Magdalene Engineering Works, is not recorded until around 1913.

From the 1880s onwards Alexander Newlands & Son specialised in the making of ploughs, grubbers and harrows. Later it ventured into horse rakes. In 1900 its manufactures included a two horse swing plough; medium drill plough with marker; baulking drill plough; combined drill and potato plough; one horse drill grubber; horse or drill hoe as a drill grubber; house or drill hoe as a ridging up plough; field grubber; diamond harrows; and drill scarifier.

The company was a progressive one. From 1884 when the young Alexander joined his father, it exhibited nearly every year at the Highland Show and advertised in the agricultural newspaper of the day, the North British Agriculturist. In later years advertising was also under taken in The Scottish Farmer.

Even after Alexander senior died in 1907 the company continued to be an innovative one. By 1914, it acted as an agent for McCormick and Bamford, and in 1919 was selling the Austin farm tractor. In the following year it became an incorporated company: Alexander Newlands & Sons Ltd. Two years later in 1922, it took the important step to participate in the famous exhibition of farm tractors and tractor implements arranged by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. In that year it also won a silver medal for its self-lift brake harrow at the Highland Show at Dumfries. In 1934 it exhibited as a new implement a cultivator and ridging attachment for tractors.

It was its ploughs that Newlands continued to be closely associated. In the 1950s and 1960s they couldn’t be beaten in the ploughing matches in the Lothians. Newlands carried away the prizes. Even the followers of Ransomes turned to Newlands.

Alexander Newlands & Sons Limited continued in business until 9 September 1986 when the company was dissolved.
Next time someone asks you to list the famous plough makers of Aberdeenshire, remember to include Alexander Newlands. He had a reputation that went far beyond the boundaries of the county of his birth.

The photograph of the Newlands name plate on a three furrow Newlands plough were taken at Farming Yesteryear, September 2014.

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What if? …. vintage agricultural machinery rallies were held two hundred years ago

What would vintage agricultural machinery rallies have looked like if they were held two hundred years ago?

Today our vintage agricultural machinery rallies look backwards to the implements and machines made and used in Scotland during the twentieth and the late nineteenth centuries.  They let us see how far our farming technologies have changed and the progress that has been made.  They also let us reminisce about past times and what it was like to work with the implements and machines that we see exhibited.  We connect our past and present experiences.

Two hundred years ago the farming community in Scotland was in a period of agricultural change and transformation, generally referred to as the “Agricultural Revolution”.  If there had been vintage agricultural machinery rallies held at that time – ploughing matches were starting to be held in a number of districts, and agricultural shows held – they would have also looked back to see the huge progress and changes that had been made to their implements and machines in the previous half century.  They would have also been able to identify a number of themes that are familiar to us today in our rally fields.

IMG_3725Back in 1815 the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement, based in London, with a Scottish President, Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, was nearing the completion of the most ambitious and arduous agricultural survey ever undertaken anywhere in the world: a survey of the agriculture in each of the counties in Britain.  This was the first national agricultural survey ever undertaken.  It was published in an extensive series of volumes generally known as the county agricultural surveys.

IMG3722Work on the county surveys had started back in 1793; a second
series of surveys, was started in 1795 and was to be completed in 1817.  Sir John Sinclair, also their initiator, had devised the project upon a systematic plan that ensured information was collected under common headings.  It allowed information from each county to be systematically analysed and provide an account of the agriculture at national levels in Britain and Scotland.  It also let information on agricultural progress in the leading and “improved” districts to be compared and contrasted with that of the less progressive ones and for ideas on agricultural “improvement” and progress to be disseminated.

The county agricultural surveys let us look at what would have been
exhibited at vintage agricultural machinery rallies 200 years ago, had they been held.

IMG5051The county surveyors were unanimous in noting the similarity of the
implements and machines used in the various farming districts throughout the country.  But they were also aware that on the ground the picture of what was used was much more complex.  What was actually used was shaped by a broad range of factors such as the character of the farming landscape, the character of the agricultural district (a progressive or a backward district), the character of the farmers (including their social status, wealth and reputation for farming), the size of their farms, and inclination to use new implements and machines.

The implements and machines could be set out in five different classes, as described by Robert Somerville writing of East Lothian in 1805:

1st. Implements for tillage, and preparing the land for seed, comprehending the different kinds of ploughs, harrows, rollers &c.

2nd. Implements for sowing, comprehending the different kinds of drilling machines.

3rd. Implements for weeding: these comprehended the horse-hoe, different kinds of hand-hoes, weed-hooks, &c.

4th. Implements for cutting down, and carrying the crop: these consist of the sickle, the scythe, and the different kinds of corn carts.

5th. Implements for separating the grain from the straw, and cleaning it for market: these consist of the flail, the thrashing machine, the fanners &c.[1]
IMG_5912The implements and machines in the five different classes varied from district to district, and had an impact on what could have been exhibited at a rally.  Some were widely used while others were uncommon or not used at all.  Thus, in Elgin in 1894 fanners and rollers had been “partially” introduced while in East Lothian in 1805 rollers were not “universally used”.[2]  In Renfrewshire in 1812 horse hoeing implements were “hardly known” as their operations were not general.[3]  The only drills used in Nairn and Moray in 1813 were for sowing turnips.

Implements were found only in some districts (and were “peculiar”
to them), while others were introduced from other ones.[4]  In Nairn and Moray ploughs had been introduced from Leith and Dundee.[5]  In Ross and Cromarty in 1810, “drill machines are used by some farmers from East Lothian, which settled in Easter Ross some years ago”.[6]  There were also regional variations in the detail of the implements and machines, and local designs developed.  In Galloway the “tradesmen in the county had copied the ploughs brought to ploughing matches from Roxburghshire, Berwickshire, Northumberland and other counties” and incorporated aspects of their designs into their local ones.[7]  Knowledge of local designs was important for disseminating new and better designs of implements and machines.

There was a broadening range of implements and machines to select IMG6347for exhibition.  As the surveyor for Nairn and Moray noted in 1813: “an enumeration of all the articles which are employed in the management of a farm would make a long list”.[8]  There was an increased use of carts, especially the single horse one, while an array of implements were introduced for the growing of the new crops in the “Agricultural Revolution”, notably turnips and potatoes: a broader range of drills, horse hoes, and double mould ploughs.  Threshing machines (“probably the most useful invention ever introduced into the mechanical part of farming”) were being introduced in increasing numbers throughout Scotland; they were also made in a wide array of designs.[9]

Newer technologies were used alongside older ones, and to varying extents.  This was especially noted in relation to ploughs, one of the most widely described implements by the surveyors who sometimes described them and their different uses in great detail.  A number of ploughs were used throughout the country.  In Dumfries in 1894 “the ploughs in general use are, the English plough, the old Scottish plough, and the Scottish plough with the English mould-board”.[10]  The modern plough of the day was Small’s plough, of James Small, Blackadder Mount, Berwickshire: “a very simple and efficient implement, of cheap construction, light draught, and easy management”.[11]  The oldest one was the old Scots plough, which in some districts such as Fife in 1800 “is now almost entirely gone into disuse, and its place supplied by a small light plough”.[12]  However, in others there was a continued need for it.  Thus, in Peebles in 1802, “the Scotch plough, of a light construction, is preferred for lands abounding in stones”.[13]  In Stirlingshire in 1812, it was still “in considerable repute. It answers well for tearing up a coarse and stoney soil”.[14]  The same comments were echoed by the surveyors in Tweedale in 1794 and West Lothian in 1811.  In the Western Isles and Highlands, there was also the cas crom, or crooked foot, a foot plough.

IMG_6345There was a broad range of animal power to assist in farming activities; these could be exhibited in various ways, just as we do today.  There was horse power as well as ox-power from cattle, or horse and ox power combined.  For the threshing mills there was also steam power as well as water power.

The implements and machines were made from a range of materials.
Wood was a predominant material.  It was used on the Scots plough, harrows, rollers (of beech or plane), and carts.  Rollers were also made of granite and whinstone, and sometimes of iron, though in Clydesdale in 1794 this had been “too dear for common husbandmen”.[15]  Iron was a material that was increasingly being used.  As the surveyor for Nairn and Moray notes in 1813; “there is, in short, more iron consumed now in a year, upon any farm of 100Woodenharrows -3 acres, that was used in agriculture 60 years ago, over the whole of this extensive survey, and the value at present of a single plough on such a farm would have then furnished the whole implements of every kind, which any one required”.[16]  Iron was also used for the working parts on wooden implements.  For example, iron teeth were becoming more common on harrows, and metal mouldboards on some wooden ploughs.

There were changes in the ways that implements and machines
were made and constructed.  Surveyors recognised that better designs had a beneficial impact on agriculture and would “facilitate, expedite, and render more perfect, the various necessary operations of husbandry”.[17]  The modern implements and machines demonstrated the appliance of engineering and mathematical principles.  They had better modes of construction.  In Elgin in 1794, ploughs were “improved” while harrows were “of the best construction.[18] ” In 1810 the surveyor of Ross and Cromarty observed that “all the implements used by our best farmers are made from the most approved models”.[19]  Favourable accounts like these contrast to those of earlier years: “about thirty years ago, IMG6348the implements of husbandry used here were of the very worst construction”.[20]  In Fife in 1800, the surveyor noted how “formerly the implements of husbandry were few, simple, and rudely constructed”.[21]  A similar comment was also made by the surveyor of Kincardineshire in 1795 who commented that some 30 or 40 years earlier they were “rude in their construction, and ill calculated for the due cultivation of the soil”.[22]  In Aberdeenshire there had been “a most rapid improvement in the construction of the implements of husbandry” used in the county.[23]  That surveyor added, “more things are greatly altered for the better”.[24]

Though the implements and machines that would have been
exhibited at a vintage agricultural machinery rally 200 years ago would have looked very different to the ones that we see today at our rallies, they would have demonstrated changes in the making and use of agricultural implements and machines during a key period of agricultural change in Scotland that was to shape our current agricultural landscape.

IMG5043They would have also highlighted themes such as the varying use of implements and machines from district to district (though Scotland’s regional agriculture did not emerge until through the nineteenth century); their increasing range over time; the use of older and newer technologies alongside one another; the use of local designs (look how many local ploughmakers there was in Scotland in the twentieth century); competing sources of power (steam versus gas versus oil); and the changing methods available to make implements and machines.

The implements that would have been exhibited would have included some of the ones that were starting to transform Scottish agriculture – such as James Small’s plough.  But they also included more traditional ones that were to be found in some parts of Scotland until well through the twentieth century when some wooden implements were still used on a number of farms.

Below are links to the county agricultural surveys that have been digitised on Google books.  Some of the surveyors provide detailed accounts of the implements and machines in their county, while others provide only short ones.

Enjoy exploring the Scottish agricultural implements and machines in the county agricultural surveys.

Aberdeenshire 1811    Argyll 1794    Argyll 1798   Angus 1813  Ayrshire 1811   Banffshire 1794   Banffshire 1812    Berwickshire 1794   Berwickshire 1808   Berwickshire 1813   Bute 1816  Caithness 1812   Caithness 1815   Central Highlands of Scotland 1794   Clydesdale 1794   Dumfries 1794   East Lothian 1805   East Lothian 1813   Elgin (Moray) 1794   Fife 1800   Hebrides 1811  Kincardineshire 1795   Kincardineshire 1810   Kincardineshire 1813   Kinross and Clackmannan 1814   Midlothian 1793  Inverness-shire 1808   Nairnshire 1794   Moray and Nairn 1813  Orkney 1814   Peeblesshire 1802   Perthshire-Southern 1794  Renfrewshire 1812   Ross and Cromarty 1810   Roxburghshire 1794   Roxburghshire 1798   Selkirkshire 1794   Selkirkshire 1798  Stirlingshire 1812   Sutherland 1812   Sutherland 1815   Tweedale 1794   West Lothian 1794   West Lothian 1811

For a comprehensive list of the county agricultural surveys see:

 The County Surveys of Great Britain 1793-1817: Exploring “Considered Digitisation”

The photographs of the wooden harrows, rollers and sower show the twentieth century antecedents of wooden implements used in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  They were taken at the Strathnairn vintage rally, 2013 and 2014 and the Scottish National Tractor Show, 2013.

References

All references are to the county agricultural surveys (see links above)

[1] East Lothian, 1805, p. 66.  [2] Elgin, 1894, p. 22, East Lothian, 1805, p. 66.  [3] Renfrewshire, 1812, p. 86.  [4] Angus, 2013, p. 257.[5] Nairn and Moray, 1813, p. 112.  [6] Ross and Cromarty, 1810, p. 146.  [7] Galloway, 1810, p. 100.  [8] Nairn and Moray, 1813, p. 128.[9] Peebles, 1802, p. 125.  [10] Dumfries, 1794, p. 41.  [11] Berwick, 1808. P. 150.  [12] Fife, 1800, p. 124.  [13] Peebles, 1802.  [14] Stirlingshire, 1812, p. 107.  [15] Clydesdale, 1794, p. 77.  [16] Nairn and Moray, 1813, pp. 109-10.  [17] Fife, 1800, p. 124.  [18] Elgin, 1794, p. 22.  [19] Ross and Cromarty, 1810, p. 147.  [20] Elgin, 1794, p. 21.  [21] Fife, 1800, p. 124.  [22] Kincardineshire, 1795, p. 322.  [23] Aberdeenshire, p. 211.  [24] Aberdeenshire, p. 212.

© 2015 Heather Holmes

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