The last time that steam ploughing was carried out in Perthshire was at the Morris Leslie vintage event at Balbeggie, Perthshire, at the weekend. Before that the county probably had not seen steam ploughing for at least a century. In Fife the contractor Sam Hird, originally from Kincardineshire, had purchased engines in 1925 and were amongst some of the last pairs in Scotland. Others were recorded in Ayrshire in 1925 for a couple of years. In East Lothian there continued to be some steam ploughing into the 1950s.
In Perthshire there was not a strong tradition of steam ploughing. Its practice can be traced back to the beneficial work of Lord Kinnaird of Rossie Priory who saw the benefit of it when it was becoming an economic proposition. He introduced it into his estates for the benefit of his tenants. The first engine he purchased was one in 1863 which was rebuilt three years later. He is also recorded as having purchased engines in 1872.
There were a small number of other farmers who worked with steam ploughing in the county: James Playfair of Coupar Angus in the early 1870s. That family was noted for its enterprise, and”business character”. There was also James Adamson of Blairgowre, in the mid 1860s.
The purchase of these engines and their arrival in the districts where they worked was noteworthy and attracted the attention of the local press. On 4 October 1872 the Dundee Courier noted that: “James Playfair esq of Isla Bank, having some time ago got one of the above machines from Messrs Fowler & Co, Leeds, it was on Tuesday for the first time put to work on a field in the Haughs. Being the first machine of the kind in this district, it attracted the attention of a goodly number of onlookers during the course of the day. The plough did its work very satisfactorily. The agriculturists who were present expressed themselves highly pleased with the quantity and quality of the work performed by the machine.”
Even in the early 1880s James Playfair continued to add to his steam ploughing tackle. He purchased a subsoiler which he could use for reclaiming land. In 1884 he purchased a grubber and an elevator from the recently defunct Kincardineshire Steam Ploughing Company Limited, the most successful steam ploughing company in Scotland.
While we do not know when Playfair’s tackle was sold, we do know that the last set of steam ploughing tackle in the county was sold in 1893. This was a set sold at a displenishing sale at Maggotland, adjoining Inchture Station, tenanted by Mr John Scott, formerly and for many years the manager to the late Lord Kinnaird. The Dundee courier records on 4 August 1893 that “a speciality of the sale was a set of steam tackle, specially adapted for carse farming. It was first offered in the sump, but the final offer being considered inadequate, it was decided to sell the material in lots, The engines brought from £27 to £31, and though the gearing, ploughs, harrows, grubbers &c were sold at low prices the lot brought more than double what was offered for them in the sump”.
Steam ploughing took a long time to return to Perthshire. The engine was Master, an 1918 John Fowler & Co (Leeds) Ltd engine, owned by the Cook family of Leven, Fife. This engine and its partner Mistress can be seen at the Scottish National Ploughing Championships at Bowhouse, St Monans, Fife, 26-27 October.
The photos were taken at the Morris Leslie vintage weekend, 20-21 September.
If you were a farmer in Perthshire or the surrounding counties from the 1930s to the early 1950s and you wanted to purchase a Caterpillar tractor you might have thought about purchasing one from L. O. Tractors Ltd of Perth.
L. O. Tractors of St Catherine’s Road, Perth, were already operating as an agricultural tractor distributor in 1938; they continued in business until at least the end of 1950. Local directories also record them in 1939 as an engineer, iron founder and millwright, as well as an agricultural tractor distributor. Their agencies included Caterpillar and John Deere.
In 1948 they exhibited at the Royal Highland Show a range of Caterpillar track type tractors, as well as equipment for them made by The Birtley Co. Ltd, Birtley, Co. Durham, tractors and agricultural machinery manufactured by Deere & Co., Moline, Illinois. They also sold the “Angus” single and double row potato diggers, also sold by Jack Olding & Co., Herts.
If you are looking through old issues of the North British Agriculturist and the Scottish Farmer, you might notice the distinct adverts of L. O. Tractors. The company was also one of the small number of advertisers in the Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. (http://archive.rhass.org.uk/…/transactions-of-rhass-…/610883) Powerful adverts to advertise powerful tractors!
American makers of harvesting machinery started to play an increasing role on the Scottish harvest field from the late 1860s. By the 1890s there were some large names present in the Scottish fields: W. A. Wood, New York, McCormick Harvesting Machine Co., Chicago, Plano Manufacturing Co. Chicago, Johnston Harvester Co., Batavia, New York, D. M. Osborne & Co., New York, Adriance, Platt & Co., New York, W. Deering & Co., Chicago. In the first decade of the twentieth century another name appeared: International Harvester Co.
Scottish makers of reapers and mowers started to sell American machines, usually binders, to augment or replace their own lines which were losing popularity. In the 1890s they included Thomas Brown & Sons, Duns, Auchinachie & Simpson, Keith, and Alexander Jack & Sons, Maybole. By the following decade they also included J. D. Allan & Sons, Dunkeld.
Some the Scottish makers had more than one dealership of American makers, sometimes changing over the years. Alexander Jack & Son, Maybole, had four between 1888 and 1910: Walter A. Wood (1888, 1891); Adriance, Platt & Co (1895, 1896, 1897); Deering Harvester Co., (1898, 1899, 1900); and McCormick (1901, 1902, 1904, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1910). The large maker and dealer A. & J. Main, Glasgow, had two between 1873 and 1910: Walter A. Wood (1873 to 1893) and William Deering & Co., Chicago, from 1894.
Some of the American companies had a small number of dealers. between 1897 and 1910 Adriance Platt & Co., had 8 dealers: they ranged from large businesses such as John Wallace & Sons, Graham Square, Glasgow in 1893-94 to small, localised ones, such as John Robertson, implement maker, Conon Bridge, Ross-shire in 1901. All were located in significant grain growing areas, or agricultural centres such as Errol, Stirling, Maybole, Lockerbie, Conon Bridge, Dundee, and Glasgow.
One of the more popular American companies was W. Deering & Co – Deering Harvester Co., Chicago. Between 1895 and 1910 it had 17 agents in Scotland. Perhaps the most important was A. & J. Main & Co., Ltd, Corn Exchange Buildings, Edinburgh, agent from 1894 to 1910. Andrew Pollock, Mauchline, was agent from at least 18897 to 1910. Alexander Jack & Son, Maybole, was agent from 1895 to 1900. A good number were agents for only short periods of time.
American makers of combine harvesters were to play an important role in the Scottish harvest field. They included Allis-Chalmers and McCormick. There are still a few of these “vintage” combines around. One of these is to be seen at the Strathnairn vintage rally, usually held at the end of September.
The photographs were taken at the Strathnairn Vinatge Rally, Daviot, September 2014.
Accounts of the Highland Show are helpful in describing in great detail the implements and machines that were available to the Scottish farmer in any particular year. Some of the older accounts were especially detailed. The national press carried extensive and detailed accounts. They were written by their agricultural correspondent who had a great deal of knowledge of agriculture and its implements and machines. They knew what was innovative, what developments had been made and what was of note for the Scottish farmer.
The following is an account of implements and machines at the Highland Show from the Scotsman in July 1875.
“The display of implements is the largest ever held under the auspices of the Society-the catalogues showing 2220 entries, as against 1344 at the last Glasgow show, 900 at Edinburgh in 1869, and 1161 at Inverness last year. Of novelties in agricultural machinery there are comparatively few; but many improvements are shown in the most important implements of husbandry, calculated to have an effect a saving in the wear and tear of horses, or to render the machines themselves more durable-both important matters, especially to the smaller class of farmers. A notable feature in the exhibition-and it is one which has been gradually but surely assuming large proportions-is the number, not only of American inventions for the saving of labour in the economy of the farm, but of other goods manufactured in America, and offered here at prices equally low with those of home construction. For a time this kind of competition was confined, for the most part, to reaping and mowing machinery, but now we find neatly and tastefully made haymakers, spades, turnip-slicers, &c, apparently of solid workmanship, offered at rates sometimes lower than those demanded by British manufacturers. On the present occasion, as in former shows, there are many articles exposed for inspection, and, we suppose, sale, which are connected with agriculture only in a remote degree. Such are the sausage-machines and sewing machines, the washing and golfering machines, and a score of other domestic knick-knacks, which command a large share of attention, especially from blooming country lasses and buxom matrons, expectant or actual mistresses of goodly “farm touns”. Fortunate exhibitors in the other sections of the show will no doubt find their account in making a selection from the elegant silver cups and medals displayed on the stand of Mr James Aitchison, Edinburgh, silversmith to the Society. The stand is an attractive one in every sense of the term, the valuable goods being disposed in ebony and gilt cases, with plate-glass fronts. The Auto-Pneumative Gas Machine Company exhibit a set of their apparatus for making gas. The machine consists of a cylinder, which is partly filled with the spirit called gasoline, distilled from mineral oil. In the interior is a pair of fanners, which draw in atmospheric air and thoroughly mix it with the vapour of the gasoline. The supply of the gas thus simply made being regulated by the consumption and by a system of weights which form the motive power in driving the fanners. The gas burns with great brilliancy, and has no offensive smell, and the apparatus, one would suppose, must prove a great boon in isolated farmhouses and mansions. Dobbie & Forbes, Glasgow, exhibit a series of new kitchen ranges; but of more interest to the bucolic mind are the very handy portable boilers for preparing and steaming feeding stuffs for cattle. These are built on light carriages, and can be run into stables and byres, thus effecting a great saving of labour at a time of the day when that will be most welcomed in a steading.
To the farmer now-adays artificial manures are an important matter for consideration, enabling him, as they do, to raise crops commensurate with the high rents demanded. Not the least important stand in the yard, therefore, to the enterprising agriculturalist, is that of W. & H. M. Goulding (Limited), Dublin and Cork. Here are displayed in neat cases specimens of bones in a variety of prepared forms, corn and grass manures, and superphosphate of lime, an element in the soil whose necessity for raising profitable crops is now being fully recognized. The raw materials from which these manures are manufactured are also shown; while specimens of agricultural produce grown with the assistance of the manures are tastefully arranged as a background to the cases. Among the latter samples are pease eight feet high from Dumbartonshire, wheat and oats six feet high from the Earl of Claremont’s farm at Castle Bellingham, Louth; mangolds from Lord James Butler’s farm at Drumcandra Castle; turnips from the Marquis of Bute’s home farm. A useful thing on all farms where so much iron-work is subjected to constant breakages is a handy forge; and the portable forges exhibited by Andrew Handyside & Co. (Limited), Glasgow and London, seem well adapted to casual work. The leading feature in the stand of Harrison, McGregor & Co., of Leigh, are the mowing and reaping machines. These show improvements in the shape of a malleable iron mowing shoe, with steel plate, which prevents wear in rough ground, and an arrangement for tipping the points of the fingers of the knife bar when these encounter stones. The same firm shows a large collection of chaff cutters and turnip slicers of neat and sound workmanship. James Henderson & Co., Glasgow, exhibit a large collection of waggonettes, landans, omnibuses, and broughams, fitted with patent spring balance and improved lever drags. Considering that by the recent heavy rains some crops must be considerably laid, farmers will examine with special interest an apparatus for lifting the corn to the reaping machines exhibited by Mr A. Hughes, Brampton Ash. This lifter being screwed on to the knife-bar and hung on a steel spring, raises the corn to the knife by means of steel pointed fingers. Glasgow may be considered the centre of an extensive dairy district; and accordingly the yard would have been incomplete without an exhibition of dairy utensils. Mr A. Jenkinson, Princes’ Street, Edinburgh, has, on one of the largest and most elegant stands in the yard, an assortment of tidy milk pans, coolers &c, in china and stone-ware. As a set off to these useful articles, he has arranged a series of handsome table decorations, in Minton, Worcester, Sevres, Chelsea, and Dresden china, comprising swans, cupids, and boats on mirror lakes.
But perhaps the most important part of the stand is that devoted to the exhibition of a new Scottish industry-the Valerie pottery made at Dunmore. This manufacture was established by the Earl of Dunmore on his estate about eighteen months ago, and during the past year a great advance has been made in the quality of the articles produced. In addition to the brown glazed ware which became so fashionable, they have succeeded in securing various fine tints of green and blue; while designs in the form of rustic baskets for flowers, tea sets for garden parties, &c, have been furnished by the Countess of Dunmore, who, with her noble husband, takes great interest in the pottery. Macnie & Baird, engineers, Stirling, exhibit, among other articles, a “feed water heater”, invented by Mr Robert Baird, which utilises the exhaust steam of an engine in heating the water up to 212 deg. Before it enters the boiler. The result, of course, would be a great economy in fuel. As regards extent of ground occupied, the stand of Francis Morton & Co. (Limited), Liverpool, is about the largest in the yard, and here are displayed specimens of the wire and bar fencing with which the name of that firm has been so largely identified. The novelties embrace an opening stile, consisting of two firm iron pillars, which, on touching a spring in the crown of one of them, fall apart so as to admit of the passage of one person at a time. Portable iron hay and corn barns deserve attention in this uncertain season, and so do corrugated iron tiles, for use on agricultural buildings where clay tiles are not made and slates are not to be had.
The principal new agricultural invention to be seen in the yard is Jurgenson’s weeder, exhibited by Ord & Maddison, Darlington. This machine is designed to destroy the weeds which grow amongst corn, such as the yellow mustard, which has proved so troublesome in some parts of the Lothians this year. It is just possible to destroy these weeds without injuring the crop, because the weeds arrive at maturity before the corn. Hitherto hand hoeing has been considered the only safe method. Mr Jurgenson’s invention consists of a horizontal cylindrical drum, hung upon two wheels much in the same way as a reaping-machine. Another new invention, exhibited by Penney & Co. (Limited), Lincoln, consists of an adjustable rotary corn-screen, with a metallic cleaner in lieu of a brush. Should this cleaner not bruise the grain, it can hardly fail to prove a great saving to farmers in dressing corn for the market or for seed. Mr John Richardson, Carlisle, has long been famous for his dressing appliances, and here he exhibits various patterns of improved winnowing and combined corn and seed-dressing machines. On the stand of John G. Rollins & Co., London, may be found an extensive assortment of American agricultural implements. A glance at these shows their extreme lightness combined with strength at all the wearing parts. The Hollingsorth horse rake, for instance, seems well worthy of notice. The machine has some twenty-five compound spring teeth, the upper parts of which play upon a spiral spring, thus preventing any strain on the machine when the teeth are caught upon a stone or stump. Then there are specimens of American hand rakes, hay and manure forks, and pumps of the most ingenious and simple construction. The thermometer churns afford a certain index to the dairymaid, in summer and winter, of the temperature of the milk to be churned, and guide her in adding to the outer casing cold or hot water, as the case may be, in order to bring the milk up to the proper degree of heat. Samuelson & Co., Banbury, have brought out a combined mower and reaper, specially adapted to the hilly land of Scotland, the improvement upon their old machine being a “leading wheel”, which bears the weight of the pole, and thus relieves the horses in going uphill. Mr Wm Sinton, Jedburgh, exhibits a large variety of his now well-known barrel churns, and Thomas & Taylor, Manchester, a collection of hexagon-eccentric churns.
In the section of “implements partly under cover” there are some fourteen stands, for the most part containing articles of a lighter description. Perhaps the most imposing display, numerically speaking, is that of Thomas Gibson & Son, Edinburgh. Variety is one of the chief features of this stand, which shows plain and ornamental wirework, iron gates of all descriptions, horse rakes and garden appurtenances. Those interested in matters pertaining to the laundry will find something attractive in the stand of Mr William McFarlane, Cambridge Street, Glasgow. Here are wringing machines, with improvements for preventing injury to the clothes; while mangles presenting some new features are also shown. The well-known northern makers, G. W, Murray & Company, Banff, have, as usual, a large display of ploughs and reaping machines. In addition to these, their stand presents a novelty in the shape of threshers which can either be worked by horse power or by hand, and which seem likely to prove useful machines. This firm also has a new chain pump for horse power, which appears capable of advantageously lifting large quantities of water, and which we believe is being successfully used on the Nile for irrigation purposes. It is in chaff cutters that Messrs Picksley, Sims & Co (limited), Lancashire, present a novelty. These machines differ from the kind now generally in use, in so far as they are fitted with patent recessed side plates and solid rollers, and double-cut and reverse-motion gear, while the feed is regulated by springs instead of lever weights. A well contrived double-action hay-making machine is shown by Mr Adam L. Pringle, Edinburgh and Kelso. This is the patent of Joseph le Butt, and comprises a slow and fast motion, so that it can be used for long and short grass, while it can also be lowered for the spreading of dung. Richmond & Chandler, Salford, Manchester, have a number of chaff-cutters, varying in size from the small hand machine to such as can be driven by horse or steam power. Articles for the culinary department abound in the collection of Smith & Wellstood, Glasgow, London and Dublin, along with farm boilers and kitchen ranges of the most recent construction. This firm exhibits a new patent pressure water heater capable of being connected to the kitchen range, or other boiler, for supplying warm water throughout the house for bath and other purposes.
As might be expected, the “implements not under cover” occupy a large proportion of the ground. At the stand occupied by Richard Bickerton & Sons, Berwick on Tweed, several reapers and mowers, with some features of novelty, are to be found. There is also a machine for the thinning of double drills or turnips. It is worked by a small wheel to which are attached a couple of suspended arms, intended to move from left to right across the top of the drills. A conspicuous display of fire-clay goods and drain-pipes is exhibited by Robert Brown & Son, Paisley, besides a variety of other implements, Mr James P. Cathcart, Ayr and Glasgow, shows a one-horse combined mower and reaper, made by W. A. Wood. This machine, which gained the first prize at Renfrew a few days ago, is of strong and simple construction, and seems well adapted for small farms. Prominent in the collection of Mr Willaim Craig, Old Meldrum, is a self-side delivery reaper, the invention of Mr G. T. Yull. The main wheel of the machine shows no gearing or spur wheel; the bevel pinion is separately placed on the inside, driving the rakes direct, as well as securing a horizontal throw of the knife, and avoiding all jolting and knocking, while the ears are prevented from being cut off, and the height is regulated by the driver. Something like a couple of hundred garden and farm appliances, all of them more or less known, are exhibited by P. & R. Fleming & Co., Argyll Street, Glasgow. The two firms of George Gray & Co., and John Gray & Co., Uddingston, are, as usual, large exhibitors of ploughs, grubbers, harrows &c. Attention is invited by Haughton & Thompson, Carlisle, to several improvements on their mowers, reapers, and rakes. Mr Charles hay, North Merchiston House, Edinburgh, shows a potato planter and digger, which are both new and ingenious in design. In the stand adjoining, Richard Hornby & Sons, Ironworks, Grantham, have a number of self-raking reaping machines, ploughs &c. Mr Wm Hume, Buchanan Street, Glasgow, occupies a considerable space with iron and wire fencing, ornamental iron fencing, &c. Mr Thomas Hunter, Maybole, shows numerous double-drill turnip thinning machines, potato digger, land rollers, turnip cleaners, brake and zig zag harrows &c in addition to a new turnip-lifting machine, which appears to possess some advantages over the ordinary implement.
In the collection of Alex Jack & Sons, Maybole, is a self-acting side-delivery reaper, which has been improved by making the platform more convenient for traveling. The stand presents a variety of useful agricultural implements, amongst which figure largely the “Buckeye” combined reaping and mowing machine, and Messr Jack also show a rather nice cart, spring van, and light lorry. Murray & Nicholson, Stirling, come next with a somewhat similar collection, embracing, among other things, an improvement which has bee made on their “Waverley” reaper and mower. Mr William Lillie, Tweedmouth, Berick on Tweed, shows two improved “Imperial” reaping and mowing machines, and a horse grubber and hay collector, as also a newly-invented “disc” harrow and a “disc” turnip sower. Logan & Elder, Tweedside Implement Works, Berwick on Tweed, exhibit their reaping and mowing machines with patent spring washers for taking shake off nuts; also a very good double drill turnip and mangold sower, which differs from most other machines of the kind in the mode of delivering the seed, and is adapted to sow eight different quantities of turnip seed, besides rape, mangold, and carrots. Geo McCartney & Co., Cumnock, have a neat double-sole cheese press, with screw and screw wheels, a lever with index, and a friction strap to prevent breakage. On the next stand we encounter a new portable automatic hay drier, invented and made by Mr W. A. Gibbs, and shown by Mr henry Macdowall, yr, of Garthland, Lochwinnoch. The hay is placed in the opposite end of the drier in a furnace for heating air, which is carried up through a duct in the centre. The hay is placed at the opposite end from the furnace, and by means of forks and an oscilating floor it moves along the whole length of the dryer, receiving in its way the benefit of the heated air which is allowed to escape from the central duct. The dryer can be worked either by an engine or a pair of horses. A large variety of useful and ornamental fencing, in wire, is shown by A. & J. Main & Co., Scott Street. Port Dundas, Glasgow, as also a self-delivery reaper, horse rakes, double furrow plough, corn mill, &c. Robert Mitchell & Son, Peterhead, exhibit a turnip drill-sowing machine, which possesses the advantage that it distributes an equal quantity of seed, whether the boxes be full or nearly empty. It is of slight construction, and suitable for light land. The same firm also show a newly invented corn drill, eight feet wide, which sows with four, six, and eight inches between the rows. Mr Jas Pattison, Darnley Mill, Hurlet, Glasgow, has two simple but ingenious articles, the one a sleigh for collecting, building, carrying, and discharging ricks of hay, and the other a wagon to carry and deliver loads of hay without the use of the fork or the necessity of upsetting the load.
Robert Peddie & Co., Tynecastle Ironworks, Edinburgh, have a miscellaneous collection, including park and field gates and pillars in wrought iron, harrows, ploughs, turnip-sowers &c; while T. Pirie & Co., Kinmundy, Longside, Aberdeenshire, show some novelties in self-delivery reaping machines and mowers and reapers; also a three-horse grubber, with twisted cast-steel breasts to prevent choking, and an adjustable turnip thinner. Ben Reid & Co., Bon Accord Works, Aberdeen, in a large collection of articles, exhibit the well-known “Kirby” mowing and reaping machine, comprising the Kirby self-delivery combined machine. These machines are peculiar in construction, being formed of two independent frames, one of which acts upon the other freely, giving an easy motion over rough ground. Mr John Scoular, Crook Implement Works, Stirling, has several brake harrows, the advantage of which consists in their diagonal shape, each time cutting its own rut. Geo. Sellar & Son, Huntly, have a goodly assortment of useful implements, including a rather ingenious five-furrow stripper, which saves both time and labour, and which gained a medal at the Aberdeen Show on Thursday last. Eglinton Engine Works, Glasgow, send a number of cart, platform, and sack weighing machines; while Somerville & Morrison, exhibit waterproof covers, roof felting, packing tarpaulin, &c. P. & W. McLellan, Glasgow, show three improved rock drilling machines, which appear to be not only portable but ingenious and useful; and Mr Marsden, Soho Foundry, Leeds, exhibits two of Blake Marsden’s stone-breakers, mounted on wheels, besides a double-action lever machine for hand power. Robey & Co., Lincoln, show several engines, noticeably amongst which is a twelve horse power double cylinder horizontal engine and locomotive boiler combined, with an enlarged fire box for burning sawdust and refuse wood.”
It is hard to believe that in the mid nineteenth century hand tools were most commonly used to cut the grain crop. The sickle was an ancient tool that was the precursor to the scythe, another hand tool.
There was considerable debate around the use of sickles and scythes as labour efficient and labour saving tools. The sickle had one great advantage: it was easier for women to use and allowed farmers and others to employ them as well as men in cutting and gathering the crop. Women’s wages were also considerably lower than those given to male workers at the harvest. The cost of the harvest could be much reduced where women were employed.
Henry Stephens, the well-known agricultural writer, gives a full description of the sickle and its use in The Book of the Farm in 1854. This is what he says about it:
“The sickle is a very simple, but, at the same time, so far as it goes, a very efficient instrument. It is employed in various states, not differing much in the general form, though exhibiting marked differences in the detail; but those varieties are confined under two very distinct forms, the toothed and the smooth-edged sickles. The blade of the common toothed sickle, is principally made of iron, but with an edging of steel; the teeth are formed by striking with a chisel and hammer, in the manner of file-cutting, the cutting-edge being only on the lower side; but when the blade has been bent to the proper form, tempered, and ground on the smooth side, the serratures are brought prominently out on the edge of the blade; and as the striking of the teeth is performed in a position oblique to the edge of the blade, at an angle of about 70 degrees, the serratures on the edge acquire what is called a hook towards the helve, thus causing the instrument to cut keenly in that direction, when drawn through the standing corn. When the blade has been thus finished, a wooden helve of the simplest form is fitted upon the pointed tne formed at its root for that purpose. The toothed sickle is made with various degrees of curvature and of weight, but chiefly as represented in the figure, and it has been the subject of several patents, chiefly depending on the formation of the blade. One of these is only of two or three years’ standing, and promises to be an important one. Messrs Sorby and Son, of Sheffield, are the patentees; and the principle upon which their patent is based, is a blade of rolled cut-steel swedged into a form that gives a sufficient degree of stiffness to the blade, without the increase of weight that accompanies the thick-backed or the other patent ribbed-back sickles. In the new patent, the advantage of a small quantity of the very best material-cast steel-is combined with extreme lightness and a due degree of strength and stiffness, the latter arising from the swedged or moulded back. The smooth-edged sickle, or scythe-hook, as sometimes called, differs from the former in being broader in the blade, and longer withal, but in curvature it resembles the former; and its chief difference lies in being ground on both sides, to form a fine and thin sharp edge. Like the toothed sickle, the blade has undergone various improvements; and Mr Sorby’s cast-steel swedged-blade is also extended to the smooth-edged sickle. In the formation of the sickle, the curvature of the blade is a point of more importance than to a careless observer may appear; and though the ordinary reaper is seldom qualified to judge in this matter, he may feel pleased to be informed, that there is a certain curvature that will give to the muscles of his right arm the least possible cause for exertion, while there are other curves that, if given to the blade of the sickle, would cause hi to expend to expend a great amount of unnecessary exertion in the arm, and a consequent unnecessary fatigue would follow. The smooth-edged sickle has a curvature approaching very near to that which, in this instrument, may be termed the curve of least exertion; and throughout that portion of the sickle that performs the cutting process, it possesses this peculiar property, from the following circumstance, that lines diverging from the centre of the handle of the sickle, and intersecting the curve of the cutting-edge, all the diverging lines will form equal angles with the tangents to the curve at the points of intersection. This property gives to the cutting-edge a uniform tendency to cut at every point in its length, without any other exertion than a direct pull upon the helve; were the curvature less at any point, a pressure of the hand would be required to keep the edge to the work, and were the curvature greater at any point, or on the whole, the exertion to make the cut would be greater, as it would then become more direct, instead of the oblique drawing or sawing cut, which, in all cases, is the most effective, and productive of least resistance. A mode of using the smooth-edged sickle has of late years come into some repute, known in Scotland by the provincial term dinging-in (striking-in). In this process the sickle is not drawn through the straw, but is truck against it, somewhat in the manner of using a scythe; indeed, the practice originated in the attempt that was made some years ago to introduce the Hainault scythe in the harvest operations of this country, but without success. In the (dinging-in) practice, the left hand is employed, with it back towards the right, in slightly bending down the grain, and holding it to the blow of the sickle. A man practiced in this mode of working will do one-half more work than is usually done in the common way; but the stubble is left regular, and, except by very expert hands, there is a want of tidiness in the process. It is obvious that this is the same mode of cutting corn as bagging.”
Have you seen sickles used for cutting the grain crop?
The mechanisation of the grain harvest transformed the way the crop was crop was cut and handled in the nineteenth century. Binders with self-knotting devices were to play an important role in harvesting the grain crop in Scotland until the arrival of the combine harvester and its gradual adoption and use.
There are a number of accounts of the invention and development of the reaping machine. An informative one is found in Henry Stephen’s The Book of the Farm of 1908. It is worth quoting at length:
“In all parts of the United Kingdom, and on all farms of any considerable size, the reaping-machine has superseded the slower and older appliances for cutting down the corn crops. Although it did not come into extensive use until the middle of the nineteenth century, the reaping machine is by no means a modern invention, it is indeed much older than generally believed. It is known that before the advent of the nineteenth century several attempts had been made to devise a workable reaping-machine. No authentic information has come down to us as to the actual structure of these abortive machines. But soon after the commencement of the nineteenth century, when agricultural improvements were making progress in every direction, and in particular by the extension of the use of improved machinery to the various branches of farming, active attention was successfully devoted to the invention of a reaping-machine. With the object of stimulating inventors, agricultural societies offered premiums, and we know that within the first twenty-five years of the century nearly a score of reaping-machines, less or more distinct in pattern, and invented by different men, were introduced into public notice in England and Scotland.
The principal of these machines were designed by Boyce, Plunket (London), Gladstone (1806, Castle Douglas), Salmon (Woburn), Smith (1812, Deanston), Scott (1815, Ormiston, East Lothian), Mann (1820, Raby, Cumberland), and Ogle and brown (1822, Alnwick). It is believed that not one of the early reapers mentioned was ever worked throughout a harvest. Even Smith’s and Mann’s machines, which were the most perfect, do not appear to have been worked beyond a few hours consecutively. Their actual capabilities, therefore, seem never to have been properly tested.
Bell’s reaping machine- the year 1826 may be held as an era in the history of the reaping-machine, by the invention, and the perfecting as well, of the first really effective mechanical reaper. This invention is due to the Rev Patrick Bell, minister of the parish of Carmylie in Forfarshire. The principle on which its cutting operation acts is that of a series of clipping shears. When the machine had been completed, Mr bell brought it before the Highland and Agricultural Society, who appointed a committee of its members to inspect its operation in the field, and to report. The trials and the report being favourable, the Society awarded the sum of £5 0 to Mr Bell for his invention, and a correct working-model of the machine was subsequently placed in the Society’s Museum-the model, on the closing of that Museum, having been deposited in what is now the Royal Scottish Museum, Chambers Street, Edinburgh. The invention shortly worked its way to a considerable extent in Forfarshire. In 1834 there were several machines which did their work in a very satisfactory manner. Dundee appears to have been the principal seat of their manufacture, and from thence they were sent to various parts of the country. It is known, also, that four of the machines were sent to the United States of America; and this circumstance renders it highly probable that they became the models from which te numerous so-called inventions of the American reapers have since sprung. At the great fair or exhibition held at New York in 1851, not fewer than six reapers were exhibited, all by different hands, and each claiming to be a special invention; yet, in all of them, the principal feature-the cutting apparatus-bears the strongest evidence of having been copied from Bell’s machine.
Construction-the machine was worked by two horses pushing it before them by means of the pole to which they were yoked by the common draught-bar. In the process of working this machine, Mr Bell’s practice was to employ one man driving and conducting the machine; eight women to collect the corn into sheaves, and to make bands for these sheaves; four men to bind the sheaves, and two men to set the sheaves up in stooks-in all fourteen labourers, beside the driver and the horses. The work performed averaged 12 imperial acres per day. These data were obtained from fourteen years’ experience of the machine, and are therefore reliable. The expense in money for reaping by this machine about 1835 averaged 3s 6d an acre, including the expense of food to the workers. This, in round numbers, was a saving of one-half the usual expense of reaping by hand, at the saving on a farm where there might be 100 acres of cereal and leguminous crop would do more than cover the price of a machine of the best quality in two years.
It is difficult to account for the fact that Bell’s machine was not more extensively adopted. For a period of nearly twenty years it was successively used; and yet, with practical agriculturists, it did not seem to gain so high a reputation as its American rivals-the machines of Hussey and McCormick. It did its work really well, but its draught was exceptionally heavy, and the delivery web was liable to become disordered. Subsequent makers improved on bell’s machine, and now it exists only as the groundwork of the modern reaper. The two machines which, perhaps, did most to popularlise the reaping-machine in this country were both introduced from America. These were known as Hussey’s and McCormick’s machines-Hussey’s being manufactured by Messrs Dray & Co., engineers, of Swan Lake, London Bridge, London; McCormick’s by Messrs Burgess & key, Newgate Street, London. These firms introduced great improvements in the machines which they respectively manufactured, so much so, that there would be some difficulty in recognizing in them the same machines, the appearance of which, at the Great Exhibition of 1851, created such an interest in the agricultural world.
Hussey’s Machine was improved by Messrs Dray. The cost of this machine was £25. McCormick’s reaping machine, with the improvements introduced by Messrs Burgess & Key, Newgate Street, London, the cutting apparatus and driving-gear presented features somewhat similar to those of Hussey’s machine. But while in Dray’s machine, the grain, after being cut, was delivered to a platform, the working of which required a special attendant, and the grain delivered to the ground in quantities sufficient to make a sheaf was required to be immediately bound up in order to clear the path for the return journey of the machine,-in Burgess & Key’s the cut grain was at once delivered to a screw platform, and passed to the ground at the side of the machine. A special attendant was therefore not required, and the grain, moreover, being delivered at the side, could be left till the whole could be conveniently bound up. Modern reaping machines. From these small beginnings in the invention and manufacture of reaping-machines a great industry has sprung up, from which the agriculture of this country has derived benefits of inestimable value. The firms in the United Kingdom who manufacture reaping-machines are now numbered by the hundred, and the larger firms send out several thousand machines every year. Many improvements have been introduced with the view to simplifying the construction, reducing the draught, lessening the cost, and increasing the efficiency and general usefulness of the machines. The reaping-machine is now produced in many forms, less or more distinct, suited for different purposes and different conditions of soil and climate. There are the simple mower, adapted merely for mowing hay and leaving it lying as it is cut; the combined mower and reaper, which may be arranged not only to cut the crop, but also to gather it into sheaves or swathes; the back-delivery, the side-delivery, the self-delivery, and the reaper in which the sheaves are turned off by the hand-rake. And last, and greatest of all, comes the combined reaper and binder, which is now an established success, performing its intricate and difficult work in a most admirable manner. The prices of the different reaping and mowing machines vary greatly, from £13 to £20, according to strength and other features. In recent years there has been a marked reduction in price, and this, accompanied by increased efficiency, has given a great impetus to the employment of machines in cutting the hay and corn crops. The combined reaper and binder costs from £25 to £35. The work accomplished by the leading reapers and mowers is now as nearly perfect as might be. Unless the crop is very seriously laid and twisted, the improved machine will pick it up and cut it from the ground in the most regular and tidy manner, leaving a short even stubble. Now and again a corn crop is laid and twisted by a storm so as to defeat the reaping-machine; but the possibilities of the modern machine are indeed wonderful.”
The photographs of the binders at work were taken at the Strathnairn Vintage Rally, September 2018.
Developments in harvesting technology from the mid nineteenth century into the early twentieth century are reflected in the exhibition of machines by the Scottish and the English exhibitors. Reapers were the most important harvesting machines for both the Scottish and English exhibitors until the late 1860s when the combined reaper and mower took over that role. Their decline was especially noted from 1896 onwards, when the binder was displayed in increasing numbers and became the most important harvesting machine at the Show. The combined reaper and mower became more important in the late 1860s when it increased its presence and was the most important harvesting machine at the Show until the early 1890s, when it also declined at the expense of the binder. The exhibition of binders increased especially after 1891 and by 1899, a high point in the exhibition of machines for harvesting the grain crop at the end of the nineteenth century, formed 48% of the grain harvesting machines at the Show. As the binder became more important from the mid 1890s, the mower, used for harvesting the hay crop, increased its presence at the expense of the combined reaper and mower, and in some years the mower and the binder were exhibited in larger numbers than the reaper and the combined reaper and mower together. By 1901 mowers and binders comprised more than 50% of all the harvesting machines at the Show.
The Scottish and English exhibitors had their own roles to play within these different grain harvesting technologies. Both groups of exhibitors displayed a number of types of machines each year, except when new types of machines were first exhibited, or older technologies had been largely superseded by new ones. Reapers from English manufacturers dominated the exhibition of harvesting machines especially after 1871 and until the mid 1880s when they formed the largest percentage of exhibits: in 1880 they were brought forward by 38 English manufacturers and 3 Scottish ones. However, the number of English machines declined after 1885, but increased again in 1893 and 1894, thereafter diminishing significantly. From 1885 the number of Scottish-made reapers fluctuated greatly until 1901, though they did not decline to the same extent as the English-made ones. After 1901 the number of Scottish machines declined and in 1906, 1907 and 1910, none were displayed. At 11 shows there were more Scottish-made reapers than English ones.
The Scottish and English manufacturers each had their own roles in the exhibition of the combined reaper and mower. Scottish-made combined reaper and mowers were exhibited in larger numbers than English ones until the mid 1860s. Thereafter English machines formed more than half of the exhibits in each year until 1881, though this trend was reversed until 1908. Their number declined especially after 1900, when the combined reaper and mower was replaced by other harvesting technologies. Scottish manufacturers therefore played a more significant role in their exhibition during the period of this survey. At 28 shows there were more Scottish-made mowers and reapers than English ones.
The Scottish exhibitors, however, played a small role in the exhibition of binders from 1882 onwards. In only one year, 1899, did they exhibit more than 11 machines from a Scottish manufacturer and in only two years – 1887 and 1890 – were there a larger number of Scottish exhibits than English ones, though only a handful of machines were exhibited in that year. These machines also came from one manufacturer – the only Scottish manufacturer of the binder: J. Bisset & Sons, Blairgowrie, which first exhibited their binder at the Show in 1887; it continued to be marketed as the only binder ‘entirely manufactured in Scotland’.
Binders from English manufacturers became especially important in 1885 and 1886 and again after 1894, when their numbers increased quickly until 1900, though they fell sharply after 1900, and did not regain the numbers of the late 1890s. The majority of binders were not English machines but were American and Canadian ones which played an increasing role in the showground from 1884 and from the mid 1890s they came to dominate the exhibition of binders and were exhibited in large numbers. As Henry Stephens noted in 1908 ‘the manufacture of combined reapers and binders is now carried on extensively by many eminent firms – Canadian and American machines competing strongly against British-made ones in our own country’.
The photographs were taken at Strathnairn Rally, September 2018.
In Scotland, a number of early developments were made by Scottish innovators who identified the need for a machine and developed a number of early ones. They included Gladstones of Castle Douglas, Alexander Scott of Ormiston, Mr Smith of Deanston, and A. Kerr of Edinburgh. The Rev Patrick Bell of Carmyllie, had an ‘outstanding pioneer machine’ which included many features that ‘are still to be found in the modern reaper-binder, and some in the combine’. Following the success of its exhibition to the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland in 1828 and 1829, ‘quite a number of machines [some 12 or 18] were made in different parts of the country by “mechanics of various kinds, common wrights, blacksmiths and millwrights”’. Bell’s machine was the ‘only one of the machines made before 1830 which continued to be used until reaping machines became established after the Great Exhibition of 1851’. After it was manufactured commercially on a wider scale by William Crosskill of Beverley, Yorkshire, it ‘held its own for a few years against the American imports in reaping competitions held up and down the country’.
However, by the early 1850s there was still a limited demand for reaping machines in Scotland. In 1851 there were no advertisements for them in the national Scottish agricultural newspaper, the North British Agriculturist. In 1852, 1854, 1855 and 1856 that newspaper only included advertisements from one manufacturer of reapers each year: William Crosskill of Beverley advertised Hussey’s American reaper in 1852 and Bell’s prize reaper in 1854 and 1856; W. Dray & Co., London, advertised his improved patent Hussey reaper in 1855.
The 1860s and 1870s were important decades for their development and also for their adoption and diffusion throughout Scotland. That adoption and diffusion through time, geographically across all parts of the country, and by different groups of farmers and other agriculturists, can be seen in a number of county agricultural surveys commissioned as prize essays by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. By 1861 in Berwickshire and Roxburghshire, the reaper was ‘now used in a great many farms’ and it was ‘not uncommon to see two or more reapers on one farm’. However, in these counties a ‘considerable breadth’ continued to be cut with the sickle. In Ayrshire for the 1861 harvest, ‘reaping machines were pretty general in all the larger farms’. By 1866, they had been adopted in increasing numbers so that ‘almost every farm of 100 acres and upwards, has at least one of these whirring cheerily along’. By the late 1860s ‘their value as labour-saving machines is becoming better understood’. A number of manufacturers, advertising in the Scottish agricultural press in the late 1860s noted the significant demand for machines and the need to ensure that orders for machines were submitted as far in advance of the harvest as possible.
They continued to be adopted in increasing numbers in the 1870s. In 1870 in Aberdeenshire and Banffshire they were ‘becoming equally common’. In 1872 in Inverness-shire, ‘in the more favoured localities reaping machines have all but superseded the scythe. There is scarcely a farm in the neighbourhood of Inverness but sports its reaper.’ In Caithness in 1875 ‘there is perhaps no county north of Perth in which the reaper is more exclusively employed in mowing the grain’. In Fife in 1876 ‘the crop may be said to be entirely reaped by machines’. However, they were not universally employed by all farmers, and there were still differences in their use between Highland and Lowland areas and between larger and smaller farms. In Ross and Cromarty in 1877 ‘on all of the larger farms and on many of the smaller holdings, reapers are used, while in some cases three or four crofters club together, and purchase a reaper’. In Midlothian and West Lothian, in 1877, ‘cutting is now mostly done by the reaping machine, although on very small farms, and in exceptional cases upon larger, the scythe is still used’.
By the 1880s accounts report their widescale and also their universal use, even in counties that were not leading agricultural ones. In 1880 in Sutherland, ‘reapers and mowers are now employed on all farms’. In Forfar and Kincardineshire in 1881 ‘cutting is almost wholly performed by reapers’. Two years later, in Clackmannanshire and Kinross, ‘the grain is all cut with reaping machines, and the hay with mowers’. In 1885 in Lanarkshire, reapers ‘are almost universal’, and in Wigtownshire they ‘are now almost universally used for cutting the grain’. In Selkirk in the following year they were ‘extensively used especially in the lower districts of the country’. In 1887 in Renfrew they had ‘to a large extent superseded the scythe’. By 1890 Henry Stephens could observe that ‘in all parts of the United Kingdom, and on almost all farms of any considerable size, the reaping-machine has superseded the slower and older appliances for cutting down the corn crops’.
During that period of adoption and diffusion there were changes to the structure, activities and size of the agricultural implement and machinery industry that were particularly important for the Scottish manufacturers of reapers and also their exhibitors at the Show. Between 1858 and the early 1870s, Scottish agricultural implements and machines, including reapers, were largely manufactured by local businesses that generally operated within a small geographical area of a parish or a district and sometimes a county. Only a handful advertised at a national level in the Scottish agricultural press. Most of them developed, manufactured and sold their own implements, though some also made them from patents or other designs, including ones from local inventors. They usually manufactured a limited range of implements and machines, focusing on particular ones, including reapers. Few manufacturers had a regional focus, selling their implements and machines throughout a region, or a number of them. There appear to have been only a small number of agents of agricultural implements.
A number of significant developments started to take place in the industry during the early 1870s that were to have an important impact on the sale of reapers. The first large-scale agents who sold implements and machines for a number of manufacturers started to emerge in centres of population such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, and in regional centres such as Ayr and Kelso. Some of them, however, were short-lived, trading for only one or two years. Nevertheless, their emergence and then their expansion enabled implements and machines from a wider range of manufacturers, and from other geographical areas, including England, America and Canada, to be sold to and used by Scottish farmers. Conversely, it allowed manufacturers from these other areas to extend their businesses and to supply new markets in Scotland. By the 1890s these agents had increased steadily, and some well-established ones not only served a region, but also Scotland as a whole. By this time other important developments had taken place. A number of manufacturers of regional and also national standing had emerged; some of the most important of these were also extensive exporters of their own implements and machines over the British Empire and beyond. Some of the manufacturers also started to act as agents for other manufacturers, so that they could meet a demand for new technologies and ensure that they were available, especially where they did not have the facilities or the skills to manufacture them themselves.
The photographs were taken at Strathnairn really, September 2017 and 2018.
From the late 1850s until 1910 a number of important technological changes took place to the machines to harvest the grain crop. In 1858 two types of machines were available: (1) the combined reaper and mower which cut the crop and gathered it into sheaves, and (2) the reaping machine which turned the sheaves off by the hand rake. Both were classified according to the way they delivered the sheaves, whether by hand (manual delivery) or mechanical means (self-delivery, or self-reaping), and according to the place where they were delivered – at the side of the machine (side delivery) or at its back (back delivery).
The earliest reapers, such as Bell’s, were side delivery, and the sheaves had to be taken manually from the machine – manual delivery; they were manual side delivery reapers. Mechanical or self-delivery machines were developed in the late 1850s. In the 1860s there were a number of significant technological developments. Importantly, ‘mechanical side delivery machines began to supersede the original manual delivery models’. That development was a significant one. Writing on the trials of reapers at the Royal Show in 1865, G. E. Fussell notes that ‘the inferiority of manual to mechanical side delivery [machines] was very apparent’. The self-raker, which had a rake arm that raked the cut grain off the platform, was also developed; the Dorsey type of self-raker was to remain ‘the standard type for at least thirty years’. Another significant development was the back-delivery reaper.
The early 1870s saw a further important development, that of the reaper-binder which cut, elevated, bound the crop into sheaves and delivered the crop. At first, the sheaves were bound by wire, but in 1878 the string-tying self-binder was developed by the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company. Further detailed improvements took place, and ‘by the 1890s the reaper binder was stabilized in its general principles’. During that decade, ‘it was clear that self-binders had come to stay’: Henry Stephens called it ‘one of the most useful agricultural inventions of the nineteenth-century’.
There were significant differences between these different harvesting technologies. Manual delivery reapers involved ‘severe and incessant labour on the part of the attendant’, whereas self-delivery ones did not, having mechanized the work in delivering the sheaf. The difference between side-delivery and back-delivery reapers was especially important for Scottish farmers and other agriculturists. When a field was cut with a side delivery reaper, the sheaves were laid to the side of the machine, and permitted a whole field to be cut without any sheaves being bound. With a back delivery reaper, the sheaves had to be bound as the field was cut.
The photographs were taken at Strathnairn rally, September 2018.
There are some really gorgeous displays of flowers around villages and towns at present. And some of them have agricultural implements and machines at the centre of them. This says a lot about how some communities regard their agricultural histories and the link between implements and farming. It is also a great reminder of our farming heritage and the implements and machines that were used to help grow our crops.
The implement and machines include ploughs, hoes (especially the Hunter hoe), cultivators and tattie diggers. It is amazing how many tattle diggers you will see as ornaments in flower beds in gardens. The Highlands, and especially the Western Isles, used to be great locations to see a display of old implements and machines. I recollect a particularly good collection on the outskirts of Fort William a number of years ago.
Where have you seen collections of implements and machines in flower beds?
The photos of the Hunter how, the Wallace potato digger and the Allan scythe were taken at West Wemyss, Fife, last week.
Celebrating the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers of yesteryear