Revealing the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers through their obituaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The photographs were taken at various rallies around Scotland.

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Champion ploughing matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fire! Fire! Fire!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Early ploughing matches

Back in the 1790s the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement was starting to encourage agriculturists to arrange ploughing matches so that ploughing skills could be promoted and improved. By that time a small number of agricultural clubs had also recognized the importance of promoting skills in ploughing. These included the Farmer Society of Clackmannan, one of the first associations to arrange ploughing matches. Another early match was held in Kinros-shire, under the auspices of Dr Coventry, the professor of Agriculture at the University of Edinburgh. Enterprising landowners, such as Sir John Clerk of Penicuik also played an important role in stimulating local matches on their estates.

The Scottish newspapers provided a number of accounts of these early ploughing matches. They are worth quoting as they show how the earliest matches were organized and set up, their competitiveness as well as their sociability. 

Ploughing match, held 11th Nov. 1785 (from the Caledonian mercury) 
We hear from Clackmananshire, that the Farmer Club of Clackmananshire, having concerted to have a trial this season of the ploughmen’s skill in breaking up old ley ground, with a proper seed furrow, the match was undertaken this day upon a field of old grass in Lord Cathcart’s estate, where two pattern ridges had been ploughed the day before by Alexander Verty, the first ploughman who gained a medal from the Farmer Club. Thirty-seven two horse ploughs started, their places upon the field having been taken by lot. The whole ploughmen gave proofs of their skill, which gave much satisfaction to the Club, and to the judges who were called to examine the work. The first premium was adjudged to James Young, ploughman to Mr Andrew Stein; the second to George Verty, ploughman to Mr Reoch; the third to Robert Meiklejohn, ploughman to Mr James Stein; and the fourth to James Pow, servant to Mr Reoch.

Lord Cathcart, who is a member of the Club, afterwards gave an elegant entertainment to the Club, and other gentlemen who had attended to witness so pleasing and so useful an exhibition. It is surprising how much this institution has inspired the ploughmen in that part of the country, with an emulation to excel one another in their possessions.
After the ploughing match was over, a bet betwixt most of the members of the Club, for the straightest line to be drawn by the plough, was gained by Mr Andrew Stein, his ploughman Alexander Verty having drawn a furrow admitted by all parties to be the straightest.

The Kinros-shire annual ploughing match, according to the Caledonian mercury in March 1792 , took place on the 19th current, in a field at Shanwell, belonging to Dr Andrew Coventry, professor of agriculture, when twenty six ploughs appeared in competition. The judges, after examining the work, were highly satisfied with the performance of all the ploughmen, and gave the first prize to Alexander Sutton, servant to Dr Coventry-the second to William Simpson, son to Mr James Simpson, of Maw-kerse-the third to James Inglis, servant to Mr Andrew Stein, of Hattonburn-the fourth to Robert Beveridge, also servant to Mr Stein-and the fifth to Robert Hutton, servant to Dr Coventry.On Monday last, according to the Caledonian mercury, in December 1794, there was a great ploughing match at Pennycuik House. Thirty three ploughs started for the premiums, which were given by Sir John Clerk, Bart. The highest premium was a medal, and a plough made by Thomas Lindsay, at Abbeyhill, with an improved muzzle, by Duncan Clark of Kintyre; and the next, a turnip plough. The judges determined the first in favour of Mr Walter Tait, tenant in Sherswell; and the second, to John Wilson, servant to Mr James Laurie, tenant in Pennycuick Mill. But it is only doing justice to the other persons who ploughed, and who had come from different parishes for the purpose, to say, that tho they did not obtain the premiums, yet the judges declared their approbation of their skill in the art. A very great concourse of people from all part s of the country were assembled; and there is no doubt but much real knowledge in the nature and management of that most useful instrument the Plough, must have been acquired by the young ploughmen who attended on that day; and it is ardently to be willed, that other parts of Scotland would oftner adopt these ploughing matches, which certainly do much good, by creating an emulation and rivalship among that class of people. 

When the match was over, Sir John Clerk gave a dinner to several of his friends, and many of the most respectable of the tenants on his estate, and in his neighbourhood. About fifty sat down to dinner in Ossian’s Hall, while the ploughmen, competitors for the premiums, and many other respectable people, were hospitably entertained in another apartment.

The ploughing match of the Farmers Club of the county of Clackmanan, according to the Caledonian mercury in April 1798, was held on Friday the 9th of March, on a field in Mr Erskine of Marr’s farm of Lanshill, in the parish of Alloa. Fifty lots were marked off, but only forty six ploughmen belonging to eighteen different farmers made their appearance.


On the ploughmen, drawing their lots, they repaired to their several stations; but as some of the farmers resided at four or five miles distance, it was eleven o’clock before all the men were ready to begin their work, when, on a signal being given, they all started at the same time.
The desire and anxiety of excelling that appeared in the ploughmen afforded a pleasing sensation to the spectators. The field which had been two years in grass, and was lately divided by the turnpike road passing through it, is most fortunately situated for shewing off to advantage this pleasant and useful exhibition. 
It was in tolerable good order, and the ploughing was in general extremely good; but as it is almost impossible to obtain a spot of ground sufficient to hold such a number of ploughs, that every lot should be of equal goodness, the work of the ploughmen cannot appear all alike, as a bad lot will occasion one ploughman’s work looking inferior to his neighbour’s although they possess equal skill. 


The judges appointed by the Club were, Mr Andrew Stein of Hattonburn, and Mr James Thomson, tenant in Park, in the parish of Clackmanan. 
They, after a minute and careful inspection, appointed the first medal, which includes the Silver Medal.
To James Drysdale, ploughman to Mr John Thomson, tenant in Jellyholm, in the parish of Alloa.
The second premium to William Glass, ploughman to the said Mr John Thomson.
The third premium to Ebenezeer Drysdale, ploughman to Mr James Reoch, tenant in the Hillend of Clackmanan.
The fourth premium to Edward Fotheringham, ploughman to Mr Robert Stein, tenant of the Bows of Alloa. 
And the fifth premium to John Donaldson, a young man, servant to Mr John Thomson of Jellyholm. 
The work gave great satisfaction to the Club, who have, by this useful institution, rendered this small corner for its ploughmen.-It is believed that there are not many parts of Britain where such a number of farmers can produce in the common way of business forty-six ploughmen able to shew such skill.

The photographs were taken at the Scottish ploughing championships, October 2019

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Some implement makers in the north-east of Scotland

The north-east of Scotland had some prominent implement and machine makers that were known well-beyond the boundaries of that district; some were known world wide as well as their manufacturers. 

We can meet the makers and their manufacturers through a range of evidence, including show reports and business records. Obituaries also provide a range of evidence, and give us a good opportunity to meet the men and women behind their companies, their achievements as well as their role within their wider communities. 

We have looked through a number of newspapers to find obituaries of a number of prominent implement and machine makers from the north-east of Scotland before the end of the First World War. Many of them would have been known to one another. 

The late Mr J. W. Barclay, CA (died November 1902) The Aberdeen press and journal notes:  
“A cablegram, received by his father on Saturday, announces the death, on 10th November, of Mr James W. Barclay, CA, only surviving son of Mr Morison Barclay, of the well-known firm of Messrs Barclay, Ross, and Tough, agricultural implement makers, seed merchants, etc, Carmelite Buildings, Aberdeen, a nephew and namesake of Mr J. W. Barclay of Glenbuchat, formerly MP for Forfarshire. Mr Barclay died at sea on his way home from Buenos Ayres, and the cablegram was despatched from the first telegraph station passed in the Pacific. He was on the way home to see if the change would restore him to health, which had broken down under a recent strain of work in Buenos Ayres. He had been there for about four years, and had kept his health wonderfully well, although formerly he had been far from robust, it was after his health had broken down in London that he was induced by medical advice to go to Buenos Ayres. Mr Barclay, who was about 33 years of age, served his apprenticeship as an accountant with Messrs James Meston and Co., CA, Aberdeen, and after he had himself qualified as a chartered accountant, set up business in London, where he met with remarkable success. The strain proved too great for him, however, and, as stated, he was induced to go to South America, where he held a good appointment in connection with one of the railways. Deceased was a genial, clever, and capable business man, who made many friends by his hearty manner. While in Aberdeen he took a great interest in athletic sports. He was not married. Much sympathy will be felt for his relatives in their unexpected bereavement. It may be mentioned that Mr Barclay’s other son, who was an engineer on board a steamer, died at sea about four years ago when crossing the line. 

Death of Mr William Anderson (died June 1911). The Aberdeen press and journal notes: 
“Mr William Anderson, of the firm of Messrs Barclay, Ross, and Tough, seedsman, implement makers, etc, Balmoral Buildings, Green, died at his residence, 24 Leadside Road, Aberdeen, yesterday. Mr Anderson, although 83 years of age, and in somewhat failing health for the last years or so, continued to take a keen interest in the business of the firm with which he had been associated since its commencement in 1871. Prior to that he had been with Mr Morrison Barclay, and also with the late Mr J. W. Barclay when the latter gentleman had an agricultural business in the city before his election as MP for Forfarshire.
Mr Anderson’s great hobby was Arctic exploration, and so keen was he on this that he took part in three expeditions to Greenland aboard whaling and sealing vessels. At one time he was there when the vessels Lady Franklin and Eric went to look for Franklin, the intrepid searcher for the North-West passage. 
Mr Anderson was a well-educated man. He received his early education in the Strichen School, having been a native of Lonmay. Early in life he acquired a knowledge of drawing, and this proved of considerable advantage to him in later years with agriculture, however that his chief interests were concerned. He was very keen in business, and proved himself an intelligent and active servant to the firm. 
Mr Anderson is survived by a family of two sons and three daughters. All are in Aberdeen, with the exception of one daughter, who is in Glasgow.” 

Death of Mr James Reid, engineer, Peterhead (died April 1914) 
Buchan observer and East Aberdeenshire advertiser notes: 
“Many kindly memories will be stirred by the announcement of the death of Mr James Reid, retired engineer, Peterhead, which took place on Friday last at the residence of his sister, 10 Castle Street. Mr Reid, who was 77 years of age, retired from active work about six years ago, and enjoyed excellent health for a few years, but latterly he suffered from a cancerous trouble in his throat, which ultimately caused his death. Mr Reid was a son of the late Mr Peter Reid, builder, Peterhead, and served his apprenticeship as an engineer with Messrs Robert Mitchell & Son, of the Peterhead Foundry, and he remained with the firm until it gave up business over thirty years ago. Since that time up to his retirement he worked continuously with the firm of Messrs James Simpson & Son, agricultural engineers and implement makers, Peterhead, by whom he was held in the highest esteem and respect, both for his capabilities as a craftsman and for his personal character. He was a skilled tradesman, careful and thorough, and his workmanship could always be depended on for soundness and durability. Many men now occupying responsible and important positions as engineers in some of the leading steamship lines, notably the Orient and Pacific, and in other engineering capabilities, readily express their great indebtedness for their success in their craft to the thorough training given and the kindly interest shown in them by Mr Reid in the engineering shop at Peterhead, and the kindliest of thoughts of the old man will mingle in their hearts with the sincerest of regrets at his decease.


For many years Mr Reid was a leading spirit in the musical affairs of the town. Well versed in music, and possessed of a splendid voice of very extensive range, he and his brothers, John, Peter, and David, each of whom was musically gifted, formed a quartet of singers such as is seldom met with in one family. He and his two elder brothers with a few others were the originators of the Peterhead Choral Society, and he maintained his connection and interest in that body for a lengthened time, and he was a not infrequent soloist at the concerts. In the ‘seventies he was leader of psalmody in the Free Church, St Peter Street, and his choir of those days is still spoken of with admiration by elderly people. He was also for some time psalmody leader in the Parish Church. In disposition Mr Reid was quiet and retiring, but with friends he was genial and affable, and he had a vein of humour which his associated enjoyed. His death will be regretted by all who knew him. He was predeceased by his wife a number of years ago, and is survived by a grown-up family of four sons and four daughters. The funeral took place to the Old Churchyard yesterday in presence of a large and representative attendance.” 

Robert Tough (died April 1918) Aberdeen press and journal writes: 
“The death took place last night at his residence, 14 Whinhill Road, Aberdeen, of Mr Robert Tough. Mr Tough was well known in agricultural circles throughout the north of Scotland, his firm of Messrs R. Tough and Sons, seed and implement makers, Imperial Place, Aberdeen, having a large connection throughout Aberdeen and the north-east.” 

On 1 May 1918 the Aberdeen press and journal provided a more extensive obituary: 
“As briefly reported yesterday, the death of Mr Robert Tough, of the firm of Messrs R. Tough and Sons, seedsmen and implement makers, Imperial Place, Aberdeen, occurred on Monday night at his residence, 14 Whinhill Road, Aberdeen. He was a native of Foveran, and before joining the well-known firm of Messrs Barclay, Ross, and Tough, Aberdeen, he represented Messrs Ben Reid & Co., and Messrs John Milne and Co., Dyce. About three years ago he started business on his own account. 
Mr Tough, who was of ine physique, had an attractive personality. In agricultural circles in the northern-eastern counties and in a much wider area he was exceedingly well known. He was an expert salesman, and was always ready to give the very best advice to his customers. For many years Mr Tough represented Messrs Barclay, Ross and Tough at the national shows of England, Ireland, and Scotland, and he did much to extend that firm’s business ramifications among farmers in the United Kingdom for threshing plants and certain kinds of farm machinery. He was predeceased by Mrs Tough about two years ago.” 

R. H. N. Sellar, Huntly (died July 1918) The Aberdeen press and journal writes: 
“Vice-Convener of County
Active business and public life
We deeply regret to announced the death of Mr R. H. N. Sellar, Vice-Convener of Aberdeenshire, and senior member of the well-known form of Messrs G. Sellar and Son, agricultural implement makers, Huntly and Alloa. The sad event took place at his residence, Battleby, Huntly, at a quarter to ten o’clock last night. Mr Sellar had not been in robust health for some time, his illness taking a serious turn about three months ago, but after an operation in a nursing home in Glasgow he was able to be removed to Bridge of Allan. After a short residence there he returned north about five weeks ago. He was 58 years of age. Mr Sellar had lived a very active business and public life, and the sincerest sympathy of a very wide circle of friends will go out to his widow and family in their great sorrow.
Mr Robert Hunter Nicol Sellar was the eldest son of the late Mr George Sellar, and was born in Huntly in 1857, the other members of his father’s family still alive being-Miss Sellar, Polwood, Huntly; Mr James Sellar, solicitor, Penang; and Mr John Sellar, who is in business in South Africa. He was educated at the Huntly Parish School, under the late Rev John Macdonald, best known and still remembered as Dominie Macdonald, and afterwards at Aberdeen University. Returning to Huntly to join his father in business, he received a thorough training in all its departments. On the death of his father in 1884 he became head of the firm, and by his personal energy and enterprise extended its ramifications and added to his high reputation in the agricultural world. Implements, designed, patented, and manufactured by the firm, have long enjoyed a high reputation. Indeed, not only in the north, but in the home and colonial markets, and in many countries abroad, “Sellar, Huntly”, is a name that stands everywhere for merit. Mr Sellar was also himself personally well known, having travelled extensively to further the interests of his business. About five years ago a considerable part of the Huntly establishment was transferred to Alloa, where a large business was successfully established. The war has brought with it many improvements in agricultural machinery, and the Sellar centres have been prominent in war-time features of the industry.

Besides attending closely to the demands of his business, Mr Sellar found time to play an active and acceptable part in public life, which, in certain spheres, was by no means confined to the district of Huntly and the county, but was of a national character. In his native town he served on the School Board for nearly 30 years, and sat for five years at the Town Council, being elected a Councillor and Baillie in 1898, and retiring in 1903 owing to the pressure of business. His deepest interest undoubtedly lay in the domain of education. Soon after his father’s death, he was elected a member of Huntly School Board, and on the retirement of the late Mr John Wilson, factor, in 1902, he was appointed chairman, a position he occupied to the last. The extension and development of the local schools were greatly due to his personal efforts and initiative; and the handsome Gordon schools, in their present splendidly equipped state, might almost be said to be a memorial to his educational service to the Huntly district.
In 1898 Mr Sellar entered the Aberdeen County Council as representative of the burgh of Huntly in succession to Colonel W. A. Mellie, but latterly he represented the electoral division of Cairnie, Glass, and Huntly. In 1902 he was appointed Chairman of the Huntly District Committee in succession to Mr John Wilson, and continued in that post until his death. The interest he showed in, and the grip he was able to take of the business which came before the Council gave him an assured position amongst the members, and in July, 1909, following upon the death of Provost Hutcheon, Turriff, he was elected Vice-Convener of the County. The duties of that office, as, indeed, those of every post he was placed in throughout his public career, were discharged with zeal and acceptance, while making himself conversant with all phases of local government, he showed himself invariably to be a man of prescience and broad outlook. Mr Sellar, who was also convener of the Lands Valuation and Finance Committees of the County Council, was elected Chairman of the County Committee on Secondary Education, and also Chairman of the Aberdeen Provincial Committee for the Training of Teachers-selections which testify to the confidence of those with whom he was associated. Not without cause was it humorously suggested that the Secondary Education Committee and Mr Sellar were practically synonymous terms, and his energy, tact, and business capacity in dealing with the difficult and complex questions which came before those bodies were readily acknowledged. He held those offices throughout important periods of educational development, and in each revealed an enthusiasm and foresight worthy of the best educational traditions of the north-eastern area of Scotland. His six years’ tenure of office was marked by the erection of the magnificent new Training Centre at Aberdeen. He was a member of Sir Henry Craik’s Committee which reported upon the salaries of Scottish teachers several months ago.

The North of Scotland College of Agriculture was another institution in which Mr Sellar rendered useful service. He was one of the original governors, had been vice-chairman for some years, and was chairman of the Central Studies and Staff Committee, whose work has much to do with the success of the College throughout the north. He manifested a deep interest in the promotion of the educational side of the various branches of forestry, and in 1911 he was appointed to a Forestry Committee of Inquiry for Scotland. This Committee recommended the purchase of Ballogie as a forest area for the north of Scotland. That the scheme was not gone on with is matter for regret, as the purchase price of the ground would have been more than met by the timber which it has yielded during the past four years.
Amongst Mr Sellar’s most recent appointments was that of chairman of the County of Aberdeen Local Food Control Committee. He was a Justice of Peace for the County and a Hon. Sheriff Substitute.
A specially warm corner in his heart was reserved by Mr Sellar for Huntly and its institutions, and his untiring educational services for it have already been alluded to. He was Chairman of the jubilee Cottage Hospital Managers, and Chairman of the District Nursing Association. He took a deep interest in the welfare of Huntly United Free Church, and for over thirty years had been its treasurer. In politics he was a Moderate Liberal, and held the office of President of the Huntly Liberal Association. Mr Sellar leaves a widow and a family of three sons and one daughter, one son-Lieut J. M. Sellar, of the K.O.S.B.-having been killed din the war. Mrs Sellar is a daughter of the late Mr Thomson, of Messrs Glegg and Thomson, Aberdeen. The eldest son, Mr Robert Thomson Sellar, after being in Canada for some years gaining business insight, returned home a few months ago, and has been associated with the management of the firm.”

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Socialising with the Scottish agricultural implement makers

We may not be able to socialise with our work colleagues and our family members as a result of the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t recollect and celebrate the social activities of the implement makers. 

A number of the implement makers, like other industries, held a range of formal events of the work staff. These include visits, dances and other events in the community. They were much looked forward to.

We have attached a number of accounts of these social events from 1900 onwards. They provide a range of insights into the human side of the businesses and their employees and how they came together.

One business that had arranged a number of events for its staff was Ben Reid & Co., Aberdeen. It held a range of annual events. An account from the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 10 February 1900 also provides information on the development of the business:

“The annual assembly of the employees of Messrs Ben Reid and Co., engineers, nurserymen, and seedsmen, was held in the Trades Hall, Aberdeen, last night, under the presidency of Mr Alex Hay. There was a large attendance, and amongst those present were Mr Geo. Duncan, manager of the engineering works, and Mr Morrison Barclay, implement maker. After tea had been served, The Chairman, in the course of some remarks, said he had many pleasant recollections in connection with the Bon-Accord Works, and those employed and associated with them. His recollections went back for about forty years, and before the Bon Accord Works, where they now stood, were built. The engineering department of the firm was founded about 42 years ago by Ben. Reid and Co., seedsmen and nurserymen, a firm that had been in existence for about a century. The implement and engineering works were started in a small way, and carried on under the able management of the late respected Mr Geo. Reid, with whom for many years he was closely associated. The connecting link of the combined business was broken on Mr Geo. Reid’s death in 1881, and they were carried on separately for about sixteen years. After the decease of Mr Anderson-who at the time of his death was sole partner of the Bon Accord Works-the firm purchased the engineering establishment from Mr Anderson’s trustees in 1896, so that the business of seedsmen, nurserymen, and agricultural engineers was again combined and consolidated. In conclusion, the chairman said it was very gratifying to the firm that they had such a body of first class, reliable, and capable workmen in all the departments. (Applause).
A most enjoyable programme of songs etc was then gone through, being contributed to by Miss Gordon, Miss B. Bruce, Miss E. Willox, Misses W. Wilson, Griffan, W. McWillie, and W. Murdoch. The accompaniments were tastefully played by Miss Bremner. At the close of the concert dancing was taken part in, the duties of M.C.’s being ably discharged by Messrs Kinnaird, Robertson, Cormack, and McHardy. The success of the function was in a great measure due to the admirable arrangements made by the committee, with Mr W. Mitchell as secretary.” 

In July 1915 Newlands and Sons of Linlithgow arranged an excursion fro the workers. These excursions were commonplace in central Scotland. They tended to go to fairly local places. They could enjoy the journey and the place where they visited. The Linlithgowshire Gazette of 23 July provides a favourable account of the excursion.

“On Saturday last the employees of Messrs Newlands and Sons, agricultural implement makers, along with their friends, enjoyed the first excursion organised by the firm, when their venue was Callander, which they reached in Mr Galbraith’s motor char-a-banc. They were lucky enough to be favoured by weather which was good, and kept steadily favourable throughout the whole day, when they were journeying through the beautiful country to their destination. A halt was made at Stirling, giving the party an opportunity to wander through this historic town. The day’s outing was voted thoroughly enjoyable.”

Newlands and Sons also contributed to the annual festival in Linlithgow. In June 1929 the Linlithgowshire gazette recorded its contribution to the march:

“On Saturday last the employees of Messrs Newlands and Sons, agricultural implement makers, along with their friends, enjoyed the first excursion organised by the firm, when their venue was Callander, which they reached in Mr Galbraith’s motor char-a-banc. They were lucky enough to be favoured by weather which was good, and kept steadily favourable throughout the whole day, when they were journeying through the beautiful country to their destination. A halt was made at Stirling, giving the party an opportunity to wander through this historic town. The day’s outing was voted thoroughly enjoyable.”

Social events also included an annual dance and wist drive. Whist drives were extremely popular social events in the past. Sellars of Huntley were one business that held an annual staff social. The Aberdeen Press and Journal provided an amount of the social in December 1936:

“Guests at the annual whist drive and dance of the employees of Messrs George Sellar & Son, agricultural implement makers, Huntly, which took place in Huntly Hotel Hall, were welcomed by Mr Robert T. Sellar on behalf of Mrs Sellar and himself.
He remarked that since they met a year ago industry in the country generally had been prospering, and unemployment figures were very much reduced.
Farmers were finding it very difficult to get labour, as many men had gone into the military and air service, and consequently there had been a bigger demand for tractors.”

Another business that had an annual dance was Barclay, Ross and Hutchison, agricultural implement makers and seedsmen, Aberdeen. An account of its annual dance from the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 20 February 1937, suggests that this was given to thank the staff for their support during the year. It appeared to be a much enjoyed event:

“The staff of Messrs Barclay, Ross and Hutchison, agricultural implement makers and seedsmen, Aberdeen, were thanked for the loyal support and co-operation they had given during the year by Mr T. Hutchison last night, on the occasion of the staff’s annual dance.
A company of about 140 enjoyed whilst, supper and dancing in the Palais de Danse. Mr T. Hutchison presided at supper, and along with him were Mr M. Heddle, county road surveyor, and Mrs Heddle; Mr G. Donald, lecturer in the principles of agriculture, and Mrs Donald; and Mr A. A. Girling.
Mrs Hutchison handed over the whist prizes to the following-women- 1. Mrs D. Kinghorn, 2. Mrs G. Watt, 3. Mrs N. Salmon, 4. Miss C. Reid (after a tie with Mrs A. McCombie); consolation, Miss M. Cruickshank. Men-1. A. Smart, 2. Gordon Watt, 3. T. Hutchison, 4. A. Farquharson (after a tie with A. A. Girling); consolation, E. Dawson; travelling prize, A. Smart.
For their interest in the gathering and the staff, Mr and Mrs Hutchison were cordially thanked on the call of Mr Girling.
The arrangements were made by a committee, of which Mr A. Rae was secretary.”

Do you recollect any social events with the implement makers?

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Happy New Year

Here’s hoping that 2021 will be a good year. 

We are looking forward to celebrating our Scottish agricultural implement makers from past years.

We hope you will continue to join us on our exploration of the makers and their manufactures.

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The A to Z of Scottish agricultural implement makers

Z is for ….

Well, we couldn’t find a company starting with the letter z. 

Can you think of one? 

If you have enjoyed the A to Z series you might be interested in Scottish agricultural implement and machine maker, 1843-1914: a directory. It includes lots of information about who was making these manufactures, as well as their products, awards, incidence of their advertising in the Scottish agricultural press as well as a whole lot more. More details are below. 

And even better, it is on special offer until the end of the year.

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