A new implement making establishment in Aberdeen: Robert G. Garvie’s Hardgate Works

There are relatively few accounts of the premises belonging to the Scottish agricultural implement makers. They tend to be recorded when an important maker is opening a major works, or through destruction by fire. 

One of the most important makers in Aberdeen and the north-east was Robert Garvie of Harrogate Works, Aberdeen. He opened a new premises in December 1894. A number of accounts for it exist in newspapers. The most detailed account was published in the Aberdeen press and journal on 1 December 1894. It provides a lot of information not only about the works but the arrangement of the different departments from one another. The details also suggest the scope of activity that was going on at the works. It is worth quoting at length.

“The spacious new works in Hardgate, the property of Mr Robert G. Garvie, agricultural implement manufacturer, have now been completed, and all the departments are in operation, between 80 and 90 men employed. The fact that it has been found necessary to provide an establishment on so large a scale would seem to point to the growing importance of the manufacture of agricultural implements as an industry in the north-east of Scotland. Fully an acre and a half of ground has been taken off in a very convenient site on the south part of Hardgate, and the buildings that have been erected are admirably adapted for their purpose. The frontage to the street is constructed of granite, and has a substantial though plain appearance. The offices &c, are situated here, while the various departments of the manufactory stretch back to the west. The principal entrance is from Hardgate, at the north-east end of the feu.

There is a wide covered-in gateway, and the passage leads along the northern boundary to a large yard on the extreme west. At the entrance a six-ton steelyard is laid down, the register being taken in a comfortably-appointed forwarding office. A stair leads from this apartment to the suite of offices on the floor above, but before describing these, it is to be noted that, adjoining the forwarding office, and running for 70 feet parallel with the street are a number of stores, from which doors open into the sections of the works occupied by the various classes of employees. From this section access is also found to a large store-room for binders, reapers, and traction engines. The faces are very convenient and well lighted, the windows facing Hardgate. They are four in number. One is occupied by draughtsmen, another by clerks, another is a private room for the use of Mr Garvie, and the remaining room will also be utilised in connection with the commercial department. These rooms are about 21 feet by 15 feet by 10 feet, and are lined with varnished pitchmen. Drawings of various implements relieve the walls; office furniture of a substantial make is provided; an arrangement of speaking tubes is in use; and the gas fittings throughout are of the most modern description. The lobby which connects the rooms is pierced with windows in such a way as to allow an unobstructed view of the whole of the interior of the works. At the south end the carrier opens into the pattern shop, which measures 40 feet by 27 feet by 10 feet and above there is a lumber loft of considerable dimensions. This exhausts the accommodation on the east side. Passing down a stair from the pattern department the visitor finds himself in the section occupied by the staff of joiners. This section is one of three, all of which lie east and west, and each of which measures 140 feet by 45 feet-the ridge springing some 30 feet from the level of the ground, and the eaves 15 feet. The structure is of corrugated iron and glass, and the couples are made of malleable iron, painted in a light blue colour, the framework has a pleasing appearance, and the effect is equally attractive when the place is illuminated by the large number of sun gaslights which have been erected. The joiners’ department is different from the other two in respect that it has a wooden flooring, and in it the machinery is driven from below. This last arrangement is a feature. Roof shafting, when in constant use, causes a vibration which, in course of time, proves very damaging to a building, and to obviate this an ingenious arrangement has been introduced by which the walls and roof are left untouched, the motive power being conveyed from a sunk floor.

The middle section is where the fitters are employed. An extensive plant has been laid down for the manufacture of specialities in agricultural implements, and to facilitate the work there is a five-ton travelling came, which can be brought into requisition in any part of the shop. It is at the east end of this section that the engine room is situated. The room is neatly built of wood and glass, the engine itself being of about 20 horse power, and constructed on the compound principle. Below the engine room there is a concrete cistern of 24 feet by 12 feet for collecting the rain water from the roof, and this water, augmented when occasion demands from the Corporation mains, supplies the boiler and the cooling tanks. A stone wall separates the fitting department from that used by the smiths, where there are no fewer than nine furnaces. Specially worthy of notice among the machinery in use here is a self-acting five cwt steam hammer. A portion of the accommodation is partitioned off, and utilised for the storage of iron. The foreman of the works has had fitted up for his use an office, from which all parts of the establishment are equally accessible. To minimise the risk of fire as much as possible, a site for the boiler-house has been found at a considerable distance from any of the other buildings. The boiler is 12 feet by 6; works at 100lbs pressure; and is provided with an apparatus for economising fuel. Pipes covered with asbestos and waterproof carry the steam to the engine room, and the smoke passes off the furnace by a stalk about 100 feet in height The other outdoor premises comprise two sheds, one 90 feet by 30 feet, for seasoning wood, and the other 60 feet by 20 feet, for the storage of wood that has been prepared. In the yard there is also a three-ton crane. What strikes the visitor as he walks through the extensive premises is the completeness with which every detail has been carried out. Nothing has been left undone that is likely to facilitate the work undertaken, and the hope may be expressed that before long it will be found necessary to occupy the remaining portion of the feu with extended buildings.”

Next time you see a Garvie mill – or any of Garvie’s implements and machines – know that they were manufactured in a purpose-built works in Aberdeen. 

The photographs of work at the Garvie mill were taken at the Deeside rally, August 2018.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Implements in Roxburghshire in 1798

The Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement’s county agricultural surveys provide a great deal of information about the agriculture and political circumstances of the different counties of Scotland. The 1798 survey of Roxburgh provides a detailed account of the implements and machines in Roxburghshire. It notes:

“The Scotch plough, with a long stout beam, and a long narrow point, through still used in stiff clay land, especially when it is to be broken up from grass, and even in light soil, when the furrow is interrupted by stones, has in general given place to the Rotherham plough, improve by Small. The former is thought be some to expose a larger surface to the atmosphere, by which the soil, when harrowed, admits of a finer pulverisation; but the latter is allowed to make a neater furrow, as well as to loosen and turn up more earth from the bottom. it is commonly made exactly according to Mr Small’s model, with this difference, that the beam is two, and sometimes even four inches long. Th moulds (or mould-boards as they are termed) of cast metal, recommended by the dalkeith Society of Farmers, aare much used; and the head or peak, instead of being covered with plates of iron, is not infrequently made wholly of it, or of cast metal. The shath too or sheath, including the head or peak, is sometimes one entire cast piece of cast metal. Opinions differ with respect to the structure of the muzzle. All ploughs have a rod of iron, doubled so as to embrace the beam either perpendicularly or horizontally, with four or five holes in that part of it which crosse the point of the beam, in one or other of which the harness is fixed. This bridge, as it is here called, moves upon a strong pin piercing the beam, about four or five inches from its point in some ploughs, and in others about fifteen or sixteen inches. In the former case, the bridle is placed horizontally, and has a long tail, by means of which, the depth of the furrow can be regulated. In the latter case, piece of wood, with four or five holes in it, is fixed to the end of the beam, sometimes in a horizontal direction, to regulate the width, and sometimes in a perpendicular direction, to regulate the depth of the furrow, by means of the bridle, which is always placed the opposite way from the piece of wood. This structure is preferred, as making the draught more steady. And some use a chain, partly to strengthen the beam, and partly to assist the movement of the plough, in very stiff soil, by the shake which which it occasions.

The plough is drawn by a strong stretcher, commonly called a two horse tree, with an iron staple in the middle, and a hook in it to go into one of the holes in the bridle, and with two iron ends, in each of which there is a hole to receive a smaller hook coming fro the middle of two lesser stretchers, or single horse trees, to whose extremities the ropes were formerly tied, and now the chains are fastened, which reach from both sides of the collars of two horses placed abrest.

The common harrows are chiefly used, but are made in a neat and substantial manner. the thick bars are not weakened by large round holes, to admit stout rods, but are pierced by narrow oblong slits, into which thinner bars are nicely and firmly mortised. To prevent one from jutting love another, they are joined together, sometimes by a strong stick, each end of which moves up a pivot, and sometimes by a ring sliding on two iron rods fixed on the approximating bars of each harrow; but the most common contrivance is, two or three pieces of wood, placed erect or obliquely in the extremity of the foremost or left-hand harrow, and also of the middle one when three are drawn together. The improved harrows by Mr Low at Woodend, a plate whereof he has given in his “General View of the Agriculture of Berwickshire”, have made their way into the lower part of this county, and have received still further improvement from Mr Dawson at frogden. He draws them by the ends instead of the middle of the stretcher: he places the two hinges exactly on the same line of draught; and he strengthens the principal bars, by the addition of a few diagonal ones. Two chains, fixed both to the harrows and the stretcher, meet at two and a half feet from the harrows, and are fastened to the two horse tree already described. The harrows are in the form of a rhomb, deviating from the square as far as necessary to make the teeth or tines cut the ground at equal distances from each other. Harrows, when square, or of an improper rhomb, may nevertheless be made to go over a large surface, and to cut it at more equal distances, by lengthening one chain, and shortening the other, till the line of draught is brought to the degree of obliquity required. 

Few or no wagons are now to be found in the county. Nor are two horse carts so numerous as they were some years ago. there can be little doubt that they would be every where superseded by single horse ones, did not the frequent and steep pulls, in the public roads, along with heavy carriages pass, and in several parts of many farms, require two horses. The dimensions of both vary so much in length, breadth,a nd depth, as not to be easily reducible to an average standard. The single horse carts, in general, are about 16 cubic feet, and hold about 16 Winchester bushels or marl or lime in shells, or 10 cwt of coals. The two horse carts are about 25 or 26 cubic feet,a nd for every such fot hold hold a Winchester bushel of mark, or of lime in shells, or 16cwt of coals. Both kinds carry more on particular occasions, but are then heaped, or perhaps are of larger dimensions. The bodies always strengthened by iron stays, tightened by screws. The height of the wheels is from 4 feet 2 inches to 4 feet 6 inches. Iron axles are much used; and they are commonly cased in wood, to render their concussion less hurtful to the horses. there are many timber ones; and they would be still more general, were it not for the danger and inconvenience of their failing in long journies with heavy carriages. Some are of timber, with iron ends having long tails, bolts, and screws. There is a common cart at Riddel, with an additional wheel before to ease the horse’s back. Frames are often put above the common carts for carrying hay, corn or straw, adding about five or five and a half feet to their length, and about three or perhaps three and a half feet to their breadth. But long-bodied carts still continue to be made for these purposes, generally, but not always, with a kind of wings projecting quite over the wheels, supported in the middle by a board set across the top of that cart, and at each end by stout rods resting on cross bars, which, with that view, jut out from the bottom of the body; such a cart is commonly about ten feet long, by seven feet in breadth. It carries a larger load than a frame; and can be more safely conducted through fields that are sidelong and uneven. But it is more bulky and incommodious in the shed, and cannot be laid up or brought forth so quickly, and with so little trouble. 

Both Cook’s and Perkin’s patent machines, for sowing different grains in rows, have been tried in this county. They are so constructed, as to make the rows at any distance from 9 to 36 inches. Saw a field of barley, which had been sown with the one, and a field of wheat, which had been sown with the other, in drills nine inches asunder. Both were upon a declining surface, and both looked well. Though apparently thinner than what were sown broadcast on part of the same fields, yet the ears were longer, and the grains in them were larger. There are other machines for sowing turnips, on ridges previously formed by laying together two furrows with a common plough. These are of different forms, mostly drawn by horses, though some are drawn, and others pushed forward by men. All of them have a small coulter to make a slight furrow, or rather rut, on the summit of the ridge, into which the seed drops through a narrow pipe or funnel, immediately behind the coulter. A very light roller precedes the coulter, to smooth the summit of the ridge, and is so long as to go over the one last sown, and cover or gently press down the seed. Some of them have a little barrel, moving on to axis, with holes through which the seed falls, and others have a kind of canister, from which it is shaken, into the funnel or upper end of the pipe. They generally go upon two slender wheels, from two to three feet asunder, according to the distance at which farmers choose to make their ridges. But, where the top of the ridge is tolerably is tolerably smooth, may prefer one wooden wheel, about two and a half or three feet in diameter, and three inches broad in the rim, to go along the very summit before the coulter, and another wheel, less and lighter, to follow it. In this machine the barrel is always used, and turned round, by a pinion, or else by a band connected with the foremost wheel. A very small and light plough, with moulds on each side to shift at pleasure, is drawn by one horse between the rows of potatoes or turnips after they advance a certain length, to suppress weeds, and to stir and lay up fresh earth, from time to time, around the plants. 

A portable instrument, for hoeing drilled crops, was made, by the direction of an ingenious young farmer in this county, from a description which he read of it in a publication by an agricultural society at Bath. When it is carried to or from the field, the beam folds back between the handles. When used, one man draws it by the beam, and another directs it by the handles. Instead of a coulter and share, it has only a hoe, which cuts the weeds immediately below the surface; and a larger or smaller hoe can be put in it, according to the width of the drills. In fields free from stones and well dressed, it is very effectual and expeditious.

Brake harrows, with huge teeth, some of them very heavy, are used on ground, that is newly broken up, or full of clods, or overrun with inveterate weeds. Rollers, also, both of wood and stone, around every where, and are of very different sizes and weights. It is difficult to manage a strong clay soil without the aid of both these instruments. Mallets, too, are necessary to make a fine mould for barley, especially when clover is sown among it. There is little occasion now for brake harrows on the light soil, as it is, in general, brought into excellent order; but, even on that soil, it is found to be of much advantage to roll barley, wheat, and sometimes oats, immediately after they are sown; and wheat, oats,a nd clover, when in the blade, in spring. The lot designed for potatoes and turnips is likewise frequently rolled. 
The common scythes are employed in mowing hay, but corns are cut with the sickle. Both are put upon the cart and stack, with a common two pronged fork. A fork, with three or more stout and long prongs, and a handle three feet long, fills dung into the cart, and spreads it on the field. Lime and mark are spread with a shovel. Both the English and Dutch hoes are used in cleaning potatoes, turnips, and other drilled crops. Stones are loosened, broken, and removed from the earth by picks, large hammers, and levers both of wood and iron. Even gunpowder is sometimes made an implement of husbandry. Docks are taken up with a spade contrived for the purpose. Other weds, especially thistles, are cut with a weed hook. Hedges are pruned and dressed by bills and shears. There are one or two machines for chopping straw, and mashing corn. A spade is preferred to the knife for cutting hay. 

Milk vessels are sometimes scooped out of a piece of solid wood, and nicely turned and smoothed; but more commonly are made of oaken staves; Earthen cans are also used. Churns are of various forms; each mistress or dairy maid preferring that kind, which, she thinks, requires least labour, and is mostly easily cleaned. Cheese presses are constructed on the principles both of the lever and the screw; the last seems to prevail most, especially in pasture farms, where cheese is chiefly made. 
In the end of the year 1795, there were only ten thrashing machines in the county. They are now multiplying so fast, that about 20 more were erected during the course of the year 1796, and there will probably be 36 or 40 at work before this account can come from the press. Those first made, either were driven by water, or required four horses, and cost about L80. Though they did great execution, thrashing about 25 and even 30 bolls in a day, yet their weight and clumsiness have induced farmers to try lighter ones, pulled by two horses, which are found to switch from 15 to 20 bolls very completely in 10 hours, and cost only about L40. When fans are attached to either, there is an additional charge of L5 more. Those lately made have all rakes fro removing the straw. It is alleged that, by their circular motion and severe draught, horses are stupefied, become less eager of food, and more unfit for their usual work. It is also alleged that, in rainy seasons when the corn is little spoiled and the straw moist, they perform the work very imperfectly. 

This county can boast, not indeed of inventing fans, but of being the first in Scotland where they were made and used. It is pretty generally agreed, that one Rogers, a farmer on the estate of Cavers near Hawick, about the year 1733, or at least before the 1737, either saw a model or a description of one had been brought from Holland, and that from it, having a mechanical turn, he first made and afterwards improved those, which gradually came to be used in all the neighbouring counties, and which have since received further improvement from his descendants, who fell about 60 of them every year at L3 or 3 guineas each. They are remarkably simple in their construction, and answer the purpose extremely well; but corn mist be put always twice, and often thrice through them, before it is fully cleaned. An improvement upon them has been attempted by one Moodie at Lilliesleaf, which is much extolled by several farmers. He has introduced and happily combined some properties of other fans, by which the moving powers can be more easily regulated, increased, or diminished, and the grain, at one operation, can be both separated from the chaff and lighter seeds, and completely riddled from loose straws, and all other course refuse. The expense d double, the machinery is more complex, and one operation is not always sufficient; but the ingenuity of the structure deserves praise, and may furnish useful hints to such as are employed in attaching fans to thrashing machines.”

Haven’t the implements and machines used in south-east and the Borders changed since then! 

The photographs were taken at the Borders Vintage Rally, May 2014.

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Implements in the North in 1862

The Scottish agricultural and provincial press sometimes includes discussions of the state of agricultural implement making in specific districts of Scotland. These accounts are sometimes critical of what was being made – or not being made. They can provide details of the main makers and their manufactures.

One account that was published in the Scottish farmer in 1862 was reprinted in the Aberdeen press and journal, in September that year. It provides an account of implement making in the north-east, using the exhibition at the Royal Northern Show as a showcase to view the industry. It reads: 

“The exhibition of agricultural implements at the late meeting of the Royal Northern Society at Aberdeen presents an opportunity for offering few remarks on the implements and machines used in the northern part of Scotland-of which Aberdeenshire may in most respects be held to be the representative county-as compared with those used in the South, and especially for calling attention to such of them as appear to possess any superiority in form or construction.
It stated that the exhibition of implements at Aberdeen on the 31st July, limited as it was, may be reckoned the largest that has appeared at any local northern show. The northern societies and clubs have confined their attention almost exclusively to the exhibition and improvement of cattle and horses, more especially the former; and the success that has attended their persevering efforts in that direction us now well-known and appreciated.
With respect to implements, they seem to have been content to obtain two or three of the principal articles used on the farm sufficiently well, and certainly substantially, made by the local wrights and blacksmiths; and those tradesmen deserve great credit for the excellent specimens which they turn out of the two main articles required by their customers-namely, the cart and the two-horse swing plough. No better samples of the one-horse Scotch part, or “box cart” as it is called, need be desired than those made by Messrs Mitchell & Son of Peterhead, and by Mr Simpson of the same place; and both of these firms had samples of their workmanship on the ground at Aberdeen. At the same time, it may in justice be allowed that not a few other local tradesmen supply their customers with articles scarcely, if at all, inferior to those made in Peterhead. These carts are provided with very light hay-tops or frames, as they are locally called, for use in harvest or at other times when required. In a district of country in which stones, great and small, have frequently to be carts, “stone carts” are not seldom in requisition; and these are provided by strongly-made shallow boxes which, where required, fit upon the same wheels, and to the same “shafts”, as the common or box carts. The swing plough (always now made of iron) is in universal use. A good deal of uniformity prevails as to its construction, the chief differences being in the form of the mould-board. In the case of some makers, there seems to be tendency to approach, more or less closely, to the form of mould-board adopted by Howard and other English manufacturers. Messrs Sellar & Son, of Huntly, have obtained a wide reputation for ploughs, the result not only of their superior skill, but of their enterprise in forwarding their implements to the Highland Society’s shows, and to the International Exhibition in London. There are very far, however, from monopolising the making of ploughs in they own county; for ploughs of excellent construction and workmanship, and which in the various localities, in which they are made are deemed equal to any that can be obtained, were exhibited from Tarves, Monymusk, Keith, Aberdeen, and Broughty Ferry, and varying in prices from £3 15s to £4 15s. Most if not all the articles exhibited in the class seemed excellent specimens of the two-horse swing plough. 
Another article which seems to be manufactured of very excellent and substantial quality in Aberdeenshire is the broadcast sowing-machine for grain or grass seeds. The machines for these purposes exhibited by Messrs Simpson & Son, of Peterhead, and by Messrs Mitchell & Son, of the same place, the one at £14 10s, and the other at £13 15s, seem to leave little to be desired; and we know that for many years they have been found to work remarkably well in practice.

The drill sowing-machine has to found very much acceptance in Aberdeenshire. The three articles of this class exhibited did not appear to possess any superiority over the well-known East Lothian, or those made by Garret & Son, and several other English implement makers. 
We found no mention made in the Society’s catalogue of drill-grubbers, or drill horse-hoes-certainly a remarkable omission in a part of the country so distinguished for the cultivation of turnips. Nevertheless, there were some five or six implements on the ground, which appeared to be intended to effect the important operation of drill hoeing by horse power. A suitable and efficient implement for this purpose is, or ought to be, one of the most important articles on the farm; and it is matter of surprise that so little attention seems to have been given to it-that nothing like an established or fixed form go drill-grubber or horse-hoe seems to be recognised in any part of the country. To this Aberdeenshire is certainly no exception; for some of the articles exhibited were very far indeed from being well-fitted to perform the operation in question; and in passing through the county at this season of the year, all sorts and forms of implements-some of them very primitive indeed-may be seen at work as drip-grubbers in the turnip fields. 
A drill grubber should have its tines and cutters so formed as to keep sufficient hold of the ground in clay or heavy soil, and should at the same time be so provided with wheels as prevent it from sinking too deeply in light land. Its guiding or front wheel should be so fixed as to keep steadily forward in a straight line. (A wheel fixed in the manner adopted in Wilkie’s drill-grubber, figured on page 64, vol Ii, of Stephen’s “Book of the Farm”, 2nd ed, seems to be the best). Its tines and cutters should be of such form and placed at such an angle with the horizontal bars as not to carry weeds, but bring them to the surface, shake, and throw them off. Its cutters should have their edges of such form and position as not to slip harmlessly past thistles and other tenaciously rooted weeds; and it should be of such strength,a nd have tines (two of the cutters to be replaced by tines as occasion requires) of such form, as to stir up and loosen the soil between the drills in the same way, though not of course to the same depth, as is done by Tennant’s grubber on the flat surface. It should, in fine, combine the operations of the hoe, grubber, and harrow, so far as these can be combined in one implement. 
All these requisite points or qualifications we found combined in a higher degree than we have been elsewhere in an implement exhibited at Aberdeen by Mr George Mackie, Dudwick, Aberdeenshire; and we believe we are doing the farmers of that turnip-growing county, as well as those in other districts, a service in calling their attention to it. We have excellent authority, moreover, for saying, that its operation in practice has been found highly efficient.

The farmers of the north only just seen beginning to find out the value of the horse rake for hay and stubble. Some of the well-known English-made horse-rakes were exhibited by Messrs B. Reid & Co., Aberdeen; and the local implement makers of Peterhead and Keith are prepared, it seems, to supply similar articles. Neither are the very excellent hand-rakes, mounted on two light wheels, and having spring steel teeth (each tooth acting independently), as made by Smith & Ashby, of Stamford, and others, sufficiently known in the north. Some good articles of the kind were, however, exhibited; one, very light, and, so far as we could judge, likely to be found efficient, by Mr J. Anderson, of Monifieth, Broughty Ferry. 
The well-known turnip cutters of Samuelson, of Banbury; the excellent grain-bruisers of Turner of Ipswich; the straw-cutters of Samuelson, and of Richmond & Chandler, and a considerable number of other English-made implements and machines, all known to be the best of their kinds, were exhibited by Messrs B. Reid & Co., of Aberdeen. These gentlemen have, it seems, formed a sort of depot of English and Scotch made agricultural implements and machines-an undertaking which, it may be hoped, will turn to their advantage; for it is eminently calculated to be of service to the farmers of the district. 


The Scotch thrashing mill was very early adopted, and has long been in almost universal use in Aberdeenshire. In very many cases the physical transformation of the county is such as to provide the farmers with wind-power for driving the threshing mill. Where that is not available, horse power is still in general use for thrashing. It is rather remarkable that men of som much energy and intelligence as the Aberdeenshire farmers should not have more readily seen the propriety of substituting the steam-engine for horse power. Cannot some of those firms in Aberdeen or Peterhead which turn out such excellent carts and ploughs, and afford also metal gearing for horse powers and threshing-mills, supply the agriculturists of the district with compact and well-made steam engines at moderate cost? We could have wished to see a neat fixed horizontal steam-engine of four or six-horse power (such as is, or had won’t to be, shown at the English Society’s meetings by Clayton & Shuttleworth, and Hornsby & Son) at work-provided steam could have been supplied from a portable boiler or otherwise-on the Links at Aberdeen. Such an addition to the Royal Northern Society’s Show would have tended to draw the attention of the farmers of the district to what is perhaps the only department in which they are behind.”

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Early days of steam ploughing and thrashing in Scotland

Today we are familiar with the use of machinery rings and the contracting of tractors, implements and machines. Many of us will recollect the threshing mills that travelled around farms, providing a mobile service from threshing contractors. 

Back in the 1850s the use of steam contractors for threshing and ploughing was in its infancy and was still innovative. The use of steam ploughing engines for ploughing started in the late 1850s in Scotland. Some of these engines were also used for threshing. In later years they were used for hauling herring boats in some parts of the country, such as Aberdeenshire. 

In Scotland the first such company to be set up was the Stirlingshire Steam Plough and Thrashing Company Limited, registered as a limited company on 28 May 1860. Its object was “the cultivation of land and thrashing of grain”. It had a nominal capital of £1,000, in 20 shares. Of these 19 were in the hands of 13 holders. This predates the first steam ploughing company in England, the Gloucestershire Steam Plough Company, by a number of weeks. 

The genesis of the company went back to 1856 when the Stirling Agricultural Society arranged to hold trials into steam ploughing. The first one was made on the farm of Stewarthall, near Stirling. A further trial was held on that farm two years later. This undertook excellent work. In March 1859 a number of gentleman sat down in Campbell’s Golden Lion hotel to celebrate the purchase of a steam plough, made by John Fowler & Co., Leeds, at a cost of £800. Its introduction and use was considered to be important in encouraging agriculture innovation and the use of new techniques in the county. 

The use of the engine for both threshing and ploughing operations ensured that it could be as fully utilised as possible. The use of threshing extended its use outwit the ploughing season. 

The company continued in business or only a few years. By April 1863 it had been dissolved and its assets, a steam engine, plough and thrashing machine, were put up for sale. They were purchased by A. & A. Mitchell of Alloa, at a nomial sum, who used it on their farm. 

It was not until after the mid 1860s that steam ploughing companies in Scotland were to be more successful. In sone parts of the country, such as the north-east, they continued in operation for a number of years, working until the late 1880s and the agricultural downturn.

The photographs of steam ploughing were taken at B. A. Stores, May 2018.

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Who were the Scottish agricultural implement makers in 1950?

In 1950 the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers included well-established old firms, as well as others that had been around for decades. A number of new businesses had started after the end of the Second World War. The shape of the industry was changing with the ever-increasing use of tractors and the need for implements and machines to work with them. There was also an ever-increasing need to mechanise and increase efficiency in agriculture. 

The major implement and machine makers in Scotland in 1950 included the following businesses: 

Adrolic Engineering Co. Ltd, Clober Works, Clober Road, Milngavie 
Balgownie Engineering & Dairy Utensil Supplies, 631-633 George Street, Aberdeen 
Barclay, Ross & Hutchison Ltd, 67 Green, Aberdeen 
Robert Begg & Sons, Sharon Street, Dalry
William Begg & Sons, plough specialists, Tarbolton, Mauchline
J. Bisset & Sons Ltd, Greenbank Works, Blairgowrie 
B. M. B. Ltd, Hawkhead Road, Paisley 
James Bowen & Sons Ltd, 45-49 Pitt Street, Edinburgh 
J. D. Bryan, Culthill Works, Murthly, Perthshire 

Caledonian Agricultural Co. Ltd, 33-41 Brown Street, Glasgow, and 76-78 Pitt Street, Edinburgh 
Cobban of Inverurie, Union Works, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire
Thomas Cochran & Co., 148 Sword Street, Glasgow 
James Crichton, millwright and engineer, Turriff, Aberdeenshire 
Cruickshank & Co. Ltd, agricultural department, Denny Iron Works, Denny, Stirlingshire 

James A. Cuthbertson Ltd, agricultural engineers, Biggar, Lanarkshire
The Dairy Supply Co. Ltd, 12 Grassmarket, Edinburgh 
Dairyority Ltd, Old Fafley Mills, Duntocher, Dumbartonshire  
William Dickie & Sons Ltd, Victoria Implement Works, East Kilbride
Fleming & Co. (Machinery), 31 Robertson street, Glasgow 
P. & R. Fleming & Co., 10 Graham Square, Glasgow and Kelvin Works, Keith Street, Glasgow 
J. R. Forrester & Co., 5-9 Weir Street, Paisley 
R. G. Garvie & Sons, 2 Canal Road, Aberdeen 
Gillies & Henderson Ltd, 59 Bread Street, Edinburgh 
Eddie T. Y. Gray, Fairbank Works, Fetterangus, Mintlaw Station, Aberdeenshire  

George Henderson Ltd, 18 Forth Street, Edinburgh and Kelso Foundry, Kelso 
George Henderson, Catrine Road, Mauchline 
Hutcheon (Turriff) Ltd, agricultural merchants, Turriff 
Alexander Jack & Sons Ltd, Maybole 
Robert Kay & Son, Stirling Road, Milnathort, Kinross 
Alexander Laurie & Sons, trailer and motor body builders, Camelon, Falkirk 
L. O. Tractors Ltd, Coupar Angus, Perthshire 
James McGowan, Dechmont Welding & Engineering Works, Dalton, Cambuslang 

Kenneth Mckenzie & Sons, agricultural engineers, Evanton, Ross-shire
Mackenzie & Moncur Ltd, Balcarres Street, Edinburgh 
Marshall & Philp, 179 Union Street, Aberdeen 
The Mather Dairy Utensils Co. Ltd, 51 Newall Terrace, Dumfries 
John S. Millar & Son, 91 High Street, Annan 
A. Newlands & Sons Ltd, agricultural engineers, Linlithgow
Thomas Nimmo, Braehead, Fauldhouse, West Lothian  
A. & W. Pollock, Implement Works, Mauchline 
Ramsay & Sons (Forfar) Ltd, 61 West High Street, Forfar, Angus 
Allan W. Reid (Ayr) Ltd, Main Road, Whitletts, Ayr  
William Reid & Leys, agricultural implement makers, 8 Hadden Street, Aberdeen 
Reekie Engineering Co. Ltd, Lochlands Works, Arbroath 
A. M. Russell Ltd, Sinton Works, Gorgie Road, Edinburgh 
Ryeside Agricultural and Engineering Works, Dalry, Ayrshire 
Alexander Scott (Agricultural Engineers) Ltd, Caledonian Implement Works, St Ninians, Stirling

A. & J. Scoular Ltd, Main Street, Thornhill, by Stirling 
Scottish Agricultural Industries Ltd, Rosehall, Haddington 
Scottish Aviation Ltd, Prestwick Airport, Ayrshire 
Scottish Farm Implements Ltd, Crosshouse, kilmarnock 
Scottish Mechanical Light Industries Ltd, Scotmec Works, 42-44 Waggon Road, Ayr
George Sellar & Son Ltd, agricultural engineeers, 30 Great Northern Road, Kittybrewster, Aberdeen 

Alexander Shanks & Sons Ltd, Dens Iron Works, Arbroath 
Thomas Sinclair, engineer, Main street, Reston, Berwickshire 
Thomas Sherriff & Co. Ltd, West Barns, Dunbar 
Smith & Wellstood Ltd, Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire 
Tullos Ltd, Aberdeen 
James H. Steele Ltd, “Everything for the farm”, Harrison Road, Edinburgh 
Stenson & Co., 200-204 Strathmartine Road, Dundee
Alexander Strang (Tractors) Ltd, Pipe Street, Portobello, Edinburgh 
J. & R. Wallace Ltd, The Foundry, Castle Douglas 
John Wallace & Sons Ltd, 34 Paton Street, Glasgow 
John Wallace & Sons (Ayr), Towhead works, Smith Street, Ayr
Charles Weir Ltd, Townhead Works, Strathaven.

How many of these names do you recognise? 

The photographs of makers nameplates and implement seats are from a number of rallies in Scotland from 2013 onwards.

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Early ploughing matches in Scotland

The Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement was a keen promoter of agriculture in Britain. Key to agricultural development was the securing of agricultural knowledge and the dissemination of that knowledge. The Board’s county agricultural surveys, 1793-1817, were to play an important part in disseminating knowledge on agriculture throughout Britain.

These reports were written according to a systematic manner, allowing the Board and its readers to compare and contrast the agriculture, agricultural practices and tools and implements in each county. Within these chapters the Board was interested to hear about developments such as ploughing matches.

A number of the Scottish surveys provide accounts of ploughing matches and attitudes towards them. Together they provide an overview of the state of matches. The following are a number of accounts:

Dumbartonshire (1811) 
There are at present no agricultural societies belonging properly to the county of Dumbarton. … This defect is in some measure supplied by the operations of the Glasgow Farmer Society, a respectable body of practical farmers, several of whom reside within the bounds of this county. Besides circulating information, and affording relief to unfortunate members, this society has been of use in exciting a spirit of emulation and desire to excel in the farm servants, by the institution of ploughing matches, and the distribution of prizes to those who distinguish themselves by superior proficiency in this branch of rural industry. These competitions are attended in some respects with a portion of inconvenience, raising spirit of jealousy among the competitors, and fostering a propensity to vanity and idleness in those who are successful. Still they are on the whole highly beneficial, in directing the attention of both farmers and ploughmen to the condition of their work-horses, the perfection of their implements, and that minute accuracy in performing every part of their work which is essential to correct, and (it may be added) truly profitable cultivation.
In those parts of the county which lie farthest from Glasgow, and where ploughing was formerly more neglected, similar competitions have been lately introduced for prizes given by the Highland Society of Scotland; and the spirit of improvement which they encourage, has already begun to display itself in those parishes to which the competition extends.”

Aberdeenshire (1811) 
Agricultural societies established – Of these we have several in the different divisions, and even inferior divisions. In the division of Marr, there is one in Aberdeen, one in Alford, and one in Kincardine. These meet frequently for the purpose of improving in agricultural knowledge, and for deciding ploughing matches; and in one of the inferior districts of Alford, there is a Friendly Society. In the divisions of Buchan and the garish, and in various other places, there are Societies for all the above purposes; and their effects are found to be very beneficial both in the improved cultivation of our lands, and for the support of the infirm, the widows and the fatherless. But it is unnecessary to be more particular in this article”.

Stirlingshire (1812) 
“Of the utility of instituting ploughing matches, in particular, some have entertained doubts. It has been alleged that the ploughmen who have been successful in these competitions became henceforth insolent and extravagant in their demands of wages; it is presumed, however, that the superior dexterity acquired, and widely diffused among ploughmen by these competitions far outweighs the evil complained of. There needs no other proof of this than the difference that is to be observed in respect to ploughing, between the cases of Stirlingshire, where ploughing matches are unknown, and the bounds of the Gargunnock club. In the former, the operation is performed, for the most part, in a slovenly manner; the ridges are broad and crooked; in the latter, the form of the ridges, and the manner in which the furrow is turned, furnish a model.”

The photographs were taken at the Easter Ross Ploughing Match, November 2017.

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Thrashing and thrashing machines in Stirlingshire in 1811

Patrick Graham, Minister of Aberfoyle, wrote the General View of the Agriculture of Stirlingshire for the Board of Agriculture. It was published in 1811. He includes a short, but detailed, account of threshing mills and their use in the county. This account was made when there was already a wide use of threshing in the county by a number of means, including horse power and water power. It is worth quoting at length: 

“Suffice it to say, that thrashing mills, with their appendages of shakers, and winnowing machines or manners, are now very generally introduced into this county. Few or none who farm to any extent in the eastern and southern districts, want this first implement of husbandry. They are almost universally wrought by horses, water being for the most part scarce. The power of the mill is estimated by the number of horses that is necessary to work it; an indefinite estimate, it must be allowed, to persons unacquainted with the strength of the horses employed, but sufficiently intelligible in the district under consideration. We speak of a thrashing mill of a three horse power, a four horse and a six horse. 

From the daily increasing price of wood, and of other materials of every kind, an ordinary thrashing machine costs from L60 to L200. A thrashing mill of a three horse power, in this county, about four years ago, L125. At the present day it would cost 25 per cent more. Ten men are employed whilst it is in use, in the various operations belonging to it; it thrashes at the rate of ten bolls of wheat every hour, or 100 bolls in a day often hours.Without enlarging on the utility of this machine, this may suffice to demonstrate the saving which it occasions. It is unnecessary to offer an estimate of the time, and the number of hands that would be required to thrash 100 bolls of wheat by the flail. It is reckoned that one third of the expense of labour is saved by the use of the thrashing mill.”

Graham also shows that the thrashing machines were already a labour-saving machine, though one that has increased in price in recent years.

The photographs of threshing were taken at B. A. Stores, Aberdeenshire, May 2018.

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Carts in Perthshire in 1799

What were carts like during the agricultural revolution of the late eighteenth century when there were significant change stop the appearance of the landscape and the way the land was farmed?

Carts were one of a small number of agricultural implements to be found on Scottish farms. The writer of the county agricultural survey of Perthshire, James Robertson, Minister at Callander, wrote a detailed account on them. It provides a clear account of what they looked like, how they were constructed and also their use. It is worth quoting at length:

“All the implements of husbandry are constructed according to better models and made of better materials, than formerly. So late as 20 years ago, no plough was to be seen, but on a gentleman’s farm in the low lands of this county, except that which is now called the old Scots plough, drawn by four oxen and two horses, or by four horses and two oxen. In the Highlands the same kind of plough was universally used, drawn by four horses all yoked abreast. Instead of carts with wheels moveable upon the axle; that clumsy machine, in which the wheels were fixed to the axle, described by the President of the Board and still to be met with in the northern counties, was very common in all the low lands of Perthshire. The wheels had no spoaks or naves. They were composed of three sections of solid plank, fixed together and rounded like the bottom of a large cask; and the axle was fixed in the centre, going through the middle section. The shafts had two pins that embraced the axle and made these awkward wheels tumble along; from which circumstance they were named tumblers. A timber mallet wrought by the hand was all they had for a roller to break the clods in the stiff land of the cases. Fanners were very rare, and threshing machines not known. In the Highlands, the people performed distant carriages of bulky commodities with hurdles, fixed on each side of the horse, by means of a hooked car saddle, still remembered by the name of currants.

Less bulky commodities were carried in hampers or baskets, made of young hazel, with a square mouth, and fixed on the horse’s back with the dame car saddle. Near carriages, particularly the ingathering of their hay and corns, were executed with a fledge, which consisted of two shafts reaching from the collar in the horse’s neck to the ground, with cross bars near the horse’s hind feet, for a bottom, and at least seven erect bars behind, for keeping on the load. This fledge succeeding the hurdle and evidently required some road, wghereas the hurdle could be used wherever it was possible for a horse to walk. The name which this sledge has in the language of the Highlands shows that it was the carries of the Gaul’s in Caesar’s time; and the English name car is borrowed evidently from the Latin. Upon this sledge or car the fanners in the Highlands carried out the dung in large baskets, diverging towards the mouth in the shape of an equilateral triangle, one side of the basket lying on the bottom or floor of the sledge, the dung was carried tto the field in baskets with moveable bottoms, like a valve, fixed to the hooked car sale, which opened in the bottom by a pin and dropped the dung where it was necessary. On these sledges they carried home their peats in other baskets of a square form and of such capacity as to hold a horse’s load; but where the road was so steep that the car could not be used. They adapted small baskets of the same form fixed on the horse’s sides to the hooked car sale. In many parts of the Highlands, these sledges are still employed for carrying grain nd hay, as well as peats; especially where the roads are so rugged and uneven as to render the use of carts impracticable. However censurable this practice may appear to a stranger, yet in some situations it is unavoidable; and at first sight it would seem incredible, with what dispatch and safety the people perform their work and also with fewer hands than carts or wagons would require. Sledges are indeed going out, and ought to be so, where the cross roads in a country or the by-roads in a farm are passable by carts. 

But notwithstanding every improvement which the roads have undergone; the principal lines of communication having deservedly claimed the first attention of the public; this has hitherto left the roads in other situations, in such a state, especially where the country is rocky or hilly, that carts would be overturned every moment. Distant carriages in every part of this county, where the journey is on the king’s highway, are universally performed by carts. 
It is to be hoped, if the wagons used in the moor lands of Yorkshire, could be introduced with advantage into the Highlands of Scotland, as Mr Marshall says they can, that the Board will favour the country with a drawing of one, accompanied with directions how to use it.”

The photographs of carts with pneumatic tyres dating from the 1930s onwards were an important development in carts. The photographs are of carts made by Pollock and Jack, both of Ayrshire, at the Ayrshire Vintage Agricultural Machinery Rally.


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Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers in 1939

At the outbreak of the Second World War there continued to be a number of agricultural implement and machine makers that had been in existence for a number of decades as well as newer ones. They were operating in an environment where tractors were growing in importance, but the horse was still an important means of power. Makers had to cater for both means of power. 

Who were the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers in 1939? A number of directories record makers who included: 

Allan Brothers, Ashgrove Engineering Works, Aberdeen 
J. D. Allan & Sons, Culthill Implement Works, Murthly, Perthshire 
G. Rae-Arnot & Co., 52 Crossgate, Cupar 
J. L. & J. Ballach, Gorgie Implement Works, Edinburgh 
Barclay, Ross & Hutchison Ltd, 67-71 Green, Aberdeen 
William Begg, plough specialist, Tarbolton, Ayrshire 
J. Bisset & Sons Ltd, Greenbank Works, Blairgowrie 
B. M. B. Ltd, Hawkhead Road, Paisley 
James Bowen & Sons Ltd, 57-59 Pitt Street, Edinburgh 
Thomas Cochran & Co., 108 Waterloo Street, Glasgow 
Cruikshank & Co. Ltd (Agricultural Department), Denny Iron Works, Denny 
The Dairy Supply Co., Ltd, 12 Grassmarket, Edinburgh 
William Dickie & Sons, Victoria Works and Iron Foundry, East Kilbride 

Fleming & Co., 31 Robertson Street, Glasgow 
P. & R. Fleming & Co., agricultural engineers, Graham Square and 29 Argyle Street, Glasgow 
R. G. Garvie & Sons, 2 Canal Road, Aberdeen 
Gillies & Henderson, 59 Bread Street, Edinburgh 
Eddie T. Y. Gray, Fairbank Sectional Building Works, Fetterangus, Mintlaw Station, Aberdeenshire 
James Hamilton & Sons, 522 Gallowgate, Glasgow
George Henderson Ltd, 18 Forth Street, Edinburgh, and Kelso Foundry, Kelso 
W. Henderson & Sons, 330 Kelvindale Road, Glasgow
Alexander Jack & Sons, Maybole, Ayrshire 
William Kinross & Sons, 27 Port Street, Stirling 
L. O. Tractors Ltd, St Catherine’s Road, Perth 
Mackenzie & Moncur Ltd, Balcarres Street, Edinburgh 
D. McNeil Ltd, 37 Douglas Street, Glasgow 
Marshall & Philp, 179 Union Street, Aberdeen 
Mather Dairy Utensils Co. Ltd, 51 Newall Terrace, Dumfries 

John S. Millar & Son, water engineers, 89 High Street, Annan
John Monro, Eclipse Implement Works, Kirkcaldy 
A. Newlands & Sons Ltd, St Magdlaene Engineering Works, Linlithgow
Neilson & Cleland Ltd, 122 main Street, Coatbridge 
Thomas Nimmo, Braehead, Fauldhouse, West Lothian 
D. T. Paterson, Sinclair’s Hill, Duns 
A. C. Penman Ltd, Queensberry Motor Works, Dumfries 
A. & W. Pollock, Implement Works, Mauchline, Ayrshire 
Wm Reid (Forres), Morayshire 
A. M. Russell, 108-112 West Bow, Grassmarket, Edinburgh 
The Scottish Motor Traction Co. Ltd, 39 Fountainbridge, Edinburgh 
George Sellar & Son Ltd, Huntly and Alloa 
Alexander Shanks & Son Ltd, Dens Iron Works, Arbroath 
Shearer Brothers Ltd, Maybank Works, Turriff, Aberdeenshire

Thomas Sherriff & Co., Agricultural Machinery Works, West Barns, Dunbar 
Alexander Strang (Tractors) Ltd, 4 Duddingston Gardens South, Edinburgh 
G. D. L. Swann & Son, dairy engineers, 32-36 Abercorn Street, Glasgow 
Smith & Wellstood Ltd, Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire 
James H. Steele, “Everything for the Farm”, Harrison Road, Edinburgh 
J. & R. Wallace, The Foundry, Castle Douglas
John Wallace & Sons Ltd, 34 Paton Street, Dennistoun, Glasgow 
Charles Weir Ltd, Townpark Works, Strathaven, Lanarkshire.

How many of these names do you recognise?

The photographs were taken at rallies around Scotland in 2017.

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Celebrating the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers of yesteryear