According to Henry Stephens in The Book of the Farm (1908), writing of summer pasture, “thistles and docks are the most troublesome of the larger weeds. These should be cut or hoed out twice in each season. When the soil is fairly moist docks should be pulled out by the roots. The best time to cut thistles is when the flower is beginning to form, as the roots are now weaker than when the plants are only a few inches above the ground, and they are not yet mature enough to produce seed. The common thistle spreads principally by underground stems, which make this plant much more difficult to eradicate, while the Scotch thistle is produced from seed only, and is therefore more easily dealt with. The smaller weeds, such as daisies, buttercups, sorrel, and plantains, can be effectively checked by judicious manurial treatment and the proper grazing of pastures.”
The cutting of thistles could be a tiresome job especially where there were a lot of them. There were a number of mechanical thistle cutters developed. In 1898 at the Highland Show John Ritchie, Kelso, exhibited “an ingenious thistle cutter”. Others followed in later years. In 1901 one was made by A. & J. Main & Co., Glasgow. It was described as a “new patent bracken and thistle cutter”. A further one was made in 1904 by J. D. Allan & Sons, Murthly. In 1909 P. & R. Fleming & Co., Glasgow, had a new patent thistle cutter which it exhibited at the Highland Show.
At the start of the Second World War interest in bracken eradication stimulated the development of machines that could cut bracken as well as other weeds. In 1939, two well-known cutters were the Henderson thistle cutter, a horse drawn Irvings bracken and thistle cutter and a Triangle thistle cutter. The Henderson thistle cutter became well-known. One or two of them can still be seen around the rally field.
Thistle cutters were a frequently noted machine at farm displenishing sales. One was noted at Sundhope, Yarrow, in 1910. Another at Faldonside, near Melrose in 1908.
The photographs of the Henderson thistle cutter were taken at the Strathnairn rally, 2019.
Traction engine fans may very well question the title of this post. John Fowler & Co, and later John Fowler & Co. (Leeds) Ltd, have always been associated with Leeds, and in particular the Steam Plough Works. However, for a short period of time the company had business premises in Edinburgh to deal with its Scottish customers. It was the first of the traction engine makers to have a presence in Scotland, with Robey & Co., of Lincoln, having premises in Edinburgh in 1880, and then a post office box in Glasgow some years later. True, these companies had Scottish agents such as Alexander Jack & Sons, Maybole, James B. A, McKinnel, Dumfries, William Mears, Edinburgh and G. W. Murray & Co., Banff, either for short or much longer periods of time.
A dedicated presence meant that the company had a direct relationship with its customers. The company had its own representatives in Scotland from the second half of the 1850s. The name Mr Greig was well known to framers and agriculturists. He was George Greig, farmer, Harvieston, Kincardineshire, also brother of David Greig employed by Fowler’s in Leeds. By 1869 Fowler’s was involved in the patent of Pirie’s double furrow plough (made by Thoomas Pirie of Kinmundy, Aberdeenshire) and in making and selling it. Mr Greig had started to advertise its for sale from his farm at Harvieston, but because of the great interest in it and Fowler’s traction and ploughing traction engines, more extensive interests needed to be put in place.
In 1869 Fowler’s acquired the tenancy of an office in India Buildings, near to the Grassmarket and the agricultural district of Edinburgh. By the following year George Greig was named as the formal agents for Fowlers in Edinburgh. The company described itself in local trade directories as J. Fowler & Co., engineers, Leeds, George Greig, 1 India Buildings, Edinburgh, agent. The company advertised each week in the Scottish agricultural press, and the names Greig, Fowler and India Buildings were closely associated in the minds of the Scottish farmers and other agriculturists.
The tenancy appears to have been on a short-term basis. In 1874 the company had moved to 4 India Buildings. In 1878 the company was not able to get a room in India Buildings and had to move to nearby Giles Street for a number of months until it could get a further room back in 1879. The company remained at India Buildings until 1884.
During the years it spent at India Buildings, the company undertook extensive work in Scotland to promote and support the promotion, sale and use of double furrow ploughs, traction engines and steam ploughing engines and tackle. For example, it arranged trials of steam ploughing and cultivating tackle, provided advice for Scottish conditions, support to farmers and other agriculturists. It exhibited at the Highland Show as well as other agricultural shows, such as those in Ayrshire and East Lothian.
Its activities took place at a time when the use of steam on farms was well-established, steam ploughing had been tried and tested and was being used in increasing numbers in some districts of the country, especially East Lothian, Fife, Kincardineshire and parts of Aberdeenshire.
The company moved out of India Buildings when the market for steam ploughing and traction engines became difficult. After 1879 there started a period of agricultural depression which was to continue into the first decade of the twentieth century. With no strong demand for its products the company focused its sales from its Leeds headquarters.
A few years ago India Buildings was open to the public at the time of the Edinburgh Festival. The photographs are of the premises at no 1. India Buildings.
By 1897 Scottish agriculture had been going through a prolonged recession for almost two decades. It had a profound impact on Scottish agriculture and on the making of implements and machines. In turn, that had an impact on what was being exhibited at the Highland Show and who was exhibiting. The Glasgow Show of 1897 was one of the largest that had been seen in Scotland for a number of years. It was also an important years for the dairy sector, with the development of the Murchland milking machine – and the mechanisation of milking.
An account of the implement department of the show in The Scotsman described what was at the Show. It is quoted at length for its relevance to the Scottish agricultural implement makers:
“The space set apart for the implement yard exceeds 5000 feet, and there are 2227 implements shown on 183 stands. Although not the largest show of implements that has been seen at Glasgow, it is all over a good exhibition, and embraces everything that embraces everything that enters into farm husbandry. At Perth last year the number of implements shown was 1945, and at Dumfries in 1895 they reached the large number of 2265. This year’s entry has been exceeded at only seven of the seventy shows held by the Society; and it is larger by 600 than that at last Glasgow show in 1888, but is 400 less than at the show of 1882. Although there are no absolute novelties in the implement section, there is no end of variety, and all the productions of the agricultural engineer are shown with their most recent improvements. The Society do not this year offer prizes for implements, but in connection with the show a competitive test of milking machines took place a month or two ago, when the prize of £50 was awarded to Mr William Murchland, Kilmarnock. His machine will be shown in working operation daily, and will be one of the chief attractions of the show. It was seen by the judges at work on three farms, and on each occasion samples of the milk drawn from the cows by the machine, and from the same cows by hand, were taken and set, in order to test the keeping qualities of the milk. On two of the farms the machine had been at work since 1891, and on the third for two months, and the judges stated that in each case it was found to perform the operation of milking efficiently and speedily. The time occupied for each cow was generally from four to six minutes, sometimes rather less. It seemed to cause no discomfort to the cows, and no injury to the teats or udder. It drew the milk by continuous suction, without any apparent pulsating movement. The apparatus was simple in its construction, equally simple in its working, and not difficult to clean or keep clean. The power required to work the machine was not great, At the first farm a half-horsepower oil engine milked ten cows at a time quite easily. Until this engine was put in recently, the machine was worked by one man, with an ordinary force pump. In every instance, the samples of milk drawn by the machine were found to keep satisfactorily. After a lapse of forty-eight hours they were perfectly sweet and in no respect inferior to the milk drawn by hand. The judges state that they regard this machine as a practical success, and are of opinion that in large dairies, where milkers are scarce, it may be introduced with advantage.
The exhibition of implements is the largest that has been seen at the Highland Show for the last twelve years, and in every respect the department is most complete. Every class of machine used in husbandry is on exhibition, and no more striking example of the great progress that has taken place in the economy of the farm could be afforded than the present display of machinery for facilitating the farm work of today. One of the first stands to command attention is that of Messrs George Gray & Co., Uddingston Plough Works, where a very fine assortment of ploughs of all kinds is on view. Next to this stand is that of Messrs John Drummond & Son, engineers, Cumnock, who exhibit two kinds of superior thrashing machines. A large and complete stand is that of Messrs A. Newlands & Sons, Linlithgow, where all kinds of farm machinery are on view. One of the features of this stand is the display of drill ploughs, which baulk up the drills in such a fashion as to leave no green potatoes. A particularly good implement is the potato-lifter, which so works as to lift up the tubers without injuring them. The action of the machine is the same as that of a man lifting potatoes. Its action is very natural. In most machines of this kind the action is rotary, but here the machine only describes a half-circle, with the result that the potatoes are delved out as if by manual labour. The invention, which is patented by Mr Newlands and Mr Burns, a potato merchant, has been in use this year digging out the green potatoes at Girvan. Another exhibit at this stand worthy of mention is a self-acting horse-rake of very simple mechanism.
Passing on, the next stand to call for notice is that of Mr William Elder, Berwick upon Tweed, who shows a varied and interesting group of machines. A feature is the improved mower and reaper, worked from the hinge bar instead of from the pole, thus dispensing entirely with side draught. The broadcast sowers of this firm are known all over the country, and are great favourites on many leading farms. Some improvements have been introduced into them this year, and seed box having been made larger, to mention only one improvement. The steel-board ridging ploughs are so constructed that the draught weight is reduced to a minimum. Great labour-saving implements are the drill rollers and grubbers, which are so notched as to break the clods, and can be adjusted to any size or width of the drill.
Mr A. Pollock, Mauchline, shows a very good collection of labour-saving appliances, and it may be mentioned that many of the products of this firm have already been booked, so great is the demand for the machines of this prominent Ayrshire maker. A very good substantial combined reaper and mower of a new style, with a tilting board for hay and corn, is one of the features of this stand; while a hay and straw press, which is on show, is so arranged that one person can lift it by its own lever on to its wheels in one minute after the men stop baling, making it easy for transport. Practical agriculturists should make a pause at this exhibit. The distinction of having won the gold medal at Haddington belongs to this press. A very handy rick lifter is case-hardened in the centre of the wheel as well as in the axle, thus adding to its durability. This machine only weighs 6cwt gross. A patent hay collector is also on view, as well as an improved potato digger; while there is an example of Nicholson’s patent switchback hay turner, which Mr Pollock was the first to introduce into Ayrshire. There are also shown a double cheese press and a patent curd mill, similar to those used in the Dairy School at Kilmarnock. The features of the curd mill are the round teeth and the open grating in the centre, enabling it to break up more effectively, and without getting twisted round the breaker.
Messrs George Sellar & Son, Huntly, have a goodly show of ploughs, harrows, grubbers, and binders. Messrs P. & R. Fleming & Co., Glasgow, have one of the largest stands in the implement yard. A prominent feature is the corrugated steel shed fitted with the horse fork. Beneath the shed is a large assortment of dairy and laundry utensils, while a large Bradford windmill is one of the features of the landscape. It is claimed for this windmill that the highest wind will not overcome it, and certainly it has plenty of opportunity of distinguishing its capabilities yesterday. The firm also show many of the machines for which they are the agents. Messrs John Gray & Co., Uddingtson, have on show a large display of ploughs and other agricultural implements; while Mr Charles Weir, Strathaven, exhibits rick lifters and churns.
Mr Thomas Turnbull, Castle Bank, Dumfries, has a stand on which he shows an improved Dumfries broadcast sower for grain and grass seeds, along with chaff cutters and grinding and churning mills. Weighing machines have of late been coming to the front in farm work, and the stand of Messrs Ward & Avery, Glasgow, devoted to these exhibits, is therefore all the more interesting. Messrs Henry Pooley & Son, Glasgow, also show in this department a number of weighbridges of various capacities. Mr John Scoular, Stirling, makes a large display of agricultural appliances; and the stand of Mr J. P. Cathcart, Glasgow, is also a most complete one.
The machines of Walter A. Wood are exhibited at the stands of Messrs P. & R. Fleming, Glasgow, and George Sellar & Sons, Huntly. Messrs Kemp & Nicholson, Stirling, have a large stand on which they show horse rakes, reapers, mowers, hay collectors, spring carts, farm carts, vans and lorries. The Morgan hay baler at this stand is a machine which can load 50cwt of hay on an ordinary railway wagon, pressing hay to double the density of the old-fashioned press. An improved cart turnip cutting machine is worthy of notice here. Messrs James Grey & Co, Stirling, have also a goodly collection of implements. One of the largest stands in the show is that of Messrs A. & J. Main & Co., Edinburgh and Glasgow. The chief exhibits at this stand are the Deering binders, an American make of machine which has been pushing its way to the front in Scotland. The Deering pony binder is fitted with roller and ball bearings while the Deering ideal mowers and combined mowers and reapers are also fitted in a similar fashion. The Deering Harvester Company introduced ball bearings into their machines five years ago, and since that time many other firms have adopted this contrivance. One of their pony binders is fitted with slot conveyors instead of canvasses. Their McDonald turnip topping and tailing machine won a silver medal at the Dumfries Highland Show. Shown for the first time was the one horse back-delivery reaper and mower, which is specially adapted for small farms and crofts, and which is used as a supplementary machine to the binder for opening up fields. With Brown’s Cammo cart turnip cutting machine, also exhibited at this stand, a cartful of turnips can be cut in seven minutes.
Messrs Thomas Hunter & Sons, Maybole, show a very nice collection of implements of general utility in the cultivation of the soil, chiefly applicable to the root crops. Mr Wm McNaughton, Stirling, shows hand presses. Messrs J. D. Allan & Sons, Dunkeld; Mr William Dickie, East Kilbride; Mr Matthew Dunlop, Glasgow, and Messrs John Turnbull & Sons, Dunmore, Larbert, have all good collections of various kinds of agricultural implements. Messrs G. McCartney & Co., Old Cumnock, exhibit a couple of thrashing mills- one of them a high speed machine fitted with riddle and fanners. An attractive display is made by Messrs Thomas Sherriff & Co., Westbarns, Dunbar. A feature of their exhibition is an improved broadcast sowing machine for grain and grass seeds, which at Haddington Show on Saturday was awarded a silver medal. This comprehensive stand also includes a collapsible sheep fodder rack of novel design.
Messrs John Wallace & Sons, Glasgow, like many other local firms, have a large display, comprising the City of Glasgow and the Thistle binders, the popular Massey-Harris cultivators, and the Champion potato-digger, with two and three horse trees. The hay “tedders’ exhibited by the firm are worth the attention of visitors. Driven by one horse, they are every day coming into greater demand. Naturally a prominent machine on the stand of Messrs J. Bisset & Sons, Blairgowrie, is the firm’s open back binder, which was shown at the trials in connection with the show at Edinburgh in 893, and obtained a favourable notice from the judges then. Among the firm’s other exhibits is the safety potato digger.
Messrs Alexander Jack & Sons, Maybole, have a large stand, on which are specimens of the strong and compact Empire binder and the well-known Caledonia potato digger, which, being fitted with enclosed gearing, is capable of standing a great deal of wear and tear. The digger, which was first at the trials of the Leicester Royal Show a year ago, holds a prominent position in the market as a perfectly arranged machine. A moderately priced horse hoe and specimens of the Dux Canadian ploughs are among the other exhibits by which the firm is represented.
The motion yard is not very extensive, but it is extremely interesting, and embraces an excellent collection of machinery of the farm. Mr H. B. Fleming, Kirkliston, shows the “Bisset” reaper and binder. Messrs Carrick & Ritchie, Edinburgh, show a large collection of their improved turbines, pelton wheels, jet water motors, and other appliances for the utilisation of water for power for mills, farm machinery &c. the application of water power to country house lighting by electricity is illustrated by a combined turbine and dynamo. Another novelty is a combined jet water motor and dynamo suitable for lighting a small house containing thirty lamps. Another application of water power for the ventilation of buildings is shown. This is a very compact combination of a jet motor and ventilating fan, by which the town water supply entering a cistern may be made to yield up its power in driving the ventilating fan, and then pass into the cistern for domestic use.
Messrs Ben Reid & Co., Aberdeen, have an attractive stand, at which the show in notion five thrashing machines of the newest and most improved type, fitted with double blast and barley awner. They have also at work one of the Massey Harris Brantford binders, fitted with the original patent slat conveyer. They likewise show their well-known broadcast sowing machines and manure distributers, together with a varied assortment of useful articles for farm work. Thrashing machines and engines are the leading features of the stand occupied by Mr R. G. Morton, Errol, and these are of an excellent description, neatly designed, and well finished. Windmills are conspicuous objects on the stands of Messrs P. & W. Maclellan, Glasgow, and Messrs John S. Millar & Son, Annan. As in former years, Messrs Thos Gibson & Son, Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, have one of the largest individual spaces in the yard allotted to their exhibits. Their name is so well known for ornamental iron work that little need be said on their behalf.
Mr William Sinton, Jedburgh, shows an interesting assortment of churns; and Mr John Gray, Stranraer, has on view cheese vats, presses, refrigerators, and other dairy utensils. The Dairy Supply Company, Edinburgh, exhibit a large collection of separators and other appliances of a useful character. The Sorn Dairy Supply, Glasgow, have a working dairy, which should prove a source of much attraction, the process of buttermaking being carried on daily. Messrs Watson, Laidlaw, & Co., Glasgow, show a number of cream separators in this section of the implement yard.”
Quite a show by all accounts!
The photographs were taken at the Highland Show, 2019.
What would the farmers and agriculturists in 1924 see at the Highland Show?
The exhibition of implements and machines at the Highland Show was always well recorded in the local, regional and agricultural press. In 1924 the Scotsman provided a lengthy account of the Show which included reference to Scottish exhibitors. The following extract sets out a general account of the implement department and some of the well-known Scottish exhibitors.
The display of farm implements is arresting in its scope and variety of interest. All phases of agriculture are represented, and many firms noted for the character of their products have stands. Particular interest naturally attaches to the new contrivances designed to aid the farmer in his operations, while noteworthy improvements in detail are to be noted on familiar implements. The casual visitor, as well as the agriculturist, will find a round of the stands an instructive experience.
A wide range of implements and appliances is shown by Messrs Gillies & Henderson, Bread Street, Edinburgh, at stand 172. Useful types of binders and mowers are shown, as well as a manure distributor, a horse rake, hay collectors, and a hay bogie, a rick stand, a potato digger, and other implements.
At Stand 127 of Messrs A. Newlands & Son (Ltd), St Magdalene Engineering Works, Linlithgow, there is a fine display. The Newlands tractor and horse cultivators and grubbers, horse hoes, and horse rakes are all marked by superior workmanship. They have also on view a wide selection of well-known implements by other firms, including the McCormick rake and grain drill, and the “International” tractor.
A notable feature of Stand 149, Messrs J. L. & J. Ballach, Gorgie Implement Works, Edinburgh, are the patent scarifiers produced by this firm. The No. 3 patent disc drill scarifier is fitted with compensating spring levers and sidelands arrangement, and the No. 4 patent combined scarifier has hoeing attachments. Turnip sowers, a combined turnip and manure sower, grinders, a potato sorter, a vertical steam boiler, complete with steaming pans, suitable for dairies and piggeries, and an artificial manure distributor are also among the exhibits, which embrace different aspects of agricultural activities.
Besides having two new implements on view, Messrs Thomas Sheriff & Co., West Barns, Dunbar, have some of their familiar and well-made implements at Stand 155. Their drills, seeders, and sowers have a well-established reputation for good workmanship, and there are typical examples to be seen at their stand.
A large variety of iron goods, chains, and blacksmiths’ supplies are on view at Stand No. 222, occupied by Neilson & Cleland (Ltd), Coatbridge.
Among the other exhibitors of implements are such well-known firms as Messrs Robert Begg & Son, Dalry, Ayrshire; Messrs J. D. Allan & Sons, Murthly; Messrs Jas Gray & Co., Stirling; Messrs William Wilson & Son (Crosshouse), Ltd, Stirling; Messrs Wm Elder & Sons (Ltd), Berwick on Tweed; Messrs David Irons & Sons, Forfar; Messrs Alexander Jack & Sons (Ltd)., Maybole; Messrs Geo. Sellar & Son (Ltd), Huntly; Messrs John Doe (Ltd), Errol; Messrs J. Bisset & Sons (Ltd), Blairgowrie; and Messrs A. & W. Pollock, Mauchline, Ayrshire.
With such a representative list of makers and agents the implements section of the yard has many points of interest and lessons of practical value
The reporter was certainly impressed!
The photographs were taken at the Highland Show, 2019.
The year 1879 is an important year in Scottish agriculture. It marked the start if an agricultural depression that continued until the first decade of the twentieth century. It also marked the end of the “High period” of farming that had seen growth and development in Scottish and British farming. During theses decades Scottish farming had been revolutionised not only with the invention and development but also the widespread use of implements and machines, such as those relating to the grain harvest. The Scottish agricultural implement and machine making industry started to develop. A number of makers that were to continue their activities until the second half of the twentieth century became set up, grew and became well-known and well-established.
The Highland Show in 1879 was held in the Perth Show District, in Perth. An account of the show in the Dundee Courier notes the names and exhibitors of a number of implement and machine makers in central and north-eastern Scotland who were exhibiting at the show. Here is what the Courier noted of them:
Messrs Kemp & Nicholson, also from Stirling, exhibit a capital collection of agricultural implements and machines, comprising their celebrated Waverley, North British, and Caledonian reapers and mowers, horse rakes, hay collectors, farm carts, cart wheels and axles, two and three-wheeled grubbers, harrows, rollers, &c. Specialities in turnip lifters on a greatly improved pattern are shown at Stand 89 by Messrs Auchinachie & Simpson, Keith, who have been awarded gold medals for these lifters. These gentlemen also show fine specimens of ploughs and grubbers.
Messrs J D Allan & Son, Dunkeld, exhibit at Stand 87 potato diggers, with improved spring lever lifter, and also improved reapers and ploughs and other implements, all of which are of a highly superior description. A specimen of an American plough is to be found at Stand 135, which belongs to Mr Thomas Scott, Denny. The principal feature of this plough is that it is about a third lighter in draught than ordinary ploughs, while it is fitted with a sock which will serve a season without requiring repair. Mr Scott also exhibits a patent washing machine and an improved wringer, both of which are worthy the attention of heads of families, a wood reaping machine, and a number of other implements. Messrs J. Bissett & Sons, Blairgowrie, exhibit, at Stalls 156 and 165, agricultural implements of every description and of the best class. Among the principal articles are the turnip lifter and a Scotia mower, fed with two speeds of knife instantaneously, and changeable improved gearing encased and apart from ground wheels.
Mr W. Macfarlane, Ardler, who occupies Stands 160 and 169, shows a great variety of agricultural implements, amongst which are reapers, horse rakes, and drill harrows. He also exhibits a new and improved threshing machine of English style, invented and made by himself, and which is a compact and handy machine for fixed or barn use. The machinery is all enclosed, so that the dust cannot get in, and farmers will find this thresher of a very suitable description. A vertical engine of 6 horse power for driving the machine is also on view, the engine and boiler being on the same base.
Mr R. G. Morton, Errol, exhibits an entirely new direct-acting, high speed threshing and dressing machine at Stand 186. This machine is suitable for either water or steam power. There are only three belts in connection with the machine, and these communicate the power direct from the engine. The machine, to which dust cannot enter, is fitted with Mr Morton’s patent lubricators, which can contain oil to serve for three days. Mr Morton also exhibits grist mills for grinding barley, Indian corn, &c. Wood’s reaper and binder, horticultural engine (fitted with patent lubricators); patent reaper, with Williamson’s back delivery, this reaper being a mower manual and self-deliverer combined, and being fitted with hinged finger-bar and double driving-wheels. The machine was commended at the Royal Northern Agricultural Show at Aberdeen. At Stand 130 Robert Mitchell & Son, Peterhead, have a number of agricultural machines, amongst which we specially notice a couple of broadcast sowing machines for grain and grass seeds. The peculiarity of these is that the seed box is made in two divisions, and so constructed that each “swirls” round on a centre pivot at each side. The shortness of the half boxes keeps the fore end always at a distance from the horse’s head, and the whole thing is very portable and easily wrought, or stored when not in use. The boxes are of two lengths-18 and 14, the latter being specially suited for small holdings. Altogether, these sowers are likely to make their way with the farming fraternity. A number of rakes, grubbers, rollers, and ploughs at the same stand will repay inspection.
At Stand 139, George Sellar & Son, Huntly, exhibit a number of choice diggers, ploughs, harrows. Barclay & Sellar’s patent digger is now much used by the leading agriculturists in the north. It pulverises the lower part of the furrow slice, and turns over only the upper portion, leaving the roots of the weeds exposed to the winter’s frost, and the ground in a very friable condition. Stubble land cultivated by the digger does not require to be reploughed as it would do after the plough, but only requires to be harrowed in spring, and turnip land is left ready for the reception of the seed. Five of the ploughs at this stand are fitted with mould boards of an improved type, which were thoroughly tested last winter, and have proved very successful. The harrows are not fitted with bolts as usual, but have the tines driven firmly into the slots, thus forming a strong, simple, and durable article. The advantage of this style of harrow is that there is no danger of them shaking loose, and a farm servant can remove the tines when they require repair, and replace them again, without having to take down the whole harrow.
At Stand 158 (John Doe’s), Adamson & Co. of Dundee and Errol exhibit a very fine selection of agricultural drain tiles from 1 ½ inches to 14 inches in diameter, and also roofing tile, pressed brick, cut, and hardware. These are all being extensively used by agriculturists, and are entitled to practical patronage from farmers and others in want of such material, alike from their clean make and finished, yet substantial workmanship.”
These exhibitors included some well-known businesses that continued into the twentieth century. Some of their implements and machines can still be seen at rallies.
The photographs were taken at the Highland Show in 2019.
In that year the Show was held at Dundee, in the Perth Show District. This was one of the more important districts for the display of agricultural implements and machines. However, in 1890 there was an agricultural depression which was to continue into the start of the next decade. This had an impact on the farming systems used (including area under crop), the amount of money farmers had to spend, the types of new implements and machines being developed and on sale, and interest in what was being exhibited. These factors helped to shape the character of implements and machines at the Highland Show in 1890.
The North British Agriculture, the national Scottish agricultural newspaper provided a critique of the show. It includes reflection of the implement department as well as a description of the exhibitors and their stands:
“In such a busy commercial centre, it was only to be expected that there would be a good general display of farm implements. Not only have the local manufacturers and agents turned out in full strength, but there are many exhibitors from both north and south of the Tay; while a good few of the leading makers from the south side of the Tweed are, as usual, well represented.
There is, however, very little of a really new or novel character on exhibition. Various kinds of the implements such as potato diggers, harvesting machinery, &c, have been improved and perfected where this was possible since last season; but, as a general rule, there is little or nothing that will strike the visitor as radically new or much in advance of anything that has been seen for the past few years. All the exhibitors, however, have striven to make their collections as comprehensive and complete as possible; and the probability is that visitors will find this important department as well stocked, and as interesting at the Dundee Show as at most of the previous meetings of the Society. The competitive trials are this year confined to grist mills, for which prizes of £15 and £10 are offered. The price of the machine is not to exceed £25, and to be limited to eight horse power, and the mill is to be able to knibble or grind all kinds of grain. There are seventeen machines entered by the following exhibitors:-Blackstone & Co., Stamford; W. N. Nicholson & Sons, Newark; Woodroffe & Co., Rugeley; Wm Balfour, Pittenweem; Barford & Perkins, Peterborough; and R. G. Morton, Errol. The judges in this competition will conduct their operations simultaneously with those in the stock departments; and it is expected that the awards will be announced in the course of the second day of the show. Appended are a few notes of the various stands picked up in the course of a hurried walk through the implement yard on Monday-
Messrs J. D. Allan & Sons, Dunkeld, occupy as usual stand no. 1 with a large selection of their well-known farm implements. Quite a new one is a turnip cutting cart for sheep, which Messrs Allan have recently introduced to meet a growing demand. It is specially suited for the requirements of those who purchased blackfaced cast ewes for fattening on the low ground. The turnips are loaded into the cart and are cut as they are distributed by a Gardener’s revolving turnip cutter fitted underneath the cart, the power being supplied from the motion of the wheels. The turnips are cut into finger pieces and distributed with regularity all over the field. The operation is performed much more easily and expeditiously than by being cut first, then loaded and shovelled out, as by the old method.
Messrs Auchinachie & Simpson, of Keith, occupy the next place with neat collection of very serviceable implements. Besides a turnip and mangold sower, ridging plough, and broadcast sower, this firm show their steel tined keyed harrows in several sizes. These harrows have from their efficiency obtained a good reputation for their strength and firmness, while it claimed for them that they will wear about twice the time of the ordinary harrow.
Messrs Bisset & Sons, Blairgowrie, have the largest stand in the showyard in the implement shedding, and here we find the “Speedwell” reaper, which for efficient back delivery and light working enjoys a good name, and also the “Bisset” mower, a new pattern machine which has done excellent service in the hay harvest this year, Two binders are also shown, but it is at Messrs Bisset’s other stand, in the machinery in motion section, that these now famous machines are to be seen to advantage. Mr Thomas Hunter, of Maybole, amongst a very large selection of cultivating implements, shows the “Hunter” hoe-a remarkably serviceable little implement, which can be adapted to a great many purposes. It can be used for cleaning turnip drills previous to thinning, for ridging and grubbing potato drills, or it can be adapted to serve as an expanding drill harrow, or as a five tined drill grubber. The side frames being angle steel, are very rigid; and although the general appearance of the implement is light, it is nevertheless strong enough for the stiffest soils. Although this is one of the handiest little instruments we have seen for the requirements of green crop growers.
Stand No. 8 is occupied by Mr William Elder, of Tweedside Implement Works, Berwickshire on Tweed. Prominent among his exhibits is the Brantford steel binder, made by Messrs Harris, Sons & Co, of Brantford, Ont, Canada, who claim to be the largest manufacturers of self-binding harvesters in Her Majesty’s Dominions. This machine is strongly built of steel and malleable iron, and is fitted with all the most recent improvements. Mr John Clay, of Kerchesters, Kelso, is also agent for these machines, and has for several seasons cut his entire crop with them, and speaks very highly of their efficiency. This, by the way, is the binder which did such remarkable work in cutting laid crops in Northumberland last season, of which notice was taken at the time in our columns. Now that the harvest is approaching, the labour difficulty has again to be faced. Those who find difficulty in obtaining hands should make a point of inspecting this labour saving implement. Me Elder also exhibits several beautifully finished broadcast sowing machines, fitted with adjustable swivel for going through gateways. Horse rakes, turnip sowers, reapers, and mowers complete this display.
Messrs Kemp & Nicholson, the old-established implement makers, of Scottish Central Works, Stirling, show their “Stirling Castle” self-acting back-delivery reaper, their new “Waverley” reaper and mower, and also their new “North British” reaper and mower, into which steel parts have been introduced in place of iron where strength is required. Amongst their large and varied collection we select for mention their iron sheep fodder rack, which has not been shown at a Highland Show for many years, but which is an invaluable piece of apparatus for flockmasters. The chief novelty, however, on this stand is a cart turnip cutting machine, which is fitted with a revolving slicer for distributing turnips to sheep being fed on grass land. Another very prominent exhibit of this firm’s is a varnished tipping cart of superior finished, with double self-acting lock and elevator.
Messrs Ben Reid & Co., of Aberdeen, have their usual large and important collection. One of the first things to attract attention on this stand is their “Bon Accord” back delivery reaper and rake, which has won for itself a good name all over the north-east of Scotland. Next we observe their patent broadcast sowers, with folding apparatus, and then their patent manure distributor; but the name of “Ben Reid” attached to such implements is sufficient guarantee of their serviceableness, so that further description is needless. Grubbers, pumps, draining rods, garden seats, and hay gatherers are amongst the various specialities of this firm; but a hay baling press, of a new pattern, is a decided novelty. Messrs Geo. Sellar & Son, Huntly, have, as usual, a very striking collection of ploughs, with long mould boards, adapted for working stiff land. They also show their Anglo-American plough, which is adapted for working on lighter land; while harrows, made of steel, and driven tines, are also a prominent part of this old established firm’s display. It is shown this year with jointed finger bar and a new in-and-out of gear arrangement, for which an additional patent has been applied for. Altogether, this is one of the most efficient and approved harvesters in the market. Chaff cutters, oilcake mills, pulpers, and other food preparing machinery compete this firm’s exhibit.
Messrs Jack & Sons, of Maybole, have a prominent stand, which are to be found specimens of their Caledonian “Buckeye” mower and reaper, which we have often described at former meetings of the Highland Society. Messrs Jack are also strong in cultivating implements as well as food-preparing machinery; while their spring carts and vans, as regards quality of material and workmanship, leave little to be desired.
Messrs G. W. Murray & Co., Banff. This old-established Scotch implement firm was represented at stand No. 20. Amongst their numerous exhibits are to be found their “Victory” back delivery reaper, as designed by the late Mr Murray, who was the first to bring out a back delivery reaper of the light pattern; and it must be gratifying to his successors to see other makers adopting the same principle. Messrs Murray show also their hand lever shearing machine, which can cut a bar of iron an inch thick, owing to the powerful way the leavers are arranged. Mr Robert Kyd, of Coupar Angus, shows his potato diggers and planters, which we have often fully described. Messrs Newlands & Son, of Linlithgow, show several very useful general purpose and drill ploughs.
Messrs D. Paterson & Sons, Alloa, show a self-acting horse rake and set of wrought iron whipple trees. Messrs Thomas Sherriff & Co., Dunbar, are a firm we always expect to find in full at a “Highland”. Their display this year will well sustain the credit of this firm for broadcast sowers, for which they are experiencing a very good demand. Amongst these machines, we observe their broadcast sower which took the Highland Society’s premium at Dumfries, about twenty years ago, and also their machine of more recent type, which came out victorious at the Perth trials of 1888. Their fourteen row lever corn drill, with single wheel steerage and land measuring index, is a very useful machine, so that we are not surprised to learn that Messrs Sherriff find that it has become what we may call a “general favourite”. Mr William Ford, of Fentonbarns, Drem, shows the “Toronto” binder, which, since its introduction several seasons ago, has attained quite an unprecedented popularity amongst the class who require binders. It is the same as last season, except in one of two minor details. Mr A. Pollock, of Mauchline, showed his improved hay and straw press and trusser, which has a very ingenious transport arrangement; also his new patent rick shifter, which is now largely used in the west of Scotland. No other of Mr Pollock’s exhibits call for special comment. Mr John Scoular, of Stirling, shows his patent horse rake, with triple active leverage, in nine different sizes.
Mr Alexander Grant, Rothes, shows a steel single plough, and a steel drill plough of approved pattern. Mr Wm. Davidson, Mintlaw, is again forward at the “Highland” after a few years’ absence. His artificial manure distributor, and natural manure distributor, are first class machines of their kind, and a large number of visitors to the show were highly pleased with an inspection of these machines.
Mr John Doe, of Errol, who acts as an agent for a great number of important implement makers, has a large stand replete with farm implements of all descriptions. Messrs Flear & Thomson, of Dunfermline, show Wardlaw’s patent turnip thinner, which is the only implement of this description made on the hortizontal principle, and which, we believe, has done excellent work. In a damp season like the present, when the young plants grow so rapidly, a machine like this is a vey valuable acquisition on any farm where there is a large acreage of turnips. On this stand there is also shown a potato dresser, made by Mr Molleson, of Balwearie, Kirkcaldy, which separates the tubers in various sizes by means of a revolving screen with graduated apertures. Messrs John Wallace & Sons, Graham Square, Glasgow, exhibit at stand 31 a large and interesting collection of reaper and mowers, food preparing machinery, horse rakes, cultivators, &c. Prominent amongst their harvesting implements are their well-known the “City of Glasgow” and “Thistle” reapers, both of which have acquired a wide reputation, and have been largely used for several seasons in both England and Scotland. There also exhibit a combination mower and reaper which is so constructed that it can be either used for back or manual delivery. The famous “Oliver” chilled plough is also seen to great advantage on this stand, the firm having the sole agency in Britain for the sale of this valuable implement.
Messrs John Turnbull & Son, Carnock, Larbert, exhibit at the adjoining stand (30) two specimens of the portable hay or straw trusser with which they won the Society’s prize at the Melrose Show last year. This is a most useful implement on all farms, and it is not only light and simple in working, but exceedingly cheap. Mr David Williamson, Carron Bridge, Thornhill, has brought all the way from Dumfriesshire, and exhibits at stand 32, several samples of his manufactures, such as farm carts, gardeners’ barrows, navvy’s barrow, and a Laide barrow. These useful articles appear to be substantially made, and are admirably finished.
Messrs Alex Wood & sons, Stockwell Street, Glasgow, make a speciality of farm and other weighing machines, several samples of which they exhibit at stand 53. These machines are made in great variety, and are fitted with all the latest improvements. This firm have recently invented and patented a process which completely removes the difficulty that has often been experienced in registering the exact weight of an article, owing to the vibration of the needle of the dial. By a simple process, the needle is made fast the moment the full weight is attained.
How many makers and their implements do you recognise?
As it would have been the time of the Highland Show, let’s look back at past shows and the implements and machines exhibited at them.
The Highland Show was an important forum for the exhibition of implements and machines made by Scottish and other makers, usually from England. It gave makers an opportunity to see what they were making, what was their latest developments and innovations. It allowed makers to reach a large audience, especially if they were coming from a distance to the show.
Before 1860 the Highland Show travelled around Scotland in turn to each of the teight show districts. In1865 the Show was at Inverness, the Show District for the north of Scotland and surrounding area. The largest number of the implement and machinery exhibitors were from this and neighbouring Show Districts. However, there were also others who came from a much wider area of Scotland, looking to expand their customer base and show what they had to offer. These makers included some of the well-known and renowned makers who had a reputation throughout Scotland. There were some English makers, but they had a considerable distance to travel to the show.
The exhibition of implements and machines at the Highland Show was widely reported in the local, regional and agricultural press. This is what the North British Agriculturist, the major Scottish newspaper wrote about the Inverness Show in 1865:
“Implement department The implement department is not imposing, there being none of the complicated and more expensive machines which are so attractive to the ordinary visitor. There is no machinery in motion. The articles are arranged in rows, part being displayed under wooden sheds, and part without any protection. The more eminent English makers are not patronising the present exhibition of the Highland Society. Doubtless the distance from the seat of their manufacturers, and the number of orders which still remain unexecuted, are the causes which have influenced implement makers in withholding contributions to the present show. There are, however, in several of the stands implement and machines from English manufacturers. It does not argue well for the estimation in which the farming of the north of Scotland is held that there is only one portable steam-engine in the yard, exhibited by Williamson Brothers, Canal Iron Works, Kendal, who also exhibit a combined thrashing machine, a turbine water wheel, and a centrifugal pump. The implements which are shown in the greatest numbers are ploughs, harrows, and reaping machines. Mr Allan, Culthill, Dunkeld, shows several well constructed ploughs and horse shows, with two turnip sowing machines. Messrs Brigham & Bickerton, Berwick, exhibit several of their well-known excellent reaping-machines. Messrs Jack & Son, Maybole, show a Hussey’s reaper, a Buckeye combined reaper and mower, and other articles. Messrs Law, Duncan & Co., Shettleston, have a potato-digger, a patent reaping-machine, a subsoil plough, &c. Sir John P. Ord of Kilmory, Bart, shows a horse collar made of bent grass, and matting of the same material-both very cheap and good. Mr Rawdin, Jedburgh, exhibits dipping tubs for dressing sheep. Mr John Richardson shows specimens of his well-known fanners. Riches & Watts, Norwich, an American grist and corn-grinding mill. Messrs Richmond & Chandler, Manchester, have an excellent assortment of chaff-cutters and other food-preparing machines, which are now, we are glad to say, being better understood and appreciated by farmers in Scotland. Mr Ross, Cullen, shows a very good plough and turnip-sowing machine. The Singer Manufacturing Co., Dundee, exhibit several sewing machines. Mr W. Kennedy, 182 Princes Street, Edinburgh, shows a splendid collection of these useful and popular articles.
Messrs J. & T. Young. Vulcan Foundry, Ayr, exhibit good combined reaping and owing machines; one, being adapted for one horse, is said to have proved a very great success. The same firm has also several other articles useful in the farm and the dairy. Messrs Kemp, Murray, & Nicholson have an extensive collection of food-preparing machines, reapers, horse-rakes, rollers, grubbers, harrows, garden seeds, &c. Messrs Morton of Liverpool have a varied and extensive collection of galvanised iron and wire fencing, along with models of buildings in corrugated iron. Messrs Picksley, Sims, & Co., Leigh, show an unusually large collection of food-preparing machines, troughs, bone-mills, rakes, reaping machines, lawn mowers, garden seats, &c; along with an excellent collection of superior American cast steel hay and manure forks. Mr John Pringle, Berwick, Kelso, and Edinburgh, has a very extensive and well-assorted collection of implements, consists of several patent reaping and mowing machines, food-preparing machines, harrows of various forms, a number of corn-screws, wire netting, sheep troughs &c. Mesrs Benjamin Reid & Co., Aberdeen, exhibit their 4-inch row drilling machines, a number of food-preparing machines, Howard’s ploughs and rakes, Cambridge’s clod crushers, Shank’s mowing machines, Jebb’s patent tubular churn (a new invention which is attracting a considerable amount of attention from the short time in which butter is produced), &c. Messrs Davie, Brown, & Young, Stirling, exhibited reaping machines, a land roller, and a turnip slicer. Mr Forbes, Inverness, shows reapers, turnip cutters, and corn crushers. Mr Finlayson, Arbroath, exhibits a large self delivery reaper, which is stated to be of radical improvement. Captain Fraser of Balnain, shows a cumbrous looking machine for making peats, a primitive plough for clearing snow off hill pastures, and a still more primitive looking harrow for the same purpose. Messrs Hudspith & Co., Motherwell, show pipes and collars, bricks, &c. Mr Hunter, Maybole, displays a new turnip cleaner, ploughs, grubbers, harrows, &c. Mr Kirkwood, Tranent, has an ordinary two-horse plough, the Tweedale ploughs, grubbers, harrows, &c. Mr William Kirkwood, Duddingston Mills, Edinburgh, exhibits a new two-horse grubber, a potato lifter, a Norwegian harrow, horse rakes, &c. Messrs Mcgregory & Humphreys, Aberdeen, exhibit their well-known ploughs, besides horse rakes, harrows &c. Messrs Main, Kempt & Co., Glasgow, have an extensive collection of rick stands, fencing, hurdles, field gates, sheep netting, field gates, chairs &c. Messrs Middleton & Co., Edinburgh, exhibit their wire fencing with pillars and stays, garden stats, galvanised wire netting, hurdles &c. Mr Mitchell, Peterhead, has in his stand a one-horse cart, drill sowing machines, harrows, and rollers. Mr Robson, Glasgow, exhibits a number of articles made of fireclay, such as cattle troughs, wall coping, ridging, sewage pipes, &c. Messrs Sellar & Son, Huntly, have a large assortment of ploughs and harrows.
Mr Wilson, Loanhead Works, Dunfermline, shows a number of excellent troughs and other articles made of fire clay. Mr Wingate, Alloa, exhibited his iron meat coolers, corn bins, and other articles. Messrs W. D. Young & Co., George Street, Edinburgh, have wrought iron gates, hurdles, fencing, garden seats, chairs, and a large number of articles made of galvanised iron.”
It provides a lot of information about who was exhibiting; where they came from; their manufactures; developments in implements and machines from former years; the key implements and machines in use at the time as well s other information.
How many of the names of the exhibitors do you still recognise?
The photographs were taken at rallies in recent years.
What was new in Scottish implements and machines in 1920?
If you were a farmer in 1920 (as today) and wanted to see the latest agricultural implements and machines you would have a good look around the Highland Show. The Highland Show in 1920 was the 89th Show of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. It was held in Aberdeen, one of the smaller show districts, where there were generally fewer exhibitors from the south of Scotland and England.
At the Show The Scotsman newspaper reported that “Most of the leading manufacturers and agents have their usual stands, and agricultural visitors to the show will find much to interest them, while a tour of this section by townspeople will serve to demonstrate to them the great variety of labour-saving machines now in use in the cultivation of the soil.”
Particular implements and machines at the show included, according to The Scotsman: Scottish Motor Traction Company’s Display. The Scottish Motor Traction Company (Ltd), Edinburgh and Glasgow, have an attractive exhibition of farm tractors and engines. The agricultural tractors shown are the well-known “Titan” and “International Junior”, two of each variety being on view, the former of 23b.h.p. and the latter of 25.6hp. Both machines have proved their worth during recent years, and their versatility is displayed in various forms. These tractors are manufactured by the International Harvester Company of Great Britain (Ltd), whose paraffin engines and other agricultural implements are also on view. Two specially interesting productions are the “International Hamilton”, three-furrow and two-furrow power life tractor ploughs fitted with general purpose boards and rolling disc coulters. There is also a tractor trailer with plain platform and a tool-box trailer for tractors, with drums for fuel and water, large tool box, and seating accommodation for two persons. The Company hold numerous agencies for private motor cars of first class design and manufacture, and also supply commercial motor vehicles of the latest and most approved models.
Messrs Barclay, Ross & Hutchison Ltd, Aberdeen, have an extensive collection of agricultural implements forward, such as oil engines, mowers and reapers. Cultivators, potato diggers, horse rakes and spraying outfits. A specimen of the “Austin” tractor is also on view, as well as a portable thresher specially suited for tractor use, and a double sack lifter, which is entered as a new implement.
The display of implements by Mr James H. Steel, Edinburgh, is one of the most attractive and comprehensive in the yard. Over 50 separate articles are on view, comprising the productions of such noted firms as Messrs Ruston & Hornsby (Ltd), Harrison, McGregor & Co. (Ltd), Ransomes, Sims, & Jefferies (Ltd), and others. Tractor owners will no doubt be particularly interested in a new patent expanding tractor land roller, made by Messrs Ogle & Sons, It is the only one of the kind on view, and is an implement which should fill a long felt want. To mention only a few of the other outstanding exhibits, there is also a Cooper-Stewart two unit sheep shearing machine for power, a Phoenix potato sorter driven by a small petrol engine, with elevator, attached for delivering cut roots into boxes, and a portable turnip cleaner and cutter. The latter is entered as a new implement, an is produced by Mr Kenneth McKenzie, engineer, Evanton, Ross-shire.
The well-known form of Messrs John Wallace & Sons (Ltd), Glasgow, are exhibiting a large assortment of farm implements. For potato growers, Messrs Wallace have several labour-saving machines, including the Richmond two row potato planter, a one row potato planter and manure sower, and a potato digger with eight adjustable graipes. Specimens of the “Thistle” mower and reaper are shown, as well as many other items of proved efficiency, including the famous “Oliver” chilled ploughs, of which there is a specially attractive display. The “Glasgow” tractor. The “Glasgow” farm tractor, manufactured by the Wallace Farm Implements (Ltd), Cardonald, is on view at the stand of the British Motor Trading Corporation (Ltd), 50 pall mall, London. This tractor has rapidly gained the confidence of farmers, and it is in exceptional demand. Two new features are embodied in the equipment of the specimens forward-viz,-a paraffin vaporizer and pressed steel front wheels. One of the main points in the tractor, and on which its success depends to a great extent, is the fact that all three wheels are drive wheels, which prevents skidding. The stand also contains “Oliver” ploughs, disc harrows, and grubbers, also manufactured by the Wallace Farm Implements, and adapted for tractor work. Other Scottish exhibitors.
Messrs C. F. Wilson & Co., Aberdeen, show a number of the noted “Wilson” oil engines of varying horse power. Oil engines of the latest improved lampless type, and especially designed for agricultural purposes, form the chief feature of the stand occupied by Messrs Allan Brothers, Ashgrove Works, Aberdeen. Messrs Wm Dickie & Sons, East Kilbride, have a representative display, rick-lifters and windmills being as usual the outstanding features. On the adjoining stand will be found a large assortment of engines and farm machinery, shown by Messrs H. W. Mathers & Son, Perth. A new implement can be seen here in the form of a portable engine driven turnip cutter of the horizontal type. Three stationary oil engines are exposed by Messrs Alex Shanks & Son (Limited), Arbroath; while Messrs Fleming & Co., Robertson Street, Glasgow, have a fairly extensive display of accessories for tractors and steam road rollers, and road-making plant, a five ton-tripping tractor wagon, stone-breakers, concrete mixers, rock drills, air compressors, and blasting outfits.
A new implement in the form of a self-lifting cultivator suitable for tractor or horse power is entered by Messrs McBain Bros (Limited). Berwick on Tweed. Messrs J. & R. Wallace, Castle Douglas, show three of their motor productions, including two specimens of the “universal” artificial manure distributors, and the “Royal Medal” milking machine, which won the RASE Silver Medal in 1905, which is now fitted with an improved pulsator requiring no oil. Portable and stationary threshers and oil engines are compassed in the exhibit of the Bon Accord Engineering Company, Aberdeen, and in that of Messrs W. & S. Pollock, Glasgow, oil engines are the chief feature. The noted firm of Messrs P. & R. Fleming, Glasgow, have their customary extensive display of farm implements, as also have Messrs Garvie & Sons, Aberdeen, who make feature of their threshing outfits. Messrs John Millar & Son, Annan, display their well-known “Samson” windmill, also engine, pumps, and churns. Articles of the same nature are on view at the stand of Messrs John McBain & Son, Chirnside. Messrs R. Tough & Sons, Aberdeen, have a varied collection of implements, while oil engines in great variety are shown on the stand of Messrs Vickers-Petters (Limited) and Petters (Limited), Glasgow.
The photos show forms of motive power from 1917 and 1918 at the Fife Vintage Rally, June 2017.
One well known tradition that has been associated with Ayrshire during the late nineteenth and much of the twentieth centuries is the employment of Irish migratory potato workers, “Irish harvesters’, “tattie howkers” or “potato diggers”. Each year, they travelled from western and north-western districts of Ireland to harvest the potato crop in Lowland Scotland. They started their work in Ayrshire and other south-western counties, around mid June. In early August, they moved to later harvesting districts such as Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, the Lothians, Fife, Perthshire and Angus. They completed their harvesting work in late October or November. For the short period of time when they were employed in Ayrshire, these workers formed a visible and a distinct community. In 1929, one observer comments: Every visitor to Girvan and other resorts to Ayrshire has seen the potato diggers at work in the fields, driving to the post office on Saturday night to send their hard won earnings to old folks in Achill. They rise to the echoes of early Sunday morning as they troop through the streets to Mass. In 1910, this community comprised an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 workers. By 1971 it had declined to between 360 and 540 workers. A decade later this number was even smaller.
In Ayrshire, the employment of Irish potato workers was connected with the development of the early potato industry. By 1857, early potato growing was already well established and was “extensively practiced along the coast on the light and early soils”. As the area under this crop expanded and its reputation became renowned, it became synonymous with the county. In 1934 the North British Agriculturist could note that it “easily retains pride of place as containing the largest area devoted to the growth of earlies with a ratio of three actress to every one found elsewhere.” In 1938, some 5,724 acres of this crop were grown in the county (the corresponding area of maincrop, or later ripening crops, was 2,917 acres). In many other counties, relatively few earlies were grown, as much of the crop was later ripening varieties, or maincrops.
In some districts of Ayrshire, the early potato crop was an important one. Its main area of cultivation was along the coastal area, especially between Ayr and Ballantrae, and also in the lower Irvine and Garnock valleys. In Girvan, in 1901 it was considered to be “a most important” product. In that district in 1914, some 2,000 acres were grown. Until the 1930s, the crop from this district had a virtual monopoly in the Scottish early potato market. The Irvine and Garnock valleys could be “regarded as one of the two principal potato-growing districts of Scotland”. In these areas in 1932, the crop occupied “more than half of the total cropped land”. It was sometimes grown in the same fields year after year. For example, in 1913, the North British Agriculturist noted that a large field at Morriston had been under this crop for 38 years. By 1958, one field on this farm had been under this crop for some 70 years.
Central to the harvesting work and the recruitment of the Irish workers were the customary practices to grown, harvest and market the early potato crop. The intensive cultivation of large acreages of crop demanded that a number of contracts were developed between farmers on whose farms the crop was grown, and potato merchants who bought and disposed of the crop. One contract which was especially used in Ayrshire was sale by the acre: a farmer grew the crop and sold it when it was nearly ready to harvest at a price per acre, to a potato merchant, who harvested and disposed of it. This was an old agricultural practice. By 1857 it was already well established, being regarded as “the more general practice” for dealing with the early potato crop in Ayrshire. By 1883, a considerable breadth of the crop was sold in this way. Many of the buyers who purchased the crops in this way were potato merchants who also employed the Irish workers. At the public sales in 1922 – crops could be sold privately or publically – they included at least 20 merchants from across central Lowland Scotland, especially western districts. Merchants from Glasgow formed a large percentage of the buyers, though small numbers were also from towns in Ayrshire, such as Girvan, Kilmarnock, Dalry, Ardrossan and West Kilbride. Some merchants purchased crops for a number of decades. They included well-established figures in the potato trade, the oldest and the largest firms in the trade and some of the largest employers of the workers: the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, (reputed to be the largest buyer in Scotland in 1934) Galbraith’s Stores, J and A MacArthur, James Fulton Junior and Paul and Weir. In 1934, for example, J and A McArthur “generally” employed about “200 workers in lifting early potatoes” and the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society about 300 workers.
At the public sales, the crops on two or more farms were usually sold together. They were sold in lots which ranged from one to ten acres in extent, with many being between three and five acres. On each farm, it was usual for the different lots to be sold to a number of merchants. At harvesting time, the work on each farm was undertaken by a number of squads employed by different potato merchants. On some farms, large numbers of workers were employed. In 1920, three or four squads were employed at Girvan Mains (a squad usually had between 20 and 30 workers). At Doughill, this figure was around 100 workers. One account from 1909 suggests that some 200 men and women were employed at one farm for 6 or 7 weeks. This figure is also recorded on some farms in 1921. Squads undertook their harvesting activities for a short period, from a few days to a few weeks. They were therefore employed on a number of farms before they moved to another harvesting district to continue their work.
By the early twentieth century, the Irish workers were the principal source of labour for the potato merchants. In 1903, one observer remarked that “formerly the merchants got hands from Glasgow and still get a few from there, but for many years, the bulk of the workers have gone from the west of Ireland.” So important were their services that in 1905 the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland could assert that “Irish labour is at present indispensable to the early potato harvest”. At around this date, the Ayr Advertiser recognised that “without their assistance, there would be some trouble in finding sufficient hands.” They were highly regarded for their skills and the quality and output of their work. In 1907 the Ayr Advertiser observed that “as a rule, they are capital workers and well behaved.” Merchants and farmers who compared the Irish and Scottish workers “agree[d] that the Irish have been found the steadier and more satisfactory workers.” Some years later, one merchant suggested that “the merchants generally were well pleased with the hard working Irish picker who in many cases worked for two or three generations on the same farms for the same merchant.”
Who were the Irish workers and how were they recruited? The workers were recruited as self-contained harvesting units, or squads, capable of harvesting the early potato crop (and later ripening crops) as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible. As noted, each one generally comprised between 20 and 30 workers. However, they could also be larger or smaller, especially in Ayrshire where the largest squads were reported to be found. In 1907, one report suggests that in this county “the size of the gangs varied very much from 6 to 60 or 70 men and from 12 to 140 or 150 women in some of the farms.” These figures suggest that a number of squads were employed at one farm at the same time. Other squads had between 15 and 40 workers in each. The squads were recruited by Irish gaffers or gangers, employees of Scottish potato merchants who were their local agents in Ireland. They were males who had participated in the potato work for a number of seasons and were experienced in its practices. In some districts their employment was hereditary and the position was passed from father to son. Some families of gaffers were also associated with particular potato merchants.
The gaffers had a number of functions. Each was responsible for a squad: they recruited and brought together its members, arranged their transport to Scotland, kept them together and supervised them throughout the harvesting season. In addition, they also looked after their welfare. They played a pivotal role between the potato merchant and the farmer on whose farm the crop was to be harvested: they paid the members of their squad their wages and ensured that they received their perquisites from the farmer or the potato merchant such as their housing, coals, potatoes for eating, and cooking utensils.
The gaffers recruited their squads from a small area of the west and north-west of Ireland. In 1905, this was the counties of Mayo and Donegal, an area where the majority of Irish seasonal agricultural workers employed in Britain, were recruited. By 1937, some 70% of the potato workers were recruited from the first of these counties, and a further 25% from Donegal; the remaining few were drawn from Galway. In each county, workers were drawn from specific districts. In Mayo in 1937, the main recruiting districts were the western parts of the county: the Belmullet and Wesport rural districts which included Achill Island, the single most important area. The gaffers usually recruited their squads from their home districts in these counties. As they were well-known figures, people who wanted work approached them to get a place on their squad. They also undertook formal recruiting at fair days such as those of Bangor (11 June) or Belmullet (15 June). They also travelled around their home districts, prospecting for further workers.
The squads had a distinct character. Many comprised relatives and neighbours. In 1910, the County Medical Officer of Ayrshire, Dr Coll Reginald Macdonald, observed that “a gang may be composed to a large extent of relatives and personal friends.” However, they very seldom included married couples. The workers were largely sons and daughters of smallholders who were accustomed to agricultural work. Their members also had a distinct age pattern. They were largely teenagers and young adults. In 1938, one observer remarked that “the most noticeable feature about the travellers was their youth”. By 1964, an estimated 60% to 70% of the workers employed in Ayrshire were under 20 years age. It was not uncommon for them to start work at the age of 14 or 16 years, when they were considered to be strong enough to undertake it. Each sex of worker also had a distinct age structure. Females tended to participate until they married. In 1905, males were from 16 to 21 years of age or old men. This reflected the role which the potato harvest had in their lives. As teenagers, it provided them with their first experience of migratory work. When they became older and stronger, they undertook other types of migratory work (which also paid a higher wage rate). A number returned to the potato work with their young families to introduce them to it. Others engaged in it when they were unable to undertake other types of migratory work. The squads also had a distinct ratio of male and female members. As the work was considered to be easier to undertake than other types of seasonal migratory work, a higher percentage of females than males engaged in it. In 1907 this figure ranged between 60% and 70%. By 1937, the members of squads were described as being “a few male adults, the remainder being women, boys and girls.” After the Second World War, the character of the workers changed. This started to be noted in the late 1940s, and became especially evident during the 1950s and 1960s. This change can be attributed to a number of factors. One was changing recruitment methods and patterns. By the early 1960s, gaffers were finding that they could not recruit sufficient numbers of workers from the traditional recruiting districts. They started to draw them from a number of localities and from a range of social and occupational groups: a first group continued to be relatives of small holders from the traditional recruiting districts; a second one were drawn from housing estates in towns in Mayo and Donegal (these workers were not always acquainted with agricultural work); a third one was members of the tinker class; and a fourth one was workers hired from hostels and recruitment agencies in the towns and cities outwith the west of Ireland.
As workers were drawn from a range of backgrounds and localities, the relationship between squad members altered. Although family groups continued to be noted amongst squads in 1964, workers were not always accompanied by one of their parents (i.e. they comprised brothers and sisters or other family relations). By 1971, there had been a further increase in the number of workers who did not have any family ties, and therefore the number of workers who were unknown to one another before they started their harvesting work. The age of the workers also changed. There was an increase in the number of children. In 1952, they were described as “young children, much too juvenile to be workers” and as the “holiday-making friends and relatives of the diggers.” So great was their impact on the character of the squads that in 1962, the Carrick District Sanitary Inspector commented that “it has been said that the tattie howkers sitting on the trailers on their way to the fields looked more like a Sunday School picnic than a working squad.” There was also a change in the ratios of male and female workers. By 1964, there was a marked increase in the number of males employed in Ayrshire. On 21 farms there was a greater number of males than females. At a further five farms there were equal numbers of both.
As a result of these changes, the social and moral safeguards that had been provided by the strong family and neighbourhood ties were weakened. Among some squads, a number of moral and social problems emerged. In Ayrshire, Wigtownshire, East Lothian and West Lothian, sanitary inspectors considered that the presence of young children and infants was “undesirable and continues to give rise to concern.” Their presence caused the workers’ accommodation to become overcrowded, and, as a result, its standard – which was often the subject of much criticism during the twentieth century – became poorer. Children who were too young to be employed, had to be supervised during work hours, and they could not always be properly looked after. There was an increase in anti-social behaviour. For example, the increased numbers of tinkers kept themselves apart from other squad members, and created divisions within them. They were also associated with the destruction of domestic facilities, especially water closets. As one observer commented in 1962: “the tinkers are blamed for the pretty terrible way even good facilities are messed up.”
The Irish workers undertook a number of tasks in harvesting the early potato crop. These were determined by the contracts between farmers and potato merchants to grown, harvest and market the crop. The Irish workers (the employees of the potato merchants) formed the core of the harvesting labour force. Most of their tasks were undertaken by a specific sex of worker, though some could be carried out by both sexes. These were determined by the physical strength required to undertake them. Women were generally given the less physically demanding tasks such as gathering the potatoes from the ground into baskets. Males had a range of tasks such as emptying baskets of potatoes gathered by the gatherers, or loading potatoes onto carts or lorries that were to be taken to market. They also worked with the graip (a three or four pronged fork whose prongs were flattened at the ends) for gathering potatoes from the ground, though this could also be undertaken by women. The remaining tasks were undertaken by Scottish farm servants, employed on the farms on which the crops were to be harvested. They transported the potatoes from the harvest field; worked at the potato pits if the crop was to be saved for seed; drove the digger or other harvesting implement where the crop was to be harvested by this means. The early potato crop was harvested using a range of tools and techniques. Many of these were used over long periods during the period of this survey. Central to the harvesting work was the hand tool or implement used to dig the potatoes out of the drills in which they grew or uncover them. Even until well into the twentieth century, the graip, played an important role in the harvesting field. At West Kilbride in 1951, the crop was harvested “mostly by hand”. Further accounts suggest that the crop continued to be dug in this way until at least the late 1950s. The graip was a specialised tool which was very labour intensive and therefore expensive to use. By the early twentieth century, it was not widely used, and was largely confined to harvesting the early potato crop where the price of the potatoes was high enough to recover harvesting costs. But it was also well suited to harvesting this crop: it could easily deal with the shaws or haulm of the crop which was still vigorous when the crop was dug and if it was effectively used, it would not damage the immature tubers when they were being harvested. Such tasks could not be achieved by some of the earliest mechanical diggers. A number of implements were also employed to dig the crop. The potato plough, a plough without a coulter, which was extensively used in the late eighteenth century, continued to be utilized to harvest early potatoes as late as 1968. The spinner, the first mechanical implement with moving parts, was quickly adopted throughout potato growing districts in Scotland from the 1890s onwards. By 1918, it was being adopted in Ayrshire in increasing numbers. It had the effect of reducing the need to employ experienced potato workers. In 1968 it was the most widely used implement in the county. This was followed by a newer implement, the elevator digger, which comprised a moving elevator which sifted and separated the potatoes from the soil in the drill in which it had grown.
The use of tools and implements affected the work and organisation of the Irish workers. When the crop was harvested by the graip, the workers started their digging and gathering activities at one end of the field and moved up the length of the drill to the other end. Their work was organised so that it could take place systematically and at a steady speed. The workers were regulated by the use of the foregraip or first digger, a male or female worker, who set the pace for the other workers. They were arranged in “graips” or pairs, a digger and a gatherer: the gatherer faced the digger and moved backwards on their knees, facing towards them as they uncovered the potatoes from the drill.
This method of arranging the gatherers was not used when crops were harvested with a mechanical implement. Instead, the drills of potatoes were marked into sections of equal length, called stents, which were indicated by sticks or branches, which identified where each gatherer’s work started and finished. Their length varied according to the length of the drill, the number of gatherers employed and allocated to each one (usually one or two). Shorter stents were preferred as workers gathered for a short period of time and had frequent rests.
After the potatoes were dug out of the ground they were collected by the gatherers, into a range of containers. As they gathered them, they could also grade or sort them into a number of different sizes or separate the sound from the unsound ones. Mechanical potato graders or sorters were developed and used from the 1890s to undertake this work. Electric grading or sorting machines were introduced in Ayrshire in 1961. These made the need to manually separate potatoes redundant. During the early twentieth century, the workers gathered the potatoes into spail baskets made of thin strips or spails of wood. These were superseded by ones made of wire mesh and by the 1970s, others made of plastic. As much of the crop was sent directly from the fields to its place of sale, the potatoes were weighed or measured. This could be undertaken in a number of ways: the baskets of potatoes could be emptied into another container which was used to weigh or measure the potatoes, such as a barrel; they could be put into a hessian or jute sack which weighted 112 lbs, or, in later years, paper bags which held 56lbs. Before 1950, barrels were usually used to take the potatoes to market. So widespread were they that they were associated with the early potato crop and provided an excellent way of preventing the potatoes from rubbing and damaging their skins during transit.
Accounts of the early potato harvest which have been left by the Irish workers suggest that the work was physically demanding. Patrick MacGill described at length this work at Rothesay in 1905. He considered that the gathering of the crop was ‘the devil’s job’ and described it in terms of physical hardship: ‘the job, bad enough for men, was killing for women.’ Other reports noted that the workers found that the job was monotonous. One worker suggests that ‘the machines came in, the diggers, and all you had to do was gather after the digger and that was day after day, that was your work. There was nothing else.’
Although the potato crop in Ayrshire was harvested by a large labour force throughout much of the period of this survey, the complete harvester which could harvest the potato crop, separate the potatoes from the soil, and deliver the potatoes into a box or bags without the need to employ squads, eventually made this need redundant. By the early 1960s, a number of these harvesters were employed on farms. In 1963, Chapelhill Farm, which customarily employed Irish workers, experimented with one. However, it was only used for two years, and squad labour was again employed. It was not until 1966 that the advent of machine harvesting took place in Ayrshire. In this year, six or eight machines were reported to be at work in the Girvan area. Two years later, the Potato Marketing Board found that few harvesters were used in this area. It noted that the harvester was “hardly used’ in south-west Scotland and only dealt with 3% of the crop. This compared to some 40% of the acreage throughout Britain. The corresponding figure for south-west England was 57%; for the Lothians, it was 69%. This pattern highlights that in Ayrshire the crop continued to be harvested with more traditional implements. A number of factors contributed to this: mechanical harvesting had a lower output than harvesting with a squad, and it was therefore more difficult to harvest the large acreages of crop. Furthermore, Irish (and also local workers – who were starting to be employed in greater numbers by this time) continued to be available in sufficient numbers. In other areas they were more difficult to obtain and the labour supply was also more uncertain.
The photos include nameplates of businesses well known for potato spinners and machines for dressing potatoes.
While we may think of the tattie spinner as an “old” machine, it was patented by J. Hanson in 1855. Before that year, and also well-into the twentieth century, a much older implement was used to harvest the potato crop: the potato plough.
Henry Stephens described the use of the potato plough in his The Book of the Farm in 1844. He writes: “In employing the plough to take up potatoes, the common one, with 2 horses, answers well; but as the potatoes run the hazard of being split by the coulter when it comes in contact with them, it should be taken out, the sock being sufficient to enter the plough below the drill, and the mould-board to turn them out of it. The plough in going up splits one drill, and in returning splits the next, but no faster than a band of gatherers, of field-workers, if numerous enough, but if not, assisted by hired labourers, can clear the ground of them into the baskets. In free soil potatoes are easily seen and picked up; heavier soil is apt to adhere to them, in which case it is a good plan to make a stout field-worker shake those portions of the earth turned up by the plough, which still adhere in lumps, with a potato grain, and expose the tubers.”
Given the labour-intensive nature of the plough, developments were made to improve it for harvesting potatoes. By 1844 John Lawson of Elgin had developed a mouldboard shaped device of six malleable iron bars which were attached to the right side of the head and stilt of the plough. For Stephens, this had a number of advantages: “The mode of operation of the brander is, that while the earth partly passes through it, and is partly placed aside by it, the potatoes are wholly laid aside, so there are few of them but are left exposed on the surface of the ground.”
Lawson’s potato plough or brander was drawn by a pair of horses: “in working it, the ploughman inserts it into the potato drill so as to have the whole of the potatoes on his right-hand side. He then proceeds along the drill, splitting it up in the common way. The earth is this thrown to the right-hand side, and the potatoes lie scattered on the surface of the ground behind the plough. Women follow, provided with baskets, into which they gather the potatoes, and throw the stems upon the drill which lies to the right hand side of one from which they are gathering the potatoes. … A man with 1 pair of horses will thus pass over the ground as quickly as with the common plough. In light soils this plough performs its work in a very efficient manner. It pulverises the soil in an extraordinary degree, and scarcely leaves a single potato in the soil.”
In 1889 the potato plough was used to harvest the tattie crop in certain situations. Henry Stephens notes:
“On farms where the potato-digger has not been introduced, or on fields very steep and otherwise unsuitable for the digger, the aid of a plough of one kind or other is usually invoked in lifting potatoes. In some cases the double mould-board plough is used; in others, it is the ordinary single furrow swing-plough; in others, the American chill plough; while not a few employ specially fitted “potato-ploughs”.
He adds that: “The “potato plough” may be an entirely distinct implement, or an ordinary plough fitted with a potato-raiser-a series of iron or steel fingers running out from one or both sides of the body of the plough. The specially fitted ploughs are certainly superior to the ordinary ploughs for lifting potatoes, yet it is generally agreed that if a separate implement is to be procured for this work, that implement should be the potato-digger proper.”
Potato ploughs continued to be used well into the twentieth century. By that time they tended to be used for specialist tasks, such as harvesting first earlies which required to be gently handled. But they still remained one of the ways in which potatoes were harvested in Scotland. The others were the spinner digger, the elevator digger, and the mechanical harvester which was starting to be developed to alleviate the problems of securing sufficient labour to harvest the potato crop.
The photographs of the potato ploughs were taken at the Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Club Farming Heritage Show and Annual Rally, June 2016 and at the Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, May 2015.
Celebrating the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers of yesteryear