New furrows in Scottish steam ploughing history

“Mistress” and “Master” ploughing new furrows in Scottish steam ploughing history 

By comparison to England, steam ploughing in Scotland is an event.  Today, there are only two pairs of matching steam ploughing engines in the country. One of them is “Mistress” and “Master”, Fowler BB1s with serial numbers 15138 and 15139, registered in March 1918.IMG_6211

The working demonstration of these two steam ploughing engines with their 6 furrow anti-balance plough, all owned by the Cook family of Leven, at the Scottish National Championships on 25 and 26 October 2014 at Kinross, was a significant event.  Their appearance marked a new chapter in Scottish steam ploughing history.  It is one that has a number of firsts: that steam ploughing had been undertaken at the Championships in their 52 year history; that a matching pair of engines have been used to plough in the Fife and Kinross-shire area  since the late 1940s or early 1950s; that “Mistress” and “Master” were working together in a public display; that their plough, brought back with “Mistress” from Canada in 2012, had been used in 70 years.IMG_6672

Watching the display brought to mind the accounts in the press of the steam ploughing demonstrations (private and public) in Scotland from the late 1850s to mid-1870s and the interest that these generated by farmers, landowners and members of the public seeing steam ploughing for the first time.  At each there was the close scrutiny of how the engines and their tackle worked, the quality of the work produced, and how it compared to that of other ploughing systems (whether horse or tractor).  In the modern-era it was thought-provoking comparing the 6-furrow anti-balance plough with 6-furrow tractor ploughs also being demonstrated elsewhere at the Championships.

For me, the sight of a set of steam ploughs manufactured by an English manufacturer (John Fowler & Co. (Leeds), Limited), and with Wiltshire registrations (HR3398 and HR3399), raised two questions: what interplay was there between the two counties in the development, adoption and use of steam ploughing and why did Scotland have a significantly different steam ploughing history to that of England. IMG_6344

Historically, steam ploughing had always had a much more restricted role in Scotland than in England.  At its height in the late 1870s, there were an estimated 700 ploughing sets in England, though only around 50 sets in Scotland, with some counties having recently acquired their first one.  That difference was even greater by 1918 when John Fowler & Co. (Leeds) Ltd published a map of their ploughing engines throughout Britain.  While there were “nearly 600 sets” of steam tackle at work in “this country”, there were only 4 in Scotland, all in East Lothian, Berwickshire and Roxburgh; the most important crop growing areas to the north of the Forth-Clyde line were not even included on Fowler’s map.  One set was still at work in Fife in 1937.

But steam ploughing was not a subject that was at the margins of debate and discussion in Scotland.  After the late 1850s, when steam ploughing had become a reality, there was intense interest in its application to Scottish agriculture.  That interest was especially noted in the 1860s and 1870s the two most important decades for the growth of steam ploughing, before the onset of the agricultural depression.  The Scottish agricultural press carried extensive coverage.  So too did the regional press.  There were reports of trials, extensive debates of the merits (or otherwise) of steam recorded in the transcripts of discussions at leading farmers’ societies, news of technological developments, local news of purchasers and their experiences.  These included news and reports from England – including the all-important results of the trials of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.  There was therefore significant exchange of practical knowledge and experience between the two countries.IMG_6407

A number of Scotsmen played a role in the development and spread of steam ploughing, whether based in their own country or in England.  Indeed, it could be argued that Scotland had a disproportionate role in the development of steam ploughing tackle: David Greig, born at Harvieston, Stonehaven, Kincardineshire in 1827, was a partner of John Fowler & Co, Leeds (later John Fowler & Co. (Leeds) Ltd), whose steam ploughing engines and tackle were the most widely used throughout Britain.  David was actively involved in the designing of steam ploughing machinery, and had a number of patents attributed to him.  The Fisken brothers (David, William and Thomas), who invented another popular system of steam cultivation, the Fisken System, were also Scottish, being raised at Gelleyburn Farm, near Crieff, Perthshire; they moved to England in 1855.IMG_6358

But it was the English traction engine and steam ploughing engine companies that supplied the steam ploughing tackle to Scotland; a few English farmers also sold second-hand sets to the Scottish farmers.  In 1878 there was significant advertising in the Scottish agricultural press, by English companies seeking custom from Scotland: John Fowler & Co., Leeds (whose two-engine system, the same used by “Mistress” and “Master” dominated the industry), F. Savage, Gaywood, King’s Lynn, Barrows & Stewart, Banbury, J. & F. Howard, Bedford, Aveling & Porter, Rochester, Charles Burrell, Thetford, J. & H. McLaren, Leeds, and Fisken & Co. Limited, Leeds.IMG_6490

Some of the English steam engine manufacturers made steam ploughing tackle to suit Scottish conditions.  Fowler’s “baby engine”, an engine of 6 nominal horse power, advertised in Scotland for sale from 1875, was marketed as being “being specially designed for Scotland”.  It was highly regarded by the East Lothian Agricultural Society which had to re-conduct its trial owing to criticism of its overly-favourable review.

There were a number of specific factors in Scotland that meant that steam ploughing had its own distinct history.  Two of these appear to have been especially important.  The first is topography.  Steam ploughing could not be introduced into many parts of the country which had unsuitable soils, high stone content, small or irregularly shaped fields, as well as hilly fields.  Its use was thus largely confined to the eastern arable districts, and also those where there were supporters of steam; not all districts had these.IMG_6482

The second was the difference in how steam was adopted and developed.  In Scotland, as in England, enterprising landowners and tenant farmers played the most important roles in the initial phases in the adoption of steam ploughing.  In England their role was taken over by the steam ploughing companies which made steam available to farmers and others who could not purchased their own tackle or have access to it, for example from a neighbour or a landowner.  In England they were established in their hundreds.  However, while Scotland had the earliest steam ploughing company in Britain, established in 1860, only a handful of these companies were established;  the last one, the Philorth Steam Cultivating Company Limited, was wound up in 1888.  There was therefore not the critical mass of sets or users to maintain steam ploughing.  Thus, interest was lost when enterprising landowners and tenants died or lost their tenancies and were forced to sell their steam tackle. 
In marking a new chapter in Scottish ploughing history, this time in the preservation era, the working demonstration of “Mistress” and “Master” asks questions about the different ploughing histories in Scotland and England and in particular about the relationship between English makers and Scottish users.  These relationships were crucial for the development, adoption and use of steam ploughing.

Further information on “Mistress” and “Master” can be found at ‘”Master” gets his “Mistress” back after 50 year gap, Old Glory 267, May 2012, pp. 6-7.
For Fowler’s map of sets of steam ploughing engines see The engineer, 21 June 1918, pp. 527-28.
For a history of steam ploughing see Jonathan Brown, Steam on the farm: a history of agricultural steam engines 1800 to 1950,  Ramsbury, 2008.
For further information:  The Steam Plough Club.
© 2015 Heather Holmes
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“Made in Scotland”

A showcase of Scottish agricultural implements and machines, New Deer Show, 20 July 2014

How do you describe the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers?

This question was at the forefront of my mind when I attended the display of vintage agricultural implements and machines at New Deer Show on 20 July 2014.  Each year the organisers put on a themed display of implements and machines.  This year’s one drew on Homecoming Scotland 2014, a year-long programme of events to “celebrate the very best of Scotland’s food and drink, our fantastic active and natural resources as well as our creativity, culture and ancestral heritage”.  It was appropriately called “Made in Scotland”.

The exhibits were divided into two sections, each with self-explanatory names: “Made in Scotland” and “No longer made in Scotland”.  This second section formed the largest part of the display, with over 100 exhibits, ranging from ploughs, cultivators, harvesting implements and machines as well as ones to process crops for livestock.  In essence, the display was a showcase of Scottish agricultural implements and machines from the last century or so.  But it was also a showcase of Scottish agricultural engineering and the engineering legacy of the makers.

The organisers had requested local farmers and vintage machinery enthusiasts to bring along an implement or machine to display, while sourcing some themselves.  There was therefore a focus of implements from yesteryear that were used in the district and more widely in Aberdeenshire and which reflected the agricultural IMG_1056activities of the district with its emphasis on mixed farming, and the rearing of beef cattle.  There was a good collection of grass seed barrows for sowing artificial grasses for hay and a particularly strong display of exhibits relating to the growing, harvesting and processing of turnips.  Potato growing was represented by a variety of seed bed preparation and harvesting implements, notably spinner diggers.

The display embraced some of the most important developments in agricultural implements and machines in the last century or so.  From the horse drawn implements of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, they included the Princes reaper from Macdonald Brothers, Portsoy (a well-known reaper in its day).  Grass seed barrows from Banff Foundry and George Sellar & Son, represented an important innovation in mechanization of the growing of grass crops.  The spinner potato digger from John WallaceIMG_0396 & Sons Ltd, Glasgow, used both in connection with horses and tractors, was a major step forward for harvesting the potato harvest after the potato ploughs, and could more effectively throw out the potatoes from the drill.  Wallace’s spinner was one of the noted ones, the company having been involved in potato harvesting manufacture for decades, having won third prize in the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland’s trials of potato diggers in 1881.

The period of tractor drawn and powered implements and machines was largely represented by post Second World War developments.  After the Second World War many new developments in implements and machines were brought about as a result of the wider adoption and use of tractors, whose performance was also improving, as well as the revolution in harvesting machinery.  From the 1950s and 1960s onwards were turnip harvesters, IMG_0480such as those from Elbar, Forfar Foundry, Forfar, Fleming & Son, West Linton, and Boswells of Blairgowrie.  With the increased use of combine harvesters, such as those of Massey Ferguson, manufactured at Kilmarnock, also displayed, was the development of a range of bale handling equipment such as the bale thrower of J. Bisset & Sons, Blairgowrie, and the bale grab of A. Newlands & Sons, Linlithgow.  Combine harvesters required bulk grain handling and the development of larger trailers, usually metal rather than wood, and included those of Fraser Brothers, Rothienorman.  From 1970, as a result of legislative requirements for tractor safety, tractor safety cabs became requisite, and there were “Duncan” cabs made by Alexander Duncan IMG_0579(Aberdeen) Ltd, Inchbroom, Nigg, one of a small number of tractor cab makers in Britain.  There were also important changes made to the harvesting of the potato crop, and in the 1970s the development of stone and clod separation was the solution the mechanisation of the potato harvest, allowing the complete harvesters to work more quickly and effectively.  That revolutionary technology was represented by a ridger and a stone and clod separator by Reekie Engineering Co. Ltd, the leading Scottish makers.

The display included a number of implements and machines that were locally made in Aberdeenshire and more widely in the north-east.  The names of local companies appeared as in a roll-call of the most noted and reputed of makers of this part of Scotland, some being well-established businesses dating from the second half of the nineteenth century or even earlier, while others were established in the 1950s and 1960s.  They included:

  • Adams of Old Deer, Challenger Trailer Works, Old Deer (later Adams Trailers Ltd)
  • Allan Brothers, Ashgrove Engineering Works, Aberdeen (later Allan Bros. (Aberdeen) Ltd)
  • Banff Foundry & Engineering Co. Ltd, Banff Foundry, Banff
  • Bon Accord Agricultural Engineering Co. Ltd, Bon Accord Works, Aberdeen
  • Duncan, Inchbroom, Nigg, Aberdeen (later Alexander Duncan (Aberdeen) Ltd)
  • Edmond & Son, Udny
  • Forfar Foundry Ltd, Service Road, Forfar
  • Fraser Brothers, Rothienorman
  • G. Garvie & Sons, Canal Road, Aberdeen
  • Robert A. Grant, Quilquox, Ythanside
  • Grays of Fetterangus, Fairbank Works, Ferrerangus (later Grays of Fetterangus Ltd)
  • Macdonald Brothers, Roseacre Street, Portsoy
  • James F. Ogg, Bridge of Muchalls, Stonehaven
  • William Reid (Forres) Ltd, Harvester House, Forres
  • George Sellar & Son, Granary Street, Huntly (and Alloa) (later George Sellar & Son Ltd)
  • Shearer Brothers, Maybank Works, Turriff
  • Watson Brothers, Banff Foundry, Banff
  • Wright Brothers, Boyne Mills, Portsoy (later Wright Bros (Boyne Mills) Ltd).

While locally based, the business activities and reputations of some of the makers went far beyond the north-east.  George Sellar & Son had a world-wide reputation for its manufactures, even as far back as the 1870s, also being a world-leading ploughmaker.

These Aberdeenshire makers made a range of implements and machines.  They included many of the most important ones required for the farmer for ploughing, seed bed cultivation, sowing, reaping and processing crops, as well as carts and motive power (ie oil engines).  These formed the basis for the manufacturing of implements and machines in the area.  Each maker had their own manufactures, also being known for them.  Banff Foundry & Engineering Co. Ltd, made a wide range of implements, including ones for ploughing, sowing, harvesting, and barn machinery.  Others specialized in specific types.  George Sellar & Sons was associated with ploughs and other cultivating implements; Shearer Brothers for its reaping machines as well as its “advance” thresher for foot and hand power, and hand thresher from the early 1880s and 1890s.  IMG_0769Allan Brothers was one of a small number of oil engine makers in Scotland in the first half of the twentieth century.

But the county was also especially renowned for the making of specific implements and machines.  There was a strong tradition of ploughmaking and ploughing innovations, from ploughmakers such as George Sellar & Son.  A second tradition was the making of threshing mills.  There were mills from three well-known makers on display: R. G. Garvie & Sons, Wright Bros, and E. Edmond & Son.

IMG_0718So strong was the tradition of mill-making in the area that even by the mid 1960s when combine harvesters were becoming more widely used throughout the country, making the threshing mill technology obsolete, the county continued to be the last stronghold of millwrights in Scotland. A third tradition was that of trailer making. There were trailers from Adams of Old Deer, Robert A. Grant, and Fraser Brothers, three businesses that dated from the 1960s onwards. IMG_0659

A number of exhibits also came from other parts of Scotland.  While some were bought directly from the makers, some makers also acted as agents, a practice that became more widespread after the 1870s, when makers started to provide a complete range of implements and machines for farmers.  The display of a number of exhibits from A. Newlands & Sons Ltd, Linlithgow, John Wallace & Sons Ltd, Glasgow (later Wallace (Glasgow) Ltd then John Wallace (Agricultural Machinery) Ltd), and J L & J Ballach, Gorgie Engineering Works, Edinburgh, (later J L & J Ballach Ltd) and tractors from Leyland and Nuffield suggests that there were local agents for them.  Indeed, in 1951 George Bruce & Co., 14 Regent Quay, Aberdeen was an agent for Balloch while William Reid & Leys Ltd, Hadden Street, Aberdeen, was agent for both Ballach and Newlands. Neil Ross at Ellon was agent for John Wallace & Sons in 1948.

The implements and machines from outside the north-east were of particular types, and also made by specific makers.  The potato bed cultivation equipment was from Reekie Engineering Co. Ltd, IMG_0701Lochlands Works, Arbroath (later of Arbroath, Forfar and Laurencekirk), the turnip sowing drills and turnip scarifiers of J L & J Balloch, Gorgie Implement Works, Edinburgh and the turnip scarifiers of Geo. Henderson, Kelso Foundry.  These were all makers renowned for their manufacture of particular implements and machines, sometimes for decades.

The makers of the implements and machines included a wide range of businesses.  They extended from the micro-businesses that would have only been known in Aberdeenshire or had a more local customer base – such as the trailer made by Robert A. Grant to the “British” companies that had a factory in Scotland – such as the British Motor Company that manufactured Nuffield and Leyland Tractors at Bathgate – as well as the multi-nationals, such as Massey Ferguson. IMG_0704Most of the businesses were located in between.  They included a large number of family-owned and managed businesses, associated with particular works and foundries as well as towns.  Thus, A. Newlands & Sons, Linlithgow, was often known as Newlands of Linlithgow, while J L & J Ballach, Gorgie, Edinbugh, was Balloch of Edinburgh or Balloch of Gorgie.

So, what are the main characteristics of the agricultural implement and machine makers and their activities, as defined by the display at New Deer Show?

  • First and foremost, they made implements and machines for the agriculturalist, for activities not only in the field but also at the steading;
  • They were makers or manufacturers but some also acted as agents for others, enabling them to provide other implements and machines, even a complete range for the farmer, especially from the 1870s onwards;
  • Their activities ranged from the making of specific implements and machines to a broad range of them;
  • They had core activities that remained constant, sometimes for many years, but they also responded to the need for technological developments and new innovations (eg the move from steam to gas and oil power);
  • Some implement and machine makers became specialists in the manufacturing of particular implements and machines, and became regional and national specialists, also being closely associated with them;
  • Their traditional customer base was the local market, while it could also be extended to wider regional and national markets, and also sometimes international ones.  Thus, in an area, the basic implements tended to be traditionally sourced locally while other machines were brought in from other areas; the specialization of implement and machine makers, together with the extended use of agents meant that this pattern no longer held;
  • The businesses extended from the minor-business to the multi-national, but also included many family run and controlled businesses, associated with particular foundries or works.

As I drove home after the Show I wondered what a “Made in Scotland” display would look like at other vintage machinery rallies around the country.  What makers would be represented?  What machines and implements would be displayed?  What would the machines and implements tell us about the show district and the agriculture that was carried out in the district?  The “Made in Scotland” theme is a thought-provoking one for rally organisers to think about.  It raises important questions about the implements and machines used on the Scottish farms in the last century or so.

Thanks to the organisers Jim Muir, Peter Johnston, Scot Gibson and David Hay for putting on such a great display at New Deer.  The 2015 display looks to recreate the history of a local machinery dealer.

 

© 2015 Heather Holmes

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Making hay while the sun shines

Reflections on haymaking at the 25th Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Club Rally and Farming Heritage Show, Seggie Farm, Guardbridge, Fife, 8 June 2014

 

IMG_8991My father used to say that the rattle of the Dickie hay turner would bring on the rain.  Anyone who has made hay or silage will have their own sayings and recollections of the trials and tribulations in trying
to win these crops.  Wet seasons are easily remembered (and have their own life in the farming memory), the dry ones are too easily forgotten.

Memories of haytime were evoked during a visit to the 2014  annual rally of the Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Club, whose theme was hay and beef.  The day told the story of haymaking and the history of haymaking practices, implements and machines and their mechanisation in the last century or so.

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The weather couldn’t have been better suited to a day of haymaking activities.  It was perfect – a bright sunny day with a drying breeze.  But there was a reminder that this was haytime: as the balers were about to enter the parade ring heavy spits of rain started to fall.  The runup to the day wasn’t, however, easy: don’t ask the rally organisers about the preceding week’s weather, a late silage crop and a rally reorganization from one part of Fife toanother.  That week will go down as a chapter in the Club’s history.  But so too will the successful hay-making display.

The oldest implements on the field were a tumbling tam, first introduced into Scotland from America in 1828, and a Jack & Sons Ltd of Maybole Caledonian buckeye mower – a popular model in its day at the turn of the twentieth century; perhaps the most recent was a New Holland B8980 large square baler.  The story was told through IMG_9035two elements – parades of implements and machines around a show ring and a static display comprising an 1898 Marshall traction engine from the Cook’s from Leven, powering a Jones stationary baler from John Rennie of Carnoustie.  Dave and Robert Nelson, Ross Kinnaird, Benny and Isobel Duncan and their helpers, together with the Cooks of Leven and John Rennie, put on a comprehensive display that would not have been seen in Scotland for many decades.  Many spectators would not have ever seen such a sight.

There was a comprehensive range of mowers, both finger-bar and rotary.  There was a knack to cutting with the finger-bar ones – the hay had to fall over the bar.  If it didn’t, then cutting was difficult and you could make a rare mess – there were plenty of times you had to jump off the tractor to un-choke the mess and spread it out.  And you had to watch the wee birds hiding in the hay as well!

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Hay turning devices were exhibited in all shapes and forms and included side rakes, swath turners and tedders.  Its amazing how many different ways and times the hay was turned over and moved around a field.  There were collecting and transporting devices such as the tumbling tam, horse rake, hay sweep as well as a hay bogie.  These were augmented by a catalogue entry of 33 balers, mostly square balers (though none so old to have an independent engine instead of a P.T.O  which did have some advantages as “you could stop and ease a bit into the baler mouth”), though there were also round ones (though not in abundance), as well as a buncher.

Some of the most important makers of haymaking implements and machines were represented as were key implements that shaped the technology of the hay field.  They included household names in hay-making equipment: the famous Dickie hay turner from William Dickie & Sons of East Kilbride (later from Massey Harris) (Dickie was “king of them all”), Bamfords’ wuffler, Lely’s Cock Pheasant and Vicon’s Acrobat.  Balers included those from makers such as Allis-Chalmers, David Brown Albion, Claas, New Holland, International Harvester, Krone, and Massey Ferguson.  Their display suggested that there was a strong presence of Massey and International in the rally district.  Western Midlothian where we were was a New Holland district.  But then again, as my father says, the New Holland balers were so successful that they “took over the whole country”.

The practical displays demonstrated the great technological advances that have taken place within the last century to secure a labour-intensive crop as efficiently and effectively as possible.  The comparison in the work of the tumbling tam and the hay sweep could not have provided a greater contrast.  Likewise, so did the IMG_9372demonstration of ruck making and the use of the green crop loader and pike maker exhibited by B. Allan of Silloth, which must have been revolutionary in its day.  These ruck makers were still being made in the 1950s.

Specific machines also demonstrated the need to speed up the ‘making’ of the hay.  Mr D. Leech brought a New Holland hay crimper all the way from Lincoln.  This could greatly reduce the time the drying grass was in the swathe.  But not all farmers would have one: it effectively “smashed up” the hay and if a crimped crop was rained on it turned into “dung’”  Another innovation was the Lister hay-drying fan exhibited by E. Crichton of Ceres.

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Haymaking was an activity that had many local and regional variations.  Some of these were especially noticeable to spectators from outwith the rally area.  They included words of things – was a ruck always a ruck? what was a pike?  what was a sow stack? or a Paisley bend?  Variations included the making of a ruck without a tripod (the ruckmakers themselves commented on this).  There were also locally made bale handling devices, such as those from Boswells of Blairgowrie (a pyramid bale sledge) and S. Koronka of Kinross (formerly Ceres) with a small mounted bale carrier.  The timothy men of the Carse of Stirling also had their own ones too; they had small waterproof hoods on the top of their bales.These local variations continued in the face of the internationalisation of the manufacture and sale of agricultural implements and machines.

Scottish makers were especially noted in the displays of horse-drawn implements, some of which were famed for their manufactures (such as Dickie’s hay turner) while the tractor-powered turners and balers were made by English, Welsh and international makers.  One of the Scottish makers, W. & A. Pollock of Mauchline did, however, make a stationary baler at one time.

A lasting thought of the rally was that while implement and machine makers have made significant technological changes, some of which have been revolutionary in changing the appearance of the hay field, it is still the weather that is the master of the hayfield.  As the saying goes, “make hay while the sun shines”.  All the technology in the world won’t help when it is raining on a cut crop.  It might just help to dry it out though.

Further details of the rally and pictures of haymaking implements and machines are on the Club’s website.

Further reminiscences of haymaking are told by Robert Holmes are on Tobar an Dualchais

© 2015 Heather Holmes

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Welcome

Welcome to Scottish agricultural implement makers.

I’m excited to be sharing my interest in the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers of yesteryear.

There are lots of resources to find out more about the makers and their activities from the late eighteenth century onwards: electronic books (by links to google books and Internet Archive), bibliographies and links to websites that promote interest in and preservation of the makers and their activities.

I’ll be adding to these resources, so keep an eye out for updates!

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Celebrating the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers of yesteryear