A Perthshire name among the turnip, tattie and sugar beet fields: Boswells of Blairgowrie

Back in the 1950s and 1960s when numerous attempts were being made to mechanise the turnip, potato and sugar beet harvests, one Perthshire firm was to the fore: Boswells of Blairgowrie.

10633792_450317221828250_8735756940647571053_oThe name Boswells of Blairgowrie, engineers, Rattray, was already known in 1859.  By 1961 the company became known as Boswells of Blairgowrie Ltd.  It developed from another agricultural implement and machinery maker in Blairgowrie: F. M. Fleming & Son, Rattray Engineering Works, which had been established by the late 1920s and by 1954 was owned by James H. Boswell.

The new company was established to undertake a wide range of activities including the trades or businesses of motor car tractor and agricultural machinery agents, agricultural, mechanical, consulting, heating and general engineers’ petrol and oil suppliers and retailers; blacksmiths; electricians; ironmongers; dealers and agents for motor cars, tractors, agricultural implements, machinery, tools, petrol and oil and equipment of every description, threshing mills, balers, harvesters, ploughs, harrows, reapers, binders, diggers, sprayers etc.

12771512_450317228494916_2260480322079602348_oThe company, with a nominal capital of £5,000, was for many years a family run one, with its directors being James H. Boswell and his wife Rebecca, amongst other family members.

Boswells of Blairgowrie Ltd built on the earlier activities of Fleming & Son, with its specialities in harvesting, sugar beet, turnip harvesting and potato machinery.  In 1961 it entered for the new implement award at the Highland Show the “Boswell” major sugar beet cleaner.  This was followed in 1863 by the “Bowell” McRobert 8-12 ton per hour pre-cleaner, dresser and grader as well as the Boswell root elevator/loader.  By 1966 the company was able to exhibit its Boswell complete harvester.  It regularly attended the Highland Show, displaying and selling its manufactures to the domestic as well as export markets.

For a rural based business it was an important local employer.  In the mid 1970s it had around 65 employees.

By the mid 1970s there were changes in the company.  In 1975 most of the share capital of the company had been acquired by Elbar Industrial (Scotland) Ltd, whose ultimate holding company was Elbar Industrial limited.  By 1981 the company was no longer trading.

There are still examples of machines from Boswells of Blairgowrie, Boswells of Blairgowrie Ltd, and Elbar, around the Scottish vintage agricultural machinery rally fields.  They come from a company that was well known not only in Perthshire but internationally.  The company’s trade logo bears testimony to its Scottish roots and engineering heritage.

The photograph of the Boswell turnip harvester were taken at the New Deer Show, August 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


A Perthshire ploughmaker: James S. Low

12795154_450296358497003_4630857932612379693_oIf you were a Perthshire farmer looking to buy a new plough in the 1950s and 1960s you might have considered purchasing one of the ploughs from James S. Low, Perth Street, Blairgowrie.

James S. Low was already an agent of agricultural implements in 1909.  By 1927 when he was joined by his sons, to become Low & Sons, (also known as James S. Low & Sons), he had expanded his business to be a repairer of implements and machines as well as being a mechanical engineer and a wholesale agricultural implement maker.  By 1940 his business was described as an agricultural engineer, an agricultural implement agent and dealer and a smith. 

10338654_453599148166724_6892669393282582961_oThe firm was a local one, though in 1927 and 1927 advertised its manufactures in the Scottish Farmer, and in the early 1960s in the Farming News.

There are still a few Low ploughs around.  They are a good example of the local tradition of plough making throughout Scotland which continued until well after the Second World War.

The photograph was taken at the Fife Association of Vintage Vehicle Owners rally, August 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Doe: a Perthshire name

If you were a farmer in Perthshire and surrounding districts before the early 1960s you may have been familiar with the name of John Doe & Co. Ltd, Perth and Errol.

John Doe was already an agricultural implement maker and dealer at Errol, Perthshire, by 1868.  By the 1870s the company extended its business into Dundee, with a depot at 22 South Union Street, and Inchture.  By the early 1882 a premises was opened in Perth, at 20 Caledonian Road, which was to remain in the company’s hands into the early 1960s. 

12829444_450289548497684_3043778940473140034_oThe company was renowned as an agent, holding agencies for many of the leading makers across Scotland and England.  The first agency recorded, in 1869, was for A. C. Bamlett, Ripon, Thirsk, one that continued for decades, and for which the business was renowned.  If you were a visitor to any Perthshire farm with a Bamlett machine, you knew that it had come from John Doe.  By 1881, Doe was also agent for Ransomes, Sims & Head, as well as more local makers Mollison of Ruthven, J. D. Allan & Sons, Dunkeld. By 1896, agencies included those of Massey Harris Co. Ltd, London, R. Hornsby & Sons Ltd, Barford & Perkins, Peterborough, Oliver Plow Company, South bend, Indiana, J. & F. Howard, Bedford, Thomas Corbett, Perseverance Iron Works, Shrewsbury, John Baker, Wisbeach, and Richmond & Chandler, Manchester.

The reputation of its agencies was well recognized by farmers and agricultural societies.  The Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland awarded a number of medals to John Doe for its collection of implements and machines at the Highland Show.  They included medium silver medals in 1871, 1875 and 1876.

John Doe was also a noted implement and machine maker.  In the mid 1930s its own manufactures included rollers, drill ploughs, grubbers and turnip cutters.

The company moved with the times, becoming a company limited by guarantee in 1901, which it retained until it was voluntarily wound up in 1962.  For many years it was in the Doe family, with George B. Doe a managing director in 1911 and John Mollison Doe a joint managing director in 1932.

The company played an important role in ensuring that Perthshire farmers, and those in the surrounding counties, could obtain the latest implements and machines from leading makers.  It helped Perthshire, and especially the Lowland districts, to become a leading agricultural district from the 1870s.

The photograph was taken at the Strathnairn Vintage Rally, 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Crichton: an Aberdeenshire family of millwrights

In the mid nineteenth century the name of Crichton was associated with Lonmay, Aberdeenshire.  The millwright business of James Crichton grew into a thriving and very successful business.  By 1919 James Crichton took the step to re-locate his business to Strichen. He had a number of reasons for doing so.  As the Aberdeen weekly journal noted in its columns in June that year:

12719375_444018189124820_6482983925751800812_o“Mr James Crichton, millwright, who was compelled to shift the site of his engineering works from Lonmay to Strichen owing to the growth of the business, the lack of accommodation for workmen, and the lack of accommodation for workmen, and the necessity for the works being in a more central position, has now got the works in full swing.  As a considerable number of men are employed, this new industry should add to the prosperity of the village”.

12496355_444018079124831_3138569514446062318_oBy 1919 his business was a well-known one.  For the 1921 Highland Show, James advertised his business as a “well-known-maker”, also with “a large selection of the latest and most up-to-date threshers all in motion”.  He had agents throughout Scotland, all of whom were well known implement and machine makers or machinery agents: Inverness (James Ferries & Co.), Perthshire and Forfarshire (Ford & Paterson, Broughty Ferry), Glasgow (P. & R. Fleming, 16 Graham Square), Linlithgow and surrounding district (A. Newlands & Sons, Ltd), and the Lothians (W. R. Storie, Kelso). By 1922, the business had a depot at 60 Princes Street, Perth; by 1924, it was located at Horse Cross, Perth.

The business incorporated in 1925 to become Crichton’s (Strichen) Ltd, Strichen, and Perth.  However, this change was short-lived, as it was voluntarily wound up from 1927.  However, by April 1928 James Crichton had established himself as “James Crichton, engineer, Glasgow Road, Perth”, a name and address that continued to be known until at least 1931.

12719528_444018045791501_1614777748144877776_oThere were further changes.  From 1934 James Crichton appears at as a millwright and engineer in Turriff.  In the following year he advertised himself as “James Crichton Turriff … threshing machinery the outcome of 70 years’ experience”.  By 1948 the business was referred to as “James Crichton, millwright and engineer, Chapel Street Works, Turriff, Aberdeenshire”. It was to move premises, and by 1953 the works were known as “Station Street Works”.  That connection with Perth was not, however, lost.  In 1949 the business was looking for business premises in Perth.  By that time it had a number of long-service employees, such as William Finnie.

James Crichton died in September 1952.  The displenishing sale of the stock and plant at the Station Street Works was held on 17 and 18 March 1953, also marking the closing down of the business.  But that was not the end of the business or its name.

William Finnie, who had been the works manager for the last ten years acquired the Station Works and permission to carry on business from these premises as a millwright and engineer under the firm name of “James Crichton”, as well as the right to manufacture and supply spares to “Crichton” threshers.  By 1969 the company was advertising as “James Crichton, millwrights, bodybuilders and engineers, Turriff”.

Next time you see a Crichton threshing mill, you will see a long-established part of the Aberdeenshire tradition of threshing mill making.

The photographs of the Crichton threshing mill were taken at Aberdeenshire Farming Museum, August 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Blowing through the barn

A number of implements and machines were used to process grain in the barn.  They included machines to dress grain.

In 1889 Henry Stephens wrote:

883632_444919932367979_3313925649869772730_o“In former times the threshing and dressing of grain were distinct operations performed at different times.  Now they may be said to be but two parts of one operation.  The modern threshing-machine is the most improved type is so admirably equipped as to efficiently clean and dress the grain, as well as separate it from the straw … Still there are many farms on which the threshing-mills only partially dress the grain, and not a few indeed, mostly of small size, where the threshing-machines do little or nothing except separate the grain and the straw.  Most probably another decade or two will see these latter cases reduced to rare instances; but that day has not quite arrived …
12771993_444919975701308_3233317723191591970_oCorn-dressing machines-Some idea may, in the first place, be given of the machines employed in dressing corn.  They are often named blowers or fanners, because they blow away the filth from the corn by means of fans.  When cleaning-fanners are fixed to one spot, and are connected with elevators, they are generally of large dimensions, and of more complicated of large dimensions, and of more complicated construction than when made to be moved about the barn.”

10683577_444920139034625_829075047802546794_oDespite Stephen’s predictions, fanners, winnowing and dressing machines continued to made and used on Scottish farms well into the twentieth century.  If you were a farmer in 1912, you could have purchased one from a number of Scottish makers.  Kemp & Nicholson, Scottish Central Works, Stirling, made Scotch fanners riddles (16×16 inches or 18×18 inches). Charles Weir, Implement Works, Strathaven, made barn fanners with four riddles and sand sieve which could be purchased for £6 10s. A. & J. Main & Co. Ltd, Edinburgh, made side delivery fanners, which could be purchased for £8 10s.

Today, a number of fanners can be seen in our agricultural museums and around the rally fields.  They tell and interesting story of grain processing, especially on some of the smaller farms, well into the twentieth century.

The fanners made by Robert Garvie were photographed at the Aberdeenshire Farming Museum, August 2014.

Source: Henry Stephens, The Book of the Farm, Division 2, Edinburgh and London, 1889  https://archive.org/details/cu31924000275804

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Chaff cutting

A number of machines were available to farmers to prepare food for livestock.  One of these was chaff cutters.  In 1889 Henry Stephens wrote:

12747324_444811155712190_3640598808290963325_o“It has been well proved in practical experience that hay and straw are economized by being cut into short pieces, or chopped, as it is generally termed.  In the short condition fodder is not so liable to be wasted by the animals to which it is given as food, as when it is put before them in its natural length.  On the scope of economy, therefore, chaff-cutting is to be commended, while it has the further advantages of rendering hay and straw more suitable for mixing with linseed gruel, warm mashes, or with meal.  Cake, and roots, as in the pulping system.  Modern chaff-cutters accomplish their work most admirably, and it is wonderful how long some of them withstand the great tear and wear they undergo.” 

If you had wanted to buy a chaff cutter in 1886 you could have bought one from a number of makers and agents in Scotland.  They included A. Bulloch, Graham Square, Glasgow, James P. Cathcart, Ayr, and Edinburgh, Gordon & Coltart, Castle Douglas and Dumfries, and J. & R. Wallace, Castle Douglas.

12764598_444811182378854_5894438497840758303_oWhile A. Bulloch made own chaff cutters, selling at between £2 10s and £6 10s, most sold machines made by other makers. Most of these makers were English companies, some of who were well known for their manufacture.  They included Thomas Corbett, Perseverance Iron Works, Shrewsbury, John Crowley & Co., Meadow Hall Iron Works, near Sheffield, Harrison, McGregor & Co., Albion Iron Works, Leigh, Picksley, Sims & Co. Ltd, Bedford Foundry, Leigh, Lancashire, and The Albion Iron Works Co., Rugeley, Staffordshire.

They had a wide range of chaff cutters.  For example, in 1886 Harrison McGregor & Co. had machines for hand and power or for hand or power, which ranged from £2 10s to £6 15s in price.  Models included the CYL, CSA and the 3B.

The photographs shows chaff cutters from Bamfords, Uttoxeter, which were supplied by T. Duff, Annan. Thomas Duff was a gasfitter, retail ironmonger and wholesale ironmonger and implement agent in 1921.  By 1922, he had premises at 80 High street, Annan, and at Dumfries and Lockerbie.  By 1940 the company described itself as an “agricultural engineer”.  It later became incorporated and a wholly owned subsidiary of Rickerby Ltd in 1956.

The photographs were taken at the Dumfries and Galloway Vintage Machinery Club vintage rally, May 2014.

Source: Henry Stephens, The book of the farm, Edinburgh, 1889.


© 2016 Heather Holmes


Everything for the farm

Implement and machine makers has their own trade names as well as strap lines for their businesses.

One strapline that was well-known in the Lothians from 1914 into the mid 1960s was “Everything for the farm”.  This was associated with James H. Steele and later James H. Steele Ltd.

12646877_437216536471652_2821588695025569504_oJames H. Steele started business as an agricultural implement ad machine agent in 1914, when he set up his business at 61 Harrison Road, Edinburgh.  James had been in the employment of P. & R. Fleming, Glasgow, as a representative for their business in Edinburgh and the East.  He must have been a popular and successful businessman as that company inserted an advert in the North British Agriculturist, to inform readers and customers that James was “out of their employment” and no longer their representative.

By 1916 James had moved his business premises to 2 Ashley Terrace in the city, where he remained until 1919.  In 1918 he had also taken a stand at the Edinburgh Market.  He is again recorded at Harrison Road in 1920 where James and his company remained into the early 1950s, then moving to nearby West Bryson Road.  The company continued to trade until 1965; it was dissolved in mid 1970.

The company underwent a number of organisational changes through its history.  In the early 1920s, the company had a representative in Lanarkshire – Mungo Steele, Huntlygate, Lanark.  A few years later it had taken over the implement and machinery department of A. & J. Main & Co. Ltd, and in 1925 was “now in a position to supply wearing parts for all machines purchased from them”.

12615375_437216459804993_6550195739849762870_oBy 1945 the company had premises in Edinburgh, Lanark, and Cupar. In 1943 the Edinburgh premises included an assembly and service depot at Gray’s Mill, Langston Mill, Slateford, which were then moved to West Bryson Road.  These premises became the tractor repair department in 1956.  The company became a limited company by guarantee in June 1941, and was managed by members of the Steele family who were also Directors.

James first used the strapline “Everything for the Farm” in 1919.  In fact, he used it as the main way to advertise his company, even until after the company became a limited one.  Steele’s work as a commission agent is recorded from 1920, and as a maker and agent from 1924.

The company was agent for a number of makers.  In 1920 they included a wide variety, such as Kenneth Mackenzie, Evanton; Ruston & Hornsby Ltd; Harrison, McGregor & Co. Ltd; Richmond & Chandler Ltd; Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Ltd; Petters Ltd; G. C. Ogle & Sons; William McBride & Sons; Reid & Leys; Marshall & Philp, J. B. Edlington & Co. Ltd; William Sinton & Son; Hood, Smith & Co; and Wilmot.

In 1939 the company sold implements and machines from makers such as Minneapolis-Moume Power Implement Company of Canada; David Brown Tractors Ltd; John Wilder Ltd; Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Ltd; Harrison, McGregor & Co. Ltd; W. N. Nicholson & Sons Ltd; J. D. Allan & Sons; Ruston & Hornsby Ltd; Alex Laurie & Sons; Wolseley Sheep Shearing Machine Co. Ltd; Cruickshank & Co. Ltd; Cooch & Son; John Munro; Philip Pierce & Co. Ltd; A. & W. Pollock; S. M. Wilmot & Co. Ltd and A. Hunter & Sons.

For tractors, the company was a Ferguson dealer in 1937, and one for David Brown, Bristol, Marshall and Fowler in 1955.  In 1965 it was appointed as a John Deere agent, and was one for Nuffield.

So, as James H. Steele’s strapline says, “Everything for the Farm”!

The photographs of the Ruston & Hornsby engine, supplied by James H. Steele, were taken at the Scottish National Tractor Show, Lanark, 2013.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Stylish tractor cabs 

12764834_444814312378541_4283555504396066485_oStyle and tractor cabs are not normally concepts that are associated with one another.  That is, until you see some of the early Scottish made tractor cabs.  A particularly notable one was made by Scottish Aviation Ltd, based at Prestwick Airport, Ayrshire.

10688316_444814442378528_1151576870092757038_oThe company, incorporated in 1935, and was dissolved in 1978, manufactured tractor cabs, among other products.  Its cab making days are recorded between 1948 and 1967 when it was a regular advertiser in both Farming News and The Scottish farmer.  It was also an exhibitor at the Royal Highland Show between 1950 and 1952. 

The tractor cab from Scottish Aviation Ltd was photographed at Dumfries and Galloway Vintage Machinery Club vintage rally, Dumfries, 25 May 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Another eminent Ayrshire ploughmaker: William Begg, Tarbolton

William Begg advertised himself as “plough specialist, Tarbolton, Ayrshire” in July 1929.  In that same year he exhibited for the first time at the Highland Show, held in Alloa.  On his stand he referred to himself as “William Begg, agricultural implement maker, Tarbolton”.  By 1948 he was joined by his sons; his business became known as “William Begg & Sons”, a name that continued until 1968.  It was superseded by William Begg & Sons Ltd.  The company continued until 1987 when it was wound up. 

12371244_444909195702386_4126714094122760189_oWilliam was a regular exhibitor at the Highland Show from 1929 to 1970. He was also an innovative plough maker.  He entered his “The Triumph” sub-soiling plough for the new implement award in 1930.

William’s ploughs developed and changed over the decades as he brought out new ploughs and plough designs.  In 1929 his ploughs included a moveable bar point three horse subsoiling plough, with wheels and tines to break up the subsoil, a moveable bar point subsoiling plough, a moveable bar point digging plough, champion swing plough, new chill plough “Begg junior” with coulter hole, and an improved moveable bar point plough, for stony land, with coulter hole.

12716070_444909615702344_4723198503897261214_oIn 1934 he was making ploughs for horses as well as for tractors.  His tractor ploughs included his Begg’s new patent “double turn” tractor plough (patent no 405022), a trenching tractor plough, and a double furrow tractor plough.  By 1951 he was making ploughs to work with specific makes of tractors.  They included his single furrow, deep digging tractor plough to fit standard Ferguson tractor, his single furrow, general purpose, to fit standard Ferguson, a single furrow, deep digging to fit Fordson Major hydraulic.

By 1963 his ploughs included a single furrow plough, hydraulic, deep digging, to suit category 1 tractors, a single furrow general purpose plough to suit category 1 tractors, a single furrow, hydraulic, deep digging, with new patent top link, to suit category 1 tractors, as well as similar ploughs to suit category 2 tractors.  He also manufactured ploughs for forestry tree planting.

William was well-known for his ploughs used in forestry work.  By 1948 he was making a single furrow tractor plough for forestry work.  From 1951, and throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, he manufactured a forestry hill plough, no. 3 type plough with fabricated frame, for tree planting.

The ploughs of William Begg rivaled those of Robert Begg, though each had their own models.  If you want a heated debate on ploughs and ploughing ask an Ayrshire farmer which Begg ploughs they preferred!

The photographs of the William Begg plough were taken at the Scottish National Tractor Show, Lanark, September 2015.

For Begg’s forestry plough see Forestry Memories website: http://www.forestry-memories.org.uk/picture/number2098.asp and http://www.forestry-memories.org.uk/picture/number2100.asp

© 2016 Heather Holmes


An eminent Ayrshire plough maker: Robert Begg & Sons

If you are familiar with the Scottish ploughing scene, you will know the name of the plough maker Robert Begg & Sons, Dalry, Ayrshire.

10603894_444894259037213_5287286013007398363_oRobert Begg set up as a ploughmaker in Dalry, Ayrshire in 1864.  By 1914 he could advertise in The Scottish farmer: “R. Begg, 50 years reputation, Dalry, Ayrshire”.

We know little of his early activities, though he was advertising his ploughs in the North British Agriculturist in April 1876.  By 1903 he is recorded as being an agricultural implement maker, a retail ironmonger, a smith and a smith and farrier.  By 1912 he was joined by his sons, naming his business Robert Begg & Sons.  It was run by 12764501_444894295703876_3504000784975988404_oRobert Begg and his son John. Robert died in early 1927, and the business was carried on his son.  John died by 1941 and the business was transferred to Robert Wilson, Barrhead, who continued it under Begg’s name.  In 1951 the business became incorporated as Robert Begg & Sons Limited, but was out of existence by October 1976 and was dissolved in the following year.

Begg’s business was associated with Sharon Street, Dalry, where it is recorded in 1886 and into at least the 1950s.  From 1914 his address was the “Implement Works, Dalry.”

12715947_444894382370534_1727142285138975409_oRobert Begg took an important step in developing his business in 1912 when he exhibited at his first Highland Show, held in that year at Cupar.  This was the start of an association with the show that continued, more or less continuously, until 1960.  Begg also took the important step of entering a plough into the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland’s exhibition of farm tractors and tractor implements in 1922.  In following years, he also entered ploughs and other exhibits for the Society’s new implement award: in 1923, a double furrow self-lift tractor plough with self-lifting gear, and in 1928, Falconer’s patent mouldboard and Falconer’s coulter.

12747914_444894405703865_6192423318619413236_oWhile Begg’s business changed with the times, so too did his ploughs.  In 1914, Robert made a range of ploughs which included drill ploughs, double furrow ploughs, as well as bar point chill ploughs and chill ploughs.  His chill ploughs were sold under the name “The Begg”.

In 1926, Begg’s ploughs included a double furrow-self lift tractor plough, with moveable points and swivel disc coulter (sold at £36 10s), a moveable point plough, with double wheels for lea and stubble ploughing (£10 10s), chill plough, plain beam, single wheel, for lea and stubble ploughing (£9).  As well as drill ploughs, he also sold baulking ploughs, diamond harrows, zig zag harrows, grubbers and drill harrows.

12764501_444894435703862_6449059323731729188_oIn 1956 the “Begg” tractor ploughs included power lift ploughs, single furrow general purpose; power lift, double furrow, general purpose, single furrow, bar point digger, single furrow, spring-loaded bar point, three furrow general purpose and double furrow with adjustable land wheel.

Begg’s ploughs were also well-known on the ploughing match fields. For example, in 1925 it sold its “prize chill ploughs” and in 1928 and 1929 its “champion swing ploughs”.

Today, you can still see Begg’s ploughs at some of the ploughing matches and at vintage agricultural machinery rallies around the country.  Ask anyone who Begg was and they will say a leading ploughmaker from Ayrshire.

The photographs of of the Begg ploughs were taken at the Scottish National Tractor Show, Lanark, September 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes