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  It was superseded by William Begg & Sons Ltd.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: and

© 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


Changing with the times: Thomas Fairgrieve & Sons

12710704_444011409125498_6057777718832581661_oAs well as the larger implement and machine makers in the towns, cities and some larger villages, there were a large number of small businesses scattered throughout rural Scotland which served the farming community with implements and machines or repaired them.  They included engineers, millwrights and smiths.  Over time, some of them also started to stock a small number of implements and machines from other makers, and acted as local agents, a role that could transform their businesses.

12698433_444011249125514_8233981282172359908_oOne of these businesses was Thomas Fairgrieve, a millwright, engineer and cycle agent at the Cockholm Works, Stow, Midlothian.  By 1914 Thomas was joined by his sons in his business, which became known as Thomas Fairgrieve & Sons.

While the business continued to be a millwright and engineer, it also started to act as an implement and machine agent.  In 1904, it had held the agency for Richard Hornsby & Sons Ltd, Grantham.

12747288_444011482458824_8008624526273605191_oA big change came in the mid 1920s, with the appointment as an authorised Ford dealer. From 1925, the business was listed in directories as “Thomas Fairgrieve & Sons (authorised Ford dealers), Cockholm Works, Stow, Midlothian”.  It became a company limited by guarantee in 1938, becoming known as Thomas Fairgrieve & Sons Ltd, until it was liquidated in 1977.

The business continued as a Ford and Fordson dealer. During the Second World War it had the government contract to supply local 11051761_444011939125445_9215671934921869011_ofarmers with Fordson tractors – if any broke down they had to be repaired within 24 hours.  With the Ford’s association with Ransomes – and the FR range – it became a Ransome agent in the mid 1960s.  In 1965 its other agencies included New Holland, Simplex and County.

Fairgrieve became the main Ford agency for the Borders, having branches in Galashiels and Kelso.  You can still see the dealer plate around the vintage rallies throughout Scotland, and especially the Borders.

Today, at a vintage rally if you ask someone what Fairgrieve’s business was, they would probably say they were a Ford agent.  Had you asked that question in 1905, they would have said an engineer and millwright, with an agency for Hornsby of Grantham.

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

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Helping to drive power! 

Have you ever noticed how many machines have belts or chains to drive power?

Balata belting was made by a number of companies in Scotland.  12496383_437162209810418_2427824004838539462_oThey included R. & J. Dick Ltd, Greenhead Works, Glasgow, established in 1846, and maker of “Dick’s Original” balata and rubber belting.

The company was a belting manufacturer, a driving rope manufacturer, and a belting machinery manufacturer.  It was a regular advertiser in the farming press, especially the North British Agriculturist, in the 1930s, with its very distinct advertising; it also advertised in the Glasgow post-office directories with distinct adverts.

Further information on R. & J. Dick can be found on Grace’s Guide website:

The photographs were taken at the National Tractor Show, Lanark, September, 2014, and the B. A. Vintage Country Fair, May 2015.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


At the mart

Weekly markets were, and still are, an important place for farmers to meet their fellow farmers and members of the agricultural community and to conduct business.

Back in the late 1860s when agricultural implement agents were starting to emerge in Scotland, they needed a place where they could set up their stands and promote and sell their implements and machines to farmers and other agriculturists.  The corn exchanges and cattle markets in the Scottish towns and cities, and especially the large markets in Edinburgh and Glasgow, were a natural choice for them, being established places for farmers to conduct their business.

By the mid 1870s a number of implement agents, as well as makers, had stands at the corn exchanges and in the Corn Exchange Buildings throughout the market towns of Scotland.  Some simply had a stand at the market, others an office space or rooms.  For example, in 1864 John Pringle of the Scottish Agricultural Implement Depots, Edinburgh, Kelso and Dunse, was also found “at the Corn Exchanges, Edinburgh, Dalkeith, Haddington, Dumfries, Cupar, Dunfermline and Kirkcaldy”.  Another important user of the markets was A. & J. Main & Co., Glasgow.  In 1870 that company had an address that included the “Corn Exchanges Stirling, Falkirk, and Ayr, and Cattle Market Glasgow on market days”.  By 1874 it advertised that “representatives of the company attend the markets at Edinburgh, Dalkeith, Cupar, Kirkcaldy, Kelso, Glasgow, and Stirling.”  That maker must have had the largest network of any implement and machine maker in Scotland.  Across Scotland, in 1877 Harper & Co., had an address at Market Buildings, Hadden Street, Aberdeen. In 1886 A. T. Pringle, had an address in the Corn Exchange Buildings, Grassmarket, Edinburgh, an address and place where a number of other makers and agents were located.  They included A. & J.Main & Co., Edinburgh (from the 1880s) and Jonathan Mack (in 1890).  In Glasgow the Corn Exchange Buildings was the home to companies such as W. G. Morrison & Co., timber merchant and importer of foreign pit wood, from the late 1870s.

img_7012Agricultural districts also developed around the agricultural markets.  In Edinbrugh these included the streets around the Grassmarket, including Victoria Street and the top of George IV Bridge, where for a number of years the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture and the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland had their offices.  You can still see the former offices of the Highland Society if you stand outside the National Library of Scotland and look across the road.  There you will see the Society’s “Museum”.

In Glasgow, Graham Square was an important centre for implement and machines makers in Glasgow and the west of Scotland from the mid 1860s onwards. Some of the most important companies had an 12374759_427494277443878_3999717187464710213_ooffice there.  From 1865 John Wallace & Son had an address at 7 Graham Square (by the mid 1870s, it premises extended to numbers 7-15).  In that year Dunn & Co., “agricultural implement and reaping machine agents” had an office at number 11.  In 1870 H. Lyall & Sons, agents, had premises at numbers 15 and 17.  The business was an important, but short-lived, focus for a number of Scottish as well as English implement and machine makers including J. & T. Young, Ayr, A. Mollison, Kelso, Thomas Hunter, Maybole, Trustees of William Sawney, Beverley, Yorkshire, Picksley, Sims & C. Ltd, Leigh, Lancashire, Lillie & Elder, Berwick on Tweed, and Brigham & Bickerton, Berwick On Tweed. In 1879 J. P. Cathcart, an agricultural machinery merchant, which had an office at 135 12374962_427494250777214_7496803395874186330_oBuchanan Street, Glasgow, and Ayr, also had a depot in the Square.  In 1880 Alexander Jack & Sons, Maybole, had an address at number 32, and by 1886 this maker had located to no. 20.  In 1886 the English maker Harrison, McGregor & Co., also had an address in the Square; this was an early date for an English maker to have a business address in Scotland.  In 1889 Andrew Bullock had an address at number 16, while in 1892 P. & R. Fleming & Co., had an address at number 16; it had its works at Market Street which adjoined Graham Square.  By 1906 Charles Weir, Strathaven, had a Glasgow depot at the “corner of Graham square”.  This was later described as the “right hand corner” of the Square.

When the cattle and corn markets moved addresses in the large towns, as a result of town planning needs, and to established new market centres, such as at Chesser, Edinburgh, home to the Edinburgh cattle markets, slaughterhouses and the Edinburgh Corn Exchange, until recent decades, implement and machine makers also moved with them.

My grandfather was a regular market attender at Chesser on a Wednesday.  It was an important place for him to make contact with the Edinburgh implement and machine makers that had a stand there and to conduct business.

The mart was a focal point for a number of Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers and for farmers.  It was a place that facilitated business between the two. It brought new innovations, the latest developments, as well as the stock implements and machines, and news of second hand machines, to the attention of farmers and other agriculturists.  It let farmers and other agriculturists purchase these implements and machines and for them to use them on their farms.  The mart was therefore a key part of the business of selling and diffusing agricultural technology in Scotland.

Photographs: India Buildings, Edinburgh, and the former Glasgow cattle market and Graham Square, Glasgow.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Dressing tatties yesteryear

The machines for dressing tatties have come along way since the mid nineteenth century.

They had been simple affairs.  In 1875 P. & R. Fleming, Glasgow, sold a potato-riddler, invented by Sawney, for £3 10s.

By 1900 there were a range of riddles and machines available. Matthew Dunlop, Glasgow, sold Dunlop’s potato screen, galvanised for the cost of £1 5s while P. & R. Fleming & Co., had a galvanised potato riddler at a cost of £1 7s 6d.  There were also potato sorting machines. John Scoular & Co., Stirling, had a new patent potato dressing riddle for £6 10s while A. & J. Main & Co Limited, Edinburgh, had a patent potato sorter for £7 10s.  Penney & Co Limited, engineers, Lincoln, had a potato separator and riddle which divides the potatoes into three sizes at one operation for £9.

A number of companies that made potato diggers started to also make potato sorters.  Noted names included Pollock of Mauchline, Ayrshire, (making a range of potato equipment in the 1870s), David Wilson, East Linton, East Lothian, and John Munro, Kirkcaldy, Fife.  In 1914, David Wilson was making and selling potato cleaning and sizing machines as well as potato washing machines and potato sporting boxes, a recent development.  Wilson had won an equal premium (with 3 other machines) at the all-important Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland trials of potato digger or lifters in 1911.

12440442_437192449807394_7632687148820951493_oIn 1939 potato sorters were made and sold by a number of makers.  J. L. & J. Ballach, Edinburgh, made the Ballach’s potato sorter, new improved, with angle-iron frame and steel spared elevator.  Thomas Sherriff & Co., West Barns, East Lothian, had a power driven potato dressing machine. Eapecially popular were ones made by John Monro, Kirkcaldy, and Cooch & Son, Commercial Street, Northampton. Cooch’s machines were sold in Scotland from at least 1914, by dealers such as Kemp & Nicholson, Stirling.  In 1939 Cooch exhibited six potato sorters at the Highland Show in Edinburgh, ranging from £7 10s to £60 for the potato sorter no 6A, with patent roller conveyor, feeding elevator, and petrol engine.

Cooch’s machines remained popular in Scotland as did those of Munro.  By 1948 Kenneth Mckenzie & Sons, Evanton, Ross-shire, was to become associated with one of John Munro’s potato sorters, the “Eclipse potato sorter no 3”, which was the “outcome of forty-years’ experience in the manufacture of potato sorters.”  It is worth describing the machine, as it was entered for a New Implement award at the Highland Show in that year:

“This machine … delivers both seed and ware onto the conveyor, which is wider than on the earlier models, and which has a division up the centre thereby delivering seed size at one side and ware size at the other, where both can be hand-picked before being discharged into bags, four of which can be fitted at the delivery end.
The machine uses the flat riddle principle with a circular movement, resembling hand-riddling.  The potatoes do not suffer damage, and are better dressed and cleared than by other methods.
Although designed for power drive to handle large quantities of potatoes, the machine can be operated by hand in an emergency.
The machine and 1hp air cooled power unit with clutch are mounted on four large-sized wheels for travelling.  These are fitted with very strong endless conveyor chains with octagon revolving slats so constructed that they revolve, thereby continuously turning the potatoes over and over, enabling defective tubers to be removed.”

12640418_437213063138666_9206269428557021419_oThe experience of working at the tattie dressing changed greatly over the years.  Hand riddles represented an important step forward in dressing, as were the early sorters.  My father recollects, in the 1950s, turning the handle on the dresser to power the machine (and what hard work that was!); my mother the cold of standing at the dressing table in the “straw shed” and the women wearing the fur coats to keep warm after they were no longer in fashion.

My father invested in a new dressing line in the 1970s.  I spent many an evening at the 28lb and 56lb weighing machine while he was on the smaller bagging machine.  The work got me through my English exams at school – what a great way to learn all the literature quotations!  My mother spent nearly 40 years working at the dressing table on the winter evenings, and I spent nearly 20 years on the 28lb bags.  It was a far-cry from the earlier days at the tattie dressing.

Source: The riddle was photographed at the Scottish National Tractor Show, 2014, and the dressing shed at Pilmuir, Balerno, Midlothian, in the 1990s.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


A ploughing giant from the past: Gray of Uddingston 

If you were really keen on competition ploughing in the second half of the nineteenth century (and into the twentieth century), you would have kept a keen eye on the work of the ploughs of Gray of Uddingston, Lanarkshire, at the Uddingston Iron Works.  John Gray & Co, followed by George Gray & Co, were the most important makers of competition ploughs in Scotland.  Their ploughs carried away numerous prizes at the ploughing matches throughout the length and breadth of the country. 

The North British Agriculturist published an account of George Gray in 1893. It states:

12525384_437257756467530_2459213489575186468_o“Mr George Gray- Mr George Gray, along with his younger brother John, is partner in, and carries on the business of, the well-known firm of Messrs George Gray & Co., of the Uddingston Plough Works.  This firm was founded about the end of last century by Mr George Gray, great grandfather of the present partners.  Mr Gray was a noted plough maker in his day, and was the first in Scotland to make iron ploughs-that is, ploughs made wholly of iron. Since then the plough trade at Uddingston has assumed enormous dimensions, and implements made in this thriving suburb of Glasgow are now found in use all over the world.  At present the firm’s plough trade consists largely in making ploughs for ploughing matches.  They are made or mounted to cut any required angle or 12615744_437267436466562_2064716100174805375_ofurrow from the plainest style to the highest cut, and they have achieved such success in this direction that, during the last few seasons, they have won upwards of 1500 first prizes all over the country.  The firm have, however, also a high reputation for the manufacture of the ordinary every-day working plough, of which they annually turn out large numbers.  They also devote considerable attention to the production of grubbers, harrows, and mowing and reaping machines, and have developed a very good trade in the latter within recent years.  But the firm is associated in a special degree with the manufacture of ploughs of all classes.  Mr George Gray has long given special attention to this branch of his business, and any one who converses with him is always struck with the sound and practical knowledge which he possesses in regard to ploughs and ploughing.  A paper on this subject, which he read last year before a meeting of the Bothwell Farmers’ Club, and which was published in our columns at the time, attracted very general attention, and was favourably commented upon by several leading farmers and implement makers.”

Mr Gray’s paper can be read on the Papers Past website at:…

Source: North British Agriculturist, 19 July 1893.

The photograph of the Gray plough was taken at the Scottish National Tractor Show, September 2013.  The photograph of the horse ploughing (with a Ransomes plough) was taken at the Black Isle ploughing match, November, 2013.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


An Aberdeen name of yesteryear: Allan Bros. 

If you were an Aberdeenshire farmer at the turn of the twentieth century you may have been familiar with the name of Allan Brothers, engineers, 102 West North Street in the city.  From 1901 the company moved to the Ashgrove Engineering Works, Back Hilton Road, in the city, where it continued its business for the next half century.

The company was started by James Allan and Richard Allan, but their partnership was dissolved by mutual consent in February 1899.  James took over the business, carrying it on under the name of Allan Brothers.  The company became incorporated as Allan Brothers (Aberdeen) Limited in 1847, and finally wound up its business in 1857, having ceased business in the summer of 1956. 

12628548_437180493141923_1563394594183951595_oAllan Brothers were engineers, gas engine manufacturers and oil engine manufacturers who manufactured a range of engines for the agriculturist and other industries.  By the late 1930s the company was also a millwright, making range of threshing mills; it earlier sold mills made by other makers.  In 1939 it described itself as “Allan Bros, engineers and millwrights, Aberdeen, in the Scottish farmer.

Allan Brothers was renowned as the maker of the “Allan” oil engine.  It was entered for the New Implement Award of the Highland Show in 1926. This is how the company described its entry in the Show Catalogue of that year:

“”Allan” oil engine. Invented by Allan Brothers.
Fitted with last improved “frozen cylinder saver”, which consists of an opening in cylinder jacket covered by a flexible diaphragm secured by a ring. If the cylinder is allowed to freeze, the diaphragm bulges out and bursts, thus releasing the pressure due to freezing, and prevents the cylinder jacket-the most expensive casting of an oil engine-being destroyed. Price £190.”

The company were regular exhibitors at the Highland Show from 1901 until 1949.  In 1909, for example, it exhibited a range of oil engines which ranged from 3hp to 23hp as well as a “4ft wide thrashing & finishing machine of new design, and combining all the latest improvements, made by Mackie & Co.”

Allan Bros, a noted maker in implement and machine making.

The Allan Bros name plate was photographed at Farming Yesteryear, September 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Foot power! 

10257771_433675170159122_3813820244107806507_oSome machines on the farm were worked by foot power.  Two come to mind: the hand and foot threshers made by Shearer Bros, Turriff, Aberdeenshire, and grindstones for sharpening knives and other hand-tools.

What other machines did you use that were powered by foot?

The photographs were taken at Highland Folk Museum rally, May 2015.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Threshing by horse power 

11950309_433679340158705_2764805116676802979_oHorses provided an important source of power for a range of grain processing activities on the farm such as threshing and dressing from the late eighteenth century onwards.  The remains of that horse power can still be seen on some Scottish farms.  Some farms, especially smaller ones and crofts, had a “horse walk”, a raised, circular platform, in part of the farm steading.  This was linked to a drive-shift which powered a mill.  On the larger farms, there were horse mill buildings.  These can be easily recognised: they are generally round(ish) 12440695_433679270158712_3285902050198429938_obuildings with pantile or slate roofs with full-height openings between sections in the wall to provide ventilation from the working animals.  Next to them was a building in which was a mill. 

It isn’t often that you see horse powered threshing and dressing activities at rallies in Scotland.  In 2014 the Strathnairn Vintage Rally 10631196_433679153492057_5950504597835445139_ohad a working demonstration of a horse powered thresher, a “Marvel” was driven by a Bentall horse gear from 1865.  The “Marvel” was developed by James Ferries & Co., Inverness, in 1929.

Two horses were used in the demonstration.  One was attached to each arm of the gear mechanism.  Each walked walked round in a circle, and as they did, they drove a drive shaft which was attached to the dresser, and which powered it.  Quite a sight to see!

The photographs were taken at the Strathnairn Vintage Rally, September 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes