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: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast…

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


Hand power! 

12471460_431597457033560_7102150960062843834_oHave you ever stopped to look at how many forms of power there are around the rally fields? There is hand power, foot power, horse power, steam power, petrol power, diesel power, gas power …

12487247_431597490366890_4895233506103316317_oThere are a number of examples of machines powered by hand around the rally fields and agricultural museums. They include some of the older exhibits – hand thrashers, turnip cutters and a range of barn machinery as well as lawn mowers. And, of course, the early tractors had to be started by hand. 

Here is a selection of photographs of machines powered by hand. What other ones do you remember?

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Patent corn rick stands: all wrought-iron framing, with heavy cast-iron pillars

Scotland was an important centre for the manufacture of corn rick stands.

12640341_437160613143911_3134583220531331349_o In the early 1870s T. Pearson & Co., Waterloo Iron Works, Glasgow, claimed that it was the “largest Makers in the world of the Corn Rick Stand.”  It asserted that “T. Pearson & Co. made only one quality of their Prize Rick Stands, and that quality is known universally to be the Cheapest, the Strongest, and most perfect in the market.”

Its pillars were “Cast-Iron, very massive, with a Cap, at the top, of a mushroom shape, to exclude vermin, and stand about 27 inches above the ground.  The Framework on the top is entirely of Wrought-Iron, of a most substantial character, with all the bars dovetailing into the Pillars; and the whole is fitted together in the most simple manner, without a single Bolt or Pin, so that all the Bars and Pillars fit universally.  The Stands-18, 20, and 22 feet diameter-have an inner row of Pillars.”

“An important distinction in the make of these Stands, and which accounts accounts for their great efficiency and durability, consists in the Bars of the Framework being made of a much heavier size of iron than is usual; also, in their being made to dovetail into the notches on the top of the Pillars, a plan which secures the whole Stand being tightly bound together, and therefore imparts to it a greater strength and solidity.”

While most stands were round, Pearson also made oblong stands. The company notes:

12622488_437160676477238_8574457355380267044_o“To met the requirements of certain districts of the country, T. Pearson & Co. can confidently recommend this peculiar form of Rick Stand, as combining a strength and firmness of construction that cannot be obtained by any other principle. All the Bars in the Framework dovetail into the Pillars; and they not only can be put up or wholly removed at pleasure, but likewise every six feet in length of the Rick Stand can be taken away as the grain is removed, so as to allow the carts to back close up to the remaining portion of the stack.

“This form of stand is found equally suitable for Wheat, Barley, or Oats. No screw, bolt, or pin being required, it can be put up or taken down by a farm-servant in a few minutes.  Premiums have been awarded it by the principal Agricultural Meetings throughout the Kingdom, and numerous and flattering Testimonials have been received, commending its great utility and cheapness, while urging earnestly its adoption by the Farming interest generally.
Another advantage peculiar to this form of Stand is the important one, viz:-that it can be made of any size.  The smallest Stand of 10 feet by 8 feet can be continued, if wished, in an unbroken line for 100 feet, or for any longer or shorter distance; and the larger sized ones can be thrown into two or more of a smaller dimension, at any future time, if necessary, or vice versa.  T. P. & Co. send the necessary Pillars where this arrangement may be desired, at a small extra cost.”

Pearson noted that the advantages of the corn rick stands was:

12646623_437160713143901_8494419928566318007_o“They afford a Perfect protection from the ravages of Vermin-insure a Thorough Ventilation throughout the Stack-preserve the Grain from Damp-secure to the Farmer the great advantage of Early Stacking-give a much Drier Sample, from the superior Ventilation effected-save the Waste-occasioned by stacking on the ground-act as a prevention against Fire-save to the Farmer from £15 to £25 every year, where twelve of the smallest-sized-ones are used-are most valuable as an Investment, giving the Purchaser, on an average, nearly Forty per Cent, annually on his First outlay-have in numerous instances paid themselves in One Year-are Cheaper than any description of Stone or Wooden Stand-will last for an age, if Painted occasionally-and finally, can be put up or taken down in a few minutes by any Farm-Servant.”

So Pearson’s corn stands and stands had plenty of advantages for the Scottish farmer!

Source: North British Agriculturist.

The photographs of the Gibson & Son of Edinburgh Pillars were taken in Ross-shire, December 2015.  They are made on a similar principle to those of Pearson’s prize patent corn rick stands.  The include a centre stack and one of the edge stacks.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Alexander Jack of Maybole

The firm name of Alexander Jack of Maybole, or Alexander Jack & Sons, Maybole, was well-known throughout Scotland from the 1830s until the early 1970s.  It was associated especially with potato diggers and raisers and mowers and reapers.

12471447_431589477034358_6362274736473008470_oThe company was highly renowned, even from its early days. Its founder, Alexander Jack, died in June 1877.  The North British Agriculturist carried an obituary in its columns of 13 June 1877:

“The late Mr Alexander Jack of Maybole-We regret to have to record the death, on Wednesday last, of Mr Alexander Jack, senior 12646884_437178846475421_7377053484203428762_opartner of the well-known firm of Alexander Jack & Sons, agricultural implement makers, maypole.  At the outset of his career, Mr Jack was apprenticed as a joiner, and afterwards carried on successfully the business of a wood-merchant at Auchendrane, a few miles out of Maybole.  About thirty years ago, he removed to Maybole, to meet the requirements of his yearly increasing trade.  He subsequently applied himself to the manufacture of agricultural implements with such a large measure 12605296_437179486475357_69092981555362350_oof success that his fame soon spread, and since then the firm of which he was the distinguished head have been among the foremost prize-winners wherever their implements have been exhibited.  Mr Jack, like most men who have won their way to enviable distinction, took an intelligent and lively interest in all the affairs of his farm.  Last year, in the course of an American tour, he visited the works of several of the leading implement makers in the United States.  His loss is lamented by a wide circle of friends, particularly in the neighbourhood of Maybole, which has largely profited by the local industry of which he was the founder.”

For further information on the company Alexander Jack & Sons, Maybole, see: http://www.maybole.org/hi…/articles/alexanderjackandsons.htm

The photograph of the Jack hay bogie was taken at the Borders Vintage Rally, 2015.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Another member of the Wallace dynasty: Robert Wallace 

We have mentioned in recent posts that there were a number of agricultural implement makers with the surname Wallace.  John Wallace & Sons, Glasgow, was the most famous and eminent of these implement and machine makers.

One of the members of that family, Robert Wallace, made an important contribution to the making of agricultural implements and machines in Ayrshire.  The Scottish Farmer described his work as an implement and machine maker in his obituary, published on 26 September 1903: 

11236559_427755940751045_1602682527052120820_o“Mr Robert Wallace, implement maker, Whitletts, near Ayr, who died on Friday last at Tarbert, Loch Fyne, the residence of his daughter, was a notable Ayrshire man, and the father of the Scottish implement trade. He was in his eighty-third year.  Until a few years ago he took an active part in conducting his implement business at Whitletts, which he successfully carried on for over forty years, but owing to the infirmities of old age.  He had lately to retire therefrom. Mr Wallace belonged to a family long connected with agricultural implement making, his father in the early years of last century being a country blacksmith and implement maker in Galston, and in his day a famed plough maker.  His elder brother was the late John Wallace, of Graham Square, Glasgow; and another brother emigrated to New Zealand, and there carried on an implement trade until his death.

11235453_427755214084451_5926919085635695724_oOver forty years ago Mr Wallace turned his attention to the manufacture of mowers and reapers, and could claim to be one of the early pioneers of the trade in Scotland.  His last great work was inventing and patenting the disc manure sowers, and the combined double-drill ploughs and manure sowers, the latter machines being much valued by early potato growers.  In early manhood Mr Wallace cast in his lot with the then small band of temperance men, and became a total abstainer, and could recount many a tale of the keen opposition total abstainers had in these early days to endure, but the temperance cause never had a more faithful and true disciple.  For many years, and up till his death, he was an elder in Newton-on-Ayr United Free Church, and took a warm interest in the moral and spiritual welfare of the people.  He was a man of sterling principles, and possessed in a marked degree that spirit of independence so characteristic of the true Scotchman.  He leaves four sons and two daughters to mourn his loss.  The two elder sons carry on the business of ironfounders and implement makers in Castle-Douglas. To all his family, we tender our sympathy in their bereavement.”

Another important contribution made by an eminent family of Scottish implement and machine makers.

The photograph was taken at the National Scottish Tractor Show, September 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Ploughing matches of yesteryear

Ploughing matches have been held in Scotland since the late eighteenth century.  One of the earliest matches was held in Alloa in 1784.  The Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland gave early encouragement to matches – and still does – through the awarding of premiums to ploughmen.  The first ploughing match at which the Society gave awards to was held on 7 November 1801 on the Hoddam estate.

12469491_433693310157308_442322982239843566_oPloughing matches played an important role in developing the skill and technique of ploughing, encouraged a competitive spirit among ploughmen (and plough women), and also stimulated improvements in plough design.  Some plough makers had their own range of competition ploughs: in the mid 1850s Gray & Co, Uddingston, boasted of the awards gained by its competition ploughs.

Henry Stephens, the celebrated agricultural writer, wrote on ploughing matches in 1889.  He provides a number of insights into them:

“Ploughing matches – Although differences of opinion exist as to the usefulness of ploughing-matches, it can hardly be doubted that since their institution the skill of our ploughmen has risen considerably; not but that individual ploughmen could have been found before as dexterous as any of the present day.  This improvement is not to be ascribed to the institution of ploughing-matches alone, for, no doubt, superior construction of implements, a better kept, better matched, superior race of horses, and superior judgement and taste in field labour in the farmer himself, have been potent elements in influencing the handicraft of ploughmen. …
12469491_433693310157308_442322982239843566_oHow ploughing matches are conducted – Ploughing-matches are generally very fairly conducted in Scotland.  They usually take place on lea ground, the ploughing of which is considered the best test of a ploughman’s skill, though drilling is perhaps quite as difficult of correct execution.  The best part of the field is selected for the purpose, and the same extent of ground is allotted to each competitor.  A peg, bearing a number, is fixed in the ground at the end of each lot, which are as many as ploughs entered in competition.  Numbers on slips of paper corresponding to those on the pegs, are drawn by the competing ploughmen, who take the lots as drawn.  Ample time is allowed to finish the ploughing of each lot. Although quickness of time in executing the same extent of work is not to be compared to excellency of execution, it should enter as an element in deciding the question of skill; but this it seldom does at ploughing-matches.  Each competitor is obliged to “feer” his own lot, assort and guide his own horses and trim his plough-irons, without assistance.
Judges at ploughing matches – The judges are brought from a distance, so that they can have no personal interest in the exhibition, and in some cases have been requested to inspect the ground after all the ploughs have been removed, having been kept away from the scene during the time the ploughs were engaged.  This appears to be an objectionable part of the arrangements, which is made on the plea that, were the judges to see the ploughs at work, some particular ones might be recognised by them as belonging to friends, and their minds might thereby be biased in their favour. Such a plea is a poor compliment to the integrity of a judge; and any farmer who 12473896_433693350157304_8542548646593351818_oaccepts that responsible and honoured office, that would allow himself to be influenced by so pitiful consideration, would deserve not only to be objected to on every such occasion, but banished out of society.  One consequence of the exaction of this rule is, loss of patience by the spectators, while the judges are occupying no more than the necessary time for deciding the ploughing of, it may be, a large extent of ground.  The judges ought to be present all the time of the competition, when they could leisurely, calmly, and minutely ascertain the position and depth of the furrow-slices, and mature their thoughts on points which might modify first impressions. Inspection of the finished surface cannot furnish information whether the land has in all respects been correctly ploughed, which can only be obtained by comparing the soles of the furrows while the land is being ploughed.  There is something to be gained in observing the manner in which the ploughman guides his horses in making the best work in the shortest time.”

Some aspects of the ploughing match have changed, while others have remained the same.

Source: Henry Stephens, The book of the Farm, division 1, Edinburgh, 1889, pp. 104-105.

The photographs were taken at the Scottish Ploughing Championships, 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes