A job for the summer: cutting thistles

According to Henry Stephens in The Book of the Farm (1908), writing of summer pasture, “thistles and docks are the most troublesome of the larger weeds. These should be cut or hoed out twice in each season. When the soil is fairly moist docks should be pulled out by the roots. The best time to cut thistles is when the flower is beginning to form, as the roots are now weaker than when the plants are only a few inches above the ground, and they are not yet mature enough to produce seed. The common thistle spreads principally by underground stems, which make this plant much more difficult to eradicate, while the Scotch thistle is produced from seed only, and is therefore more easily dealt with. The smaller weeds, such as daisies, buttercups, sorrel, and plantains, can be effectively checked by judicious manurial treatment and the proper grazing of pastures.”

The cutting of thistles could be a tiresome job especially where there were a lot of them. There were a number of mechanical thistle cutters developed. In 1898 at the Highland Show John Ritchie, Kelso, exhibited “an ingenious thistle cutter”. Others followed in later years. In 1901 one was made by A. & J. Main & Co., Glasgow. It was described as a “new patent bracken and thistle cutter”. A further one was made in 1904 by J. D. Allan & Sons, Murthly. In 1909 P. & R. Fleming & Co., Glasgow, had a new patent thistle cutter which it exhibited at the Highland Show.

At the start of the Second World War interest in bracken eradication stimulated the development of machines that could cut bracken as well as other weeds. In 1939, two well-known cutters were the Henderson thistle cutter, a horse drawn Irvings bracken and thistle cutter and a Triangle thistle cutter. The Henderson thistle cutter became well-known. One or two of them can still be seen around the rally field.

Thistle cutters were a frequently noted machine at farm displenishing sales. One was noted at Sundhope, Yarrow, in 1910. Another at Faldonside, near Melrose in 1908.

The photographs of the Henderson thistle cutter were taken at the Strathnairn rally, 2019.