A number of premises belonging to the Scottish agricultural implement makers went on fire. Some of the fires were very destructive with the complete loss of premises, or significantly affected production of manufactures.

The accounts of the fires in the newspaper press sometimes include detailed accounts of the premises and the businesses which are not recorded elsewhere. These accounts are worth quoting at length for the insights they provide:

“Fire at Castle Douglas

An outbreak of fire occurred at the implement works of Mr James Gordon, King Street, Castle-Douglas, on Friday night. The fire was confined mostly to the engine-shed, in which were several barrels containing paraffin oil. These became ignited, and for a time the fire seemed to have a complete mastery, and the whole workshop was in imminent danger. The flames leapt to the roof, which was entirely composed of glass, and the glare attracted a large crowd. After much exertion the flames were got under, but not before considerable damage was done, the lathe engine-shed and glass roof of an outer building being demolished. The damage is covered by insurance.” (From The Scotsman of 29 May 1911)

A destructive fire affected the Cragshaw premises of Barclay, Ross, & Hutchison, agricultural implement makers, Aberdeen in May 1920. The Scotsman of 10 May, suggested that the cost of the fire amounted to between £6000 and £10,000. The Aberdeen press and journal provided a detailed account of the fire that provides detailed information about the company’s Cragshaw Works which were famous throughout the works – and not only in the north-east of Scotland:

“Big fire at Aberdeen Implement Works

Destruction put at £6,000.

The Aberdeen City Fire Brigade were out three times on Saturday. Their first call was in the early morning to a destructive blaze at Craigshaw, just beyond the city boundary at Torry, damage being done to the premises and stock there of Messrs Barclay, Ross, and Hutchison, one of the best known firms of agricultural implement makers in Scotland, to the extent of about £6,000.

The Craigshaw outbreak was observed between two and three o’clock in the morning, and it was only after about five hours’ hard work on the part of the members of the Fire Brigade that the flames were got under. The premises, which are situated close to the railway line, consist of a large range of buildings, including a corrugated iron structure 168 feet long, 30 feet broad, and 14 feet high. And a stone and lime erection 100 feet long and 46 feet broad. The corrugated iron building was practically gutted, while the other, particularly at the south end, was badly damaged. The buildings included a millwright’s shop, stores, offices, blacksmith’s shop, engineer’s shop, dressed wood store, etc.

It is not known how the outbreak originated, but it is thought to have started in the paint shop. The signalman on duty in the railway cabin beside the railway bridge at Craigshaw was the first to observe the outbreak. He immediately telephoned for the fire brigade, which was promptly on the scheme, under Firemaster Inkster. By the time the brigade arrived, however, the flames were bursting through the roof of the corrugated iron building, and by three o’clock the erection was practically ablaze from end to end.

The firemen devoted their energies to preventing the flames from spreading to the stone and lime structure. They were successful in saving the north end, but at the other end, which adjoins the corrugated iron building, the flames did considerable damage. It was not until seven o’clock in the morning that all danger was past. Two telegraph standards were badly damaged.

The works at Craigshaw were the largest of their kind in the north of Scotland. Threshing mills, manure distributors, oil engines, and a variety of other agricultural machinery and implements which were being prepared for the exhibition in the showyard of the Highland

and Agricultural Society at Aberdeen in July were destroyed.

The damage is covered by insurance.”

Barclay, Ross, and Hutchison also had a further fire at their premises in May 1838. This affected their Abbotswell Road premises. The Aberdeen press and journal provided a short account of the fire:

“Spark from trade blamed for causing fire

Aberdeen Fire Brigade had to answer a call to the Abbotswell Road premises of Messrs Barclay, Ross and Hutchison, implement makers, shortly before 6 o’clock last night.

A signalman in a nearby railway cabin saw smoke coming from a wood store which adjoins the main south railway, and gave the alarm.

It is thought that a spark from a passing train had started the outbreak, which was soon under control.

The damage is slight, a number of timber beams being charred and a small portion of the wall destroyed.”

There was a fire at Alexander Newlands & Sons, Linlithgow in 1944. The West Lothian courier of 11 February 1944 records it as:



When a west-bound train was approaching Linlithgow on Sunday evening, the driver observed a fire at the works of Messrs Alexander Newlands & Sons, implement makers, St Magdalene’s Engineering Works, and reported the matter at the station. Three detachments of the N.F.S. were quickly on the scene, and found some coals on fire in the furnace house, which is built of brick with a roof of asbestos and corrugated iron. The outbreak was soon under control, and very little damage was done. Apparently the fire was caused by coals being placed too close to the furnace.”


Early Fordson Farm Tractor dealers in Scotland

Fordson tractors started to be advertised in the Scottish press in June 1918. On 12 June 1918 an advert listed the selling representatives in Scotland along with their counties of representation. They were:

Alexander & Co., Edinburgh, for the Lothians (Linlithgow, Edinburgh and Haddingtonshire)

Alexander & Co., Glasgow for Lanarkshire

Croall & Croall, Hawick, for Roxburghshire

Dunlop Motor Co., Ltd, Kilmarnock, for northern half of Ayrshire

Ducat & McRobb, Aberdeen for Aberdeen and Banff shires

Henderson Bros., Stirling for Stirlingshire

John Munro, Ltd, Oban, for Argyllshire

R. Mathieson, Peebles, for Peebleshire

G. H. Mill, Gordon, for Western half of Berwickshire

J. A. Malcolm, Duns, for eastern half of Berwickshire

Macrae & Dick, Inverness, for Nairn and Inverness-shires and the lands of Harris and North and South Uist

E. McGeoch & Co., Paisley, for Renfrewshire

J. McHarrie, Stranraer, for Wigtownshire

Normand & Thomson, Dunfermline, for Kinross-shire and the Western Half of Fifeshire

Alex Paterson, Elgin, for Elginshire

A C. Penman, Dumfries, for Southern half or Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire

Payne & Co., Castle Douglas, for Kirkcudbrightshire

Robertson & Porter, Dingwall, for Ross and Cromartyshire and the Island of Lewis

Simpson & Son, Brechin, for Kincardineshire, and the northern half of Forfarshire

Thos Shaw, Ltd, Dundee, for southern half of Forfarshire and Perthshire

Thurso Engineering Co., Thurso, for Caithness, and Sutherland Shires

J. B. Whyte, Alloa, for Clackmannanshire

E. Watkinson, Dumbarton, for Dumbartonshire

Whole sale distributors for Scotland Alexander & Wilson, Ltd, registered office, 111 Lothian Road, Edinburgh.

Some of these businesses were to be long-associated with the Forson name. One of them was Alexander & Co., Edinburgh.

The company was one of the early car dealers in Scotland to sell tractors. It first exhibited in the agricultural press, in the North British Agriculturist, on 17 March 1921. An advert from later in that year, in October, advertised the Fordon tractor ex works, Cork. It emphasised its versatility for ploughing, discing, harrowing, cultivating, manure spreading or any operation you desire. It also advertised its tractor trailer waggon: “we can drive the tractor to your farm on the shortest possible notice and demonstrate on your field its wonderful powers. There will be no obligation to purchase”.

The company was one of the dealers to exhibit tractors at the Highland Society of Scotland’s exhibition of farm tractors and tractor implements in 1922. It exhibited the Fordson tractor: “a four wheeled tractor, with unit construction as regards the assembly of engine, transmission of gear box, and rear-axle casing.” The judges reported: “Two Fordson tractors were shown, drawing Oliver ploughs, one single-furrow and one 2 furrows, on stubble, and both with e furrows on lea. This is a good light tractor, weighing only 21 1/2 cwt. It dis its work in a satisfactory manner. It is easily driven and readily turned at the headlands. On account of its comparatively low weight the Committee regard this tractor as well suited for lighter spring tillage operations, and for pulling a binder. At the price £120, this tractor appears to be extraordinarily good value. It has to be noted, however, that the engine is not governed, and, unless fitted with a governor, it is unsuitable for driving stationary machinery such as a threshing-mill.” While the company was an early exhibitor at the tractor demonstration, it did not exhibit regularly at the Highland Show. Indeed, it only exhibited in 1927 at Edinburgh and in 1932 at Inverness.

By 1940 the business had become incorporated as Alexanders of Edinburgh Ltd. In 1949 its agricultural department was located at 64 Fountainbridge; by 1954 its Rosemount Works were at Gardners Crescent. In 1962 its agricultural department had moved to the Hayfield Tractor Works, 536 Gorgie Road, Edinburgh. Gorgie Road was close to the Gorgie Markets and to other agricultural businesses including Ballachs, and George Henderson.

The tractor plates show names of some later makers.


New threshing mills in the mid 1930s

The move away from the use of the travelling threshing mill to mills erected at farms continued in the 1930s. Newspapers in some districts of Scotland, especially in the north-east, reported the erection of new mills on farms. These were important occasions on the farms, and were seen as ceremonies at which the farming family and neighbours were invited. While they provide accounts of these ceremonies, they sometimes also recorded information on the mills and how they were powered.

While some farmers preferred a mill from some of the big makers such as Garvie & Sons, Aberdeen, or Wright Brothers, Boyne Mills, others favoured local mill makers, some of whom were well-known.

They included J. & D. Craig, Waterside of Phesdo, who is recorded in a number of adverts. Some mills were being powered by tractor, though the use of oil engines was common.

Some accounts of new threshing mills have been included below:

New threshing mill (Dundee courier, 26 October 1933)

Mr A. Cockie, Framedrum Farm, near Turin, by Forfar, has installed a threshing mill, which was set in motion the other day, and gave very satisfactory results.

The mill, which is of semi-portable type, was installed by Messrs J. & D. Craig, millwrights, Waterside of Phesdo, Laurencekirk.

A new Shanks crude oil engine drives the threshing plant.

Knock installation (Aberdeen press and journal, 8 November 1935)

Messrs Wright Bros, millwrights, Boyne Mills, Portsoy, have installed at the farm of Mains of Raemore, Knock, Rothiemay, occupied by Mr William Adam, farmer, a new threshing mill, with semi high speed drum, driven by a six-horse power Lister diesel engine. This mill was on view and seen working at the Highland and Agricultural Show at Aberdeen in June.

Monquhitter installation (Aberdeen press and journal, 2 June 1936)

Mr Alexander Walker, farmer, Wellside, Balthangie, Monquhitter, has just installed a new threshing mill, twenty-seven inch drum, and fitted with the latest improvements in grain-dressing machinery and driven by a Petter Junior oil engine of 5hp. The mill is designed to deliver the grain in the loft at right angles to the mill. The mill is the work of Mr W. Wilson, millwright, Maud.

New threshing mill (Dundee courier, 9 April 1937)

Mr John Watson, Freelands, Friockheim, whose threshing mill was recently destroyed by fire, has installed a new mill with up-to-date appliances, and an opening ceremony is to take place to-morrow.


More lesser-known plough makers

One of the well-known local plough makers in Scotland was David Paterson of Alloa who died in 1914. In the 1890s his business was known as David Paterson & Sons of Mar Place, Alloa. In 1913 he had moved premised to Kelliebank, Alloa. By trade he was a smith, and a farrier and in the 1890s an agricultural engineer and agricultural implement maker. He exhibited at the Highland Shows of 1890 at Dundee and 1891 at Stirling, indicating his preference to exhibit near home. Further details of his life and business are found in an obituary published in the Stirling observer of 18 August 1914:

“Well-known ploughmaker dead

The late Mr David Paterson, Alloa

The many agricultural friends and patrons in the district-and their names are legion-of the late Mr David Paterson, Alloa, will learn with deep regret of his death, which took place on the 5th August, at his residence in Alloa, at the advanced age of 85. Mr Paterson was senior partner of the firm of Messrs D. Paterson & Sons, agricultural implement makers, Alloa. Born at Carnock, Airth Station, he followed the occupation of his father before him of agricultural engineer, and pursued his calling there until about 25 years ago, when he removed to more central and commodious premises in Alloa. The late Mr Paterson was very successful in business, having a good turn for his work, and the firm of Paterson & Sons is now known over the length and breadth of Scotland, and, in fact, beyond. Particularly successful was he in inventing and perfecting ploughs, till now, Paterson’s chilled ploughs are used and known throughout Scotland. Until age and failing health overtook him, he was a familiar figure at nearly all ploughing matches, and many are the trophies his ploughs carried home with them. Mr Paterson was very popular with the agricultural community, and the sympathy of them all go out to his family, of which there is two sons and two daughters.”

Another local plough-maker was Robert Anderson, Westwood Smithy, Stirlingshire. He exhibited locally at the Highland Shows in Stirling in 1873, 1881 and 1900. At the first he was awarded a silver medal for best make of swing and drill ploughs. His obituary in the Stirling Observer of 29 June 1918 noted that he was “famous”. It ‘s worth quoting at length:

“Death of Mr Robert Anderson, Westwood Smithy

On Tuesday of last week, the death took place at Hunter’s Hall, Kelso, of Mr Robert Anderson, late Westwood Smithy, Blair Drummond. Mr Anderson was one of the old-time blacksmiths who, as the old saying went, could make from a needle to an anchor. Deceased was a man of great capabilities, and was recognised by farmers and fellow workers as one of the most efficient smiths that ever struck an anvil. He was also a famous plough maker. His model was drawn out on fine lines, and was original. He possessed a silver medal for best make of swing, and drill ploughs, gained at the Highland and Agricultural Society’s Show at Stirling in 1873. Country smiths are ill to find with the knowledge he had of agricultural implements. He was of an inventive turn of mind. One of his inventions was a coulter cleaner for farmyard manure and turnip shaws. Previous to his death, “Bob” as he was familiarly known had been seven years in the employment of Mr D. Cuthiell, engineer, Drip Bridge. The funeral took place to Kincardine in Menteith Cemetery on Tuesady, Mr Anderson’s death will be deeply regretted by farmers and others in the Western District of Perthshire. In politics he was a keen Unionist. He was unmarried, and is survived by his brother and six sisters.”

A further plough maker was Gavin Callander, retired implement manufacturer, Ellenton, Maxwelltown. By the 1890s he was located at the Palmerston Sawmills, Maxwelltown. By the 1890s he was not only a smith, but also an agricultural implement maker, a timber merchant but also a colliery timber merchant. He was later to be a mechanical engineer and engineer. In the 1890s his business was an extensive agent for agricultural implements. They included Massey Harris Co. Ltd, London, John Wallace & Sons, Glasgow, James Gordon, Castle Douglas, Richmond & Chandler, Manchester, and Blackstone & Co. Ltd, Stamford. He exhibited at the Highland Show when it visited the Dumfries Show District (1895, 1903, and 1910). A short obituary was recorded in the Daily record of 24 October 1931:

“Noted plough-maker dead

The death has occurred at Afton Lodge, Lockerbie, of Mr Gavin Callander, retired implement manufacturer, Ellenton, Maxwelltown, who was well known in the south of Scotland as the maker of the wheel ploughs that bore his name.

Mr Callander died only a week after his brother-in-law Mr John Barbour, with whom he and his wife had been saying during his illness. He was 68 years of age and in his young days was an enthusiastic volunteer.”


Ploughing matches in 1924

In 1924 there were a good number of ploughing matches held throughout Scotland. Some were well-established while others like the one at Lilliesleaf were relatively new.

Accounts of the matches were published in the local and regional newspapers. They record many aspects of the matches, including where they were held, the date, the different classes and the winners. While there were key classes of much importance, there were also a large number of special prizes and minor prizes. These included ones for the best groomed horses, best dressed horses, best kept harness in regular use, ploughman with the largest family, ploughman having the longest service, ploughman travelling the longest distance to the match, and youngest ploughman on the field.

The following are accounts of ploughing matches from across Scotland in 1924:

“Lilliesleaf ploughing match

The fourth annual ploughing match, under the auspices of the Lilliesleaf Country Life Association, Limited, was held on Saturday last at Shawburn farm, on the Chesterknowes estate, tenanted by Mr Thomas Elliot. Two previous attempts had been made to hold the match, but on each day the changeable weather had baffled the efforts of the committee. Saturday may be said to have been a suitable day for such an outing, and in all respects the event was considered a great success. Long before daylight broke, horses, carts, ploughs, and men were on their way to the scene of action, and by eight o’clock it was found that no fewer than twenty-four ploughs had turned out. There was a fine show of well-groomed, well-dressed horses, revealing much diligence and good taste by those responsible. The results were as follows:-

Swing ploughs-1. Archie Steel, Newhouse, Lilliesleaf; 2. John Smith, Huntlaw, Hawick; 3. Robert Dalgleish, West Middles, Lilliesleaf; 4. Robert Short, Hermiston, Lilliesleaf.

Wheel ploughs-1. Robert White, Midlem Mill, Lilliesleaf; 2. Peter Lowrie, Butter Ha’, Minto; 3. William Hope, Easter Lilliesleaf; 4. Robert Brown, Headshaw, Ashkirk.

Young men under 20 years-1. Adam Pringle, Clerklands, Lilliesleaf; 2. James Wilson, Catshawhill, Minto, Hawick; 3. Thomas Hunter, Netherraw, Minto, Hawick; 4. Peter Boyd, Cotfield, Hawick.

Special prizes-open to the field-Neatest ends-John Smith, Huntlaw, Hawick. Best feering and best finish-Robert White, Midlemar Mill, Lilliesleaf.

The winner of the Highland and Agricultural medal-Robert White, Midlem Mill, Lilliesleaf.

Best groomed horses-1. Archie Steele, 2. Adam Halliday, Nether Whitlaw, Selkirk; 3. Robert Brown, 4. Joseph Weatherly, Shawburn, Lilliesleaf.

Best dressed horses-1. Peter Boyd, 2. Alexander Wilson, Long Newton Mill, Lilliesleaf; 3. Robert Brown.

Best kept Harness in regular use-1. Peter Lowie, 2. John Strachan, Ashkirk Mill, Ashkirk; 3. Alexander Wilson, 4. Robert Brown.

Additional prizes-Best all round work of the three first finished-James Henderson, West Middles, Lilliesleaf.

For ploughman with the largest family-Alexander Wilson.

For ploughman having the longest service-Robert Dalgleish.

For ploughman coming the longest distance-Robert Brown.

For youngest ploughman on the field-Thomas Hunter, Netherraw, Minto, Hawick.

The secretarial duties carried out by Mr Birrell, who was ably assisted by an energetic committee.” (Hawick News and Border Chronicle, 1 February 1924)

“Ploughing match at Forfar

Keen tussle for honours

The annual ploughing match of the Forfar District Association was held on the farm of Balmashanner on Thursday, and was favoured with glorious weather. The match proved a great success. The entries were large-31-and comprised 11 champions and 20 seniors, and, as compared with the entries of last year, they showed an increase of seven. On the whole the standard of work executed over both classes was of a particularly high standard.

The champion of the day was George Buchan, Bogie, who had the creditable total of 27 points; James Watt, Turnhappie, being runner-up with 25 points.

The judges were:-Ploughing-J. Alexander, Fairygreen; William McGregor, Balbrogie; William Sturrock, Lochhead. Harness and grooming-J. Miller, South-East Fullerton; A. Cochrane, Craigisla; and J. Scott, Kirriemuir.

The arrangements for the day were of a first-class order, the work of organisation being in the lands of a capable Committee, with Mr D. Allardyce, Turnwhappie, as the Secretary. The prizewinners were:-

Champions’ class-ploughing-1. F. Leighton, Newton of Inshewan; 2. J. Davidson, Auchindory; 3. D. Alexander, Gallowfauld; 4. Wm Orchison, Kirriemuir; 5. J. Anderson, Windymills; 6. Geo. Findlay, Brikies. Feering-1. J. Davidson, 2. F. Leighton. Best finishes-1. F. Leighton, 2. Geo. Findlay. Outs and Ins-Wm Todd, Newdyke. First finished-J. Pattullo, Holemill.

Senior class-ploughing-1. J. Walker, The Bow; 2. A. Robertson, Scroggerfield; 3. John Nicholsoon, Balfour; 4. A. Walker, Westfield; 5. Geo. Buchan, Bogie; 6. Wm Cook, Drumgley; 7. Geo. Thow, Balfour; 8. Wm Herd, Halkerton; 9. C. Sturrock, Little Lour; 10. D. Ross, Linross. Feering-1. Alexander Robertson, 2. A. Walker, 3. C. Sturrock. Best finish-1. A. Robertson, 2. John Nicholson, 3. C. Sturrock. Outs and ins-C. Sturrock. First finished-David Tosh.

Harness-1. Geo. Nuchan, Logie, Bogie; 2. James Watt, Turwhappie; 3. R. Norie, Newlands; 4. F. Leighton; 5. J. Pattullo, Holemill; 6. Geo. Findlay, Baikies; 7. Wm Bruce, Craigrathie; 8. P. walker, Westfield; 9. P. Dolan, West Lownie; 10. Wm Cook, Drumgley. Special-harness in everyday use-1. J. Watt, Turwhappie; 2. R. Norrie, Newlands; 3. F. Leighton; 4. J. Pattullo; 5. Geo. Findlay.

Grooming-1. G. Buchan, Bogie; 2. James Watt, 3. P. Dolan; 4. J. Soutter, Eastmeathie; 5. R. Norrie, 6. Wm Cook; 7. A. Walker, 8. Wm Bruce, 9. Chas Robertson, Gordonbank; 10. D. Alexander. Gallowfauld. Best pair of horse-1. James Watt, 2. Geo. Buchan. Best pair mares-J. Chapman, Mains of Lour. Man with largest family-1. J. Anderson, Windymills; 2. Wm Todd, Newdyke; 3. Frank Leighton. Oldest ploughman-Charles Robertson (63 years of age). Youngest ploughman-A. Alker, Westfield. Longest service (married)-Frank Leighton. Longest service (single)-A. Walker. Man shortest time married-Wm Orchison. Best dressed ploughman-James Watt. Straightest rigg (over both sides)-D. Alexander, Gallowfauld. Best turnout in everyday harness-J. Watt. First on field-Wm Todd.” (Forfar herald, 15 February 1924)

“Ploughing. Stormy weather at Newmachar.

The Newmachar Hoeing and Ploughing Association held their annual ploughing match on a field at Westside given by Mr John Rennie, on Saturday. The day opened very stormy and wet, which kept back some ploughs and delayed others, but by 9:30am it cleared up. There was an entry of 30 champions and 19 shortboards. Fine work was performed.

The jusges were:-Mr Mann, Bellfield, Countesswells; Mr Johnston, Woodside, Charleston, Nigg; Mr Simpson, Fernhill, Countesswells; and Mr Brown, Lauchentilly, Dunecht.

The ploughmen were entertained by Mr and Mrs Rennie, Westside. The awards were as follows:

Longboards-1. G. Mowatt, Dams of Craigie; 2. G. Alexander, Hillbrae; 3. A. Lamb, Westfield, Belhelvie; 4. J. McIntosh, Mains of Dyce; 5. C. Youngston, Overton, Dyce; 6. James Gray, Kinmunay Farm; 7. G. Thomson, Mill of Meme, Belhelvie; 8. J. Shand, Forester Hill, Oldmeldrum; 9. G. Marshall, Cairntechel; 10. J. Mitchell, Eastside, Craibstone; 11. John Stott, Kincraig, Foveran.

Feering-1. G.Mowatt; 2. J. McIntosh; 3. A. Lamb.

Finish-1. G. Alexander, 2. G. Mowatt.

Section 2, Shortboards -1. William Taylor, Cairnpark; 2, J. Barron, Blackhill; 3. A. Simpson, Rosehall; 4. A. Aitken, Tillygreg; 5. D. Alexander, Cairnhill, Tarves; 6. R. Davidson, Village; 7. W. Walker, Boghead; 8. J. Howie, Eastside; 9. A. Duncan, Stanryford; 10. W. McAllan, Cairnton; 11. J. Thomson, Monykebbock; 12. G. Rennie, Westside; 13. J. Middleton, Tillygreig; 14. C. Reid, Monykebbock; 15. J. Porter, Boghead; 16. S. Murray, Village; 17. J. Duncan, Newton; 18. A. Rennie, Westside.

Feering-1. A. Alexander; 2. J. Howie.

Finish-1. W. Taylor; 2. J. Barron.

Special prizes:-

Best rolled mane in tape-J. Duncan, Newton.

Best rolled mane in seges-J. Thomson, Monykebbock.

Harness-1. G. Thomnson, Monykebbock; 2. G. Alexander, Hillbrae; 3. J. Porter, Boghead; 4. J. Duncan, Newton; 5. D. Alexander, Cairnhill; 6. J. Shand, Forresterhill.

Grooming-1. G. Mitchell, Cairnfield; 2. J. Duncan, Newton; 3. G. Alexander, Hillbrae; 4. J. Thomson, Monykebbock; 5. J. Porter, Boghead; 6. A. Lamb, Westfield, Belhelvie.

Best going pair-A. Duncan, Stanryford.

Oldest ploughman-J. Thomson, Monykebbock.

Largest family-R. Davidson.

Longest time away from plough-S. Murray.

Best looking ploughman-G. Alexander.

Youngest ploughman-J. Barron.

Straightest furrows-William Taylor, Craigpark.

Neatest ends-J. Thomnson, Monykebbock.

Harness and grooming combined-J. Tomson.

Prize by Mr Gray, blacksmith, Kinmundy, for plough metalled by him-William Walker.

Prize by Mr McLeod, blacksmith, Newmachar for ploughman furthest up in prize list in the parish-J. Barron.

Ploughman from longest distance-D. Alexander, Cairnhill, Tarves.

The committee entertained the judges and a few friends in the hotel afterwards, with Mr Sutherland, president of the association, in the chair, when an enjoyable evening was spent. The following toasts were pledged:-The Donor of the Field”, the chairman; “The Judges”, Me Peters; “The Neighbouring Association”, Mr Leiper; “The Visitors,” Mr Peters.

Mr Webster, Bridgefoot, gave a song. There was a lengthy discussion as to how the grooming of horses could be improved, which was brought up by Mr Argo.

Credit is due to Mr Christie, secretary, for all the arrangements.” (Aberdeen press and journal, 29 December 1924)


An opportunity for an implement maker in Linlithgow in 1879

In July 1879 an advert appeared in The Scotsman newspaper for a business premises close to the railway Station at Linlithgow. It had been recently erected by an implement maker, George Ponton. He had been at Grougfoot, Linlithgow in 1848 and by 1850 at Woolstoun, Linlithgow. On 2 July 1878 the North British Agriculturist newspaper announced that George Ponton has gained more commodious premises near the railway station, Linlithgow, from Provost Road Works, Linlithgow.


Agricultural Implement Works for sale

To be sole by private tender, in consequence of the proprietor giving up business:-

First, those new and commodious premises recently erected, and now occupied and carried on by Mr George Ponton, at Linlithgow, close to the railway Station, area half an acre, held in feu, with Smith’s shops, fitting shops, and other premises thereon. Also, a tenement of dwelling-houses. Premises all enclosed, and eminently adapted for carrying on an implement making or engineering business.

Second-the goodwill of the business so long and successfully carried on by the Proprietor’s father, and afterwards by himself at Woolston and Linlithgow, together with the rights and the patterns for implements in ploughs and other implements.

Mr Ponton has long had a considerable export trade, and his name as an implement maker being well-known not only at home but in the Colonies, the present exposure offers one of the finest openings in Scotland to a party of moderate capital.

The premises can be inspected, and all information given on application to Mr Ponton, at Linlithgow; or to Robt J. Jamieson, solicitor, Bo’ness, the latter of whom will show the title-deeds.

Offers will be received by Mr Ponton, at the works; or by Mr Jamieson, up to 14th August proxo. The highest or any tender may not be accepted.

Linlithgow, 21st July 1879.”

Ponton was a noted plough maker, having been awarded a number of prizes by the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland for his ploughs. They included an award of 2 sovereigns for best two horse plough for general purposes in 1850, and an award of 3 sovereigns for best two horse plough for general purposes in 1857. He regularly exhibited at the Highland Show from 1848 to 1877.

However, by July 1879 he had decided that he was giving up business. The site and the business offered a good opportunity for an implement making or engineering business. Who purchased the site and business?

There was a ploughmaker in north-east Scotland who saw the advert and was looking for opportunities to develop his business. He was Alexander Newlands of Inverurie. He was trading from a premises in 43 High Street. He had been in business in that address from at least 1864. That was an important year for him as he exhibited at the Highland Show which was being held in Aberdeen. This was a two horse plough with steel mould and a ridging or drill plough, both of which he made himself.

On 11 September 1880 he sold, by public sale, the property at 43 High Street so that he could move to Linlithgow. In 1884 his son, also named Alexander, joined him in business, which became Alexander Newlands & Son, Provost Road, Linlithgow.

From the 1880s onwards Alexander Newlands & Son specialised in the making of ploughs, grubbers and harrows. Later it ventured into horse rakes. In 1900 its manufactures included a two horse swing plough; medium drill plough with marker; baulking drill plough; combined drill and potato plough; one horse drill grubber; horse or drill hoe as a drill grubber; house or drill hoe as a ridging up plough; field grubber; diamond harrows; and drill scarifier.

The company was a progressive one. From 1884 when the young Alexander joined his father, it exhibited nearly every year at the Highland Show and advertised in the agricultural newspaper of the day, the North British Agriculturist. In later years advertising was also under taken in The Scottish Farmer.

Even after Alexander senior died in 1907 the company continued to be an innovative one. By 1914, it acted as an agent for McCormick and Bamford, and in 1919 was selling the Austin farm tractor. In the following year it became an incorporated company: Alexander Newlands & Sons Ltd. Two years later in 1922, it took the important step to participate in the famous exhibition of farm tractors and tractor implements arranged by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. In that year it also won a silver medal for its self-lift brake harrow at the Highland Show at Dumfries. In 1934 it exhibited as a new implement a cultivator and ridging attachment for tractors.

It was its ploughs that Newlands continued to be closely associated. In the 1950s and 1960s they couldn’t be beaten in the ploughing matches in the Lothians. Newlands carried away the prizes. Even the followers of Ransomes turned to Newlands.

Alexander Newlands & Sons Limited continued in business until 9 September 1986 when the company was dissolved.

Next time someone asks you to list the famous plough makers of Aberdeenshire, remember to include Alexander Newlands. He had a reputation that went far beyond the boundaries of the county of his birth.


Champion ploughing matches in the mid 1930s

From the mid nineteenth century a number of champion ploughing matches were held in Scotland. These were especially noted in the north-east. They were open to ploughmen who had won awards at earlier matches – hence the matches were matches of champions pitting their skills against one another.

By the 1900s some of these matches were large affairs and were well-attended. The Lower Deeside Champion Ploughing Match was set up in 1910 and continued for a number of decades. It was a large match, with competitors sometimes coming from far afield to compete against well-known ploughmen, to produce high-quality ploughing. Accounts of the match were usually printed in the Aberdeen Press and Journal.

Accounts of the champion ploughing matches in the mid 1930s reveal their competitiveness and what they were like. They note the place and date of the match; the weather and soil conditions; the number of entries and ploughmen; classes; the names of the judges; the quality of the work executed; the names of the winners and their prizes; the minor classes and their award winners. By the 1930s the number of minor classes was very extensive. Some were subjective and included the class for the best looking ploughman.

The following are accounts of some of the champion ploughing matches in north-west Scotland in the mid 1930s:

“Deeside match honours

W. Gilbert, Fetternear, leads

Horses from Royal farm win

Twenty-five crack ploughman took the field at Tarland to compete for the handsome prizes offered by the Deeside Champion Ploughing Association, and the work all over was of a high standard of excellence. Owing to the uncertainty of the weather conditions, eleven competitors failed to turn up.

The field was fine, equal land placed at the disposal of the association by Mr G. McAllan, Aberdeen Arms Hotel, Tarland, and the ground was the best the judges ever experienced for such an event. The land was very free, although a little wet in some parts after the recent heavy rains.

The committee were early at work getting things in order for the match, the members present including Messrs Michie, Carnbethie, Lumphanan, chairman; Robert Kirk, Home Fram, Glen Tanar, vice-chairman; W. Webster, Dudston; John Smith, Norwood; James Morrice, manager, Huntly Fram, Aboyne; Jas McConnach, Deerhillock; Duncan Reid, Craskens; Alex McCrombie, Hillocks; John McCaw, manager, Douneside; Alex Shepherd, Wardfold; and C. Leslie, Lumphanan; while the judges were Messrs Alex Dunn, Wester Leochel; Archibald Middleton, Aberdeen; Jas Allan, Begsley; and Brown, Lauchentilly, Dunecht.

Work of high standard

Mr Alexander Middleton, East Mains, Aboyne, secretary, had everything in first-rate order, and the competition was in every respect a great success. When the match started the weather was dull, and later a thick fog settled down, but the match finished without a threatened rainfall. The field was visited by a large number of farmers and farm workers, who showed much interest in the fine work of the ploughmen.

An interesting event was the customary competition for horses and harness and decoration, and the display of horses was a splendid sight in itself. It was an extra fine show, with a number of outstanding geldings.

The cup for most points deservedly went to the King’s horses from Abergeldie Mains-a pair of handsome animals, beautifully decorated, which evoked much admiration. The ploughman who worked the horses was Mr Wm McGregor, Abergeldie.

Ploughing trophies

Many well-known ploughing champions took the field. Mr Wm Gilbert, from Fetternear, carried off the cup gifted by Lady MacRobert of Douneside, also £5 by the associations. His names will be inscribed also on Lord Glentaner’s challenge quaich, which has to be won twice in succession or three times altogether. His well-turned in rig, equal sizing and uniform furrows were faultlessly done. Mr Gilbert is no strange to ploughing honours on Deeside. He was first and twice second at Aboyne.

The runner up was R. Beattie, Lenton, who had his name on in 1931. Last year’s winner was not so lucky for a rig and had to take seventh place.

The first prize-winner failed to get a place in the feering or finish, but took the prize for the straightest furrows. The feering and finish were won by Mr George Beattie, who secured a beautiful teapot, gifted by Mrs A. Strachan, Deeside Omnibus Service.

The awards were:-

Ploughing-1 Wm Gilbert, Fetternear; 2. Geo. Beattie; 3. Wm Beverley; 4. John Thompson, Drumallochie; 5. Robert Moir, Drum; 6. Robt Allan, Echt; 7. Alex Shepherd; 8. Alex Malcolm, Finzean; 9. Jas Morrice, Lumphanan; 10. Jas Gilbert, Glassel; 11. Geo. Malcolm, do.; 12. Joseph Duncan, Lumphanan; 13. Jas Fraser, Lumphanan; 14. Geo Lyon, Kintore; 15. John Smith, Towie. Feering-1. Jas Morrice, Lumphanan; 2. Archie Coupland, Birse. Finish-1. G. Beattie; 2. Joseph Duncan. Straightest furrows-W. Gilbert; oldest ploughman-Alex Shepherd.

Harness-1 (and Reith and Anderson Cup for combined) Wm McGregor, Abergeldie; 2. Wm Catto, Blackmill; 3. Jas Merchant, Dubston, Birse; 4. Alex Irvine, Tillypronie. Grooming-1. Blackmill; 2. Wm McGregor; 3. J. Merchant; 4. Alex Irvine. Decorations-1 Wm McGregor; 2. Wm Catto; 3. Alex Irvine. Combined-1. Wm McGregor; 2. Wm Catto; 3. Alex Irvine.

Mr R. Kirk presided at the dinner held in the Aberdeen Arms Hotel, and the customary toasts were honoured. Replying to the toast of “The Secretary”, proposed by Mr Gillies, Glen Tanar, Mr Middleton expressed the association’s indebtedness for the generous support given by the leading people and friends and neighbours in the district. He gave “The Donors”, Mr A. L. Stronach replying. Mr Duncan Reid, thanked the farmers who lent horses, also Mr P. Strachan, Easttown. A social programme was given by Messrs Stronach, Gillies, Kirk, J. B. Anderson, and Coull.” (Aberdeen press and journal, 7 March 1933)

“Huntly Champion Match

W. Gilbert, Fetternear, wins H.S. Medal.

Record crowd at Westerton.

The annual champion ploughing match, under the auspices of Huntly Ploughing Association, was held at Westerton, Huntly, on a most suitable field on Deveronside, granted by Messrs Fraser and Fawns, tenants. The weather was fine, and there was a large entry of competitors from north and south. Spectators also came from all parts, and the attendance was a record.

Added interest was given to the proceedings by a tractor competition, which received much attention and was eagerly watched. All over better work was never seen at a match in Strathbogie, and the judges had no light task in making their awards. The arrangements, as usual, made by Mr Alex Dempster, Auchomer, were in all respects excellent.

The judges were:-Messrs Alex Shand, Muldrane, Keith; Peter William, 69 High Street, Aberlour; Alex Conn, Nether Blackhead, Inverurie; and F. Milne, Nittansghead, New Pitsligo.

William Gilbert, Fetternear, headed a great champion class, and won the Highland Society medal for the best ploughed ridge on the field.

Awards:-Champions-1. W. Gilbert, Moss-side, Fetternear; 2. Alex Clark, Home farm, Aberlour; 3. Wm Mowat, Dams of Craigie, Whitecairns; 4. Wm Barclay, Cowfords, Banff; 5. Geo. Duncan, Westside, Portsoy; 6. James Petrie, Costlyburn, Kinnoir; 7. Roy Duthie, Aulton, Insch; 8. Wm McWilliam, Woodside, Rothiemay; 9. Alex Bremner, Cairnhill, Huntly; 10. John Gilbert, Braeside, Culsalmond; 11. Oswald Shand, Millhill, Marnoch; 12. Wm Beaverley, Haughton Arms, Alford; Jas. McIrvine, Rothmaise, Insch. Feering-1. Wm Mowat, Dams of Craigie; 2. W. Gilbert, Moss-side. Finish-1. Roy Duthie, Aulton, Insch; 2. Wm Mowat. Feering and finish combined-Wm Mowat.

From Cairnbowrrow

Shortboards-1. W. Matthew, Cairnborrow, Glass; 2. G. Wink, Bogforth, Glass; 3. Jas Simpson, Comalegy, Drumblade; 4. Wm Horne, Ladyleys, Oldmeldrum; 5. Alvin Milne, Fordalehouse, Oldmeldrum; 6. Jas Duncan, Kitchen Park, Keith; 7. Kohn McRitchie, Gibston, Huntly; 8. A;ex Anderson, Crookmore, Alford; 9. Robert Horne, Ladyleys, Oldmeldrum; 10. William Forsyth, Mains of Tillyangus, Clatt; 11. G. A. Watt, Cullyknowes, Keith; 12. Andrew Petrie, Drumdollo, Forgue; 13. W. Dawson, Whinbrae, by Huntly; 14. J. Brown, Newbigging, Leslie, Feering-1. J. Brown, Newbigging; 2. Alex Anderson, Crookmore. Finish-1. Wm Matthew, Cairnborrow; 2. Alex Anderson. Feering and finish combined-Wm Matthew.

Best ploughed ridge on field and Highland Society medal-Wm Gilbert, Fetternear; straightest furrows-W. Mowat, Dams of Craigie.

Best looking ploughman-1. John McRitchie, Gibston, Huntly; 2. G. McRitchie, Foot of Hill, Gartly. Ploughman with largest family-Wm McWilliam, Woodside, Rothiemay. Ploughman with youngest child-Wm McWilliam, Woodside, Rothiemay. Oldest ploughman-Wm Beverley, Alford.

Best matched pair-George Wink, Bogforth, Glass.

Tractor ploughing

Tractor ploughing-1. Harper Motor Company, Aberdeen; 2. Alex Dufton, Corse, Kinnoir; 3. David Morren, Dunbennan, Huntly. Best ploughed ridge with Fordson-Harper Motor Company, Aberdeen. Feering-Harper Motor Company, Aberdeen. Finish-Harper Motor Company, Aberdeen. Best ploughed ridge with Ransome-Harper Motor Company, Aberdeen.

Farmer giving most assistance with horses-Mr Chisholm, Gibston, Huntly.

Neatest ends-G. Donald, Deveron Street, Huntly.

Horses coming longest distance-George Duncan, Westside, Portsoy.” (Aberdeen press and journal, 16 January 1934)

“Lower Deeside

Championship to Banff competitor

The twenty-fifth annual Lower Deeside champion ploughing match took place on Saturday at Mr Taylor’s farm of Inchgarth, West Cults. The field was specially suitable for the match, it being level, alluvial land with no stones.

The ploughmen were seriously handicapped throughout the day by driving showers of biting snow, but fortunately between the showers they could make good progress, and they stuck bravely to their task. The judges also had to encounter a heavy shower of snow towards the close, which added to their difficulties in coming to a decision, as so many had meritorious work.

The match is confined to champion ploughmen, of whom forty were present, many of them from far distances-Banffshire, Alford, Oldmeldrum, Ellon, Hatton, Crimond, Fordoun, Glenkindle, Fyvie and Strichen.

The judges were: Mr George Oliphant, Cabra, Mintlaw; Mr John Peters, Backhill, Dunecht; and Mr William Beverley, Haughton Arms, Alford. The committee had everything in splendid working order notwithstanding the rather adverse weather, the chief responsibility falling on the secretary, Mr Charles Miller (Bruce and Co.), Aberdeen; the treasurer, Mr F. T. Garden, ex-banker; and the chairman, Mr Joseph Monro, Mains of Balfour. After the match the committee and judges were entertained at Inchgarth Farm, where the entertainers were heartily thanked, as well as the judges, those who had lent horses, and the donors of prizes, more especially the donor of the solid silver cup for the first prizeman, which was given by Mr W. D. Findlay, Northern Hotel, Kittybrewster. The cup was gained by the well-known Banffshire ploughman, William Barclay, Cowford, Banff, who had also the best finish and the best feering and finish combined.

The winners

The following is the prize list:

1. W. Barclay, Cowford, Banff; 2. C. Reid, Bankhead, Auchinblae; 3. J. H. Taylor, Clayfords, Strichen; 4. A. Gray, Easterton, Auchleuchries; 5. R. Allan, Finnercy, Echt; 6. Alex Shepherd, Wardford, Coull; 7. J. Duncan, Westside, Portsoy; 8. P. Lyon, Leschangie, Kenmay; 9. W. Mowatt, Dams of Criggie; 10. Smith, Drumlegair, Fordoun; 11. A. Moir, Moss-side, Drum; 12. A. Mitchell, Milton, Murtle; 13. T. Fraser, South Ardiffery, Hatton; 14. J. McIrvine, Mains of Rothmaise, Insch; 15. J. Brown, Kirkton of Forbes, Alford; 16. J. Duncan, North Mains, Auchenhove; 17. H. Buchan, Kintowlie, Blairs; 18. J. Thomson, Drumallochie, Glenkindie; 19. J. Cockie, Greenferns, Newhills; 20. J. Shand, Forresterhill, Oldmeldrum.

Feering in hollow, A. Gray; feering in flat, W. Mowatt; finish-1. W. Barclay; 2. R. Allan; feering and finish combined, W. Barclay; straightest furrows, R. Allan; eldest ploughman, A. Shepherd.” (Aberdeen press and journal, 4 February 1935)


Some lesser-known plough makers in Scotland

While there were some well-known plough makers in Scotland there were also others who were only known more locally. Though only locally known, they were nevertheless important, with some of them being renowned for their ploughs. This was noted by the Aberdeen press and journal on 18 February 1913. It noted:

“Many a local blacksmith has fashioned a championship winning plough, and a few county plough-makers have even essayed the gaining of ploughing honours themselves. Mr Sutor, Mintlaw, maker of Champion Oliphant’s plough, is himself an expert “hauder”. Mr Stuart, Dufftown, made the plough which Mr W. Newlands, Botriphnie, Banffshire, held when he, at Morayshire match, in March, 1908, won the championship belt of Scotland outright. Mr Stuart turned farmer, and he has often proved his prowess at holding the plough. Other blacksmiths have occasionally, at small matches, taken a leading prize with a plough fitted up by themselves; but no one in Scotland has perhaps ever achieved a record like that of Mr David Paterson, Alloa, whose name as a plough-maker is far-famed indeed.”

One of the more locally-known plough makers was Christopher Little of Woodhouselees Smithy, Canonbie, Dumfriesshire. Before 1908 his ploughs had won 13 Highland Society medals. He was from a line of plough makers.

Thomson’s weekly news of 15 August 1908 provides an account of him at his diamond wedding at that time.

“Champion plough-maker

Celebrates his diamond wedding

Mr and Mrs Christopher Little, Woodhouselees Smithy, Canonbie, Dumfriesshire, were presented on Friday night with their portraits and a purse of sixty soverigns, the occasion being their diamond wedding and the completion by the husband of over sixty years’ of business at Woodhouselees.

Mr Little has long been one of the best known country blacksmiths in the United Kingdom being noted as a maker of prize ploughs. His ploughs won 13 Highland Society medals; and were sent out to America and Australia. His father and grandfather were also blacksmiths in Canonbie.

After serving his apprenticeship with his father he was in situations in Ewes and Carlisle in 1842 and 1845 at 3s and 6s per week and saved money off these wages. He is still hale and hearty and though in his 83d year he can shoe s horse with as much activity as a young man of twenty. His wife is also a native of Canonbie and before their marriage they attended roadside conventicles at Canonbie immediately after the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843.”

Another important local plough maker was Alexander Cameron, Tullymet, Perthshire. He was described as “Scotland’s champion ploughmaker” at the time of his death in 1911. In the late 1890s as well as being a smith he was also an ironmonger. A decade later he was also an implement maker. He exhibited at the Highland Show when it was in the Perth Show District (1861, 1879, 1887, 1896 and 1904) as well as the Glasgow Show of 1867 and Inverness in 1874. The following is his obituary, published in the Dundee courier of 5 December 1911:

“Scotland’s champion plough maker dies

Mr Alexander Cameron, “Scotland’s champion ploughmaker”, died at Rowan Cottage, Balnamoon, on Sunday, at the age of 87 years.

Mr Cameron retired some four years ago. He was a native of Tullymet, and became tenant of the Tullymet Smithy in 1851. He had no special training in the making of ploughs, but in 1852 he made his first two ploughs. In the same year, at the Middle District of Atholl ploughing match at Dalcapon, where 38 ploughs competed, his ploughs gained champion honours and also the second prize.

This success proved the opening of a brilliant career. In the championship matches, open to the world, and held throughout Scotland, his ploughs received leading honours on 19 occasions out of 21, which is truly a phenomenal record.

At the Edinburgh Exhibition in 1887 his plough gained the gold medal and with the plough exhibited, since owned by Mr John McDonald, Sketewan, over 50 championship medals have been secured.

Mr Cameron is survived by one son and two daughters.”

Another locally important plough maker was Robert Colville of Johnshaven. His ploughs were said to be highly recommended at all district ploughing matches. His importance is noted in his obituary in the Montrose standard of 22 March 1912:


Mr Robert Colville, blacksmith, passed away in his 87th year on Monday. He was a native of the Brechin district, and worked as a blacksmith at Brechin and Fettercairn. He commenced business on his own account at Brotherton Smithy, Benholm, which he carried on for the long period of 35 years. Mr Colville was a first-class workman, and a well-known plough maker, his ploughs being highly recommended at all district ploughing matches. He felt the heavy, farm-blacksmith work rather trying, and came to commence work at Johnshaven village over 30 years ago. He was exact and much respected in his dealings, and was attending to some light duties in the smithy during last week. He is survived by a widow, two sons, and two daughters.”


Speed the plough: a commentary on ploughing matches and ploughmen in 1880

The Glasgow herald, published an article in its pages on 12 February 1880 which commented on the history of ploughs, ploughing matches and ploughmen. While it is instructive, it is also a pointed commentary on the ploughmen class (including Robert Burns as a ploughman) and the importance of ploughing matches in securing their reputation. It is quoted at length for its insights:

“Speed the plough

Though agriculture has changed very much during the past few years and rapid strides of advancement have been made in tillage, the old hard hand labour system of the frugal days of our forefathers are still respected, and at farmers’ club dinners there is no better honoured sentiments in the toast-list than “The pirn and the mill”, though the rocking wheel has long since lost its place at the ingleside, “Speed the Plough” is a sentiment which yet retains its place with all its freshness, as, notwithstanding the advent of heavy steam cultivators, the old single furrow “swinger” yet holds priority in turning the lea land. Much improvement has certainly been made upon this implement, and it is questionable if there is to be found in use in Scotland any of the old-fashioned wooden Scotch ploughs which were general at the commencement of the present century. In 1793 the Rev Alex. Campbell, of Kilcalmonell, Argyllshire, brought out a new plough, which was considered by the Highland and Agricultural society as superior to the implement then in use, and they awarded him a premium of twenty guineas. To James Small, ploughwright in Leith Walk, Edinburgh, is, however, due the most of the early improvements, and it is recorded in the Highland Society’s books that on the death of that gentleman a handsome subscription was voted by the directors towards a fund in aid of his sons to allow them to carry on the business. Various modifications on the plough followed the ploughing matches established by the Highland and Agricultural Society about the commencement of the century, and which caused as great a rivalry amongst the ploughwrights and blacksmiths of the country in trying to produce superior implements as amongst the ploughmen in trying to turn a straight furrow. For a long time, however, Small’s ploughs were the favourites with the farmers, and in time they gradually wore out the old-fashioned article.

At the ploughing match of the Glasgow Agricultural Society, which takes place to-morrow, all the improvements which have been made in the implement since the days of Small will be observable, there being already forward not only ploughs from all parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland, but also several from Canada. The competition will be as keen as it is interesting, and may of the people of Glasgow could not spend a day better than on the trial field at Buckley farm, in Cadder parish. As with the starting of ploughing matches commences the history of most of our numerous district and parish agricultural societies, some little information as to their origin and the manner in which they were conducted must be interesting at this season of the year, when nothing is talked about in the bothy but of “breaks” and “finishes”, and as to who was “best over the crown”. The earliest matches of the Highland and Agricultural Society took place in Kintyre, possibly because the Rev Mr Campbell had exercised an interest in that branch of tillage. Subsequently matches were held in the Galloways and Dumfries, where prizes were given for ploughs drawn by horses, and also for ploughs drawn by oxen, the ancient steer still occupying a stall at the farm as a work animal. Such contests being then considered novel, there were very large turn-outs of spectators, the country ladies and gentlemen witnessing the progress of the matches from their carriages-as they now would the jumping competitions of the horses in the hunter classes at our cattle shows. This enthusiasm for ploughing contests, now evidenced only by the purely agricultural classes, remained common down to a very recent period, the introduction of superior and more interesting machinery for agricultural purposes, the trials of reapers and mowers, and the general attractiveness of the stock and implement sections of the cattle show-yard in a large way destroying any charms ploughing matches possessed as bucolic gatherings. In the history of the Renfrewshire Agricultural Society there is recorded a very interesting account of a match which was held on the New Shot Isle, near Renfew, and which well marks the enthusiasm of the people. A snowstorm had set in, and the snow covered the ground three inches deep, but notwithstanding it was resolved to proceed with the contest. “In an instant all was activity”, says the chronicler. “The ground allotted for the competition was the New Shot Isle, which lies at some distance below the Garnieland steading, and the access to which is by a raised causeway some hundred yards in length, and for breadth sufficient for passage of a cart. This at low water stands dry, but at full or even half tide is covered to a greater or less depth by the Clyde. At the time to which we refer there was still water enough on the causeway to reach the cart-wheel naves. Crossed it must nevertheless instanter, and a scene of picturesque beauty and interest was forthwith displayed, such as has never before fallen, and probably never will again fall, to the lot of our readers to witness. Save the Clyde, the whole landscape lay white with snow. The river was reached by a descending path containing several turns which soon exhibited a line of nearly 60 carts, containing each a plough with one horse in the harness and another following or mounted by an eager competitor, starting to turn his mettle to a different account. The consequent array was one of about 120 horses mixed with carts in the procession. Onlookers, who by this time added largely to the muster, eagerly availed themselves of the carts as the only means of ferrying across to the Isla, and all was bustle in the securing of places as the cavalcade reached the river. One familiar with the ford led the way, but the eagerness of the horses and the confusion caused by the instability of their footing upon the roughly-laid causeway made them speedily regard the admonitions of the leaders, and intense interest was given to the scene by the plunges and escapes of the different parties in the partially losing and regaining of the line of causeway, any entire deviation from which might probably have been attended with serious results in consequence of the depth of water on either side and the almost inevitable over-turn of the carts.

Though the match was commenced it had to be stopped, the judges finding that good ploughing was impracticable, but it took place three days afterwards, when notwithstanding a severe storm which prevailed, 39 competitors came forward.

It has been frequently suggested of late that ploughing matches should be allowed to lapse, in the ground that they are doing little or no good to agriculture. This is a mistake, and possibly arises from the fact that many farmers grudge letting good ploughmen away for a day with a pair of horses to work on another man’s land, while there is plenty of good lea to be turned over at home. The argument is a selfish one, and one which, if acted upon, is certain in the long run to provide injurious to the farmer, not so much as regards a deterioration in the ploughing, but rather as regards a falling off in the enthusiasm of the ploughmen for farm labour.

It has to be kept in mind that the ploughman of 50 years ago is the parent of the modern farmer, and that when ploughing matches were first instituted farmers were largely the competitors. On many farms in Renfrewshire and Ayrshire the tenants and their sons yet “plough their pair;” but the ploughman as a rule is a hired servant. Burns was a fair specimen of the class; but though generally spoken of as the Ploughman Bard, it is not difficult to judge from his life and writings that he was a failure as a frugal farmer, and though he used to say he would give way to no man at ploughing, sowing, or mowing, he could not have been successful at either-his heart not being in his business. Let him ply the “flingin’ tree” as hard as he liked. It was not the corn he was thrashing, but the “Holy Willies” of the day; while the favouring breeze which came in at one barn door, bringing in happy memories and loving ideas, was blowing out the oats with the chaff at the other. Even when “rattling the corn oot ower the furs”, with the sowing sheet over his shoulder, he was sweeping with his right hand his glorious thoughts of freedom and liberty abroad, and there is no doubt that when the green braird came up under the favouring influence of the April showers, the patches here and the thin bits there proved a tell-tale to the absent mind and the irregular hand, working under the impulses of a strong heart.

The modern farmer, it may be observed, though his life looks a very slow one to a city man, has yet some relieving moments. He has his “Catch the Ten”, at cards, followed by the indispensable tumbler of toddy; he has curling, and if on the moor edge certain to have a day’s coursing. The ploughman, however, has few enjoyments. As soon as he is fit to leave his early sport of “swinging’ on a yet” he is sent to school only to have his educational progress disturbed by withdrawals to earn sixpence a day at seasonable times “to herd craws”, “gather stanes”, or “cut thistles, ragweeds” and such like. From “thinning turnips” and “bunching” behind the reaper he gets promoted to the management of the odd horse, generally the gig pony, and in course of time he gets a pair to plough. He is now a man-he dances at penny reels at feering fairs, pays his whack at a pay wedding, is great at “hay stacks”, and somebody of importance at “kirns”. His anxiety is, however, to become a prize ploughman, and when the season comes round he will be found wandering along the backs of the march dykes on Sundays, to see what sort of work Jock Wilson, of the Knowe, is making, and whether he has anything to fear from him. He will travel 10 miles through the mirk and rain to have his plough irons laid by some blacksmith, in order that he may be able to make a genuine job. At last the day of the ploughing match arrives. The previous night he has passed half in the “smiddy” – where are assembled a rough, earnest crowd of men like himself, all taking of the contest-the other half in the stable “cleaning his graith”. The morning opens cold and bitter, and the glare from the stable lamp reveals flakes of snow floating in the atmosphere. By six o’clock he has got his plough into the cart, and, with his second horse led behind, he is off for the Manse Glebe, minding not but rather rejoicing in the cuff from the old “bauchle” which Jean the dairymaid throws at him for lurch from the byre door, and rather relishing the hard knock from an old brush which comes rattling from the hand of the guidwife. By eight o’clock he has set his poles and made his break, and the battle is soon raging. The air is piercing cold, but there he is, stripped to his nethermost garment the sweat running down his open chest as, holding as if for dear life, he abjures the furrow mare Jess to “Wo, lass, wo; cannie, lass; wo”, in long-drawn-out tones, and to which the faithful animal lifts and bends, and places her feet careful, not to break the turned-up land, knowing that the honour of her master really depends on every movement. At twelve he has his dinner-half-a-loaf, with a “whang” of cheese and a pint bottle of sweet “yill” have been lying at the end of the land for each. He swallows his bite nervously, for his eyes are wandering away back down the fresh-turned furrows to detect irregularities. The rough meal over, he is at it again, and as the three judges cross behind him on the returning “bout” he is nervous, and strains his ear to catch their work of approval. Alongside he sees a local “blether” trying to gather a crowd, and so to catch the eye of the three judges by praising unmeasured terms the lot of a rival, with remarks of “Oh, but is it no bonnie? Would it no be a real peetie to spoil that by harrowin’,” &c. Then comes the finish, which requires the most steady holding and delicate handling. He has, however, measured his ground well, and the finishing stroke to a piece of excellent work gets him the prize. Well done, Jock! Now can you kick your heel and point your toe on any barn floor, and cry “Reel” midst the best men in the country; and Jennie, cleverist of dairymaids, that can “milk your nine kye mornin’ and nicht without a thocht,” set your head back and come “skeigh and scrievin’” down the centre of the country dance, for is not your lad the cleverest in the country. The romance soon ends: “a pay weddin’,” bare-legged urchins “swingin’on a yet”, the gig powney to work! And the dance commences again “de capo from No. 1”. The prizes are presented on the ground-a pocket-knife from the ironmonger, a set of plough hames from the saddler, a pound of tobacco from the grocer, a pair of rabbits from the gamekeeper makes nice little gifts in kind. A local wag gives a prize to the man who “gangs oftenest to see the lasses at nicht”, and, notwithstanding the presence of the minister, there are some sturdy claimants. The pound of tea for the man with the biggest family elicits a cry for “Auld Peter” who secured the honour with his tenth bairn seven years ago, and now with his sixteenth in it’s mother’s lap defies all competition.

Such is the simple life of the ploughman. Let not, therefore, the farmer think of giving up ploughing matches; rather let him encourage emulation of such kind. The reaping machine and the traction engine and thrashing mill will develop a taste in him for mechanics, and tend to lead him to think of something better, and he will enter the sheds at Kilmarnock and Cowlairs, and clean engines till he has qualified himself for a stokership. But even when driving the iron horse over Beattock summit, or with many a sweep and whirl through the windings of the Nith, he will think of his old days as he rushes onward; and all the rules of railroads, all the laws of the land, will not keep him from glancing off the line to the moonlit lea field where he held the plough.”


The value of Fordson tractors in 1923

Fordson tractors had been advertised for purchase in Scotland since June 1918. Although there was an established network of agents, different ones undertook their own advertising and promotional activities. They highlighted the advantages of the tractor, for example in its ease of working and efficiency on the field. For example, on 29 June 1918 John Munro Limited, Oban, noted in an advert: “The Fordson tractor enables you to get over the ground in the shortest possible time. Light in weight, turns in narrow headland, can be used on any land which a horse can work. Starts on petrol, runs on paraffin.” In December that year W. H. Cox of Lanark noted how in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire they “have proved their usefulness” and that they were “a sound investment”. In March 1919 H. K. Brown at Thornton, Fife, advertised that it was “the most efficient tractor on the market. Get one now to make up for lost time owing to weather conditions. Suitable for all manner of farm work.”

On 10 March 1923 the Aberdeen business of Harper Motor Co., Holburn Junction, wrote a lengthy article on the value of the Fordson tractors. It was published in the Aberdeen press and journal. It lists a wide range of uses:

“Fordson tractors

Their value to farmers and others

The Ferguson Tractor is now a familiar sight in agricultural work. The hard-headed Scottish farmers appreciate its money and time-saving merits. It ploughs. Harrows, grubs, rolls and mows their fields, saws their paling bars and firewood, drives the mill, pumps water and generates electric current where this is installed.

Using the tractor enables the farmer to market much more produce, giving him in hand more coin of the realm, a commodity proverbially scarce in farming communities. He is also independent of the travelling mill, for which he used to have to be ready sometimes days before it turned out. He can thresh as he wants to, having the power available under his own control at any time.

The fact that the Fordson tractor has as many, or more, possibilities in industrial work does not, however, appear to be so well known. This wide field has only been touched so far, and with the view of acquiring actual data the Harper Motor Co., Holburn Junction, who are the agents in Aberdeen for Ford cars and Fordson Tractors, have made a careful survey of the work done by tractors supplied by them purely for industrial purposes.”