From Dagenham to Basildon … or, removing to secure better opportunities across Scotland

Last year marked 50 years of tractor production at Ford’s Basildon Plant.  Vintage tractor and machinery rallies in Scotland and throughout Britain held special displays of tractors to mark the occasion and to celebrate the launch of the revolutionary and successful thousand series associated with the new plant.

It takes a lot of confidence to move from an established production plant to a new one.  But major changes can bring opportunities, including ones to develop and grow a business.  Ford reaped these benefits.  A number of Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers also secured substantial benefits by moving their businesses from one part the country to another in the nineteenth century.  They included a small number of leading makers that continued to be well-known and renowned for their manufactures until well through the twentieth century.

IMG_0619George Sellar started his business as a blacksmith in Cullen, Aberdeenshire, in 1822.  As he was ambitious, he found the small village too limited for his energies and capacities.  By 1847 he had moved to Huntly, an important agricultural town at the centre of a large agricultural district.  There, he opened a general blacksmith and horse-shoeing forge, in Granary Street, under the name of George Sellar & Son.

In 1847 his business was establishing its reputation as an implement maker.  In that year it was awarded a number of medals from the national agricultural society in Scotland, the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland: a silver medal and 10 sovereigns for its ploughs, grubbers and drill harrows.  The awards continued.  In 1856, that Society awarded a further 3 sovereigns in each of the classes for the best two horse plough for general purposes, the best trench or deep furrow plough, the best double mould board plough for forming drills; it also gave a commended prize for the best two horse plough for general purposes.

IMG_13961More prestigious awards were to come.  At the International Exhibition of 1862 in London, George Sellar & Son received the only prize medal given to a Scottish firm for ploughs.  From that time, the business established its reputation as the principle ploughmaker in Scotland.  The name Sellar became and was synonymous with ploughs.  But it was also a noted maker of grubbers (being the first to introduce steel into their manufacture), steel harrows, and turnip sowers.

By 1877 George Sellar & Son described its address as the “Implement Works, Huntly”.  The business continued to expand in the following decades and into the twentieth century, also adapting to the changing needs for agricultural implements and machines, as well as the development of a wide network of agencies for farmers.   IMG_7903In 1884 it greatly expanded its activities to include a further premises in Princes Street, Huntly.  New modern machinery and production methods were introduced and a foundry added.  By 1905 it had premises in Huntly, Turriff and Aberdeen, while a further one was opened in Stonehaven, Kincardineshire, by 1909.  A foundry at Kellibank, the Kellibank Works, Alloa, was opened around the time of the First World War, giving it greater opportunities for production.  Thereafter, the business became primarily associated with the towns of Huntly and Alloa: George Sellar & Sons, Huntly and Alloa.

IMG_10101The company incorporated by 1919 as George Sellar & Son Ltd, giving it further business opportunities.  New branches were opened.  By 1930 it had addresses in Huntly, Alloa, Aberdeen, Perth and Stirling.  By 1961 the company’s address had changed to Great Northern Road, Aberdeen.  For a number of years it retained its association with Huntley.

While George Sellar moved his business within the county of Aberdeenshire, another Aberdeenshire ploughmaker, Alexander Newlands, moved his one to another part of Scotland.

Alexander Newlands was born in 1834.  He spent his early years working for George Sellar & Son, Huntly, “with whom he has had great experience” in general country work – “plough and other IMG_661Agricultural Implement Making, and Horse-Shoeing”.  In June 1860 he took over the stock in trade of William Crichton, blacksmith, Port Elphinstone, Aberdeenshire.  He did not, however, stay in Port Elphinstone for long and by 1864 he had moved to Inverurie where he set up his shop at 43 High Street.

Alexander spent his early years at Inverurie developing his business.  The year 1868 was an important one for him: it was the first one that he exhibited his manufactures at the Highland Show, the national agricultural show, which was being held in Aberdeen.  It was an important forum for him to promote and increase his business to a much wider clientele in the north-east and to agriculturists throughout Scotland and further afield.  He exhibited his own two horse plough with steel mould and a ridging or drill plough.

While he recognized that there was a trade for his implements in the north-east, he believed that he could expand his business by seekingIMG_1234(1) opportunities elsewhere.  On 11 September 1880 he sold, by public sale, his property at 43 High Street.  He took the ambitious step of moving to Linlithgow, the county town of West Lothian.  In 1884 his son, also named Alexander, joined him in business, which became known as Alexander Newlands & Son, Provost Road, Linlithgow.  The name of St Magdalene Engineering Works, which we associate with the business, is not recorded until around 1913.

From the 1880s, Alexander Newlands & Son specialised in the making of ploughs, grubbers and harrows.  It later ventured into
horse rakes, for which it acquired a good reputation.  In 1900 its manufactures included two horse swing ploughs; medium drill ploughs with markers; baulking drill ploughs; combined drill and potato ploughs; one horse drill grubbers; horse or drill hoes as drill grubbers; house or drill hoe as ridging up ploughs; field grubbers; diamond harrows; and drill scarifiers.

IMG_6715Alexander Newlands & Son was a progressive company.  From 1884 when the young Alexander joined his father, the business exhibited at the Highland Show nearly every year, bringing attention to their implements throughout Scotland.  It also advertised in the Scottish agricultural newspapers of the day, the North British Agriculturist, and from 1893 The Scottish Farmer.

Even after Alexander senior died in 1907 the business continued to be an innovative one.  By 1914, it acted as an agent for McCormick and Bamfords, two leading makers, and in 1919 sold the Austin farm tractor.

IMG_3843Alexander Newlands & Son became incorporated as Alexander Newlands & Sons Ltd in 1920.  This brought a new era for the business.  It took the important steps in 1922 of participating in the important exhibition of farm tractors and tractor implements arranged by the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.  In that year it also won a silver medal for its self-lift brake harrow, entered as a new implement, at the Highland Show at Dumfries.  In 1934 it exhibited at that Show a cultivator and ridging attachment for tractors as a new implement.

It was ploughs that Newlands continued to be closely associated.  In the 1950s and 1960s they could not be beaten in the ploughing matches in the Lothians: the ploughmen with the Newlands ploughs carried away the prizes.  Even the ploughmen that swore by Ransomes turned to Newlands for their competition ploughs.

In the south-west of Scotland, Alexander Ballach, was working as an implement and machine maker.  But his move across the country was under different circumstances to those of George Sellar & Son and Alexander Newlands & Son.

Alexander Ballach was born in 1858.  He formed a partnership with George Bowman to form the company of Ballach and Bowman, millwrights and implement makers, Newton Stewart.  After that partnership was dissolved in 1897, Alexander continued the business under the name Alexander Ballach & Co. at the Crown Implement Works.  His premises comprised a turning and fitting shop, a millwright shop, an engine and showroom, a pattern room and foundry.

IMG_5213(1)Two years later, on 20 March 1899, Alexander reorganized his business.  It was taken over to form the incorporated company A. Ballach & Company Limited, for which he was its first Chairman.  The company was set up as an agricultural and general engineer, implement maker and ironfounder, making horse gears, turnip drills, reapers and mowers and as a millwright, making thrashing and winnowing machines.  However, it was short-lived.  On 15 January 1902 the members of the company resolved to voluntarily wind it up. In these short years Alexander also had other woes.  On 18 September 1900 his estate was sequestrated; that process was not to conclude until early 1906.

Even if Alexander wanted to set up another agricultural implement and machine making business in south-west Scotland he could not.   When he set up A. Ballach & Co. Ltd, one of the conditions of the sale of his former company, Alexander Ballach & Co., to new one of A. Ballach & Co. Ltd, was that he would not start up another business as an agricultural engineer, implement maker, millwright, ironfounder, or enter into a partnership with another person to undertake these activities, within the counties of Ayr and Dumfries and Galloway.  If he wanted to continue in business his only option was to relocate to another part of Scotland.

In 1907 Alexander Ballach set up a new business at Arch 7 of Manderston Street, Leith under the name “Alex Ballach & Sons”.  By IMG_47141909 the business had moved to Arch 12 and Arch 14 where it remained until 1925.  It quickly became established and gained a reputation for itself: each year from 1907 it promoted its manufactures at the Highland Show.  It also quickly established itself as an agent for leading implement and machine makers such as George Sellar & Son, Henry Bamford & Sons, Uttoxeter, and Walter A. Wood Mowing and Reaping Co. London.  It participated in the trials of potato diggers or lifters arranged by the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland in 1911; this was one of the key trials in the early twentieth century.  Alexander continued as the head of his business until at least 1925 when he was 67 years of age.

IMG_0412In 1924 Alexander’s two sons, John L. and James, started up their
own business.  It was known as J. L. & G. Ballach, agricultural implement makers, Gorgie, Edinburgh.  By the following year they described their premises at Aitkenhill, Gorgie Road, as “Gorgie Implement Works, Edinburgh”.  They were to take that name with them when they moved to new premises at Bankhead Avenue in the newly developed Sighthill Industrial Estate in 1962.

IMG_5219(1)The two brothers worked together as agricultural implement manufacturers and millwrights until December 1946 when James retired from the business.  Thereafter, John Leslie carried it on.  It became incorporated as Ballach Ltd in 1963 and continued trading until at least the mid 1970s.

Like their father Alexander, John Leslie and James Ballach also promoted their manufactures at the Highland Show.  They were regular exhibitors from 1925 until 1965.  They also advertised in the Scottish agricultural newspapers.  From their early days they became renowned for their drill scarifiers, and more especially their turnip drills, including their combined turnip and manure sower.  A number of their turnip sowers are still seen around the Scottish tractor and machinery rallies today.  The business entered no less than nine new implements for the best “new implement” at the Highland Show between 1927 and 1965.  It also acted as agents for other implement and machine makers, including Massey Harris in 1926.

Moving a business to a different district or region of Scotland allowed three noted implement and machine makers to grow and develop their businesses.  They used their potential to become very successful businesses with good reputations for their manufactures and to be well-known throughout Scotland and further afield.

Had they not taken the bold steps to recognise their own potential and to explore new geographical locations to develop their businesses, how would they have developed?  How different would the Scottish implement and machine industry, and the implements and machines available to farmers, have looked without them?  I think quite different.


The photographs of the implements were taken at New Deer Show, 2014, Scotland’s Farming Yesteryear, 2014, Scottish National Tractor Show, Lanark, 2014 and 2015, and Strathnairn Vintage Rally, 2014.

© Heather Holmes 2015


Making hay while the sun shines

Reflections on haymaking at the 25th Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Club Rally and Farming Heritage Show, Seggie Farm, Guardbridge, Fife, 8 June 2014


IMG_8991My father used to say that the rattle of the Dickie hay turner would bring on the rain.  Anyone who has made hay or silage will have their own sayings and recollections of the trials and tribulations in trying
to win these crops.  Wet seasons are easily remembered (and have their own life in the farming memory), the dry ones are too easily forgotten.

Memories of haytime were evoked during a visit to the 2014  annual rally of the Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Club, whose theme was hay and beef.  The day told the story of haymaking and the history of haymaking practices, implements and machines and their mechanisation in the last century or so.


The weather couldn’t have been better suited to a day of haymaking activities.  It was perfect – a bright sunny day with a drying breeze.  But there was a reminder that this was haytime: as the balers were about to enter the parade ring heavy spits of rain started to fall.  The runup to the day wasn’t, however, easy: don’t ask the rally organisers about the preceding week’s weather, a late silage crop and a rally reorganization from one part of Fife toanother.  That week will go down as a chapter in the Club’s history.  But so too will the successful hay-making display.

The oldest implements on the field were a tumbling tam, first introduced into Scotland from America in 1828, and a Jack & Sons Ltd of Maybole Caledonian buckeye mower – a popular model in its day at the turn of the twentieth century; perhaps the most recent was a New Holland B8980 large square baler.  The story was told through IMG_9035two elements – parades of implements and machines around a show ring and a static display comprising an 1898 Marshall traction engine from the Cook’s from Leven, powering a Jones stationary baler from John Rennie of Carnoustie.  Dave and Robert Nelson, Ross Kinnaird, Benny and Isobel Duncan and their helpers, together with the Cooks of Leven and John Rennie, put on a comprehensive display that would not have been seen in Scotland for many decades.  Many spectators would not have ever seen such a sight.

There was a comprehensive range of mowers, both finger-bar and rotary.  There was a knack to cutting with the finger-bar ones – the hay had to fall over the bar.  If it didn’t, then cutting was difficult and you could make a rare mess – there were plenty of times you had to jump off the tractor to un-choke the mess and spread it out.  And you had to watch the wee birds hiding in the hay as well!


Hay turning devices were exhibited in all shapes and forms and included side rakes, swath turners and tedders.  Its amazing how many different ways and times the hay was turned over and moved around a field.  There were collecting and transporting devices such as the tumbling tam, horse rake, hay sweep as well as a hay bogie.  These were augmented by a catalogue entry of 33 balers, mostly square balers (though none so old to have an independent engine instead of a P.T.O  which did have some advantages as “you could stop and ease a bit into the baler mouth”), though there were also round ones (though not in abundance), as well as a buncher.

Some of the most important makers of haymaking implements and machines were represented as were key implements that shaped the technology of the hay field.  They included household names in hay-making equipment: the famous Dickie hay turner from William Dickie & Sons of East Kilbride (later from Massey Harris) (Dickie was “king of them all”), Bamfords’ wuffler, Lely’s Cock Pheasant and Vicon’s Acrobat.  Balers included those from makers such as Allis-Chalmers, David Brown Albion, Claas, New Holland, International Harvester, Krone, and Massey Ferguson.  Their display suggested that there was a strong presence of Massey and International in the rally district.  Western Midlothian where we were was a New Holland district.  But then again, as my father says, the New Holland balers were so successful that they “took over the whole country”.

The practical displays demonstrated the great technological advances that have taken place within the last century to secure a labour-intensive crop as efficiently and effectively as possible.  The comparison in the work of the tumbling tam and the hay sweep could not have provided a greater contrast.  Likewise, so did the IMG_9372demonstration of ruck making and the use of the green crop loader and pike maker exhibited by B. Allan of Silloth, which must have been revolutionary in its day.  These ruck makers were still being made in the 1950s.

Specific machines also demonstrated the need to speed up the ‘making’ of the hay.  Mr D. Leech brought a New Holland hay crimper all the way from Lincoln.  This could greatly reduce the time the drying grass was in the swathe.  But not all farmers would have one: it effectively “smashed up” the hay and if a crimped crop was rained on it turned into “dung’”  Another innovation was the Lister hay-drying fan exhibited by E. Crichton of Ceres.


Haymaking was an activity that had many local and regional variations.  Some of these were especially noticeable to spectators from outwith the rally area.  They included words of things – was a ruck always a ruck? what was a pike?  what was a sow stack? or a Paisley bend?  Variations included the making of a ruck without a tripod (the ruckmakers themselves commented on this).  There were also locally made bale handling devices, such as those from Boswells of Blairgowrie (a pyramid bale sledge) and S. Koronka of Kinross (formerly Ceres) with a small mounted bale carrier.  The timothy men of the Carse of Stirling also had their own ones too; they had small waterproof hoods on the top of their bales.These local variations continued in the face of the internationalisation of the manufacture and sale of agricultural implements and machines.

Scottish makers were especially noted in the displays of horse-drawn implements, some of which were famed for their manufactures (such as Dickie’s hay turner) while the tractor-powered turners and balers were made by English, Welsh and international makers.  One of the Scottish makers, W. & A. Pollock of Mauchline did, however, make a stationary baler at one time.

A lasting thought of the rally was that while implement and machine makers have made significant technological changes, some of which have been revolutionary in changing the appearance of the hay field, it is still the weather that is the master of the hayfield.  As the saying goes, “make hay while the sun shines”.  All the technology in the world won’t help when it is raining on a cut crop.  It might just help to dry it out though.

Further details of the rally and pictures of haymaking implements and machines are on the Club’s website.

Further reminiscences of haymaking are told by Robert Holmes are on Tobar an Dualchais

© 2015 Heather Holmes