Champion ploughing matches

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. We present some accounts of champion matches from the north-east, and east at a time they were well-established: 

On 12 March 1900 the Aberdeen press and journal, 12 March 1900 recorded a champion ploughing match at Maryculter: 
“A ploughing match of a very interesting character took place on Saturday on a fine field behind the Mill Inn, at Maryculter, in the occupation of Mr Frank Kennedy. It was open only to ploughmen of the first rank, each of whom must have taken a first prize at a competition. There were 18 entries as compared with 28 at the match which was held in the same district at the corresponding period of last year. It was stated that the smaller number of competitors this year arose from the fact that there was an important match at Elgin, at which several had entered who would have been otherwise at Maryculter. The weather was very fine and eminently suitable for the occasion, and there was a very large attendance of spectators, many of them from Aberdeen and from the district round about. The ground was of fine equal light haugh loam. Some of the competitors had been accustomed to ploughing heavier land: but the general character of the work all over was excellent, and such as one might have expected from first rate ploughmen.

The work began at ten o’clock and finished at a quarter to four, each competitor being assigned a fourth of an acre. In the course of the day the ploughmen and committee were liberally entertained to refreshments by the able and obliging secretary. Mr Frank Kennedy, on whose farm the match took place, and at the close of the day’s work the judges and friends were entertained at dinner. The judges were Messrs Stewart, Newlands, Dunnottar; Mutch, Mountgatehead, Muchalls; and Leys, Heronley, Aboyne. The following is their award of the prizes, which consisted of gold and silver medals and money prizes:-Ploughing 1-(gold medal) Francis Middleton, Galindo House, Aboyne; 2 (silver medal) John Gibson, New Park, Newhills; 3. Peter Gammie, West Tilbouries, Maryculter; John Smith, Albert Bar, Woodside; 5. Alexander Beaton, jun, Milltimber, Peterculter; 6. Robert Wilson Woodside, Drum; 7. George Forrest, Kennerty, Peterculter; 8. John Grant, South Cookey, Fetteresso; 9. Robert Gilbert Shiel, Leochel; 10. John Watt, Robertson, Peterculter; 11. Angus Simpson, 23 Chatham Place, Aberdeen; 12. W. Watt, Rothnick, Fetteresso. Best feering-1. Francis Middleton, 2. Peter Kemp. First finish-Alexander Beaton; second finish-Francis Middleton. Finish and feering-F. Middleton.” 

From March 1922, the Aberdeen press and journal recorded the Scottish Champion Ploughing Match in Perthshire. Participants were drawn from a wide area of the country. They were watched by a large crowd of spectators: 

“In fine weather the Scottish champion ploughing match was held at the Haugh of Tullymet Farm, Ballinluig, Perthshire, yesterday. There was an entry of 37 ploughs, competitors hailing mainly from Inverness, Aberdeen, Forfar, and Perthshire. Two thousand spectators viewed the competition, which produced some notably fins work.
The leading prize winners were-1 (gold medal), James Macdonald, Milton of Kincraigie, Dunkeld; 2. Andrew Leekie, Monks’ Croft, Auchterarder; 3. Christopher Duncan, Ballinloan, Blair Atholl; 4. James Robertson, jun, Drummin, Tullymet, Ballinluig; 5. James McFarlane, bank of Lethendy, Meikleour; 6. James McFarlane, Croftenloan, Pitlochry.” 

The Aberdeen press and journal recorded a championship match at Aird and Strathglass, near Beauly, in early 1924. 

“The Aird and Strathglass championship match was held on Mr McWilliam’s farm, Culmill, near Beauly, on Saturday, and created much interest among agriculturists, as it was open to the counties of Inverness, Ross, and Nairn. Thirty-two ploughs turned out, and excellent work was done. Messrs Alick Munro, Leanach, Inverness; John Munro, Eathir, Cromarty; and John McGFarquhar, Cullicudden, acted as judges.
James Webster, Fleenans, Nairn, won the championship, and led in feering and finish. He was followed by William Ross, Clunes Mains, and Alexander Jack, Little burn, Munlochy.
In the local highcutters’ class John Cumming, Wester Curdrish, led, winning the Highland Society medal for the best ploughed rig, James Knox, Fanellan; Alexander McIntosh, Teawig; and Hugh Campbell, Bruiach, followed in the order named.
Colin Dingwall, Easter Lovat, led in the chills class, Donald Fraser, Belladrum, and Andrew McIntosh, Groam, following.

In the crofter class Colin Mcrae, Foxhole, led, followed by John Watson, Newtonhill.
Hugh Campbell, Bruiach had the best turnout and James Bremner, Teawig, was adjudged the best looking ploughman. John Campbell, Balintore, had the longest continuous service. 
The judges and committee were entertained to luncheon by Mr McWilliam, and Miss Cobban handed out the prizes, being introduced by Mr Donald Maclaren, convener. Mr John Campbell, secretary, made excellent arrangements.” 

Not only were the matches competitive affairs, but they were also very much social ones. Awards for the best looking ploughman or the ploughman with the largest family or the longest service had been in place for a number of decades.

The photographs were taken at the Scottish Ploughing Championships, 2016.