Implement making businesses in Scotland and their workforce in 1881

The Census provides a good deal of information about individuals and the people around them. The 1881 Census provides some information on the size of the businesses of the key implement and machine makers in Scotland. This is through the number of people (usually “men”) that were employed by them.

The following list provides information on the size of some of the main implement making business in Scotland at a time when the implement trade was expanding rapidly and mechanisation becoming increasingly important:

Robert Sellar (George Sellar & Son, Huntly), employing 16 men and 2 girls.

James Mollison (of Ruthven, Alyth), employing 4 men.

John Scouler, Crook Smithy, St Ninians, Stirlingshire (Scouler & Co.), employing 8 men.

Robert Robertson (Thomas Sherriff & Co.), implement works, Dunbar, employing 12 men and 2 boys.

Robert Wallace (Robert Wallace & Son), St Quivox, Ayrshire, employing 4 men and 2 boys.

James Auchinachie (of Auchinachie & Simpson), implement maker senior partner employing 8 men.

William Storie (of Jedburgh), employing 2 men

William Webster, (Millbrex, Fyvie), employing 3 boys

Let’s meet some of these implement makers:

R. H. N. Sellar, Huntly, was a well-known member of that important family of plough makers. His contribution to plough-making and the development of the Sellar dynasty of plough making was recorded in his obituary of 31 July 1918 in the Aberdeen daily journal:

“We deeply regret to announce the death of Mr R. H. N. Sellar, Vice-Convener of Aberdeenshire, and senior member of the well-known form of Messrs G. Sellar and Son, agricultural implement makers, Huntly and Alloa. The sad event took place at his residence, Battlehill, Huntly, at a quarter to ten o’clock last night. Mr Sellar had not been in robust health for some time, his illness taking a serious turn about three months ago, but after an operation in a nursing home in Glasgow he was able to be removed to Bridge of Allan. After a short residence there he returned north about five weeks ago. He was 58 years of age. Mr Sellar had lived a very active business and public life, and the sincerest sympathy of a very wide circle of friends will go out to his widow and family in their great sorrow.

Mr Robert Hunter Nicol Sellar was the eldest son of the late Mr George Sellar, and was born in Huntly in 1859; the other members of his father’s family still alive being-Miss Sellar, Polwood, Huntly; Mr James Sellar, solicitor, Penang; and Mr John Sellar, who is in business in South Africa. He was educated at the Huntly Parish School, under the late Rev John Macdonald, best known and still remembered as Dominie MacDonald, and afterwards at Aberdeen University. Returning to Huntly to join his father in business, he received a thorough training in all its departments.On the death of his father in 1884 he became head of the firm, and by his personal energy and enterprise extended its ramifications and added to its high reputation in the agricultural world. Implements, designed, patented, and manufactured by the firm, have long enjoyed a high reputation. Indeed, not only in the north, but in the home and colonial markets, and in many countries abroad. “Sellar, Huntly” is a name that stands everywhere for merit. Mr Sellar was also himself personally well known, having travelled extensively to further the interests of his business. About five years ago a considerable part of the Huntly establishment was transferred to Alloa, where a large business was successfully established. The war has brought with it many improvements in agricultural machinery, and the Sellar centres have been prominent in war-time features of the industry.

Besides attending closely to the demands of his business, Mr Sellar found time to play an active and acceptable part in public life, which, in certain spheres, was by no means confined to the district of Huntly and the county, but was of a national character. In his native town he served on the School Board for nearly 30 years, and sat for five years at the Town Council, being elected a Councillor and Baillie in 1898, and retiring in 1903 owing to the pressure of business. His deepest interest undoubtedly lay in the domain of education. Soon after his father’s death, he was elected a member of Huntly School Board, an on the retirement of the late Mr John Wilson, factor, in 1909, he was appointed chairman, a position he occupied to the last. The extension and development of the local schools were greatly due to his personal efforts and initiative; and the handsome Gordon Schools, in their present splendidly equipped state, might almost be said to be a memorial to his educational service to the Huntly district.

In 1898 Mr Sellar entered the Aberdeen County Council as representative of the burgh of Huntly in succession to Colonel W. A. Mellis, but latterly he represented the electoral division of Cairn, Glass, and Huntly. In 1902 he was appointed Chairman of the Huntly District Committee in succession to Mr John Wilson, and continued in that post until his death. The interest he showed in, and the grip he was able to take of the business which came before the Council gave him an assured position amongst the members, and in July, 1909, following upon the death of Provost Hutcheon, Turriff, he was elected Vice-Convener of the County. The duties of that office, as, indeed, those of every post he was placed in throughout his public career, were discharged with zeal and acceptance, while making himself conversant with all phases of local government, he showed himself invariably to be a man of prescience and broad outlook. Mr Sellar, who was also convener of the Lands Valuation and Finance Committee of the County Council, was elected Chairman of the County Committee on Secondary Education, and also Chairman of the Aberdeen Provincial Committee for the Training of Teachers-selections which testify to the confidence of those with whom he was associated. Not without cause was it humorously suggested that the Secondary Eductaion Committee and Mr Sellar were practically synonymous terms, and his energy, tact, and business capacity in dealing with the difficult and complex questions which came before those bodies were readily acknowledged. He held those offices throughout important periods of educational development, and in each revealed an enthusiasm and foresight worthy of the best educational traditions of the north-eastern area of Scotland. His six years’ tenure of office was marked by the erection of the magnificent new Training Centre at Aberdeen. He was a member of Sir Henry Craik’s Committee which reported upon the salaries of Scottish teachers several months ago.

The North of Scotland College of Agriculture was another institution in which Mr Sellar rendered useful service. He was one of the original governors, and had been vice-chairman for some years, and was chairman of the Central Studies and Staff Committee, whose work whas much to do with the success of the College throughout the north. He manifested a deep interest in the promotion of the educational side of the various branches of forestry, and in 1911 he was appointed to a Forestry Committee of Inquiry for Scotland. This Committee recommended the purchase of Ballogie was a forest area for the north of Scotland. That the scheme was not gone on with is matter for regret, as the purchase price of the ground would have been more than met by the timber which it has yielded during the past four years.

Amongst Mr Sellar’s most recent appointments was that of chairman of the County of Aberdeen Local Food Control Committee. He was a Justice of the Peace for the County and a Hon Sheriff-Substitute.

A specially warm corner in his heart was reserved by Mr Sellar for Huntly and its institutions, and his untiring, educational services for it have already been alluded to. He was Chairman of the Jubilee Cottage Hospital Managers, and Chairman of the District Nursing Association. He took a keen interest in the welfare of Huntly United Free Church, and or over thirty years had been its treasurer. In politics he was a Moderate Liberal, and held the office of the Huntly Liberal Association.

Mr Sellar leaves a widow and a family of three sons and one daughter, one son-Lieu J. M. Sellar, of the KOSB- having been killed in the war. Mrs Sellar is a daughter of the late Mr Thomson, of Messrs Glegg and Thomson, Aberdeen. The eldest son, Mr Robert Thomson Sellar, after being in Canada for some years gaining business insight, returned home a few months ago, and has been associated with the management of the firm.”

James Mollison was described as a “well-known figure to the older agriculturists of the county.” He was “born in the parish of Aberlemno some 74 years ago, where he received his schooling and served his apprenticeship. … He worked for some years with the late Mr Balfour of Montpelier, also the late Mr Alexander Young, agricultural implement maker, Monifieth. Soon afterwards he accepted a situation in Sweden, which he occupied for some years. Returning to his native country, he was employed at Ruthann for some six months before he entered upon his life-long tenancy of nearly 50 years. Mr Mollison was widely known as a skilful agricultural implement-maker, excelling in the manufacture of ploughs, numbers of which he forwarded to Scotsman in foreign lands. About 1860 he began the manufacture of mowers, and his Isla reaper was favourably known over all the north-east of Scotland. His make of potato diggers was also largely used some years ago. Mr Mollison was pre-decease a twelvemonth ago by his wife, who was a daughter of the late Mr Lindsay, parochial schoolmaster, Ruthann, and is survived by an only daughter, Mrs George Doe, Errol, who has the sympathy of a large circle of friends in her sudden bereavement. Mr Mollison was an attached member of the Established Church, and for a long number of years affiliated as an elder in Ruthann Parish Church.” (Dundee Courier, 30 September 1902)

Mollison’s improved potato digger did not die with the blacksmith. It’s production was taken over by the Forfar Foundry Ltd. This agricultural engineer and agent, iron founder and millwright continued to manufacture a range of productions into at least the 1960s. It was dissolved in 1995.

John Scoular was an important implement maker and was also internationally known. By the early 1870s his smithy had expanded into the Crook Implement Works where it became noted for its harrows, rollers, horse rakes and other implements. The trades carried on were as agricultural engineers. agricultural implement makers, engineers and iron founders, machinists, smiths and farriers. The company was a regular exhibitor at the Highland Show, exhibiting from 1871 until 1910. It exhibited around each of the show districts, exposing its implements to farmers throughout Scotland. It was also a regular advertiser in the Scottish farming press, especially the Scottish farmer from 1893 onwards.

The company was also an innovative one. From the early 1880s it was a frequent entrant to the Highland Society’s trials of implements and machines. In 1881 it entered at the trial of potato diggers and the trial of turnip lifters. In the following year it entered for the trial of horse rakes. In 1885 it entered for the trial of cultivator harrows as well as implements for the autumn cultivation of stubbles. In 1889, it entered in the trial of hay and straw trussers.

The North British Agriculturist gave a detailed description of John Scoular in 1893. It reads:

“Mr John Scoular is the fourth son of the late David Scoular, the well-known plough maker of Forest Mill, Clackmannanshire. Mr Scowler began business on his own account twenty-seven years ago, and pushed his trade with such energy that his name was soon known in all the principal agricultural districts of Great Britain, including Ireland and the remote islands of Scotland. After establishing a large home trade, he next turned his attention to export business, cultivating it with the same diligence, so that in a few years he formed connections in many different quarters of the globe. In 1881 he was invited by a number of the principal merchants and farmers of Natal, South Africa, to visit their colony and see their ways of cultivation for himself, so that he might better understand their requirements. He accepted the invitation, and on his arrival in Natal he received a warm welcome from his friends there, and profited greatly by his journey. Mr Scoular has also large dealings with the south-east of Europe, and he has travelled seven times there, visiting the extensive wheat plans of Bessarabia, Roumania, Bulgaria and Hungary. He claims he is now the largest harrow maker in Scotland. and there are few counties where his hay rakes cannot be found at work.”

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

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

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