Rolling through the years 

One of the names that are associated with rollers is Cruickshank & Company Ltd, Denny.

12916066_462090193984286_7604095347717251030_oCruickshank’s started in 1863.  It became a company limited by guarantee in 1901.  By the early twentieth century it was a general iron founder, making cast iron castings, malleable castings and steel castings.  By 1933 it had established an agricultural department which was to change the general direction of the company.  By 1937 it advertised in The Scottish farmer as being “iron merchants and implement makers”.  By 1960 the agricultural department was known as the “Agricultural supplies department”.  It continued to trade until the mid 1980s.

12973017_462089193984386_3052772707785215352_oContemporary directories describe the company in the 1930s as iron founders, steel castings manufacturers and general iron founders. In 1955 it was described as “agricultural engineers, implement, machinery and equipment manufacturers”.

As an agricultural implement and machine maker, it started to exhibit at the Highland Show in 1933, continuing to do so each year, also entering its and machines for the new implement award of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.  It was also a regular advertiser in both the North British Agriculturist and The Scottish farmer.

In 1952 its rollers included tractor drawn ones, roll pack, in three sections.  They included both flat and Cambridge ones, with a rolling width of between 16 and 27 feet.  In 1963 it’s manufactures also included ring rollers.

You can still see a few sets of Cruickshank’s rollers around the vintage rallies and at the agricultural museums (including the Highland Folk Museum).

The photographs of Cruickshank rollers were taken at the Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Club rally, June 2015.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Rolling, rolling, rolling 

12970983_462080803985225_2316242473824877329_oRolling land was an important part of the process of sowing the spring crops.  In 1889 Henry Stephens stated that “the common land roller is an implement of simple construction, the acting part of it being a cylinder of wood, of stone, or of metal. Simple, however, as this implement appears, there is hardly an article of the farm in which the farmer is more liable to fall into error in its selection.”  Stephens noted that the roller should be of the proper weight and diameter. 

Of the different materials for making rollers, Stephens judged that “wood, which is frequently employed for the making of land-rollers, may be considered as least adapted of all materials for the purpose. Its deficiency of weight and liability to decay under it objectionable. Stone, though not deficient in weight, possesses the one marked disadvantage of liability to fracture.  This of itself is sufficient to place stone rollers in a doubtful position as to fitness. Iron and steel are undoubtedly the most appropriate of all materials for this purpose.”

12672175_462080690651903_4775039500204737534_oA number of the implement and machine makers in Scotland manufactured rollers.  In 1900, for example, they were made by Kemp & Nicholson, Stirling, A. Newlands & Son, Implement Works, Linlithgow, John Scoular & Co., Stirling, and Thomas Hunter & Sons, Maybole.

John Scoular exhibited 4 field rollers at the Highland Show of 1900 at Stirling.  They ranged from 6 to 7 feet by 18 or 21 inches, and sold at between £6 10s and £9 9s each.  In that year, the rollers of Thomas Hunter & Sons, were of malleable iron, and in two sizes, 6 feet by 30 inches and 6 feet by 33 inches, and cost either £10 15s or £11 15s.

There were other types of rollers.  They included consolidating land rollers and pulverising land rollers.

For more information on rollers, see Henry Stephens, 1889:

The photographs of the Ben Reid of Aberdeen rollers were taken at the Fife Vintage Agricultural Machinery Club rally, June 2015.


Wooden harrows 

Wooden implements, especially ploughs and harrows, continued to be used into the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

981155_462067943986511_4130815948665569662_oThere are numerous photographs of them being used in the Western Isles and Northern Isles, areas where traditional farming practices and techniques continued the longest.  But they also survived in mainland Scotland until after the Second World War.

The Aberdeen journal published displenishing sales notices. Some of these notices included wooden harrows.  In 1948, for example, they 12961179_462068193986486_4432276902371077725_oare recorded at farms such as South Nittanshead, Bonnykelly, New Pitsligo, and Newest, Strichen, and in the following year at Moss-side, Ellon, Linhead, Alvah, Starnafin, Crimsoned, and Drum, Lumsden.

On some farms, such as Starnafin, they were found alongside iron harrows as well as chain harrows.  The notices, however, don’t tell whether they still continued to be used, or whether they were confined to the dyke back.

A few sets of wooden harrows have survived into preservation.  It is interesting to compare them with iron harrows.

The photographs were taken at the Strathnairn Vintage Rally & Display, 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


A revolutionary harrow

A really effective new soil pulveriser was introduced into Scotland in the early 1840s.  This was the Norwegian harrow.  Its function was to reduce large clods into very small ones by means of a number of lines of rays or tines, leaving the land “perfectly light and lose, whilst the clod-crushing roller gives to it firmness and consistence.”.

12916163_462078337318805_3135017296239858723_oThis implement, on an “entirely novel construction”, was introduced by George Edward Frere, FRS, of Edinburgh, from Norway.  He had it constructed, with some changes, by Richard Stratton, Bristol.  He entered it for the Royal Agricultural Society Meeting at Shrewsbury in 1845 where the judges awarded to him a premium of 10L for his harrow. 

By 1858 Norwegian harrows were being made by a number of Scottish implement and machine makers.  In that year they included James Kirkwood, Tranent, who sold one at £8 10s, and Peter McGregor & Son, Keith, at £8 15s.  Kirkwood became a renowned maker of these harrows, winning a number of premiums for them from the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.

12967360_462076403985665_2254969837931856956_oBy 1864 the number of makers of these harrows had increased. They also included: John Barrowman & Co., Saline, Fife, David Young, Hassington, Coldstream, Robert Peddie & Co., 132 George Street, Edinburgh, William Kirkwood, Duddingston Mills, Edinburgh, and Kemp, Murray & Nicholson, Stirling.  The one made by that latter maker was described as a “Norwegian harrow, or clod crusher”.

These harrows were still being made into the 1880s. Makers continued to include William Elder, Tweedsmouth Implement Works, Berwick on Tweed, and Kemp & Nicholson, Stirling.  After that date there are few references to these harrows.

Improvements were made to the design.  One made by James Kirkwood in 1854 was improved in general construction, while another by Peter McGregor & Sons in 1859 was improved, with four wheels and leverage.

For further information see Journal of the Royal Agricultural Society of England:

The Norwegian harrow was photographed at the Fife Vintage Machinery rally, June 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Sowing broadcast

By 1908 there were various forms of broadcast sowers available to the farmer.

In that year Henry Stephens suggested that the one made by Ben. Reid & Co., Aberdeen, “exhibits the machine in the most perfect form.”  He adds: “this machine not only does the work well, but it is so constructed that its long sowing-chest is divided into sections, the two end ones of which can be folded upon the central division, 12967512_462065807320058_2505508205721194142_owhereby it may pass through any field-gate without the sowing-chest having to be removed.  The sowing-gear of the broadcast machine is connected with the main axle of the carriage.  The arrangements for regulating the quantity of seed per acre are very simple and effective, and altogether the machine is very easily worked and controlled.  About 18 feet is the usual width sown at once by the machine.” 

Stephens describes how machine sowing of grass was undertaken. He writes that the grass-seed broadcast sowing machine “has superseded the necessity of hand-sowing on most farms.  This is a most perfect machine for sowing grass seeds, distributing them with the utmost precision, and to any amount, and so near the ground that the wind affects but little even the lightest grass seed.  Its management is easy when the ground is ploughed in ordinary ridges.  The horse starts from one head-ridge, and walks in the open furrow 12961172_462065923986713_373075782316831602_oto the other, while the machine is sowing half the ridge on each side, the driver walking in the furrow behind the machine, using double reins.  On reaching the other head-ridge, the gearing is put out of action till the horse, on being hied, enters the next open furrow on the head-ridge; and on the gearing being again put on, the half of a former ridge is sown, completing it with the half of a new one by the time the horse reaches the head-ridge he started from.  Thus 2 half-ridges after 2 half-ridges are sown until the field is all covered.
The seed is supplied from the head-ridge, upon which the sacks containing it were set down when brought from the steading.
The head-ridges are sown by themselves.  But the half of the ridge next the fence on each side of the field cannot be reached by the machine, and must be sown by hand.
When ridges are coupled together, the horse walks along the middle between the crown and open furrow, the furrow-brow being the guide for one end of the machine, and 2 ridges are thus sown at every bout.  Where ridges are ploughed in breaks of 4 ridges in width, the furrow-brow is the guide in going and the crown in returning, while sowing 2 of the ridges; and the crown in going and the furrow-brow in returning, while sowing the other 2 ridges.”

A revolution in grass-sowing!

The photographs of the Garvie broadcast drill were taken at the Fife Vintage Rally, June 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Sowing by hand 

If you look at the sophistication of today’s grain drills it is hard to believe that seed sowing by hand was still carried out within living memory.

Henry Stephens provides a description of sowing by hand in his Book of the Farm in 1889.  He describes two methods of sowing by hand:

“One-hand sowing-In former times the sower by hand in Scotland was habited in a peculiar manner.  He sowed by one hand only, and had a sowing-sheet wound round him. …  The most convenient sheet is of linen.  It is made to have an opening large enough to admit the head and right arm of the sower through it, and a portion of the sheet to rest upon his left shoulder.  On distending the mouth of the doubled part with both hands, and receiving the seed into it, the loose part of the sheet is wound tight over the left hand, by which it is firmly held, while the load of corn is supported by the part of the sheet which crosses the breast and passes under the right arm behind the back to the left shoulder.  A basket of wicker-work, was very common in England for sowing with one hand.  It was suspended by a girth fastened to two loops on the rim of the basket, and passing round the back of the neck; the left hand holding the basket steady by the wooden stud on the other side of the rim.

12901466_458803997646239_2766030708907759544_oTwo-hand sowing-But the system of sowing with both hands is now more general than one-hand sowing.  It should indeed be the universal method wherever hand-sowing is pursued.  It is the most expeditious; and many people consider that the sowing can be sone more evenly with two hands than with one.

For two-hand sowing a simple form of sowing-sheet is a linen semi-spheroidal bag, attached to a hoop of wood or of iron rod, formed to fit the sower’s body, buckled round it, and suspended in front in the hammer just described. Both hands are thus at liberty to cast the seed, one handful after the other.”

Stephens describes the “art of sowing”:
“The following detailed description of the art of sowing by one hand is also so far applicable to sowing by both hands.  Taking as much seed as he can grasp in his right hand, the sower stretches his arm out and a little back with the clenched fingers looking forward, and the left foot making an advance of a moderate step.  When the arm has attained its most backward position, the seed is begun to be cast, with a quick and forcible thrust of the hand forward.  At the first instant of the forward motion the fore-finger and thumb are a little relaxed, by which some of the seeds drop upon the furrow-brow and in the open furrow; and while still further relaxing the fingers gradually, the back of the hand is turned upwards until the arm becomes stretched before the sower, by which time the fingers are all thrown open, with the back of the spread hand uppermost. The motion of the arm being always in full swing, the arm being always in full swing, the grain, as it leaves the hand, received such an impetus as to be projected forward in the form of a figure corresponding to the sweep made by the hand.  The forward motion of the hand is accompanied by a corresponding forward advance of the right foot, which is planted on the ground the moment the hand casts forward the bulk of the seed.”

Quite an art!

You can read more about sowing by hand in Henry Stephens, The Book of the Farm, 1889 in
The photograph of using a sowing sheet was taken at the Strathnairn Vintage Rally, September 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Getting ready for spring work 

Back in 1908 Henry Stephens commented on the “spring preliminaries”, an important part of the spring work.

This is what he said about them:

“But besides field operations, other matters require attention ere spring work come.  The implements required for field work, great and small, have to be repaired,-the plough-irons new laid; the harrow-tines new laid; the harrow-tines new laid, sharpened, and firmly fastened; the harness tight and strong; the sacks patched and darned, that no seed-corn be spilt upon the road; the seed-corn threshed, measured up, and sacked, and what may be last wanted put into the granary; the horses new shod, that no casting or breaking of a single shoe may throw a pair of horses out of work for even a single hour;-in short, to have everything ready to start for the work whenever the first notice of spring shall be heralded in the sky.”

Quite a lot of preliminaries to undertake – and no doubt a few trips to the blacksmith as well!

You can read more about spring work from Henry Stephens’ Book of the Farm, 1908, at

Photograph: Getting ready for spring work at Pilmuir, Balerno, Midlothian, 1990s.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Uddingston: famous for its teacakes and ploughs

Today, if you ask anyone what the town of Uddingston is famous for, they will probably say Tunnocks and its teacakes, snowballs and caramel wafers.  If you had asked that question in the mid nineteenth century, that answer would have been ploughs.  From the late eighteenth century onwards the town was an important centre for the manufacture of ploughs which came to be known and renowned throughout the world.

IMG_1580The Highland Show of 1844, held at Glasgow, had ploughs from local makers in Uddingston such as Robert Crawford, James Wilkie and R. Gray & Sons, Uddingston.  To have three plough-makers from the same town at one of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland’s early shows was exceptional.  So too were the plough makers from the town.

James Wilkie and his company James Wilkie & Co., were famous; James’ father, John, was also a renowned plough maker.  The Wilkie family was renowned for their ploughs, and was the chief rival of the revolutionary plough maker James Small, Blackadder Mount, Berwickshire, whose iron plough revolutionised Scottish agriculture in the late eighteenth century.  Wilkie, in fact, based his plough on Small’s design.

Wilkie’s plough, a high cut one, first made in wood, and then in Iron, was especially suited to the south-west of Scotland, and was especially suited for use in stony land.  Wilkie ploughs won numerous awards at the main agricultural societies, including the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.  James continued to make ploughs until at least 1850; his sequestrated property was sold in 1856 after his death.

The Uddingston Plough Works, or the Uddingston Iron Works, was the business address of the Gray family, which had been plough making in Uddingston from the late eighteenth century.  Mr Gray made the first plough wholly made of iron: this was said to be made for Mr Campbell of Shawfield in the winter of 1803-4, though accounts vary on the date.

IMG_6001The Gray family had a number of generations as plough makers: from the mid-nineteenth century there was Robert Gray & Sons, 1844-50, John Gray & Co, from around 1855 to 1895, George Gray & Co, 1874 onwards (until at least the mid 1950s) when the last subscriber of the company was Charles Gray, following the retrial of George Gray in 1945.

The Gray family was at the forefront of plough making in Scotland, also winning numerous awards for ploughs, and was an extensive winner at ploughing matches throughout Scotland.  A prize medal was awarded to the family at the Great Exhibition of 1851.  A number of medals were awarded for ploughs, harrows and grubbers at the shows of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.  The family’s ploughs were also known and renowned throughout the world.

John Gray & Co., also branched out from making ploughs to other agricultural and industrial implements and machines.  The company embraced the steam revolution and the potential it had for revolutionising agriculture.  It exhibited a portable steam engine and portable steam thrashing machine at the Highland Show of 1861 at Perth, and at the London Exhibition of 1862.  In the 1860s the company described itself as “agricultural implement makers, millwrights, engineers, ironfounders, and railway wagon builders”.

From 1877 an advert in the Post Office directory for Glasgow notes that the company “manufacture Ploughs of every description, Harrows, grubbers, Field and Drill Rollers, and other Implements of the Farm. Gray’s patent Champion Double Furrow and Triple Furrow Ploughs, combining Gray’s and Pirie’s Patents, have been still further improved and perfected, and had a greater and more uniform success than the ploughs of any other maker in the United Kingdom, both at Public Competitions and in the work of the farm.
Thrashing Machines for Horse, Water, or Steam Power, Churning Machines, Turnip Sowing and other machines.
Water Wheels, Portable and Fixed Steam Engines, Steel Mouldboards, Plough Metals of the best prize patterns, Grubber and Cooler Wheels, Cistern Plates, Smithy Heaths and General Castings.”

IMG_5999If you were really keen on competition ploughing in the second half of the nineteenth century (and into the twentieth century), you would have kept a keen eye on the work of the ploughs of Gray of Uddingston, Lanarkshire, at the Uddingston Iron Works, the most important makers of competition ploughs in Scotland.  Gray ploughs carried away numerous prizes at the ploughing matches throughout the length and breadth of the country. 

The North British Agriculturist published an account of George Gray in 1893. It provides details about the development of this eminent plough maker.  It states:

“Mr George Gray – Mr George Gray, along with his younger brother John, is partner in, and carries on the business of, the well-known firm of Messrs George Gray & Co., of the Uddingston Plough Works. This firm was founded about the end of last century by Mr George Gray, great grandfather of the present partners.  Mr Gray was a noted plough maker in his day, and was the first in Scotland to make iron ploughs-that is, ploughs made wholly of iron.  Since then the plough trade at Uddingston has assumed enormous dimensions, and implements made in this thriving suburb of Glasgow are now found in use all over the world.  At present the firm’s plough trade consists largely in making ploughs for ploughing matches.  They are made or mounted to cut any required angle or furrow from the plainest style to the highest cut, and they have achieved such success in this direction that, during the last few seasons, they have won upwards of 1500 first prizes all over the country.  The firm have, however, also a high reputation for the manufacture of the ordinary every-day working plough, of which they annually turn out large numbers. They also devote considerable attention to the production of grubbers, harrows, and mowing and reaping machines, and have developed a very good trade in the latter within recent years.  But the firm is associated in a special degree with the manufacture of ploughs of all classes.  Mr George Gray has long given special attention to this branch of his business, and any one who converses with him is always struck with the sound and practical knowledge which he possesses in regard to ploughs and ploughing.  A paper on this subject, which he read last year before a meeting of the Bothwell Farmers’ Club, and which was published in our columns at the time, attracted very general attention, and was favourably commented upon by several leading farmers and implement makers.”

Mr Gray’s paper can be read on the Papers Past website.

Next time you are eating your Tunnock’s teacake have a think at how Uddingston was such an important place in Scottish plough history. And maybe reach for another teacake to celebrate!

Source: The photograph of the Gray of Uddingston plough was taken at the Scottish National Tractor Show, September 2013.

© 2016 Heather Holmes


An Aberdeenshire trailer maker: Adams Trailers Ltd

If you are from Aberdeenshire you will be familiar with the name of Adams of Old Deer, or Adams Trailers Ltd, Challenger Trailer Works, Mintlaw Station, Aberdeenshire.

1658475_450321941827778_4630466661086629675_oAdams of Old Deer was already established at Mintlaw Station by 1959.  In the late 1950s and early 1960s the company was seeking to expand its business.  It started to exhibit at the Royal Highland Show, where it became a regular attender.  By March 1861 Alexander Adams of the Challenger Trailer Works was advertising his trailers in the Farming News. 

By 1964 the business was rearranging its activities, and on 10 June it incorporated as a company limited by guarantee to form Adams Trailers Limited.  Its purpose was to undertake a wide range of activities including the business of motor and agricultural engineers; garage keepers; motor and tractor dealers and distributors; dealers in all motor and tractor supplies and accessories; dealers in all types of agricultural implements and machinery, plant or equipment, haulage plants, vehicles, lorries, trucks, wagons etc.

10553709_450322081827764_4364811290015151630_oBy the late 1960s the company had developed a number of developments in trailer design.  In 1967 it exhibited at the Highland Show the “transfer weight” transportation system, and in the following year the “vari-tip” trailer. There was also a machinery transporter.

The company continued in business until late 1971.  It was a local company, family run and directed by Alexander Adams, with his wife acting as clerkess.

There are examples of Adams Trailers still on Aberdeenshire farms and around the rally fields. Have a look out for them and trailers made by other local makers. There were a number of them located throughout Scotland, with Aberdeenshire being especially noted for them.

The photograph of the Adams Trailer was taken at New Deer Show, August 2014.

© 2016 Heather Holmes



The introduction of tattie chitting trays brought a new line of work to local sawmills and box makers in parts of Scotland.

10873356_450328061827166_5229646458368603555_oThe boxing system of preparing potato sets was, according to John Speir, Newton Farm, Glasgow, in 1909: “introduced for the purpose of maturing the potato crop sooner than could be attained by the ordinary manner of planting.  It is said to have been first introduced in jersey, where it is extensively practiced.  Along the whole of the Firth of Clyde it is more or less in use on all the earlier farms, and more particularly in the neighbourhood of Girvan it has been carried to such an extent that several farmers there have upwards of a hundred acres of potatoes all planted from boxes.” 

John Speir goes on to describe the boxes used at that time:
“The boxes may be of any convenient size or shape, provided they are not too deep, the size in most common use being about 2 feet long, 18 inches broad, and from 3 to 4 inches deep.  Each box generally holds from 3 to 4 stones of potatoes, the former being about the average.  The boxes are made of ½ inch deal, and have pins 980711_450328108493828_114843755939328684_o1 inch square and 6 inches high nailed in each corner.  The top of these pins therefore projects from 2 to 3 inches above the edge of the box.  These pins are strengthened in their position by having another bar, 1 inch square, nailed across the ends, and reaching from the top of the one corner pin to the top of the other.  These cross-bars also serve as handles for carrying the boxes, besides being in other ways useful.  In Jersey, and in many districts of Britain and Ireland, boxes about one-third smaller than above are preferred. These smaller boxes are much lighter to carry about, and the sets are planted direct from them.

Potatoes were boxed for seed between the end of July and the New Year. Filled boxes were placed in tiers in buildings that could be protected from frost over the winter months.

Local sawmills had their own patterns, making them to a specific size or to meet the needs of their customers. In later years plastic chitting trays became available. They were also put to a wide range of other uses on farms.

Source: Stephens’ book of the farm, London, 1909.

The photographs of the hitting trays were taken at the Scottish National Tractor Show, Lanark.

© 2016 Heather Holmes