A feature of the stack yard: stack pillars

12419368_431055223754450_7835287788043450118_oIt isn’t often that we see threshing displays in Scotland which include built stacks of grain to be threshed.  Usually sheaves are delivered on trailers or carts and the sheaves forked from them.

The display at Strathnairn Farmers Association Vintage Rally and Display in 2014 included a stack built on iron stack pillars.  These pillars and their associated framework which linked the pillars together were used for vermin control and also ventilating purposes.

12496310_431055443754428_2704891532918616396_oStack pillars were an important feature of the stackyard in Scotland, and also formed an important part of Scottish implement making from at least the 1850s, with some large makers being well-renowned for them.

Stack pillars were made from a number of materials, depending on what was available locally.  They could be carved from stone, or made at tileworks (which also manufactured troughs for byres and other products).  In these cases, they would be linked together by a framework made of wood, or other materials.

Most frequently, the pillars and their associated framework were made of iron, by local foundries.  Some of these foundries were important makers, also manufacturing a range of different designs of pillars and associated framework to meet the needs of farmers, and also regional differences in stack-making.

12473884_431055903754382_1997250642053217128_o Especially noted makers included Charles D. Young and Co., Edinburgh (one of the earliest exhibitors at the Highland Show in 1852), John Robson, Glasgow (from the mid 1850s), Thomas Perry & Son, Glasgow Young, Peddie & Co., Edinburgh and Glasgow (both from the late 1850s).  Later ones included Thomas Gibson & Son, Edinburgh, Brownlie & Murray, Glasgow, and A. & J. Main, Edinburgh.

A number of these iron pillar makers were also associated with the making of other iron-work for Scottish farms.  For example, Brownlie & Murray, Possil Iron Works, Denmark Street, Glasgow, from the mid 1878s, was also a maker of iron fences, gates, bridges and roofs; the firm later described itself as “structural engineers”.  Another maker, Thomas Gibson & Son described their activities as “iron and wire fence, iron gate, and wire netting manufacturers, wire workers, smiths, engineers and agricultural implement makers’ in 1869.

12491927_431056310421008_5312205373437043277_oSome farms did not use stack pillars. Instead, they used a round circle of stones and boulders which were raised from the surrounding ground.  These remained a fixed feature of the stackyard throughout the year.  They, however, still served, to help to keep the bottom sheaves off the ground.

Stack stones were an important part of the stackyard, but one that we rarely see around the vintage rallies today. But they were also part of the heritage of agricultural implement making in Scotland which should also be celebrated.

The photographs were taken at Strathnairn Farmers Association Vintage Rally and Display, 2014, Aberdeenshire Farming Museum, August 2014, and National Tractor Show, Lanark, 2014

© 2016 Heather Holmes


Yesterday’s innovations as today’s vintage implements and machines

Today the Royal Highland Show Show is an important showcase for
new innovations in agricultural machinery.  Past shows are important for showing implements and machines that were innovations, novelties, as well as the noted manufactures of their makers.  A look at past shows reveals much about what was available to the Scottish farmer and agriculturist.

The Highland Show in 1912 was an important one for the farmers and agriculturists of Fife.  It was the first time in the history of the Show, held since 1822 under the auspices of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, that it was held in Fife, and in the county town.  It took place at Kinloss Parks, “just outside the town” between Tuesday and Friday 9-12 July 1912.

IMG_3459The Scottish agricultural press was excited about the Show: it referred to “the much-talked of Cupar Show”, and noted that it would “be memorable for many things”.  They included the weather (always an important aspect of the Highland Show), the impact on the Show by Foot-and-Mouth-Disease which resulted in “depleted pens of cattle and sheep”, and a high attendance on the judging day, the first day of the Show.

The Highland Show was a moveable show until 1960, when it moved to its permanent showground at Ingliston, near Edinburgh.   In each year from 1827 until 1959 the Show travelled to a new location in Scotland as determined by the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.  This system ensured that all the major agricultural districts had access to the Show and allowed as many people as possible to visit it as a national event.  It also allowed the Society’s members to know where it was to be located each year, and for arrangements to be put in place for its organisation, including financial assistance for its support.

In this moveable show system, the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland divided the country into eight show districts that were each to be visited in a set order.  These reflected the main farming areas in Scotland.  Fife was located in the Perth Show District.  In each of the show districts, the Show was held in the largest settlement: Kelso, Stirling, Inverness, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Dumfries and Perth. Prior to 1912, the only time that the Show was held in another settlement was in 1890 when it was held in the Dundee.  The Cupar Show of 1912 was therefore another departure to the Highland Society’s established model.  There was a further departure to it in the following year, 1913, when the Show was held at Paisley, and also in 1914 when it was held at Hawick.

The Show comprised two main sections or departments: (1) livestock and (2) implements and machinery.  It is this latter one, the implements and machinery that we will focus on this evening.

The number of implements and machines that were exhibited at the Cupar Show compared favourably with those at the other Highland Shows held between 1900 and 1914.  The Cupar Show had 211 exhibitors, and a further eleven offices, largely railway companies and newspapers.  It had the fifth largest number of stands during the period, though the Show was much smaller than the one at Edinburgh in 1907, which had 232 stands.  On these 211 stands were 1801 exhibits.  This was a much smaller number of exhibits that at many of the other shows: the Cupar Show ranked twelfth out of fourteen for the number of exhibits that were exhibited at each Show between 1900 and 1914.  That it was a smaller Show is not surprising: before 1900 the Perth Show district ranked the fifth most important (out of eight) for the number of implements and machines exhibited at the Show.  Edinburgh always had the largest show, followed those held at Glasgow, Dumfries and Aberdeen; Inverness always had the smallest show.

IMG_4069The exhibitors at the Cupar Show, like all the shows in the other show districts, had a distinct geographical distribution.  A total of fifteen of the 211 exhibitors were from Fife.  A significant number were also from eastern and north-eastern Scotland: nine were from Dundee, thirteen from Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, and a further nine were from Perthshire.  In essence, they were from the Perth Show District in which the county of Fife was located, and the neighbouring show district of Aberdeen.

Outwith these two show districts, the industrial centres of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Lanarkshire contributed a further 59 exhibitors.  England was an important area for exhibitors with twenty from London alone, and a further 58 from the rest of the country.  There were, however, few exhibitors from the north of Scotland as well as southern and south-western counties.

This distribution of exhibitors was one that was not peculiar to the Cupar Show, and to the Perth Show District.  Rather, it was one that was found for all of the shows in the show districts.  The focal point of the Show was always the exhibitors from the Show district where the Show was being held, together with those from the neighbouring Show Districts.  A significant number of exhibitors also came from the industrial centres as well as England.  The districts in Scotland furthest from the Show and its Show District had few exhibitors from them; sometimes there were none.

The fifteen exhibitors from Fife had a distinct character.  Ten of them were from Cupar, the county town; a further two were from Kirkcaldy.  The remaining ones were from Pittenweem, Ladybank, and Dunfermline.  The implement maker in that last centre, the weighbridge and weighing machine maker, Henry Pooley & Son Limited, was a branch of a larger company from Birmingham with a Scottish works in Glasgow, and a network of Scottish addresses.

The exhibitors from Fife comprised makers and agents of implements and machines.  James Low of Knowhead was a maker of ploughs, drill ploughs, harrows and grubbers.  William Doig of Cupar, a blacksmith and an implement maker, made a roadscraper, as well as drill ploughs and plough socks.  Stephen Bayne, Pitlessie, was a maker of swing ploughs, seed harrows and swingletrees.  John Monro, Kirkcaldy, was a maker of tipping carts, hay carts, barrows as well as a potato sorter (“Ness’ Eclipse”).  Some of the makers also acted as agents for other makers.  They included William Balfour, Ovenstone Works, Pittenweem.  In addition to his threshing machines and corn bruisers, he also sold oil engines from Tangyes, Birmingham.  Agents included ironmongers which sold a range of implements and machines.  For example, Hood & Robertson Ltd sold potato diggers from A. Jack & Sons, as well as oil engines from the International Harvester Co. Ltd.

In addition to these implement and machine makers, the Fife exhibitors also included seed merchants, nurserymen, an agricultural stationer, and a saddler, Alex Honeyman, Cupar.

All of these businesses had a local character.  Most were not, either before or after the Show, regular exhibitors to it.  Hood & Robertson had been ironmongers since at least 1869, but only exhibited at the Cupar Show in 1912.  Stephen Bayne, Pitlessie, and James Low, Cupar, also exhibited only at the Cupar Show.  William Balfour, Pittenweem, had been a millwright since at least 1878.  He had entered the Highland Society trial of grist mills in 1890 and exhibited at two Highland Shows: those of Dundee in 1890 and Cupar in 1912.  His presence at two shows indicated that while he was a local maker, he had a wider customer base than the other Fife exhibitors, across a wider area of eastern Scotland.  Another such exhibitor was William Doig of Cupar.

John Monro, Kirkcaldy, was a recently established implement and machine maker, having been in business since at least 1909.  By 1920 he had set up the Eclipse Implement Works, which was to become noted for the Eclipse potato sorter, and was to be a regular exhibitor at the Highland Show until 1939.  The business continued until at least the late 1950s.

In 1912 none of the exhibitors from Fife that exhibited at the Highland Show at Cupar were major figures in the making of agricultural implements and machines in Scotland.  They were essentially small makers with a local customer base in the Perth Show District.  So where were the farmers and agriculturists of Fife obtaining their implements and machines from?  What was available to them in 1912 at the Highland Show at Cupar?

IMG_1446(1)The exhibitors at the Cupar Show included some of the most important implement and machine makers and agents in Scotland and England.  From Scotland, they included well-established makers that had exhibited at the Show for decades, and already had a national standing and reputation by the end of the nineteenth century: the three makers J. D. Allan & Sons, Murthly, Alexander Shanks & Son, Arbroath, and Thomas Sherriff & Co., West Barns, Dunbar, had been exhibitors at the Show since 1852, and Kemp & Nicholson, Stirling, from 1858.  There were others that had started to attend the Show in the 1860s and 1870s.  They included John Doe Limited, Errol and Perth, one of the earliest (and also successful) Scottish agricultural implement agents, who started to exhibit in 1869.

IMG_1245There were also three implement and machine makers that were exhibiting at the show for the first time. They were: Robert Begg & Sons, Dalry, Ayrshire, D. H & F. Reid, Ayr, and David Ritchie, Forfar. Robert Begg, an agricultural implement maker and smith, became a renowned plough maker, and a regular exhibitor to the Highland Show until 1960; he entered a plough in the important exhibition of farm tractors and tractor implements in 1922; he also entered his double furrow self-lift tractor plough as a New Implement to the Highland Show in 1923.  D. H. & F. Reid, Ayr, an agricultural engine manufacturer, mechanical engineer and millwright, who started business in the late 1890s and continued until at least 1940, made threshing mills and oil engines, taking over the manufacture of Annan engines in 1912.  However, that business only exhibited at a small number of Shows: those of Paisley in 1913, Hawick in 1914 and Edinburgh in 1919.  David Ritchie, implement maker, Kincaldrum, Forfar, established in 1870, later became David Ritchie & Sons, Whitehills, Forfar then David Ritchie (Implements) Ltd, Forfar.

On display at the Cupar Show was a wide range of manufactures: agricultural implements and machines; dairy implements, stock foods, veterinary medicines, sheep dips, manures, poultry sundries, woolen manufacturers, as well as a range of miscellaneous exhibits for the home, such as washing machines and wringers; a number of agricultural institutions also promoted their work.

The exhibits in the Implement and Machinery Department were arranged into a number of sections: stands in the open air, stands under cover, and the motion yard.  The motion-yard was an extensive, and important, section with 53 stands, both open and covered.  It included stands occupied by the most important implement makers in Scotland and England.  A small number of them, such as Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Ltd, Ipswich, had stands in both this yard and in other sections of the implement yard.  Their stands included all the heavy machines, including traction engines, and forms of power to generate power for Scottish farms and IMG_6822
estates, such as oil engines and petrol engines.  A number of the exhibits in this yard were “shown in motion”: ie at work.  They included “a number of machines” exhibited by P. & R. Fleming, Graham Square, Glasgow, which were “driven by a 6BHP Hornsby engine and a Lister petrol motor”.[1]

The exhibitors exhibited a range of implements and machines that had a number of different characters: ones for which they were renowned for and had a reputation; ones that had improved designs; new implements; and “novelties”.  This last one was important in helping to develop innovations and new types of implements and machines for the Scottish agriculturist. There were a number of “novelties” at the Cupar Show.   The North British Agriculturist described them as:

“… a new manure distributor by Wallace & Sons of Glasgow; a new separator by the Crown Dairy Co., of Glasgow; a new potato sorter by Messrs Ballach & Sons, Leith; a new digger and also a haulm cutter by the Agricultural Implement Co., Dundee; a new machine by the Dairy Supply Co., Edinburgh; a new molasses mixer by Mr Reader of Winchester; and Grattan’s new dry sprayer, which was awarded the RASE silver medal, is on the stand of Messrs A. & J. Main.”[2]


Ploughs and cultivating machines

There was a strong display of ploughs and cultivating implements at the Cupar Show.  These were exhibited by exhibitors from both 12239276_1506348726359857_1019541595781190609_oScotland and England.  As may be expected, ploughs were the most frequently exhibited implement among the stands, with a total of 65 of them being exhibited by 14 exhibitors.  There were, however, only four exhibitors of corn drills, and only 8 such machines were exhibited.  This compared unfavourably with the number of exhibitors of turnip, mangold and carrot sowers, of which there were nine exhibitors that displayed 14 machines.

12188136_416807628512543_6510334197704821522_o-2A total of 12 of the 14 exhibitors of ploughs were from Scotland; they also exhibited the majority of the ploughs, some 51 of the 65 on display.  They included the major plough makers in Scotland, some of whom had reputations for their manufacture for a number of decades: George Sellar & Son, Huntly, and Alexander Newlands & Son, Linlithgow.  Sellar, with their world-renowned ploughs, were reported by the North British Agriculturist to “always make a striking display”. [3]

Some of the ploughs were also made by small and local plough makers, that were locally important: Stephen Bayne, Pitlessie, Fife, James Law, Knowehead, Fife, Robert Begg & Sons, Dalry, and John Hally, Auchterarder.  John Hally was a member of the award-winning Hally family of smiths and farriers of Auchterarder, who had been making ploughs from at least the early 1870s.  Hally’s ploughs were “well-known”.[4]  Those of Robert Begg & Sons, were “well known over the west of Scotland [and] ha[d] won numerous prizes in Ayrshire, Arran, Islay and elsewhere.”[5]  The ploughs were also made by makers that also manufactured a much wider range of implements and machines.  They included the three noted firms of Thomas Hunter & Sons, Maybole, Alex Jack & Sons, Maybole, and IMG_4650(1)John Wallace & Sons, Glasgow.  Alex Jack & Sons was well-known and renowned for its hay-rakes, rick lifters, its range of potato diggers, manure distributors, horse hoes, drill grubbers, carts, and as the sole importer into Scotland of the Canadian Dux Plows.  John Wallace & Sons was well-known for its own binders, mowers and reapers, horse-hoes, potato diggers, potato planters, and oil engines, and was an agent for Oliver plows and for other makers such as E. H. Bentall, Heybridge, Malden, Essex.

IMG_1938The two English exhibitors of ploughs included the world-renowned ploughmaker Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Ltd, Ipswich.  The other English exhibitor was William Elder & Sons Ltd, Berwick on Tweed.  The company was well-known in the Scottish borders, and through its Scottish agents.  It also set up a separate, but related company, William Elder & Sons Ltd, in Glasgow at 23 Bellgrove Street, in 1910, which continued in business until late 1916 when it was wound up.[6]

The ploughs included a range of types and models.  George Sellar & Son “show[ed] a very large selection of ploughs of all kinds”.[7]  R. Begg & Sons had improved chill ploughs with steel bodies and socks, IMG_1234(1)bar point chill ploughs and Alexander Newlands & Sons, had the “chilled steel and drill ploughs, all of the most up-to-date type, with modern attachments and conveniences”.[8]  From England, Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies exhibited “a large collection of ploughs”, including their range of Scotch ploughs, steel ploughs, turnwrest plough, potato ploughs, double furrow ploughs.  They included their “celebrated” “Newcastle prize ploughs”, described by the North British Agriculturist, as “the most popular general purpose ploughs in the world”.[9]

Corn drills

There were only four exhibitors of corn drills, and eight such machines, at the Cupar Show.  Two of the exhibitors were from Scotland; they displayed four of the drills.  But only one of the Scottish exhibitors manufactured the corn drills that they exhibited: Thomas Sherriff & Co., West Barns.  Sherriff had been an award-winning maker of corn drills and carrot drills from the 1850s.  By the IMG_8729 copylate 1850s the company was one of the most decorated Scottish agricultural implement makers, receiving a clutch of silver medals from the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.  In 1912 it exhibited “a number of their lever corn drills for sowing at various widths, all of the most substantial make, on steel frames, and with marking attachments”.  It also exhibited “The Small Holdings” seeder, combined drill and broadcast, with five-row adjustable coulters, for all kinds of seeds.  This machine was put on the market for the purpose of meeting the demand of the small holder.  Turnip, bean, and pea drills, as well as three-row drill manure distributor, besides broad-casters, go to make up the best collection of seed-sowing machines in the yard, a department for which this firm have long enjoyed a high reputation.  For strong and lasting build they are unsurpassed.”[10]

John Doe Ltd of Errol and Perth exhibited a drill from L. R. Knapp of Thames Valley Iron Works, Clanfield, Oxfordshire, while that company also had its own stand on which were two corn drills, “Monarch” patent corn drills with 12, 13 and 15 rows.  John Doe was an important agricultural implement agent, having been in business since at least 1868.  The company provided an important focus for the exhibition of implements and machines from major makers including English makers, and for introducing them and their technologies into central Scotland.

Also from England, International Harvester Company of Great Britain Limited, of 80 Finsbury Pavement, London, had two of its own drills, which each had 13 and 14 rows.  That company had been exhibiting at the Highland Show since the Dundee Show of 1903; it became a major exhibitor in following decades.
IMG_5529A range of harvesting implements and machines for the hay, grain and potato crops, were exhibited at the Cupar Show.  There had been significant changes in the implements and machines used to harvest the grain crop, and especially from the 1870s their technological developments were reflected in the large displays of reaping and mowing machines, and then reaper binders, at the Highland Show.  This latter category was the most recent one: the first binders were exhibited at the Show in the late 1880s and the first Scottish made binder was exhibited by J. Bisset & Son Ltd, Blairgowrie in 1893.


In 1912 there were 17 exhibitors of reaper-binders at the Cupar Show; they exhibited 23 machines.  Eleven of the exhibitors were from Scotland, and the remaining six from England.  The Scottish exhibitors exhibited 12 of the 23 machines.  However, only two of them displayed machines that they had manufactured: J. Bisset & Sons Ltd, Blairgowrie, had three of its steel binders, and John Wallace & Sons, Glasgow, had its Wallace binder with a 5ft cut and cover.  In addition, George Sellar & Son, Huntly, also exhibited a Bisset binder.

Most of the Scottish exhibitors of reaper-binders were therefore businesses that were acting as agents for other makers.  They included some of the largest and most important implement and machine makers and agents located in the large cities and towns: Barclay, Ross & Tough, Aberdeen, Kemp & Nicholson, Stirling, P. & R. IMG_4143Fleming, Glasgow, and John Wallace & Sons Ltd, Glasgow.   Each of them acted as agents for specific makers of reaper-binders and other harvesting machinery; some acted for more than one or a small number of makers.  The three exhibitors P. & R. Fleming, Glasgow, H. W. Mathers & Sons, Errol, and George Sellar & Son, Huntly, were all agents for “Albion” reaper binders made by Harrison, McGregor & Co., Albion Iron Works, Leigh, Lancashire, whose manufactures were well-known and widely used throughout Scotland.  American and Canadian reapers were also popular with some of the Scottish exhibitors.  For example, Hood & Robertson Ltd, Cupar, and Alexander Jack & Sons Ltd, Maybole, were agents for McCormick while Kemp & Nicholson, Stirling, was an agent for Massey Harris Ltd; Charles Weir, Strathaven, was an agent for Walter A. Wood Co., which also had a London address through which British sales were conducted.  A. & J. Main & Co., Ltd, Edinburgh, was an agent for Deering.  It exhibited Deering’s new “Ideal” binder at the Show.  The North British Agriculturist considered that it was an important exhibit. It was:

“the outcome of experiments conducted for years past through Scotland. The frame of this machine is constructed of high-grade steel, and although light in appearance is still strong beyond any possible requirements The mechanical details have also been simplified, while the capacity has been increased, so that it will harvest effectively the strongest crops, and through the introduction of a new patent adjustable grain deck it will bind crops from one to seven feet in length.”[11]

By comparison to the Scottish exhibitors of reaper-binders, all of the English ones made their own machines.  They included two companies based in England that were set up by American and Canadian companies to distribute their manufactures in the British market: International Harvester Co. of Great Britain Ltd, Massey-Harris Ltd, and Walter A. Wood Co. Limited.

12038625_405063739686932_5583428806837050162_o-2All of the exhibitors with addresses in England were noted reaper and harvesting machine makers with noted reputations, and in some cases world-wide ones.  Harrison, McGregor & Co., which had “a very wide collection all over Scotland”, was described by the North British Agriculturist, to be “strong in harvesting machinery of all kinds”.[12]  It added that “an imposing array of the Albion binder also attracts much attention.  The machines are fitted with roller bearings, canvas stretchers, removable dividers, and improved transport arrangements, and every possible ingenuity has been employed to make them the perfection of a harvesting implement.”[13]

Potato diggers and raisers

12029812_412687908924515_5409875846745139800_oPotato diggers and raisers formed a large class of implements and machines at the Cupar Show.  Mechanical potato lifters had been exhibited at the Highland Show since 1856, when Robert Law of Shettleston, exhibited Hanson’s patent potato digger; in essence, it was the first spinner digger.

In 1912 there were 18 exhibitors of potato diggers and raisers at the Show.  They displayed 31 exhibits.  Fifteen of the exhibitors were from Scotland, while three were from England.  The Scottish 11149737_412154368977869_8259270526989241896_oexhibitors displayed 26 of the 31 machines.  They included the most important makers of potato diggers and raisers in Scotland, which also exhibited their own machines: J. D. Allan & Sons, J. Bisset & Sons Ltd, Alex Jack & Sons Ltd, and John Wallace & Sons Ltd.  Not only were these makers well-known in Scotland, as also throughout England, but over a much wider area.  For example, in 1912 Alexander Jack & Sons Ltd had a “world-wide fame” for its potato diggers.[14]

12032841_412157042310935_8512995652473751589_oBy 1912, a number of these Scottish exhibitors had been manufacturing potato diggers and raisers for a number of decades; they had also won important competitions and trials.  Jack of Maybole’s “Caledonian” potato digger won the 1896 competition of potato raisers under the auspices of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.  In the 1911 Highland and Agricultural Society of
Scotland trials at Turnhouse, Midlothian, equal premiums were awarded to J. D. Allan & Sons, Andrew Pollock, Mauchline, John Wallace & Sons, Glasgow, and David Wilson, East Linton, though no overall award was made.[15]  That trial was an important one, to encourage the development of harvesters “on entirely new principles, or possess radical improvements on machines in use.”  Some of the machines that had been at the trial at Turnhouse in 1911 were at the Cupar Show.  J. D. Allan & Sons brought their potato digger that they had entered and which “did such good work. Jack of Maybole brought its “Empire” potato digger with new graip action, digging forks and seats.  As the North British Agriculturist IMG_82239(1)noted, it was “a digger on the Harder principle, with a patented improvement for adjusting the angle of inclination of the digging forks, as found necessary in different conditions of soil.”[16]  David Wilson, East Linton, exhibited his “Excelsior” potato digger “which has been improved since its appearance at the Royal trials last season by the introduction of revolving cutters at each side of the drill, to overcome the difficulty of choking which befell it at the English trials last September.”[17]  It had, nevertheless, produced “excellent work”.[18]

Nine of the Scottish exhibitors of potato diggers and raisers exhibited machines from other makers, with those of Jack of Maybole and Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies, Ipswich, being the most popular.  Ransomes also exhibited its own potato diggers: it had three entries in the Show Catalogue which included six machines: three potato diggers with fixed tine and guard; a potato digger with hanging forks, fitted with front wheel and seat, or pole and whipps, and two potato diggers, with hanging forks and pole.  Each of the three English exhibitors of potato diggers and machines exhibited machines that had been made by them.

Power for the farm

Another group of machines included oil engines, motor engines, traction and locomotive engines, steam engines and road rollers.  Apart from horses, each of these forms of power played an important role in providing power on the farm and estate and for a wide range of activities, especially for barn work and work in the dairy.

Traction and steam engines

IMG_2169Of these classes, the traction and steam engines formed a significant size of exhibit.  Traction and steam engines were first exhibited at the Highland Show at Glasgow in 1850 when Clayton, Shuttleworth & Co., Lincoln, displayed a 7hp portable steam engine.  However, it was not until 1857 that there were a number of exhibitors of them at a Show, when there were ten at the Glasgow Show of that year.  The second half of the 1870s saw the largest displays of steam engines.  They included portable engines, agricultural traction engines, as well as steam ploughing engines, such as those manufactured by John Fowler & Co., Leeds, the largest manufacturer in Britain, and with a world-wide reputation for them.

By 1912 traction engines were exhibited at the Show in much smaller numbers, though, as noted, they formed the largest class of motive power.  All the major makers were in attendance.  Each of the 11 traction engine makers at the Show were from England.  Each of them exhibited their own engines, though usually only one or two in number.  John Fowler & Co., Ltd, Leeds, exhibited its 7hp single cylinder general purpose traction engine, with winding forward drum and rope, water lifter &c (£488) and a compound spring mounted road tractor (£500).  Charles Burrell & Sons Limited, Thetford, exhibited three engines: a 6hp traction engine, fitted with single crank compound cylinders, winding drum and wire lifter and hose, and outfit (£520); a tractor (£500), and a steam wagon (£550). Clayton & Shuttleworth exhibited “their newly designed steam motor tractor, suitable for light haulage.”  It had “a number of important improvements … which make it most efficient and reliable.”[19]

Motor tractors

Motor tractors formed a small display at the Show.  They were also a relatively new feature.  They were smaller and lighter traction engines, that were designed “to come within the Motor Car Act”. They were exhibited by three exhibitors, who displayed a total of five exhibits.  All of them were from England and were associated with the manufacture of traction and locomotive engines: Aveling & Porter Ltd, Rochester, Clayton & Shuttleworth Ltd, Lincoln, and Richard Garrett & Sons Ltd, Leiston.

Garret was the largest exhibitor, with three entries: a 4 hp compound steam motor tractor; a 5 ton steam motor wagon; and a 6 horse power superheated steam traction engine.  Clayton & Shuttleworth Limited, had on entry, a compound motor tractor, “suitable for light haulage”.

Engines for power

There were other types of engines at the Cupar Show that produced power for the Scottish farms and estates.  Gas engines had been first exhibited at the Highland Show at Glasgow in 1882.  In that year Crossley Brothers Limited, Glasgow, Manchester and London, displayed a small collection.  The first petrol engine was exhibited at the Glasgow Show of 1888 by Priestman Brothers, Holderness, Foundry, Hull.  The first oil gas engine was exhibited at the Stirling Show of 1891 by Crossley Brothers Limited, Manchester.  The first oil engine was also exhibited at the Stirling Show of 1891.  This was by Priestman Brothers Limited, Holderness Foundry, Hull.

Oil engines

By 1912, a number of exhibitors were displaying a range of different engines.  Of them, oil engines formed a significant display.  They were exhibited by 24 exhibitors.  They exhibited 44 engines.  The large size of this display is not surprising.  According to the oil engine maker, Eric Nicholson Ltd, Annan, in 1909:

“it is well known that oil engines are popular, and in constant demand everywhere-a demand which is becoming greater as the benefits derived from their use are becoming known to the public-and the uses which they are put to being added from time to time.”

He also noted that:

“oil engines, have, in many instances, replaced steam engines, and possess many features, such as efficiency, economy, simplicity, portability, and cleanliness, which render them of great value, particularly to farmers; and there is every reason to believe that they will, in the future, be used much more extensively on the land.”

However, by comparison to other makers, there were a “limited number of makers of oil engines, compared with the number of manufacturers of other classes of machinery.”[20]

12265842_419845981542041_6976473071747576859_oA total of 17 of the 24 exhibitors of oil engines were from Scotland; the remaining seven were from England.  The Scottish exhibitors included some of the most important makers.  They included Allan Brothers, Ashgrove Engineering Works, Aberdeen, W. & S. Pollock & Co., Glasgow, and Alex Shanks & Son Ltd, Arbroath.  Allan Brothers exhibited five engines that ranged from a 9bhp one to a 23bhp one of the “latest improved type, specially designed for agricultural purposes and to work with any brand of oil”.[21]  Shanks had three engines, from a 5bhp oil engine, stationary type, with all accessories, to a 14bhp, also of stationary type.  D. H. & F. Reid exhibited “Annan” oil engines.  These included an “11 brake horse power, Annan oil engine, suitable for driving 36in threshing machine”.  Another exhibitor of the “Annan” oil engine, an 11BHP one, was Robert G. Garvie, Aberdeen, well-known for their threshing mills.  The Annan engines had been made by Eric Nicholson & Co. Ltd, The Standard Works, Port Street, Annan.  The company was established by Eric Nicholson, a mechanical engineer and millwright, in 1901 or 1902.  So that he could develop and expand his business, and especially the manufacture of oil engines, Eric Nicholson incorporated his business on 31 May 1909.  It was to undertake ‘the business of manufacturers, factors, merchants, hirers, repairers, and dealers of oil, petrol, steam and gas engines and of such machinery as may be utilized by agriculturists and others.[22]  However, the company resolved to wind up on 2 May 1911.  By the time of the 1912 Cupar Show D. H. & F. Reid had “recently acquired the goodwill of the Annan Oil Engine, and are now manufacturing this in all sizes”.[23]

Some six of the Scottish exhibitors exhibited oil engines from other makers.  This included engines made by manufacturers in both Scotland and England, of which the latter were the most popular. Especially prevalent were those by Blackstone & Co., Stamford, and Richard Hornsby & Sons Ltd, the latter of which also had its own stand at the Show.  Scottish exhibitors also exhibited engines from Campbell Gas Engine Co. Ltd, Halifax and Tangyes Ltd, Birmingham and Glasgow.  These engine makers also had their own stands at the Cupar Show.

The English exhibitors included all of the major makers of oil engines used for agricultural use.  They were also well-known throughout Scotland in 1912: Campbell Gas Engine Co. Ltd, Halifax, Richard Hornsby & Sons Ltd, Grantham, National Gas Engine Co. Ltd, Ashton under Lyne, Ruston, Proctor & Co., Lincoln, and Tangyes Ltd, Birmingham and Glasgow.  Each of them exhibited a small number of their own engines, all of their own make.

Barn machinery

IMG_0718Another significant department at the Show was barn machinery.  This included threshing machines and mills, fanners, winnowing and dressing machines, root pulpers, slicers and cutters, oat, bean bruisers and crushers and chaff cutters.

Threshing machines and mills

Of these machines, the largest exhibit in the barn machinery department was the threshing machines and mills, of which 14 exhibitors displayed 29 exhibits.  A total of 8 of the 14 exhibitors were from Scotland; they exhibited 21 of the 29 threshing machines and mills.  They included the leading threshing mill makers in IMG_7869(2)Scotland: Allan Brothers, Aberdeen, Barclay, Ross & Tough, Aberdeen, Bon Accord Engineering Co. Ltd, Aberdeen, and Robert G. Garvie, Aberdeen.  The large presence of makers from Aberdeen reflected the eminence of the thrashing machine makers in that area, and the important mill-making trade there.  Also present was Wm Dickie & Sons, East Kilbride, an implement and machine maker that was perhaps better known for its windmills, dairy goods and hay turners.

Though most of these makers were well-renowned, they were still relatively young: Robert G. Garvie, who had been with Ben. Reid & Co., started his own business in 1894, Allan Brothers, started business around 1898, Bon Accord Engineering Co., started in 1907.

These Scottish exhibitors exhibited a wide range of threshing machines.  The largest machine was from Allan Brothers, which exhibited a 4ft 6 in finishing thrashing machine, with 24 in drum, double crank shakers, corn-screens and improved easily accessible adjustable awner.  The Bon Accord Engineering Co. Ltd, had a “21 in wide single dressing thrasher”, “a size very largely used on smaller-sized farms, and is a fitting example of how first-class thrashing can be done by means of a narrower machine.”[24]  Robert G. Garvie exhibited four machines which extended from a 3ft 6 in wide, high speed one, to a 1ft 9 in wide medium speed one, to a hand and foot threshing machine.  Garvie had been selling its own hand and foot threshers in their thousands since 1872 when they were first exhibited at the Highland Show, as a “new invention”.  They came in a number of models such as the “Tiny” and later the “Crown”.

12002521_406851896174783_5756481752759698267_oThe six English makers were also all leading threshing machine makers.  Each of them exhibited their own machines.  Each of them were also traction engine makers.  Indeed, each of them also exhibited traction engines at the Show.  They generally had large machines: the three exhibitors Ransomes, Sims & Jefferies Ltd, Richard Garrett & & Sons Ltd, Clayton & Shuttleworth Limited, each had exhibited 54 inch finishing thrashing machines.  The three makers Wm Foster & Co. Limited, Ruston, Proctor & Co Ltd, Lincoln, and Marshall, Sons & Co Ltd, Gainsborough, also had 4ft 6 in by 22 inch thrashing machines.

Chaff cutters

IMG_1481Chaff cutters were exhibited by seven exhibitors.  They exhibited 22 machines.  Three of the seven exhibitors were from Scotland; each of them exhibited one machine.  Barclay, Ross & Tough, Aberdeen, exhibited its CD4 chaff cutter while the other two Scottish exhibitors exhibited machines from English makers: P. & R. Fleming & Co., Glasgow, was agent for Richmond & Chandler Ltd, Manchester, which also had its own stand, exhibiting seven of its own chaff cutters.  Charles Weir, Strathaven, was an agent for Harrison, McGregor & Co., which also had its own stand with two of its own chaff cutters.

The four English exhibitors of chaff cutters were all major makers of them, and each of them exhibited their own machines: E. H. Bentall & Co., Clayton & Shuttleworth Ltd, Harrison, McGregor & Co. Ltd, and Richmond & Chandler Ltd, Manchester.

Root pulpers, slicers and cutters

Another group of implements at the Cupar Show was root pulpers, slicers and cutters.  These were exhibited by nine exhibitors who exhibited 15 machines.  Some five of the exhibitors were from Scotland, and they exhibited eight of the machines.  Most of them exhibited machines from other makers.  Especially important were the turnip cutters from Gardner: “Gardner’s turnip cutter”.  These had been long in use, since at least the 1840s.  Writing in 1843, James Allen Ransome, noted “readers will not fail to recognize … Gardner’s Patent Turnip Cutter”.[25]  Three of the exhibitors in England also made their own turnip cutters.  They were makes that were also noted makers of food processing machines: E. H. Bentall & Co. Ltd, Essex, and Richmond & Chandler Ltd, Manchester.

The range of machinery

There was therefore a wide range of implements and machines available to the farmer and agriculturist at the Highland Show at Cupar in 1912.  All the leading Scottish and English makers were in attendance at the show, as well as some of the local makers from Fife itself.  They exhibited their established as well as their new implements and machines as well as “novelties”, and some also acted as agents for other makers so that they could extend their range to their customer.  Some of the large companies in the large cities and towns such as P. & R. Fleming & Co., John Wallace & Sons Ltd, were clearing houses, supplying a wide range of manufactures for farmers as well as those from other noted makers for which they acted as agents.

Their exhibits also revealed the making of agricultural implements and machines along national as well as geographical lines.  There were large displays of ploughs, potato diggers and raisers and threshing machines by Scottish makers.  There were large displays of reaper binders by English companies, as well as those with addresses in England.  There were also large displays of oil engines, petrol engines, motor tractors, traction and locomotive engines, chaff cutters and root pulpers, slicers and cutters, by makers in England, with some of these types only being made by makers in England.

The making of agricultural implements and machines which had been undertaken largely on local lines in the mid 1850s had become a highly industrialized industry, with large companies with international markets, down to small makers with local ones.  The making of particular implements had become specialized and confined to particular makers in specific geographical areas of Britain.  What the Fife farmer had available to him at the Cupar Show of 1912 was a remarkable collection of implements and machines that allowed him to practice modern farming methods.  It was a selection that had it been shown to farmers fifty years earlier it would have looked unrecognizable to the farmers and agriculturists of the day.  But it was also one that would look in many ways unrecognizable to farmers some fifty years later.


Source:  North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912, Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, Highland Show, Implement and Machinery Department, Cupar, 9-12 July 1912, Edinburgh, 1912.

© Heather Holmes 2015 (text and photographs)

[1] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[2] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[3] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[4] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[5] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[6] National Records of Scotland, BT2/7478, Wm Elder & Sons (Glasgow) Ltd.

[7] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[8] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[9] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[10] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[11] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[12] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[13] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[14] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[15] “Trial of potato diggers or lifters”, Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, 1911, pp. 383-398.

[16] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[17] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[18] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[19] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[20] National Records of Scotland, BT2/7145, Eric Nicholson & Company Limited.

[21] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[22] NRS, BT22/7145, Eric Nicholson & Company Limited.

[23] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[24] North British Agriculturist, 22 July 1912.

[25] James Allen Ransome, The Implements of Agriculture, London, 1893, p. 194.


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


What if? …. vintage agricultural machinery rallies were held two hundred years ago

What would vintage agricultural machinery rallies have looked like if they were held two hundred years ago?

Today our vintage agricultural machinery rallies look backwards to the implements and machines made and used in Scotland during the twentieth and the late nineteenth centuries.  They let us see how far our farming technologies have changed and the progress that has been made.  They also let us reminisce about past times and what it was like to work with the implements and machines that we see exhibited.  We connect our past and present experiences.

Two hundred years ago the farming community in Scotland was in a period of agricultural change and transformation, generally referred to as the “Agricultural Revolution”.  If there had been vintage agricultural machinery rallies held at that time – ploughing matches were starting to be held in a number of districts, and agricultural shows held – they would have also looked back to see the huge progress and changes that had been made to their implements and machines in the previous half century.  They would have also been able to identify a number of themes that are familiar to us today in our rally fields.

IMG_3725Back in 1815 the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement, based in London, with a Scottish President, Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster, was nearing the completion of the most ambitious and arduous agricultural survey ever undertaken anywhere in the world: a survey of the agriculture in each of the counties in Britain.  This was the first national agricultural survey ever undertaken.  It was published in an extensive series of volumes generally known as the county agricultural surveys.

IMG3722Work on the county surveys had started back in 1793; a second
series of surveys, was started in 1795 and was to be completed in 1817.  Sir John Sinclair, also their initiator, had devised the project upon a systematic plan that ensured information was collected under common headings.  It allowed information from each county to be systematically analysed and provide an account of the agriculture at national levels in Britain and Scotland.  It also let information on agricultural progress in the leading and “improved” districts to be compared and contrasted with that of the less progressive ones and for ideas on agricultural “improvement” and progress to be disseminated.

The county agricultural surveys let us look at what would have been
exhibited at vintage agricultural machinery rallies 200 years ago, had they been held.

IMG5051The county surveyors were unanimous in noting the similarity of the
implements and machines used in the various farming districts throughout the country.  But they were also aware that on the ground the picture of what was used was much more complex.  What was actually used was shaped by a broad range of factors such as the character of the farming landscape, the character of the agricultural district (a progressive or a backward district), the character of the farmers (including their social status, wealth and reputation for farming), the size of their farms, and inclination to use new implements and machines.

The implements and machines could be set out in five different classes, as described by Robert Somerville writing of East Lothian in 1805:

1st. Implements for tillage, and preparing the land for seed, comprehending the different kinds of ploughs, harrows, rollers &c.

2nd. Implements for sowing, comprehending the different kinds of drilling machines.

3rd. Implements for weeding: these comprehended the horse-hoe, different kinds of hand-hoes, weed-hooks, &c.

4th. Implements for cutting down, and carrying the crop: these consist of the sickle, the scythe, and the different kinds of corn carts.

5th. Implements for separating the grain from the straw, and cleaning it for market: these consist of the flail, the thrashing machine, the fanners &c.[1]
IMG_5912The implements and machines in the five different classes varied from district to district, and had an impact on what could have been exhibited at a rally.  Some were widely used while others were uncommon or not used at all.  Thus, in Elgin in 1894 fanners and rollers had been “partially” introduced while in East Lothian in 1805 rollers were not “universally used”.[2]  In Renfrewshire in 1812 horse hoeing implements were “hardly known” as their operations were not general.[3]  The only drills used in Nairn and Moray in 1813 were for sowing turnips.

Implements were found only in some districts (and were “peculiar”
to them), while others were introduced from other ones.[4]  In Nairn and Moray ploughs had been introduced from Leith and Dundee.[5]  In Ross and Cromarty in 1810, “drill machines are used by some farmers from East Lothian, which settled in Easter Ross some years ago”.[6]  There were also regional variations in the detail of the implements and machines, and local designs developed.  In Galloway the “tradesmen in the county had copied the ploughs brought to ploughing matches from Roxburghshire, Berwickshire, Northumberland and other counties” and incorporated aspects of their designs into their local ones.[7]  Knowledge of local designs was important for disseminating new and better designs of implements and machines.

There was a broadening range of implements and machines to select IMG6347for exhibition.  As the surveyor for Nairn and Moray noted in 1813: “an enumeration of all the articles which are employed in the management of a farm would make a long list”.[8]  There was an increased use of carts, especially the single horse one, while an array of implements were introduced for the growing of the new crops in the “Agricultural Revolution”, notably turnips and potatoes: a broader range of drills, horse hoes, and double mould ploughs.  Threshing machines (“probably the most useful invention ever introduced into the mechanical part of farming”) were being introduced in increasing numbers throughout Scotland; they were also made in a wide array of designs.[9]

Newer technologies were used alongside older ones, and to varying extents.  This was especially noted in relation to ploughs, one of the most widely described implements by the surveyors who sometimes described them and their different uses in great detail.  A number of ploughs were used throughout the country.  In Dumfries in 1894 “the ploughs in general use are, the English plough, the old Scottish plough, and the Scottish plough with the English mould-board”.[10]  The modern plough of the day was Small’s plough, of James Small, Blackadder Mount, Berwickshire: “a very simple and efficient implement, of cheap construction, light draught, and easy management”.[11]  The oldest one was the old Scots plough, which in some districts such as Fife in 1800 “is now almost entirely gone into disuse, and its place supplied by a small light plough”.[12]  However, in others there was a continued need for it.  Thus, in Peebles in 1802, “the Scotch plough, of a light construction, is preferred for lands abounding in stones”.[13]  In Stirlingshire in 1812, it was still “in considerable repute. It answers well for tearing up a coarse and stoney soil”.[14]  The same comments were echoed by the surveyors in Tweedale in 1794 and West Lothian in 1811.  In the Western Isles and Highlands, there was also the cas crom, or crooked foot, a foot plough.

IMG_6345There was a broad range of animal power to assist in farming activities; these could be exhibited in various ways, just as we do today.  There was horse power as well as ox-power from cattle, or horse and ox power combined.  For the threshing mills there was also steam power as well as water power.

The implements and machines were made from a range of materials.
Wood was a predominant material.  It was used on the Scots plough, harrows, rollers (of beech or plane), and carts.  Rollers were also made of granite and whinstone, and sometimes of iron, though in Clydesdale in 1794 this had been “too dear for common husbandmen”.[15]  Iron was a material that was increasingly being used.  As the surveyor for Nairn and Moray notes in 1813; “there is, in short, more iron consumed now in a year, upon any farm of 100Woodenharrows -3 acres, that was used in agriculture 60 years ago, over the whole of this extensive survey, and the value at present of a single plough on such a farm would have then furnished the whole implements of every kind, which any one required”.[16]  Iron was also used for the working parts on wooden implements.  For example, iron teeth were becoming more common on harrows, and metal mouldboards on some wooden ploughs.

There were changes in the ways that implements and machines
were made and constructed.  Surveyors recognised that better designs had a beneficial impact on agriculture and would “facilitate, expedite, and render more perfect, the various necessary operations of husbandry”.[17]  The modern implements and machines demonstrated the appliance of engineering and mathematical principles.  They had better modes of construction.  In Elgin in 1794, ploughs were “improved” while harrows were “of the best construction.[18] ” In 1810 the surveyor of Ross and Cromarty observed that “all the implements used by our best farmers are made from the most approved models”.[19]  Favourable accounts like these contrast to those of earlier years: “about thirty years ago, IMG6348the implements of husbandry used here were of the very worst construction”.[20]  In Fife in 1800, the surveyor noted how “formerly the implements of husbandry were few, simple, and rudely constructed”.[21]  A similar comment was also made by the surveyor of Kincardineshire in 1795 who commented that some 30 or 40 years earlier they were “rude in their construction, and ill calculated for the due cultivation of the soil”.[22]  In Aberdeenshire there had been “a most rapid improvement in the construction of the implements of husbandry” used in the county.[23]  That surveyor added, “more things are greatly altered for the better”.[24]

Though the implements and machines that would have been
exhibited at a vintage agricultural machinery rally 200 years ago would have looked very different to the ones that we see today at our rallies, they would have demonstrated changes in the making and use of agricultural implements and machines during a key period of agricultural change in Scotland that was to shape our current agricultural landscape.

IMG5043They would have also highlighted themes such as the varying use of implements and machines from district to district (though Scotland’s regional agriculture did not emerge until through the nineteenth century); their increasing range over time; the use of older and newer technologies alongside one another; the use of local designs (look how many local ploughmakers there was in Scotland in the twentieth century); competing sources of power (steam versus gas versus oil); and the changing methods available to make implements and machines.

The implements that would have been exhibited would have included some of the ones that were starting to transform Scottish agriculture – such as James Small’s plough.  But they also included more traditional ones that were to be found in some parts of Scotland until well through the twentieth century when some wooden implements were still used on a number of farms.

Below are links to the county agricultural surveys that have been digitised on Google books.  Some of the surveyors provide detailed accounts of the implements and machines in their county, while others provide only short ones.

Enjoy exploring the Scottish agricultural implements and machines in the county agricultural surveys.

Aberdeenshire 1811    Argyll 1794    Argyll 1798   Angus 1813  Ayrshire 1811   Banffshire 1794   Banffshire 1812    Berwickshire 1794   Berwickshire 1808   Berwickshire 1813   Bute 1816  Caithness 1812   Caithness 1815   Central Highlands of Scotland 1794   Clydesdale 1794   Dumfries 1794   East Lothian 1805   East Lothian 1813   Elgin (Moray) 1794   Fife 1800   Hebrides 1811  Kincardineshire 1795   Kincardineshire 1810   Kincardineshire 1813   Kinross and Clackmannan 1814   Midlothian 1793  Inverness-shire 1808   Nairnshire 1794   Moray and Nairn 1813  Orkney 1814   Peeblesshire 1802   Perthshire-Southern 1794  Renfrewshire 1812   Ross and Cromarty 1810   Roxburghshire 1794   Roxburghshire 1798   Selkirkshire 1794   Selkirkshire 1798  Stirlingshire 1812   Sutherland 1812   Sutherland 1815   Tweedale 1794   West Lothian 1794   West Lothian 1811

For a comprehensive list of the county agricultural surveys see:

 The County Surveys of Great Britain 1793-1817: Exploring “Considered Digitisation”

The photographs of the wooden harrows, rollers and sower show the twentieth century antecedents of wooden implements used in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  They were taken at the Strathnairn vintage rally, 2013 and 2014 and the Scottish National Tractor Show, 2013.


All references are to the county agricultural surveys (see links above)

[1] East Lothian, 1805, p. 66.  [2] Elgin, 1894, p. 22, East Lothian, 1805, p. 66.  [3] Renfrewshire, 1812, p. 86.  [4] Angus, 2013, p. 257.[5] Nairn and Moray, 1813, p. 112.  [6] Ross and Cromarty, 1810, p. 146.  [7] Galloway, 1810, p. 100.  [8] Nairn and Moray, 1813, p. 128.[9] Peebles, 1802, p. 125.  [10] Dumfries, 1794, p. 41.  [11] Berwick, 1808. P. 150.  [12] Fife, 1800, p. 124.  [13] Peebles, 1802.  [14] Stirlingshire, 1812, p. 107.  [15] Clydesdale, 1794, p. 77.  [16] Nairn and Moray, 1813, pp. 109-10.  [17] Fife, 1800, p. 124.  [18] Elgin, 1794, p. 22.  [19] Ross and Cromarty, 1810, p. 147.  [20] Elgin, 1794, p. 21.  [21] Fife, 1800, p. 124.  [22] Kincardineshire, 1795, p. 322.  [23] Aberdeenshire, p. 211.  [24] Aberdeenshire, p. 212.

© 2015 Heather Holmes


Women in the driving seat

There are lots of tractors and traction engines named after women. They may be famous women, but more often they are loved ones – wives, daughters, sisters, as well as other relations.  But there are IMG_6498 copy
also ones with male names that inadvertently get called “she”: that may happen in a heated moment when there is something not working right, or it may be to show how much we care for them.  While all this gets rather confusing, it probably says more about how we regard our tractors and traction engines than anything else.

This celebration and commemoration of women in our agricultural motives raises the question what role did women have as Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers?

The character of the Scottish agricultural implement and machine industry meant that in the past women were to be employed in an industry that was characterised by a large number of family-run businesses of varying sizes.  They were employed as family members, supporting their family business, as well as others from the wider community in which the business was located.

Their roles were largely shaped by the traditional roles of men and women in society, even until recent times.  The engineering trades were male-orientated, and their apprenticeships only open to males.  The workshop was one that required physical strength and was a man’s place.  Times of national crisis, such as the two world wars, helped to change that, disrupting and challenging traditional roles and social conventions.

Women therefore had other roles.  These were largely within the realms of administration and management.  Business records show women family members employed as office managers, sometimes for many years.  Depending on business structures, women were also business partners, and a number of husband and wife partnerships are recorded.  They were also appointed as directors. Some acted as a director alongside their husband, in husband and wife run companies.  But they could also be directors on a wider board.  Sometimes these comprised only family members, though in other cases they included a broad range of people representing different interests.

Women could also be business managers and owners.  For some, these roles came as a result of the death of their husband or another family member.  Some acted as interim managers until the business was placed on a footing to other family members or sold to other parties.  Thus, the widow of Andrew Pollock, agricultural engineer, IMG_4526 copyMauchline, carried on her husband’s business on behalf of the trust estate from 1904 until 1912 until it could be transferred to his sons Andrew and William Pollock.  That business became the well-known firm of A. & W. Pollock, Agricultural Implement Works, Mauchline.

Other women could not hand over the business to another family member and took over the running and management, sometimes until their own retirement or death.  A number of them used their own name in connection with that of their late husband and in doing so associated themselves with him and his business.

John Irvine had been an ironmonger and smith in Perth from the early 1850s.  When his widow took over his business in the mid 1880s, she referred to it as “Mrs John Irvine”.  Thomas Wright was a wireworker and smith in South Methven Street, Perth, in 1854.  His wife took over his businesses by 1893, calling it “Mrs Thomas Wright of Castlegable, Perth”.  William Stewart of Back Wynd in Forfar, was a ploughmaker in the 1860s.  His son joined him in the business in the mid 1880s and he renamed it William Stewart & Son.  After his death his wife took over the business as “Mrs Janet Stewart of Back Wynd, Forfar”.  William Stephenson, Huttoft, Aberdeenshire, was a repairer of agricultural implements in the 1920s.  After his death his wife took over his business for a few years as “Mrs William Stephenson”.

Perthaps the most well-known widow who took over her husband’sIMG_8729 copy business was Mrs Thomas Sherriff, West Barns, Dunbar, East Lothian.  Thomas Sherriff was born in 1792, the son of a David Sherriff, farm servant, and Mary Sherriff (nee Ford), in Innerwick, a small largely agricultural parish in East Lothian with a population of 846 persons.  He started his business at West Barns, in 1816.  Shortly afterwards, on 5 December 1818, he married a local girl, Agnes Ponton.

Thomas was an innovator.  In 1843 and 1844 news of his new grain cleaner spread as far away as Reading and Hereford.[1]  The local farmers at the wheat market, Haddington, surveyed it and gave the opinion that they “were highly satisfied of its valuable powers, and appeared most anxious that it should be introduced into the county with the least possible delay”.  He continued to develop his implements, focusing on seed drills and sowing machines, though he also made other implements.

In 1852 Thomas started to exhibit at the General Show of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, the annual show of the national Scottish agricultural society.  That year it was held in Perth. He returned to the following shows at Berwick in 1854, and Aberdeen in 1856.  These were important shows, having the largest ever-recorded collections of implements on display, and at a time of increasing growth of the implement and machine industry and the mechanisation of Scottish agriculture.  At each of these shows, Thomas displayed drill sowing machines for grain, horse hoes for drilled crops, broadcast sowing machines for grain and grass, and sowing machines for carrots.  At the 1852 show he won a prize of £3 for a drill machine for grain and £4 for a horse hoe.

Thomas died on 15 December 1856, at the age of 64.  Following his death, his wife Agnes decided to carry on his business.  On 11 February 1857 she placed an announcement in the North British Agriculturist, the Scottish national agricultural newspaper of the day It stated that “following her husband’s death, Mrs Sherriff intends to carry on the business as formerly, and asks for continued orders”.[2] She named the business “Mrs Thomas Sherriff, West Barns”.

Mrs Sherriff built on the successful business that Thomas had set up.  She became a regular advertiser in the North British Agriculturist, promoting a range of her implements and machines, and giving them a much wider profile.  Her advertising allowed notice of them not only throughout Scotland, but also much more widely, as that newspaper was also widely read in England.

She continued to exhibit her manufactures at the General Show of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.  Through the award of premiums at that at show, her business became the most highly decorated Scottish agricultural implement maker of the second half of the 1850s and early 1860s.  No other implement maker came close.  Her business was awarded no less than 32 awards between 1857 and 1861, including nine bronze medals.

Mrs Sherriff continued in business until 1871.  On 19 July 1871 she placed a further notice in the North British Agriculturist announcing that “on this day Mrs Sherriff retired from business and transferred the business to her present manager Robert Robertson who will carry on the business, and who is authorised to pay all debts due to Mrs Sherriff to 6 July 1871.”  Robert succeeded to the goodwill, stock in trade and tools of the business. He renamed the business “Thomas Sherriff & Co.”, thus starting another episode in the history of that business.  He remained there until his death on 18 January 1906.[3]

Women therefore had a number of specific and well-defined roles in the Scottish agricultural implement and machine making industry.  Importantly, they had ones that allowed them to manage and direct in a male-dominated world.  You could say that women were in the driving seat.  Mrs Thomas Sherriff certainly was.

Further information:

Transactions of Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland 


Innerwick Parish


[1] Reading mercury, 30 December 1843, Hereford journal, 3 January 1844.

[2] North British agriculturist, 11 February 1857.

[3] Berwickshire news and general advertiser, 23 January 1906.

© 2015 Heather Holmes


New furrows in Scottish steam ploughing history

“Mistress” and “Master” ploughing new furrows in Scottish steam ploughing history 

By comparison to England, steam ploughing in Scotland is an event.  Today, there are only two pairs of matching steam ploughing engines in the country. One of them is “Mistress” and “Master”, Fowler BB1s with serial numbers 15138 and 15139, registered in March 1918.IMG_6211

The working demonstration of these two steam ploughing engines with their 6 furrow anti-balance plough, all owned by the Cook family of Leven, at the Scottish National Championships on 25 and 26 October 2014 at Kinross, was a significant event.  Their appearance marked a new chapter in Scottish steam ploughing history.  It is one that has a number of firsts: that steam ploughing had been undertaken at the Championships in their 52 year history; that a matching pair of engines have been used to plough in the Fife and Kinross-shire area  since the late 1940s or early 1950s; that “Mistress” and “Master” were working together in a public display; that their plough, brought back with “Mistress” from Canada in 2012, had been used in 70 years.IMG_6672

Watching the display brought to mind the accounts in the press of the steam ploughing demonstrations (private and public) in Scotland from the late 1850s to mid-1870s and the interest that these generated by farmers, landowners and members of the public seeing steam ploughing for the first time.  At each there was the close scrutiny of how the engines and their tackle worked, the quality of the work produced, and how it compared to that of other ploughing systems (whether horse or tractor).  In the modern-era it was thought-provoking comparing the 6-furrow anti-balance plough with 6-furrow tractor ploughs also being demonstrated elsewhere at the Championships.

For me, the sight of a set of steam ploughs manufactured by an English manufacturer (John Fowler & Co. (Leeds), Limited), and with Wiltshire registrations (HR3398 and HR3399), raised two questions: what interplay was there between the two counties in the development, adoption and use of steam ploughing and why did Scotland have a significantly different steam ploughing history to that of England. IMG_6344

Historically, steam ploughing had always had a much more restricted role in Scotland than in England.  At its height in the late 1870s, there were an estimated 700 ploughing sets in England, though only around 50 sets in Scotland, with some counties having recently acquired their first one.  That difference was even greater by 1918 when John Fowler & Co. (Leeds) Ltd published a map of their ploughing engines throughout Britain.  While there were “nearly 600 sets” of steam tackle at work in “this country”, there were only 4 in Scotland, all in East Lothian, Berwickshire and Roxburgh; the most important crop growing areas to the north of the Forth-Clyde line were not even included on Fowler’s map.  One set was still at work in Fife in 1937.

But steam ploughing was not a subject that was at the margins of debate and discussion in Scotland.  After the late 1850s, when steam ploughing had become a reality, there was intense interest in its application to Scottish agriculture.  That interest was especially noted in the 1860s and 1870s the two most important decades for the growth of steam ploughing, before the onset of the agricultural depression.  The Scottish agricultural press carried extensive coverage.  So too did the regional press.  There were reports of trials, extensive debates of the merits (or otherwise) of steam recorded in the transcripts of discussions at leading farmers’ societies, news of technological developments, local news of purchasers and their experiences.  These included news and reports from England – including the all-important results of the trials of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.  There was therefore significant exchange of practical knowledge and experience between the two countries.IMG_6407

A number of Scotsmen played a role in the development and spread of steam ploughing, whether based in their own country or in England.  Indeed, it could be argued that Scotland had a disproportionate role in the development of steam ploughing tackle: David Greig, born at Harvieston, Stonehaven, Kincardineshire in 1827, was a partner of John Fowler & Co, Leeds (later John Fowler & Co. (Leeds) Ltd), whose steam ploughing engines and tackle were the most widely used throughout Britain.  David was actively involved in the designing of steam ploughing machinery, and had a number of patents attributed to him.  The Fisken brothers (David, William and Thomas), who invented another popular system of steam cultivation, the Fisken System, were also Scottish, being raised at Gelleyburn Farm, near Crieff, Perthshire; they moved to England in 1855.IMG_6358

But it was the English traction engine and steam ploughing engine companies that supplied the steam ploughing tackle to Scotland; a few English farmers also sold second-hand sets to the Scottish farmers.  In 1878 there was significant advertising in the Scottish agricultural press, by English companies seeking custom from Scotland: John Fowler & Co., Leeds (whose two-engine system, the same used by “Mistress” and “Master” dominated the industry), F. Savage, Gaywood, King’s Lynn, Barrows & Stewart, Banbury, J. & F. Howard, Bedford, Aveling & Porter, Rochester, Charles Burrell, Thetford, J. & H. McLaren, Leeds, and Fisken & Co. Limited, Leeds.IMG_6490

Some of the English steam engine manufacturers made steam ploughing tackle to suit Scottish conditions.  Fowler’s “baby engine”, an engine of 6 nominal horse power, advertised in Scotland for sale from 1875, was marketed as being “being specially designed for Scotland”.  It was highly regarded by the East Lothian Agricultural Society which had to re-conduct its trial owing to criticism of its overly-favourable review.

There were a number of specific factors in Scotland that meant that steam ploughing had its own distinct history.  Two of these appear to have been especially important.  The first is topography.  Steam ploughing could not be introduced into many parts of the country which had unsuitable soils, high stone content, small or irregularly shaped fields, as well as hilly fields.  Its use was thus largely confined to the eastern arable districts, and also those where there were supporters of steam; not all districts had these.IMG_6482

The second was the difference in how steam was adopted and developed.  In Scotland, as in England, enterprising landowners and tenant farmers played the most important roles in the initial phases in the adoption of steam ploughing.  In England their role was taken over by the steam ploughing companies which made steam available to farmers and others who could not purchased their own tackle or have access to it, for example from a neighbour or a landowner.  In England they were established in their hundreds.  However, while Scotland had the earliest steam ploughing company in Britain, established in 1860, only a handful of these companies were established;  the last one, the Philorth Steam Cultivating Company Limited, was wound up in 1888.  There was therefore not the critical mass of sets or users to maintain steam ploughing.  Thus, interest was lost when enterprising landowners and tenants died or lost their tenancies and were forced to sell their steam tackle. 
In marking a new chapter in Scottish ploughing history, this time in the preservation era, the working demonstration of “Mistress” and “Master” asks questions about the different ploughing histories in Scotland and England and in particular about the relationship between English makers and Scottish users.  These relationships were crucial for the development, adoption and use of steam ploughing.

Further information on “Mistress” and “Master” can be found at ‘”Master” gets his “Mistress” back after 50 year gap, Old Glory 267, May 2012, pp. 6-7.
For Fowler’s map of sets of steam ploughing engines see The engineer, 21 June 1918, pp. 527-28.
For a history of steam ploughing see Jonathan Brown, Steam on the farm: a history of agricultural steam engines 1800 to 1950,  Ramsbury, 2008.
For further information:  The Steam Plough Club.
© 2015 Heather Holmes

“Made in Scotland”

A showcase of Scottish agricultural implements and machines, New Deer Show, 20 July 2014

How do you describe the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers?

This question was at the forefront of my mind when I attended the display of vintage agricultural implements and machines at New Deer Show on 20 July 2014.  Each year the organisers put on a themed display of implements and machines.  This year’s one drew on Homecoming Scotland 2014, a year-long programme of events to “celebrate the very best of Scotland’s food and drink, our fantastic active and natural resources as well as our creativity, culture and ancestral heritage”.  It was appropriately called “Made in Scotland”.

The exhibits were divided into two sections, each with self-explanatory names: “Made in Scotland” and “No longer made in Scotland”.  This second section formed the largest part of the display, with over 100 exhibits, ranging from ploughs, cultivators, harvesting implements and machines as well as ones to process crops for livestock.  In essence, the display was a showcase of Scottish agricultural implements and machines from the last century or so.  But it was also a showcase of Scottish agricultural engineering and the engineering legacy of the makers.

The organisers had requested local farmers and vintage machinery enthusiasts to bring along an implement or machine to display, while sourcing some themselves.  There was therefore a focus of implements from yesteryear that were used in the district and more widely in Aberdeenshire and which reflected the agricultural IMG_1056activities of the district with its emphasis on mixed farming, and the rearing of beef cattle.  There was a good collection of grass seed barrows for sowing artificial grasses for hay and a particularly strong display of exhibits relating to the growing, harvesting and processing of turnips.  Potato growing was represented by a variety of seed bed preparation and harvesting implements, notably spinner diggers.

The display embraced some of the most important developments in agricultural implements and machines in the last century or so.  From the horse drawn implements of the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, they included the Princes reaper from Macdonald Brothers, Portsoy (a well-known reaper in its day).  Grass seed barrows from Banff Foundry and George Sellar & Son, represented an important innovation in mechanization of the growing of grass crops.  The spinner potato digger from John WallaceIMG_0396 & Sons Ltd, Glasgow, used both in connection with horses and tractors, was a major step forward for harvesting the potato harvest after the potato ploughs, and could more effectively throw out the potatoes from the drill.  Wallace’s spinner was one of the noted ones, the company having been involved in potato harvesting manufacture for decades, having won third prize in the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland’s trials of potato diggers in 1881.

The period of tractor drawn and powered implements and machines was largely represented by post Second World War developments.  After the Second World War many new developments in implements and machines were brought about as a result of the wider adoption and use of tractors, whose performance was also improving, as well as the revolution in harvesting machinery.  From the 1950s and 1960s onwards were turnip harvesters, IMG_0480such as those from Elbar, Forfar Foundry, Forfar, Fleming & Son, West Linton, and Boswells of Blairgowrie.  With the increased use of combine harvesters, such as those of Massey Ferguson, manufactured at Kilmarnock, also displayed, was the development of a range of bale handling equipment such as the bale thrower of J. Bisset & Sons, Blairgowrie, and the bale grab of A. Newlands & Sons, Linlithgow.  Combine harvesters required bulk grain handling and the development of larger trailers, usually metal rather than wood, and included those of Fraser Brothers, Rothienorman.  From 1970, as a result of legislative requirements for tractor safety, tractor safety cabs became requisite, and there were “Duncan” cabs made by Alexander Duncan IMG_0579(Aberdeen) Ltd, Inchbroom, Nigg, one of a small number of tractor cab makers in Britain.  There were also important changes made to the harvesting of the potato crop, and in the 1970s the development of stone and clod separation was the solution the mechanisation of the potato harvest, allowing the complete harvesters to work more quickly and effectively.  That revolutionary technology was represented by a ridger and a stone and clod separator by Reekie Engineering Co. Ltd, the leading Scottish makers.

The display included a number of implements and machines that were locally made in Aberdeenshire and more widely in the north-east.  The names of local companies appeared as in a roll-call of the most noted and reputed of makers of this part of Scotland, some being well-established businesses dating from the second half of the nineteenth century or even earlier, while others were established in the 1950s and 1960s.  They included:

  • Adams of Old Deer, Challenger Trailer Works, Old Deer (later Adams Trailers Ltd)
  • Allan Brothers, Ashgrove Engineering Works, Aberdeen (later Allan Bros. (Aberdeen) Ltd)
  • Banff Foundry & Engineering Co. Ltd, Banff Foundry, Banff
  • Bon Accord Agricultural Engineering Co. Ltd, Bon Accord Works, Aberdeen
  • Duncan, Inchbroom, Nigg, Aberdeen (later Alexander Duncan (Aberdeen) Ltd)
  • Edmond & Son, Udny
  • Forfar Foundry Ltd, Service Road, Forfar
  • Fraser Brothers, Rothienorman
  • G. Garvie & Sons, Canal Road, Aberdeen
  • Robert A. Grant, Quilquox, Ythanside
  • Grays of Fetterangus, Fairbank Works, Ferrerangus (later Grays of Fetterangus Ltd)
  • Macdonald Brothers, Roseacre Street, Portsoy
  • James F. Ogg, Bridge of Muchalls, Stonehaven
  • William Reid (Forres) Ltd, Harvester House, Forres
  • George Sellar & Son, Granary Street, Huntly (and Alloa) (later George Sellar & Son Ltd)
  • Shearer Brothers, Maybank Works, Turriff
  • Watson Brothers, Banff Foundry, Banff
  • Wright Brothers, Boyne Mills, Portsoy (later Wright Bros (Boyne Mills) Ltd).

While locally based, the business activities and reputations of some of the makers went far beyond the north-east.  George Sellar & Son had a world-wide reputation for its manufactures, even as far back as the 1870s, also being a world-leading ploughmaker.

These Aberdeenshire makers made a range of implements and machines.  They included many of the most important ones required for the farmer for ploughing, seed bed cultivation, sowing, reaping and processing crops, as well as carts and motive power (ie oil engines).  These formed the basis for the manufacturing of implements and machines in the area.  Each maker had their own manufactures, also being known for them.  Banff Foundry & Engineering Co. Ltd, made a wide range of implements, including ones for ploughing, sowing, harvesting, and barn machinery.  Others specialized in specific types.  George Sellar & Sons was associated with ploughs and other cultivating implements; Shearer Brothers for its reaping machines as well as its “advance” thresher for foot and hand power, and hand thresher from the early 1880s and 1890s.  IMG_0769Allan Brothers was one of a small number of oil engine makers in Scotland in the first half of the twentieth century.

But the county was also especially renowned for the making of specific implements and machines.  There was a strong tradition of ploughmaking and ploughing innovations, from ploughmakers such as George Sellar & Son.  A second tradition was the making of threshing mills.  There were mills from three well-known makers on display: R. G. Garvie & Sons, Wright Bros, and E. Edmond & Son.

IMG_0718So strong was the tradition of mill-making in the area that even by the mid 1960s when combine harvesters were becoming more widely used throughout the country, making the threshing mill technology obsolete, the county continued to be the last stronghold of millwrights in Scotland. A third tradition was that of trailer making. There were trailers from Adams of Old Deer, Robert A. Grant, and Fraser Brothers, three businesses that dated from the 1960s onwards. IMG_0659

A number of exhibits also came from other parts of Scotland.  While some were bought directly from the makers, some makers also acted as agents, a practice that became more widespread after the 1870s, when makers started to provide a complete range of implements and machines for farmers.  The display of a number of exhibits from A. Newlands & Sons Ltd, Linlithgow, John Wallace & Sons Ltd, Glasgow (later Wallace (Glasgow) Ltd then John Wallace (Agricultural Machinery) Ltd), and J L & J Ballach, Gorgie Engineering Works, Edinburgh, (later J L & J Ballach Ltd) and tractors from Leyland and Nuffield suggests that there were local agents for them.  Indeed, in 1951 George Bruce & Co., 14 Regent Quay, Aberdeen was an agent for Balloch while William Reid & Leys Ltd, Hadden Street, Aberdeen, was agent for both Ballach and Newlands. Neil Ross at Ellon was agent for John Wallace & Sons in 1948.

The implements and machines from outside the north-east were of particular types, and also made by specific makers.  The potato bed cultivation equipment was from Reekie Engineering Co. Ltd, IMG_0701Lochlands Works, Arbroath (later of Arbroath, Forfar and Laurencekirk), the turnip sowing drills and turnip scarifiers of J L & J Balloch, Gorgie Implement Works, Edinburgh and the turnip scarifiers of Geo. Henderson, Kelso Foundry.  These were all makers renowned for their manufacture of particular implements and machines, sometimes for decades.

The makers of the implements and machines included a wide range of businesses.  They extended from the micro-businesses that would have only been known in Aberdeenshire or had a more local customer base – such as the trailer made by Robert A. Grant to the “British” companies that had a factory in Scotland – such as the British Motor Company that manufactured Nuffield and Leyland Tractors at Bathgate – as well as the multi-nationals, such as Massey Ferguson. IMG_0704Most of the businesses were located in between.  They included a large number of family-owned and managed businesses, associated with particular works and foundries as well as towns.  Thus, A. Newlands & Sons, Linlithgow, was often known as Newlands of Linlithgow, while J L & J Ballach, Gorgie, Edinbugh, was Balloch of Edinburgh or Balloch of Gorgie.

So, what are the main characteristics of the agricultural implement and machine makers and their activities, as defined by the display at New Deer Show?

  • First and foremost, they made implements and machines for the agriculturalist, for activities not only in the field but also at the steading;
  • They were makers or manufacturers but some also acted as agents for others, enabling them to provide other implements and machines, even a complete range for the farmer, especially from the 1870s onwards;
  • Their activities ranged from the making of specific implements and machines to a broad range of them;
  • They had core activities that remained constant, sometimes for many years, but they also responded to the need for technological developments and new innovations (eg the move from steam to gas and oil power);
  • Some implement and machine makers became specialists in the manufacturing of particular implements and machines, and became regional and national specialists, also being closely associated with them;
  • Their traditional customer base was the local market, while it could also be extended to wider regional and national markets, and also sometimes international ones.  Thus, in an area, the basic implements tended to be traditionally sourced locally while other machines were brought in from other areas; the specialization of implement and machine makers, together with the extended use of agents meant that this pattern no longer held;
  • The businesses extended from the minor-business to the multi-national, but also included many family run and controlled businesses, associated with particular foundries or works.

As I drove home after the Show I wondered what a “Made in Scotland” display would look like at other vintage machinery rallies around the country.  What makers would be represented?  What machines and implements would be displayed?  What would the machines and implements tell us about the show district and the agriculture that was carried out in the district?  The “Made in Scotland” theme is a thought-provoking one for rally organisers to think about.  It raises important questions about the implements and machines used on the Scottish farms in the last century or so.

Thanks to the organisers Jim Muir, Peter Johnston, Scot Gibson and David Hay for putting on such a great display at New Deer.  The 2015 display looks to recreate the history of a local machinery dealer.


© 2015 Heather Holmes


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



Welcome to Scottish agricultural implement makers.

I’m excited to be sharing my interest in the Scottish agricultural implement and machine makers of yesteryear.

There are lots of resources to find out more about the makers and their activities from the late eighteenth century onwards: electronic books (by links to google books and Internet Archive), bibliographies and links to websites that promote interest in and preservation of the makers and their activities.

I’ll be adding to these resources, so keep an eye out for updates!