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!