Ploughing matches in 1794

Back in the 1790s the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement was starting to encourage agriculturists to arrange ploughing matches so that ploughing skills could be promoted and improved. By that time a small number of agricultural clubs had also recognized the importance of promoting skills in ploughing. These included the Farmer Society of Clackmannan, one of the first associations to arrange ploughing matches. Another early match was held in Kinross-shire, under the auspices of Dr Coventry, the professor of Agriculture at the University of Edinburgh. Enterprising landowners, such as Sir John Clerk of Penicuik also played an important role in stimulating local matches on their estates.

The Scottish newspapers provided a number of accounts of these early ploughing matches. They are worth quoting as they show how the earliest matches were organized and set up, their competitiveness as well as their sociability.

They tended to note certain details: where and when they were held, the name of the tenant and landowner; the number of ploughs and competitors; weather conditions on the day of the march; whether the ploughs were iron or wood; the names of the judges; the names of the winners and the farms on which they were employed or the names of their employers; the extent of the spectators; and social events such as dinners held after the event.

The following are accounts of two matches held in 1794:

“Kinross ploughing match

The Kinross Ploughing Match took place in a field at Easter Ballado, belonging to Mr James Beveridge, on the 19th instant, when 37 ploughs, each drawn by two horses, appeared in competition. Mr Murray of Couland, Mr Beveridge of Wester Tilliochie, and Mr Bogie in Ballingall, who were chosen judges of the work, after examining it, found that

William Henderson, servant to Captain Drummond in Tillery, was entitled to the first prize.

John Hog, servant to Mr John Skelton in Thomanean, to the second.

John Anderson, servant to Mr Michael Henderson of Turfhills to the third.

James Pirnie, servant to Mr Thomas Ireland in Urquhart, to the fourth; -and

James Simpson, servant to Mr James Beveridge of Easter Ballado, to the fifth.

The whole of the work was well executed and gave great satisfaction to a numerous crowd of spectators who were assembled on the occasion.’ (Caledonian mercury, 20 March 1794)

“Ploughing match

On Monday last, there was a great ploughing match at Penicuik House. Thirty-three ploughs started for the premiums, which were give. By Sir John Clerk, Bart. The highest premium was a medal, and a plough made by Thomas Lindsay, at Abbeyhill, with an improved muzzle, by Duncan Clark of Kintyre; and the next, a turnip plough. The judges determined the first in favour of Mr Walter Tain, tenant in Sherswell; and the second, to John Wilson, servant to Mr James Laurie, tenant in Penicuik Mill. But it is only doing justice to the other persons who ploughed, and who had come from different parishes for the purpose to say, that tho’ they did not obtain the premiums, yet the judges declared their approbation of their skill in the art. A very great concourse of people from all parts of the country were assembled; and there is no doubt but much real knowledge in the nature and management of that most useful instrument the plough, must have been acquired by the young ploughmen who attended on that day; and it is ardently to be wished, that other parts of Scotland would oftener adopt these ploughing-matches, which certainly do much good, by creating an emulation and rivalship among that class of people.

When the match was over, Sir John Clerk gave a dinner to several of his friends, and many of the most respectable of the tenants on his estate, and his neighbourhood. About fifty sat down to dinner in Ossian’s Hall, while the ploughmen, competitors for the premiums, and many other respectable people, were hospitably entertained in another apartment.

After dinner, the King and Constitution, the Queen, Prince of Wales and Royal Family, his Grace the Duke of Buccleuch, Lord Lieutenant of the county of Midlothian, with several other loyal and constitutional toasts were drunk; as also God speed the plough, and many other toasts applicable to the occasion, and the meeting parted late in the evening, seemingly much gratified by their entertainment.’ (Caledonian mercury, 13 December 1794)