The Scot in England Chapter XI - The Scot in English Agriculture
The first Scot who displayed
any interest in England's agriculture was King James VI. He
had occasion to pass through the now famous Smithfield Cattle Market, and to
his great disgust found that section of London almost impassable. The fat
cattle brought into the City for sale had churned up and polluted the mud of
the streets, and the stench was awful. King James was so annoyed by the
nauseating conditions of the market that he ordered it to be cleaned up,
drained, and paved. His commands were carried out, at a cost of £1600,
and Smithfield emerged from the mud.
There was no big cattle
market in Scotland during the reign of King James. Even at the beginning of
the eighteenth century, the forbidding nature of Scotland's rural areas was
so striking that visitors to the country wondered how people could exist on
the rocky, windswept, and treeless wastes. There was no agriculture worthy
of the name ; the cold, thin, and weed-infested land was simply scratched
hurriedly by primitive implements and broadcast with miserable seed. The
resulting crops did not produce enough grain to feed the bare million of
people who inhabited the country, or sufficient
fodder to meet the wants of the undersized cattle that roamed the desolate
hillsides. Indeed, the condition of the country people was pitiful in the
extreme. They had seen, at the turn of the century, seven years of famine,
those "hungry years" in which the successive crops were blackened and ruined
by the cold fogs of sunless summers. It almost seemed as if Nature herself
was warring with the people.
During those terrible years,
starvation was the lot of the poor. Food was so scarce that only the
well-to-do could afford to buy it. Poor people—and most of the people were
poor—had to struggle desperately in order to survive. Life was reduced to
primitive levels. Gaunt and savage beggars roamed the countryside,
threatening and stealing, but they fared better than the people in the
miserable communities they terrorized, for men and women who would not stoop
to beggary actually died of want. The emaciated bodies of these unfortunate
people sometimes lay unburied for many days, because their relatives had no
money with which to provide decent burials, and the impoverished parishes
had become brutally indifferent. Indeed, the Church records of the period
tell us that the living were weary of nursing the dying and digging shallow
graves for them after the flickering flames of life had gone out. Under such
awful conditions, children drifted away from their parents, never to be
heard of again. In many parts of the Highlands, children were sold into
slavery in the New World plantations, in order that their parents could
survive for a while. Over all this misery the ministers croaked like ravens
of doom, telling the people that they were suffering tor their sins. There
was nobody to tell them that the impoverishment of the soil was largely
responsible for the misery they endured.
There is no need to dwell on
this gloomy period of Scottish history. The conditions of rural life became
as bad as they could possibly be and still maintain human life, then began
to mend slowly after the Union of Parliaments. Here and there a land-baron
saw the light, giving some encouragement to his tenants, but the middle of
the century had come before land was enclosed to any extent, and
agricultural methods still remained primitive. The land was scratched and
seeded year after year with inferior barley or oats. The advantages of crop
rotation and summer-fallow were unknown. The few cattle, horses, sheep, and
swine that were reared were undersized and unthrifty, and of no established
breed. In short, the agriculture of the country could scarcely have been of
a more primitive sort. Farmers lived meanly in insanitary hovels that were
surrounded by soggy, unproductive land, hedges were unknown, and trees were
few and far between, and the general aspect of a country district was
depressing in the extreme. As late as 1773, Doctor Samuel Johnson waxed
sarcastic over the forbidding nature of the country. "A tree in Scotland,"
he wrote, "is as rare as a horse in Venice."
Yet, out of such hopeless
conditions, grew an agriculture which, in diversification and quality of
achievement, was to stand unequalled in the world, and we shall see how
great its influence has been on the agricultural industry of England, with
its warmer and more productive soil. In these days of highly specialized
industrialism, one does not hear much about it, but the development of
Scotland's agriculture, and its gifts to England, constitute one of the most
remarkable chapters in the strange development of these islands. It is
something of which England may be as proud as the Scottish people
themselves, for, as Markham put it many years ago : "A husbandman is the
master of the earth, turning barrenness into fruitfulness, whereby all
commonwealths are maintained and upheld. His labour giveth liberty to all
vocations, arts, and trades to follow their several functions with peace and
industrie. What can we say in this world is profitable where husbandry is
wanting, it being the great nerve and sinew, which holdeth together all the
joints of a monarchy?"
In Scotland, adversity has
seldom submerged the people. On the contrary, it has been the mother of
initiative and self-help. We see this very clearly in the growth of
agriculture in the country during the early part of the eighteenth century,
for, out of the almost hopeless conditions that existed at the turn of the
century, came far-seeing efforts to build a better agriculture.
It is rather astonishing to
find that the first association ever formed for the purpose of promoting
agriculture was the one bearing the somewhat unwieldy title of "The
Honourable the Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture in
Scotland". This organization held its first meeting in Edinburgh on 8th
June, 1723. It was formed by a small group of progressive landowners and
farmers, who realized that something had to be done to overcome the
stupidity and avarice of the land-barons and petty lairds who were holding
The Society accomplished a
great deal of good, publishing essays dealing with soil management and
animal husbandry, and casting about for new and useful knowledge in relation
to agriculture. In the year 1729 a remarkable essay was published under its
auspices. It was entitled An Essay on Ways and Means for Inclosing,
Fallowing, Planting, etc., Scotland, and that in Sixteen Years at farthest,
by a Lover of his Country. The anonymous author of the pamphlet was supposed
to be General Mackintosh of Borlum, who had been a rebel in 1715. Indeed, he
was credited with writing the essay while he languished in a dungeon at
Edinburgh Castle. The progressiveness of the man's mind was in keeping with
the amazing display of practical genius that marked Scotland at this time,
for in his essay he advocated under-drainage, enclosing, afforestation, land
leases, and—surely the most progressive thing of all— county supervisors of
the new agriculture. [England and Scotland are now thoroughly familiar with
the work of county supervisors of agriculture.] "Scotland," predicted this
pioneer agriculturist, "from one of the poorest, ugliest, and most barren
countries of Europe, would in a few years become one of the richest, most
beautiful, and fertile nations of the world."
And the prophecy was
fulfilled. "The Honourable the Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of
Agriculture in Scotland" prospered for twenty-two years, its membership
reaching the three-hundred mark. It had brought together the
progressive-minded landowners and farmers of the country, had disseminated a
great deal of useful agricultural knowledge, and had encouraged progressive
farming methods and agricultural invention. In its Select Transactions,
published in 1743, mention was made of the first threshing machine to be
invented in this country. It was built by Michael Menzies, a Scot, and,
according to Robert Maxwell, the Dumfriesshire farmer who edited the Select
Transactions, "by it one man could do the work of six".
Two years later the career of
"The Honourable the Society of Improvers in the Knowledge of Agriculture in
Scotland" suddenly terminated. Prince Charles Edward Stuart had come over
the sea to the land of his fathers. Scotland once again became an armed
camp. Men like General Mackintosh rushed to the Young Pretender's standard ;
Lowlanders, in the main, remained loyal to the Crown. In the resulting chaos
the first agricultural society ever formed disappeared.
Nevertheless, it had started
Scotland on the road to a better agriculture, and by the time it gave up the
ghost the farms of Lothian had become models for the rest of Great Britain.
We catch a glimpse of the progress that had been made in the famous exchange
between Doctor Samuel Johnson and Lord Elibank, the literary peer from
Scotland. Johnson, with heavy and questionable playfulness, had defined oats
in his dictionary as "A grain which in England is generally given to horses,
but in Scotland supports the people"!
"But where will you find such
men and such horses?" Elibank inquired.
The influence of Scotland's
progressive agriculture was beginning to be felt across the border. It is an
interesting and significant fact that the British Board of Agriculture was
founded by a Scot. On 15th May, 1793, Sir John Sinclair moved in the House
of Commons: "That His Majesty would take into his consideration the
advantages which might be derived from the establishment of such a Board for
though in some particular districts improved methods of cultivating the soil
were practised, yet in the greatest part of the kingdoms the principles of
agriculture are not sufficiently understood, nor are the implements of
husbandry or the stock of the farmer brought to that perfection of which
they are capable."
The motion was carried by a
large majority, and in due course the Board of Agriculture took form Its
first president was Sir John Sinclair, and its first task was that of
preparing statistical accounts of English agriculture and devising ways and
means of encouraging worthy agricultural pioneers. Among the latter John
Loudon Macadam, the Scottish road-builder, was mentioned, and Andrew Meikle,
the Scottish inventor of the threshing machine. It is worth noting that the
Board was still under the chairmanship of its Scottish founder when it
succeeded in obtaining the removal of the onerous taxes on draining tiles,
[At the Royal Show of 1843, held in Derby, a silver medal was presented to
the Tweeddale Patent Drain-Tile and Brick Company, London, for a hand-tile
machine, invented by the Marquis of Tweeddale. The Journal of the Royal
Agricultural Society of England, under date of 1841, records that this
tile-making machine was being manufactured in ten different English
counties, as well as in Scotland.] and in introducing small holdings
throughout the country.
The mention of Meikle's
threshing machine serves to remind us that a surprisingly large number of
useful agricultural inventions came out of Scotland in the first quarter of
the nineteenth century. Meikle, as we already know, did not invent the first
threshing machine, but his was the first that worked successfully under
ordinary farm conditions, incorporating, as it did, the principles of the
efficient machines that we are familiar with to-day. Five years later, in
1803, Mr. Aitchison, of Drumore, in East Lothian, succeeded in applying
steam-power to Meikle's threshers.
Oddly enough, threshing
machines were working satisfactorily in Scotland—and in England, where
Meikle's machines soon proved their worth—for nearly a quarter of a century
before a reaper was invented. It was not until the year 1827 that a
satisfactory machine was invented, and, curiously enough, it was built by a
Scottish minister, the Rev. Patrick Bell, of Carmyllie. This machine was
carefully tested under field conditions in the Carse of Gowrie and
elsewhere, proved satisfactory, and brought its inventor a premium of fifty
pounds from the Highland and Agricultural Society. [It is commonly believed,
in England as well as in America, that Cyrus Hall McCormick was the inventor
of the first reaper. McCormick patented his reaper in the United States in
1834—seven years after Bell's machine was officially recognized by the
Highland and Agricultural Society. Moreover, McCormick had sold only seven
of his machines by 1844. They were, of course, thoroughly sound reapers, and
soon recommended themselves to farmers all over the world. McCormick's
father was a Scot, and had built a reaper which the son improved upon.]
That England benefited
tremendously from these Scottish inventions goes without saying, but she
also benefited by studying the methods of soil management that were being
adopted with notable success in the Scottish Lowlands towards the middle of
the nineteenth century. English agriculture, as a matter of fact, had been
in the doldrums for some time previous to the beginning of the reign of
Queen Victoria, and the farmers south of the Border had been crying out
bitterly that they were ruined. It is a habit, of course, that farmers have,
in Scotland as well as in England, but the sad case of the English agrarians
at the middle of the nineteenth century was looked upon rather cynically by
the authorities, for the good and sufficient reason that the Scottish
farmers, under much more difficult conditions of farming, were in a healthy
and flourishing condition.
The reasons for this
anomalous condition of affairs were not hard to find. The Scottish farmers
had been so busy putting new and improved methods of soil management into
operation that they forgot, for once, to cry calamity and howl for
Government assistance, and when they realized that they had neglected this
vocal duty it was too late! They had demonstrated that they could make their
farms pay without leaning on the Government. It was one of the most striking
object lessons that English farmers have ever received, and it is a fact
that during the first years of Queen Victoria's reign the Scottish methods
of drainage, manuring, and deep-ploughing were copied, with excellent
results, by thousands of English farmers. The man who introduced scientific
under-drainage and deep-ploughing at this time was James Smith, of Deanston,
and it would be difficult to calculate the wealth that his methods brought
to the agriculture of England. The swing plough had been invented by John
Small, of Dalkeith, in 1750.
General Mackintosh's sweeping
prediction about Scottish agriculture had come true. Every phase of the
industry had been improved tremendously, and the Scottish farmer seemed to
possess an intuitive skill, not only in the management of soil and
livestock, but in the gauging of market trends and the transaction of
business connected with his farm. [The unsurpassed skill and meticulousness
of the Scottish farmer is curiously at variance with the unprogressive
methods of the average Scottish farmer's wife. The contrast may be seen in
nine farms out of ten in Scotland—hence the steady demand in this country
for Danish and New Zealand butter, and the use of milk in Scottish tea!]
New and better varieties of
oats, barley, wheat, and grasses appeared, and a great deal of the seed went
to England to improve crops there.
The most striking, and
probably the most valuable, contribution made by Scotsmen to English
agriculture, however, was in potato culture. Here was a crop that provided
every table in the land with a staple article of diet almost every day in
the year, and out of Scotland came a long list of new varieties that found
their way into every county in England, adding untold wealth to the fields
and gardens of the country, and maintaining their place right down to the
present day. The greatest name in the realm of potato breeding is that of
William Paterson, of Dundee, who, between 1850 and 1870, developed a great
many of the finest varieties that have been grown in this country. Paterson
set out to develop a potato that would be immune from the potato blight,
which caused such havoc in 1845, and he searched the world for likely
tubers. He grew them on his farm, collected the berries, and in this
practical manner gave British farmers "Paterson's Victoria" in 1856. The
seed of this new species spread over Scotland, then England and Ireland, and
it is said that nearly all our present-day varieties are descendants of
"Paterson's Victoria". It proved its worth in 1879, for it resisted the
blight that broke out in that year.
Paterson was not the only
Scotsman who developed valuable potato varieties. Findlay, Mair, Nichol, and
McKelvie are names that will always be associated with the humble but
valuable potato, for between them they gave to this country such well-known
varieties as Bruce, Up-to-Date, British Queen, Jeannie Deans, Evergood,
Royal Kidney, Northern Star, Great Scot, and Kerr's Pink. All these
varieties were taken up in England. Up-to-Date, for instance, is generally
recognized as being the best potato ever put on the British market, and
since it was introduced by Findlay in 1893 it has produced more wealth than
all the gold-mines of South Africa.
The breeding of potatoes
brings us close to the borderline of horticulture, and perhaps we ought to
pause a moment to note what Scots have accomplished in that field in
England. Their influence has been considerable, although not in so creative
or artistic a direction as in agriculture. The Scots gardener in England has
become sufficiently ubiquitous as to be a mild joke. Nearly all the stately
homes of England support one or two. We fancy, however, that Scottish
gardeners across the Border have earned their good reputation by dogged and
dependable work along established and orthodox lines, rather than by
creative genius. From the purely historical standpoint, however, it is
interesting to scan the work of some of the Scottish horticulturists who
headed for London in the eighteenth century.
John Abercromby, who was born
in Edinburgh in 1726, was among the first of them. He became a gardener in
the Royal Palace Gardens, and built up a wide reputation as a landscape
gardener. Like all the Scots who crossed the Border in the eighteenth
century, he buttressed his professional reputation by writing a book, The
Universal Dictionary of Gardening and Botany.
Those were the days when
Scots stood high in favour at Court, and apparently no royal garden was
complete without one. William Aiton, who was born at Hamilton in 1731, and
moved to London in 1754, was chosen by King George III to manage the
Botanical Gardens at Kew. It proved to be a wise appointment too, for Aiton
made the Kew Gardens famous. In 1789 he published an elaborate description
of the plants under his care, describing 5600 foreign species.
William Forsyth, who became
famous throughout England in the latter half of the eighteenth century as an
authority on arboriculture, and who was appointed Chief Superintendent of
the Royal Gardens at Kensington and St. James by order of George III, in
1784, was a native of Old Meldrum, in Aberdeenshire. Forsyth's remedy for
injured wood was famous, and we pass it on to any country gentlemen who may
have lacerated trees on their estates.
Take one bushel of fresh
cow-dung, half a bushel of lime-rubbish of old buildings, half a bushel of
wood ashes, and a sixteenth part of a bushel of pit or river sand; the three
last articles are to be sifted fine before they are mixed, then work them
well together with a spade, and afterwards with a wooden beater, until the
stuff is very smooth, like fine plaster used for the ceilings of rooms.
When John Claudius Loudon, of
Cambuslang, arrived in London at the end of the century, he was so disgusted
with the tasteless manner in which the public squares were laid out that he
went back to his lodgings and wrote an article entitled, "Observations on
Laying out the Public Squares of London", [George Gordon, Earl of Haddo, was
chairman of the London Town Planning Committee, 1929-1931.] in which he
advised the planting of the Oriental plane, almond, sycamore, and other
brighter trees. His advice was acted upon. Loudon established the
Gardener's Magazine in 1826—the first publication in this country to be
devoted to horticulture. He also established the Magazine of Natural
History in 1828.
Great as the influence of Scottish field husbandry and
horticulture was on the sciences in England, it has been surpassed by that
exerted by Scottish breeders of livestock. We see this clearly by tracing
briefly the history of the breeds of cattle and horses in England and
Scotland. At the middle of the eighteenth century there were no named breeds
of cattle or horses in Scotland—certainly none that had shown any desirable
characteristics. In pastoral England, on the other hand, many useful breeds
existed at that time. The original Shorthorns, sometimes called "Durhams"
and "Teeswaters", were an established and flourishing breed in the
north-east of England, and a Shorthorn Herd Book was established in
1822. In addition to Shorthorns, England had Herefords, Devons, Sussex, Red
Polls, and Longhorns, and a number of useful and ancient breeds of pigs and
sheep. The English also had several good breeds of horses, the most widely
distributed being the Shire and the Suffolk Punch.
That, briefly, was the position of the two countries with
regard to livestock development at the beginning of the nineteenth century;
but before it had run its course the agricultural world saw one of the most
amazing developments that it has ever witnessed—the building of breeds in
Scotland. We know of nothing quite like it in agricultural history. Purely
as an artistic achievement it places the animal breeders of Scotland in a
class by themselves. For this, briefly stated, is what happened. The
Scottish breeders, starting with the worst possible material, rebuilt and
improved the breeds to which they were attracted, made them beautiful to
look at, and then, having first established beauty, linked it skilfully with
utility. It was one of those queer accomplishments that reflect the genius
of Scotland at its very best.
Take the Clydesdale horse, for example. Here we have, by
common consent, the most beautiful heavy draft horse that has ever been
developed. The perfect Clydesdale is a model of symmetry—from his neat,
small-eared head to his flinty underpinning and silky feather. He has
spirit, and moves with the easy precision of a well-balanced machine. Search
the world over and no horse can be found to match the lordly Clydesdale.
How was this magnificent breed developed? From the clumsy
but staunch old English Shire. Both the grand-dams of the "Prince of
Wales"—the Clydesdale stallion that may be said to be the progenitor of the
Scottish breed—were Shires. Beginning there, the Scottish breeders, with
consummate art, bred for quality and beauty. They wanted something better
than the Shire—a horse that would combine beauty with stamina and weight.
The ideal was never lost sight of. For years no Clydesdale was considered
worthy of attention unless he had perfect underpinning and action. Weight,
at first, was sacrificed to establish the foundation. There were protests
from utilitarians. They cried out that the craze for quality and action was
ruining the Clydesdale breed.
Then another strange thing happened—when you consider
that the men involved in the process of building this breed were hard-headed
Scottish farmers. With the beauty and action and quality of their breed
fixed, the men behind it turned their attention to substance, and in a few
years—in very recent years, indeed—they increased the size of their
matchless horses, making them the most perfect draft horses to be found
anywhere in the world. The Clydesdale, to-day, is returning to England the
quality and beauty that the draft horses of that country lack.
With all her breeds of
livestock Scotland has pursued the same policy. Her breed of Ayrshires are
acknowledged to be the most perfect dairy cattle, from the standpoint of
beauty of conformation, that exist. The same thing may be said of her
Cheviot breed of sheep. And when we come to the breeds of beef cattle the
name of Scotland stands supreme.
For instance, take the
Shorthorn. Here was an old-established English breed, but it became
world-famous only after Scotsmen began to remodel it on their own lines of
beauty and utility. Back in 1846 John Wright, in an article in the
Transactions of the Royal Agricultural Society, tells us that Shorthorns
were beginning to spread into Scotland ; but at the Royal Show of that year,
held at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, there were no Scottish exhibitors of the breed.
[In that year, it is worth noting, the winners of the championships for
Cheviot sheep were Englishmen.] For seven years prior to that date the
famous English breeders, Bates and Booth, had things all their own way at
We do not hear of Scottish
Shorthorn breeders at the Royal Show until 1849, when Mr. W. Tod, of
Elphinstone Tower, won the bull championship with an animal bred by the Duke
of Buccleuch. It was a beginning, but no more prizes were taken by Scotsmen
until 1863, when Mr. M. S. Stewart, of Southwick, Kirkcudbrightshire,
captured the female championship. In the following year, however, a great
name appeared for the first time in the lists at the English Royal—that of
Mr. Amos Cruickshank, of Sittyton, Aberdeenshire. He won the bull
championship. Amos Cruickshank was the man who really created the modern
Shorthorn. This man remodelled the breed, making it beautiful, and in doing
so he made it a vastly better animal for the butcher. The blood of the
Sittyton Shorthorns became famous. It spread all over Scotland, and into
England, and at the Royal Shows of the late 'eighties and the 'nineties
Scottish-bred Shorthorns were capturing their full share of the prizes at
the great English show. Here is the record for these years :
Winner of Male Championship:
1888—Mr. A. M. Gordon,
1889—Lord Polworth, St. BoswelPs, N.B.
1890—Lord Lovat, Inverness, N.B.
1891—Lord Polworth, St. Boswell's, N.B.
1892—H. Williams, Yorks., Eng.
1893—Earl of Feversham, Eng.
1894—J. Deane Willis, Wilts., Eng.
1895—Lord Polworth, St. BoswelPs, N.B.
1896—Lord Polworth, St. BoswelPs, N.B.
1897—Mr. W. Heaton, Bolton, Eng.
1898—Mr. P. L. Mills, Notts., Eng.
[The champion bull was bred
by Mr. W. Duthie, of Collynie, Aberdeenshire, whose famous Shorthorns were
exported to every part of the world. Animals that show his breeding are to
be found in nearly every notable herd in England to-day.]
Winner of Female Championship:
1888—Mr. R. Thompson,
1889—Mr. R. Thompson, Inglewood, Eng.
1890—Mr. R. Thompson, Inglewood, Eng.
1891—Lord Polworth, St. BoswelPs, N.B.
1892—Lord Polworth, St. BoswelPs, N.B.
1893—Mr. R. Stratton, Newport, Eng.
1894—H.M. Queen Victoria.
1895—J. Deane Willis, Wilts., Eng.
1896—Messrs. Law, Forres, N.B.
1897—Capt. Duncombe, Hunts., Eng.
1898—Mr. C. W. Brierly, Brunfield, Eng.
Coming down to the present
day, we find that the Scottish breeders have quite outdistanced their old
competitors at the Royal. At the 1933 Show, held at Derby, both Shorthorn
championships were awarded to Mr. Albert James Marshall, of Stranraer,
Scotland, and out of one hundred prizes awarded in the Shorthorn classes,
only twenty-two were won by English exhibitors. The rest were won by
The Scottish breeders were
not content with remodelling the old-fashioned English Shorthorns to create
a breed unrivalled for beauty and utility. They built up two of their own
beef breeds, the Galloway and the Aberdeen-Angus, to a marvellous degree of
perfection—so much so that the battle of the beef-carcass championship at
England's great annual fat stock show at Smithfield, London, invariably
simmers down to a closely contested duel between representatives of these
two breeds. Since 1899 (which takes us back to the first year in which
official records are available) the supreme honour has been won eleven times
by a representative of the Aberdeen-Angus breed, and ten times by a
representative of the Galloway breed—twenty-one championships out of
thirty-six. For the past thirteen years, without a break, the beef-carcass
championship at Smithfield has gone to Scottish breeders. The Englishman is
beginning to know where his boasted roast beef comes from—Scotland.
Indeed, without in any way
disparaging the English farmer, it may be said that Scottish agriculture
to-day, in all its branches, is a model from which England is deriving
immense value. Speaking to his political supporters in Worcester on 23rd
June, 1934, Mr. Stanley Baldwin said he was proud to belong to the first
Government for three generations that had made the interests of agriculture
one of its principal occupations. Mr. Baldwin referred, undoubtedly, to the
vast agricultural marketing schemes which have been launched under the asgis
of his Government, and of which the mainspring is Mr. Walter Elliot, Great
Britain's Scottish Minister of Agriculture.
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