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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 back agriculture.

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 the Royal.

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, Newton, N.B.
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, Inglewood, Eng.
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 Scottish breeders.

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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