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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Robert Brown of Markle


IN the Edinburgh Evening Courant of 19th February 1831, the following notice of the death of Mr Robert Brown appeared:—

“We regret to announce the death of Mr Robert Brown, late farmer in Markle, and well known to the world as author of a Treatise on Rural Affairs. He died at Drylawhill, East Lothian, on the 14th inst., after a few hours' illness, at an advanced period of life. Mr Brown was born in the village of East Linton, and in youth was intended for a different profession, but the bent of his genius soon led him to agricultural pursuits, which he long followed with singular success. He was a contemporary and intimate acquaintance of the late George Rennie, Esq. of Phantassie, and to both individuals modern agriculture is greatly indebted. While Mr Brown followed close on Mr Rennie in the field, the energies of his mind were directed more particularly to the literary department of agriculture, and his Treatise on Rural Affairs contains imperishable evidence of the admirable system followed by the two friends, and of the vigour of the writer’s mind. Mr Rennie’s operations had to be viewed personally before they could be appreciated, and they in a great measure perished with himself. His sphere of usefulness was thus necessarily limited, although the great post-road to London, passing through Phantassie, afforded thousands an opportunity of being instructed. Mr Brown’s labours were widely disseminated through the instrumentality of the press, and generations yet unborn may, in the uttermost parts of the earth, derive instruction from his luminous pages. Thus Mr Rennie in the field and Mr Brown in the closet, by this division of labour (if we may so express ourselves), accomplished much for agriculture, and it is chiefly to their exertions that the husbandry of Scotland owes its fame and perfection. Mr Brown shone not merely as a writer or practical agriculturist, but as conductor of the Edinburgh Fanners' Magazine for fourteen or fifteen years. From the time of its commencement he discussed freely in its pages almost every subject of public interest, and was perhaps fonder of Scottish law and politics than even rural affairs. Mr Brown was endowed with a most retentive memory and a truly energetic mind, and up to the day of his death he felt a warm interest in the welfare of the public. Within these few days he wrote in the newspapers in favour of investing the tenantry with the elective franchise, and against the present law of hypothec.

“It has often been a matter of regret with some agriculturists of East Lothian that they do not possess prints of Mr Rennie and Mr Brown. It is perhaps impossible now to obtain such, but they might still testify their admiration and respect of these eminent individuals by erecting a pillar, with a suitable inscription, in the market-place of Haddington.”

Mr Brown was buried in the churchyard of Preston-kirk. A tombstone stands over his grave with the following inscription:—“To the memory of Robert Brown, Esq., late farmer at Markle. Distinguished by superior talents, which he diligently cultivated; possessed of extensive knowledge, which he brought to bear with happy effect on the various subjects of which he treated; he engaged chiefly in rural affairs, and rose to eminence not less by his numerous and useful writings on husbandry, than by his skill and success as a practical agriculturist. An affectionate husband, a kind father, an exemplary Christian, he was always forward to assist those less successful than himself. He died 14th February 1831, aged 74.” The above notice at the time of his death shows that Mr Brown was no ordinary man. The fine farm of Markle, which he long tenanted, under his energetic and judicious management became widely known as one of the best cultivated in East Lothian. His name stands in the front rank of British agriculturists. As before related, Mr Brown was associated, in 1793, with Mr Rennie of Phantassie, and Mr John Shirreff of Captainhead, in the Agricultural Survey of the West Riding of Yorkshire. The report of the survey was published in 1795, and a second and enlarged edition of it in 1799, by direction of the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement. The literary part of it devolved on Mr Brown, a task which he performed with great ability.

It is a large volume of over 400 pages, with an appendix, and is full of most important information on agricultural subjects. The Farmers' Magazine was started in January 1800, and was published quarterly by the great house of Archibald Constable & Co., of Edinburgh. It was called on its title-page, “A Periodical Work exclusively devoted to Agriculture and Rural Affairs,” with the motto :—

Ye generous Britons, venerate the plough,
And o’er your hills and long-withdrawing vales
Let autumn spread her treasures to the sun.

It soon had a large circulation, and existed until 1825, comprising twenty-six good-sized volumes. Mr Brown was appointed editor and conductor, which office he held for over fourteen years. In a long and able introduction, printed in the first number, Mr Brown traces agriculture from its earliest times. He announced the plan on which the magazine was intended to be carried on in the following straightforward and pithy paragraph: —“The present state of British agriculture, and the known eminence of many who practise it as a profession, is such as might justly draw upon the individuals who now address the public the imputation of arrogance were they to presume to improve the system by any superior knowledge or abilities of their own. They think it necessary in the outset to say that it is not upon their own knowledge and experience they rely for carrying on the work, but upon the communications of respectable and intelligent farmers who have made agriculture their particular study, and who, in place of amusing the public with opinions, are able to bring forward facts, which, under the sanction of experience, can be immediately adopted in practice.”

Mr Brown, as editor, could not put up with the theoretical doctrines and opinions of land-doctors and landlord’s agents, who have in East Lothian and other Scotch counties done much ill in their day to the interests of tenant-farmers. A great number of agriculturists from all parts were contributors to the magazine. Among his East Lothian friends were Mr Rennie of Phantassie, under the signature Arator;

Mr John Shirreff of Captainhead; Mr Robert Hope of Fenton; Baron Hepburn of Smeaton; Mr Robert Somerville, surgeon, Haddington; Mr Andrew Howden of Lawhead, &c. He wrote very many articles himself on interesting subjects, and largely reviewed treatises on agriculture, the com-laws, currency, poor-laws, political economy, &c. Most of his articles are signed “N.,” and latterly Verus.

In a short time the success of the Farmers' Magazine was so great, owing to his energetic and talented management, that the publishers presented him with a massive silver cup as a token of their esteem for him, with the following inscription:—“From the Proprietors of the Farmers' Magazine to Robert Brown, Esquire, 1802.

Weel speed the plough o’er Scotia's plains,
The source of plenty, health, and gains,
Lang smile in peace her cultured charms,
Her farmers, and her thriving farms.”

The cup is now in possession of his grandson, Robert Brown Ritchie, Esq.

It was not until the end of the last century that agriculture began fully to be viewed as a science, and the old “jog trot” way of farming, which had so long prevailed, gave way to a more improved system. Sir John Sinclair, Bart., of Ulbster, with a comprehensive mind, planned and perfected the Statistical Account of Scotland. The reports of the rural economy of the whole kingdom were at that time also completed. The establishment of the Highland Society of Scotland was mainly due to him, aided by other patriotic noblemen and gentlemen. The Farmers' Magazine was started under his auspices, and was very much encouraged and promoted by him. It proved very successful, and afforded an opportunity to agriculturists of stating their views and experiments in working the soil to the best advantage. As before noticed, Brown was editor and conductor of the Farmers' Magazine for a long period. We select some of his articles from which to take extracts—a comparative view of East Lothian husbandry at two periods, viz., in 1778 and 1810, from which it will be found that Mr Brown’s intelligence and knowledge of agricultural matters stand out very conspicuously. His remarks are extremely interesting. He says—“It is proposed in this paper to give a comparative view of the rural and political economy of East Lothian at two periods, viz., in 1778, when the author entered upon business, and 1810, the date of this article. In other words, it is proposed to describe the several branches of East Lothian husbandry at these two periods, and to point out the amendments or improvements which have taken place in the intervening years.

“At the union of the two kingdoms East Lothian was generally divided into small farms, few of them exceeding 150 acres in extent, and these, except on the coast side, were again subsided into two parts, namely, infield and outfield. To the portion called infield, the whole dung gathered upon the premises was constantly applied, while the outfield received no manure but what was dropped by the bestial thereupon depastured. According to this system a great part of every farm was scarcely worthy of cultivation. In some farms one half of the land might be regularly cultivated according to the fashion of the day, but in others not above one-third came under that description. The infield land was constantly kept in tillage, while the outfield was left to run wild. Horses, milch cows, and a few young cattle and sheep were depastured and herded during the day, and brought home at night, there being generally no fences. The animals had to be very industrious in seeking their food, from the scantiness and bad quality of the herbage.

“The merit of introducing summer fallow into East Lothian is due to John Walker, then tenant of Beanston, about the time of the Union. His neighbours ridiculed his idea, and thought he was not in his right mind, but his strong crops of fallow wheat soon made them follow his example. After summer fallow was introduced, a plough with four horses was incapable of executing one half of the work which can now be done in 1810 by two horses. When clover was introduced being sown after fallow, the supper of thistles, gathered out of the growing infield crop for the horses, was laid aside and clover substituted, a matter of much importance to the working stock. Before the introduction of fallow, three white crops were taken in succession. Broadcast peas was accounted a green crop, but drilled beans and turnips were almost unknown.”

Mr Brown noticed Lord Belhaven’s treatise on agriculture, written soon after the Union, which did much good at the time. He urged in favour of “fauch,” or fallow, which he had seen practised in England, and gives long directions for working it according to the English system. Mr Brown condemns his system as unworthy of consideration by the most imperfected husbandman. Lord Belhaven, speaking of East Lothian, says—“The soil of East Lothian, generally taken, is accounted the best of any county or shire in Scotland; and although it pays too dear a rent, yet it is as capable to be improved beyond what it is at present, as any in Scotland. The poor farmers, that they may pay their dear rent, who are ordinarily industrious enough, work hard, but without any method or project, whereby both they and their grounds suffer, and so consequently the landlord.” Mr Brown, in the first chapter of his paper, explains leases, &c., rotation of crops, management of grass land, rent, &c., implements, and farm buildings, most of which items were republished in his work on Rural Affairs in 1811.

In 1778, the first year of the “Comparative Views" he says a considerable part of the land was held under old leases. Some paid rent in grain, others partly in grain and money; some wholly in money, with the additional thirlage to mills, and a certain number of kane fowls and carriages. Grain rents were paid in bulk ; hence landlords, such as Mr Nisbet of Dirleton and others, had always a large quantity of grain laid up in their granaries or granges. Covenants as to cropping were generally loosely worded, and in indefinite terms, and at the end of a lease disputes often arose between landlord and tenant. At this time, Mr Brown says, “proprietors entertained a deep-rooted antipathy against the culture of wheat. If the tenant sowed a few bolls more than usual, no matter how highly the land was prepared, he was sure of being introduced to the Judge Ordinary, who seldom in such cases "displayed much mercy to the tenant.”

A well-known case of this kind is given at length, and reported by Mr Brown in the Farmers' Magazine, vol. vii. p. 471 (1806)—The Earl of Wemyss against Mr Peter Forrest, his tenant in the farm of Northrigg, for sowing too much wheat in the autumn of 1805; as noticed in page 310. Mr Forrest gained the case before the Sheriff of Haddington, but being carried by Lord Wemyss to the Court of Session, it was decerned against him with damages and expenses. Such arbitrary proceedings by landlords at the present time would appear very strange.

“About this time,” Mr Brown continues, “on account of the frequent and troublesome disputes which arose between waygoing tenants and proprietors at the end of a lease, and which were brought into the Sheriff Court, a most judicious regulation respecting dung made from the straw of the penult crop was framed by William Law of Elvingston, Sheriff-Depute of the county, whereby a material deficiency in most of leases was corrected in a way that gained general approbation.

Mr Law, besides being a sound lawyer, was also a good practical farmer; hence, after his coming to the Bench, he soon discerned that the ancient customs respecting dung at the conclusion of a lease were altogether inapplicable to modern husbandry. By the old law or practice of Scotland, all dung made from the penult crop, before the end of the bear seed, belonged to the outgoing tenant, who might apply it to the current crop if he chose. Mr Law discerned that a Continuance of these practices would be highly pernicious to modern husbandry, and that there was no way of remedying the evil but by paying the outgoing tenant for the whole dung manufactured from the penult crops. Hence the regulation already noticed was framed—a regulation satisfactory to both parties.”

As to the size of farms in East Lothian in 1778, Mr Brown remarks that there were only ten in the district consisting of more than three hundred acres. The usual size might be two hundred acres or thereby, and these were laboured by two or three ploughs, according to the nature of the soil. Four horses were generally yoked in each plough. Before 1810 the average size of farms was considerably increased. He estimates the number of farmers in the district as one-fourth less than in 1778, and argues that such is a sign of the flourishing condition of the farmers in the district, under an improved system of agriculture. Farms are therefore increasing in extent Many of them now exceed five hundred acres in size, and are worked by eight or ten ploughs. Upon such farms improved husbandry in all its branches can be successfully exercised—a circumstance which rarely occurs when farms are of small size, however well they may be cultivated. | Mr Brown continues his article on the “Comparative View of East Lothian Husbandry” in discussing- the I political economy of the district as it affects tenants.

He takes up the rent of land, and says that in 1778 I there was not much rented under thirty shillings per Scotch acre, and little even so high, as that sum had only been given, a few years before, for some farms of rich land on the coast side, chiefly belonging to Mr Nisbet of Dirleton. It is probable that three-fourths of the district, we mean the arable part of it, was not rented higher than fifteen shillings per acre, and that twenty shillings per acre had long been reckoned a fair rent for arable farms that were not possessed of some particular and local advantages. It was a saying of the late Mr Anderson of Castleton, a distinguished farmer of the old school, that no land should pay twenty shillings per acre unless it was capable of carrying good wheat after summer without manure. The first rise of any magnitude took place at the setting of Mr Nisbet’s estate in 1771, though, from after circumstances, that rise turned out less than was at first anticipated. The rents were formerly payable in grain, and calculating the value of that grain, according to the fiars of the preceding twenty-one years, a considerable rise of rent appeared, though, as the value of grain gradually advanced afterwards, the rise was more nominal than real.

Mr Brown states the fact, that from 1778 to 1810, rents had been tripled in consequence of the numerous improvements in rural art within that period, whereby the same farm is now capable of furnishing a far greater quantity of disposable produce than in former times. The first serious rise of land rent occurred in 1798, when wheat rose to a very high price, and the rise was gradually advanced until 1801, when peace was concluded with France, after which it remained stationary until the new corn law was passed. That law occasioned prices to advance, because it was admitted that Great Britain did not produce a sufficient quantity of grain to support its inhabitants, and importation could never take place until the average of prices exceeded the rate fixed by that law. Land was then taken far above the rents which any fair calculation from the Corn Laws would warrant. The consequence was that many farmers could not meet their engagements, and much agricultural depression ensued.

Mr Brown takes notice of the public burdens affecting tenants in 1778. They were inconsiderable, being statute labour on the parish roads, the old window tax, one half of the poor-rates, which were hardly known at that time, when the old Scotch independent spirit prompted poor folks in general to disdain parish aid. Very different, however, Mr Brown adds, is the situation of the tenantry in 1810—the extent of direct public burdens being nearly ten per cent., or two shillings in the pound, upon the rent they have agreed to pay to their landlords. Taking the whole taxes together, it may be affirmed that the tenants pay twenty per cent, more direct taxes than they did in 1778. Query, what will be the amount of taxes and assessments paid by tenants of the present time—1882?

The state of the roads was considered by Mr Brown. Before 1751, the whole roads of the district were supported and repaired under the provision of the General Statute Labour Act of Scotland, whereby every tenant was bound to work six days with his horses and carts, and every householder to perform six days* service towards the repair of the public roads. As this old Act was not found to work well, a new Act of Parliament was passed in 1751 for erecting turnpikes and levying tolls on the great post-road running through the district, which led from Ravensheugh Burn on the west to Dun-glass Dean on the east. Another amended Act for the county was, however, passed in 1769. In 1778 the roads were gradually getting into better condition, and in 1810 the great public roads may be viewed as being in fair condition. The parish ones were, however, in a very unsatisfactory state.

In 1778 the wages of a hind or married farm-servant consisted of thirteen bolls of oats, maintenance of a cow through the season, and so much ground free of rent as could be sown with a peck of lint seed. The cows were kept on the outfield land of the farm, and the quantity of butter produced could not be great. Gleaning, or gathering, was permitted, which produced three to four bolls of grain if the gatherers were “eident.” Land for potatoes, without dung, was given first in 1780, and afterwards increased to about one-tenth of a Scotch acre* with full dung allowed. A rise in the hinds’ gains took place in 1792, when twelve bolls of oats (or seventy-two bushels), eighteen bushels of barley, eight bushels of peas, all of the best quality that the farm produced, were given.

The fiars prices of farm produce in 1778 were—Wheat, 18s. per boll of four bushels; barley, 14s. per boll of six bushels; oats, 11s. 6d. per boll of six bushels; peas, 9s. per boll of four bushels. In 1810—Wheat, 47s. 6d. per boll of four bushels; barley, 31s. 5d. per boll of six bushels; oats, 24s. 11d. per boll of six bushels; peas, 26s. 11d. per boll of four bushels.

Mr Brown proceeds, in the latter part of his article, to treat of farm implements, drainage, enclosures, application of lime manure, and farm-buildings. In 1778 the old Scotch plough, drawn by three or four horses, was in use in East Lothian. James Small, an ingenious mechanic, who lived at Rosebank, in Mid-Lothian, was the first improver of the plough. His make came to be universally used in 1781 to 1782. When first introduced the mould-board was made of wood, covered with sheet-iron. In a few years wooden heads and mould-boards were laid aside and cast-metal ones substituted, to the great benefit of the husbandman. Carts were made of a small size, with wooden axles. Horse harness was of ten times more value in 1810 than it was in 1778. Some few farmers had a roller of stone in 1778, and as little land was rolled then, one used to serve the whole parish by lending and borrowing. It used to be called the “Parish Roller.” Turnip barrows were also in few hands. In 1778 there were perhaps not twenty drilling-machines of all kinds in the county.

Drainage was very imperfectly understood, and no encouragement was given to tenants by landlords. Mr Brown urges the great importance of draining, and says “no person is more deserving of reward or approbation than the man who drains the greatest quantity of wet ground, and no improvement whatever will reimburse the expense of it so speedily.” Drains in these times were generally filled with stones or thorns, and deep gaw furrs and high gathered rigs were in universal use. It was reserved for energetic agriculturists at a much later period to introduce a more perfect system of drainage by tiles and pipes. In 1778 not one half of the district was enclosed, and even where enclosures had been made, they were rarely kept in good condition. In 1810 the old fashion of allowing hedges to grow until they were fit for yielding a crop, to be used either as firewood or as a dead hedge, became almost obsolete.

The farm-buildings of this district long ago were generally scrimply decent. They were formed mostly into a square, the farmer’s house being on the south or north side, the bams on the west side, the stables and byres on the east side, and frequently the cottages of the farm-servants, which were small and mean, were included in the square, a practice by no means either safe or convenient. In 1778 the whole of the farm-offices and cottages were covered with thatch, and in some instances with turf or divots. Betwixt 1778 and 1810 fully one half of the farm-houses were rebuilt, and Mr Brown remarks that the great body of the proprietors, not very wisely, throw the whole burden of carriages upon the farmer, which may amount in ordinary cases to fourpence out of every shilling which is expended.

Some proprietors, however, act differently, and though as eager to get as good rents as their neighbours, prudently allow the farmer to pay his whole attention to the culture of his land, without subjecting him to any part of the expense of new buildings, whether in money or carriages.

In his concluding remarks Mr Brown says—“We have thus examined the husbandry of East Lothian at two periods—1778 and 1810—and the result is that very many considerable improvements have taken place in the intervening years. Farms have increased in size, and more eligible and judicious rotations of crops are followed than in former times. Harvesting of corn is more judiciously executed. The husbandry of beans and turnips is now extensively attended to in every part of the district Management of grass land is better understood, and in consequence more sheep and cattle are kept and fed. It also appears that the value of land, rents, public burdens, and farm labour have prodigiously increased, caused by an increased quantity of produce arising from superior cultivation.

If Mr Brown had before his death in 1831, written a comparative view of the agriculture of East Lothian since 1810, he would no doubt have left a very interesting account of the progress of the science between the periods and noted many changes that had taken place. Mr Robert Scott Skirving lately wrote some able and interesting articles which appeared in the Haddington Courier; they may be said to be a continuation of Mr Brown’s Comparative View. From the commencement of the Farmers Magazine in 1800 up to 1811, when he ceased to be editor, Mr Brown contributed over one hundred articles to its columns on all classes of subjects connected with agriculture, such as the com-laws, rural economy, currency, poor-laws, game-laws, &c. His Treatise on Agriculture and Rural Affairs was published in two volumes in 1811, and inscribed to Sir John Sinclair, Bart., of Ulbster, President of the Board of Agriculture. A great part of the treatise was first published in separate articles in the Farmers' Magazine from time to time, and subsequently in the Edinburgh Encyclopcedia. The publication, enlarged, improved, and re-written by Mr Brown, met with a very favourable reception, being esteemed as the best treatise on agriculture which had appeared. It is to the present day recognised as the standard work on the subject.

Mr Brown was a man of advanced liberal opinions. He long advocated the extension of the elective franchise, but did not live to see the Reform Bill carried. He wrote many letters in the journals of the day against the law of Hypothec. He exposed the loss tenants sustained in their crops by the ravages of game, and the iniquitous preservation of it by proprietors. It was a favourite idea of Mr Brown’s that an agricultural museum in the county town of East Lothian should be established, where collections of seeds, models of farm implements, an agricultural library, specimens of minerals, wood, stone, &c., could be made, such as are to be found in other provincial towns in agricultural districts in Scotland. Such an idea was once mooted in the Town Council of Haddington, after the present Corn Exchange was built—at the back of which an eligible space of ground can be found, at present occupied as a garden—but though the idea was favourably entertained at the time, nothing came out of it Busts and portraits of Mr Rennie, Mr Brown, and other distinguished East Lothian farmers, which still can be procured, would have been fitting subjects to have adorned its walls. Mr Brown’s talents as a distinguished writer, and as the first agriculturist of his day, and reformer of the science,, will be long kept in remembrance, and the county of East Lothian may justly be proud of him.

James Miller, the poet and historian, in some verses he published in 1837, thus truly eulogises the efforts of the first improvers of East Lothian husbandry.

Among the first who led our patriot band To spread their rural studies o’er the land,

Was learned Hepburn, with law honours crowned, Colleague of Sinclair!—These associates found Leisure to form the plan, extend the code,

That led the farmer on Improvement’s road.
From dull obscurity’s ungenial shade,
Fletcher brought Meikle’s art their skill to aid;
While labour stretched his arms with cheerful smile
And blest the man that lightened all his toil.
Then Brown uprose, his pen with ardour glowed,
And taught what Rennie, in his practice showed;
While Brodie skilful—Howden, zealous now,
Bid us exulting cry, “God speed the Plough.”

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