As we are largely an agricultural community, I
propose giving a short sketch of that important branch of industry
from an early period, before dealing with its special development in
our parish. So universal has the knowledge of agriculture become in
our day, and so important are its bearings in every relation of
life, that it is difficult to think that there ever could be a
period in the history of our country when agriculture was unknown.
Nevertheless, such seems to have been the case, for the earliest
recorded observations inform us that, at the time the Romans came to
Scotland, agriculture had not begun; that tillage of the soil was
unknown; that the natives, who were a fierce and rude people, lived
upon roots, and the milk of their cattle, on fish, and the flesh of
such animals as they killed in the chase. This was the
state of the people in the first and second and third
centuries, and had been so from an unknown antiquity. The Romans, no doubt, during
the four hundred years they occupied this country, carried on a
process of agriculture; and the early Scots, who came from Ireland
in the third century to Kintyre, would also bring with them a
crude knowledge of agriculture from their early home; but its development must have been
slow and tedious amongst a semi-civilized people with such implements
as were at their disposal.
In the fifth century, however, a second batch of
Scots crossed to Kintyre, and established themselves there in the
Dalriadic sub-kingdom ; and, following in their wake, and bearing
with him the torch of Christian knowledge, came St. Columba, who
finally founded his house in the island of Iona. By this time
agriculture was evidently beginning to take shape, for we find him
blessing the harvest of barley, and giving directions as to the
ploughing and sowing, and grinding of corn; and it is interesting
to note that at this early time the tribesmen seem to have been in
possession of all the principal cereals, as corn and barley, etc.
The early tribes having discovered the advantages of cultivating the
soil, next began to form their several homesteads into social units or
townships for protection, and began the distribution of the land.
The arable land was given at first to the freemen of the tribe,
whilst pasture land was held in common by bond and free. At a later
period, what were designated inheritance lands were held by the
headsmen of the tribes as individual property, and the tribesmen
cultivated this property either by bondsmen (probably prisoners
taken in war), or by free tenants, on various tenures, one of which
was steelbow, a mode of tenure which has come down the ages to our
own day in some parts of Scotland —an arrangement by which the
tenant is supplied by the superior with the means of stocking and labouring the farm, and is bound to return produce equal in value at
the expiration of the tack. The primitive farm-steading consisted of
dwelling-house, ox-stall, hog-stye, sheep-den, and calf-house, and
the whole was surrounded by an earthen wall or rampart. Each clan or
tribe gave a portion of its territory for the support of the
headsmen and officers, and, after the introduction of Christianity,
a portion for the support of the priest.
In the ninth and tenth centuries, rents were paid by
“kain” or kind. This was necessary where payment had to be made,
as there was no money coined in Scotland until the reign of David I.; grain was given from arable lands, and stock from pasture lands,
and poultry and eggs. This method of paying rent has come down to
within quite recent times. In the event of disagreement occurring in
any matter, it was referred to the birleyman, an umpire chosen by
the people themselves, whose decision had all the force of law, as
the tribes-men always supported it and saw it carried out.
In the twelfth century, the tribal system of
agriculture passed away, and the feudal system was established
throughout Scotland ; and now a new class of agriculturist come into
prominence, viz., the monks, who were principally concerned in land
operations, as they held considerable possessions. Each district had
a Grange, and we learn that the Grange was the Abbey homestead.
These references are interesting, because, amongst other things,
they explain the original use of many farm and place-names that
still remain amongst us. The homestead farm had a byre, etc.,
besides a house for the carles or nativi—who did the land labour—
names which strongly suggest that the nativi or carles were the
original natives of the land now reduced to serfs by their
conquerors, as we are told they belonged to the land and went with
it. There were also the Mains and the Granary—names which again
throw light upon the origin of many farm names in our parish and
county—and outside the grange property were the “cotters,” occupying a township
with from one to nine acres of land each, for which they paid rent
in service. Then came the malars, occupying a “mailen,” these were
farmers renting a husband-land. The husbandland consisted generally
of two “oxgates” of land, each thirteen acres, “where plough and
scythe could gang,” and four husbandmen occupied together a ploughgate of land, which was equal to 104 acres, and they had a
plough in common, to which each contributed two oxen; they were
bound to good fellowship by rules, which, if broken, were enforced
by the birleyman. By an Act of the Scottish Parliament, where any
one owned more than four cows, he was forced to rent land and plough
it with the cattle, under penalties; and so hurtful to the crops had
the gule ”—the corn marigold (Chrysanthemum segetum) — become, that
it was enacted he should be punished as a traitor would be who grew
it, which meant that he might be executed for it. If it grew owing
to the carelessness of a bondsman, the farmer was to be held responsible, and fined in a shilling for every plant,
and was compelled to clean the land besides.
Leases began to be given in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, to tenants, and it was a condition of lease to
plant trees near the steading, and hedges round the fields, and with
moorland farmers, that they were bound to keep dogs to hunt the
wolves. Throughout these periods, an essential part of all tenants’
contracts, except on lands belonging to the Church, was the
obligation of being ready and equipped for service in the field on
military expeditions, whenever called upon by the headsmen, laird,
or baron, and to give a certain number of days’ labour on the
laird’s land each year.
Where rents were paid in kind, it was necessary there
should be some standard of value for calculating the amounts, and,
accordingly, for the neighbourhood of Paisley, the monks of the
Abbey had a table drawn up for this purpose, in which “each capon
is valued at 8d.; each poultry at 4d.; ilk chicken at 2d.; a laid
of coals, 4d.; the day’s pleuch, 2sh.; the day’s sherin, 3d.;”
and we have a glimpse of prices in the thirteenth century, in the
“A bolle o’ aits, pennies foure
Of Scottis mone past
A bolle o’ bere for aucht or ten
In common pryse
sauld was then,
For sextene a bolle o’ qulietes.”
These prices are all of Scots money, which is
one-twelfth of sterling money. That is, a shilling Scots is one
penny sterling; a pound Scots is one shilling and eightpence
sterling. And, further, that the lieges might be protected from
imposition in regard to charges for the ordinary necessaries of
life, Royal proclamation was made in each assize town, by authority
of the Court of Justice, as to the prices of commodities. In
Pitcairn’s Criminal Trials, we have an example of such a
“All maner of victuallis, sic as flesche, fische,
meitt, fowale, and uther necessaris, be brocht to the mercat and
sauld for reddie money, for the prices following.
That is to say—
"The laif of guid
sufficient quheit bread for sustentation of the Quenes Majesteis
Houshald and remanet Nobill men, of xxii unces wecht, 4d.
The pynt of Burdeous vyne, 12d.
The pynt of fine Scherand or Amzerk vyne, 10d.
The quairt of guid Aill, to be sauld for 8d.
The best mutton bowik (carcase), for 6sh.
And uther nocht sa guid, to be sauld under that pryce as it is of
The pryce of ane guiss, 18d.
The muirfoull, 4d.
The capon to be sauld for 12d.
The peiss of poultrie, 6d.
Gryt chikkinnis, 4d.
The gryse (pig), 12d.
Four eggis, for 1d.
The kid, for 2sh. 4d.
The leid of puttis, 4d.
And that thair be guid cheir throw all the toune for Gentillmen and
thair servandis, for 12d. at the mel-teithe (mealtime), 12d.
The furneist bed, on the nycht and that to freithe the chalmer, 4d.
The stabill fie for ane horse, xxiiii houris, 1d.
Under the pane of confiscatioune of all the guidis of
the brekeris thairof.”
In the beginning of the seventeenth century, leases
were usually for five and six years, and the several distinct
classes of rural occupiers were—
Tacksmen, or tenants with leases.
Bowers, who farmed milk “kye” and grass.
Steel-Bowers, who received stock and cattle along
with their farm, as already explained.
Pendiclers, persons having a small quantity of land
from the chief tenant or tacksman.
Cotters, who had a house and portion of land, and who
worked for the farmer, but had no cattle, and got their tillage work
done by the tenant.
Crofters, these differed from the cotters in as far
as their arable land was not subject to the tenant’s pleasure, and
they had their cattle herded and pastured with the tacksman’s.
Lastly, there was the “ Dryhouse Cotter,” who had
nothing but a hut and a kailyard.
The Barony of Corshill, in the adjoining parish of
Stewarton, exercised in its Court some peculiar powers in
agricultural matters, and others. The tenants and feuars in the
parish having been summoned, the Baron presided, the Bailie, the
Baron Officer, and the Dempster— who pronounced the doom of the
Court—and the Birleyman to keep good order, were appointed, and then
the Court proceeded to consider complaints.
The proceedings of the Court cover a period from 1590
to 1719. Tenants not attending the summons of the Court were fined.
Complaints of many kinds were considered—for example, farmers taking
their grain past the mill to which they were thirled, had to pay the
multures to the miller, with expenses. Sub-tenants refusing to pay
the “grass maill ” were, by the Court, ordained to pay; and petty
squabbles, such as stealing fruit, steeping lint in running water,
shooting hares, or wild fowl, or burning moss out of season, were
all amenable to this Court.
Such is a view of some of the conditions through
which agricultural customs have passed in Scotland from a very early
period till the eighteenth century, and although the general
tendency has been towards advancement, the progress has been slow,
as agricultural methods are amongst the last things to undergo
change in any country.
But as civilization is not always the same quantity,
even in the same country, so some districts have advanced with
greater strides towards improvement than others, and our county has,
through a long series of years, always occupied a forward
position in agricultural matters in all its varied branches. Many
things contributed towards the retardation of this branch of
industry. For one thing, want of a proper system of drainage kept
the land in a sour, bad condition ; then the pernicious practice of
succession cropping—taking successive crops of the same grain from
the same land; for example, three crops of oats, in three following
years, thereby necessitating a long rest of probably six years in
grass, to allow the soil to recuperate, constituted a great
hindrance to progress; another drawback was the wretched state of
the roads leading to many of the farms, for, except in the drought
of summer, or the frost of winter, the roads before the conversion
of Statute Labour in 1836, were scarcely passable, and it would not
be easy to over estimate the benefit agriculture has derived from
good roads; whilst clumsy implements made it impossible to
About the middle of the eighteenth century, it was no
uncommon thing to see four horses in a plough, and three individuals
attending it, a boy who acted as “gaudsman” (driver), the
ploughman, and a gundy-man, who, with a long pole fastened to the
beam of the plough, helped to guide it, by pushing it off or pulling
it to him as required, and seeing that the furrows were turned over,
for they were sometimes from twelve to fourteen inches wide, and the
plough, save “the metals,” was made of wood, of strong, clumsy
construction. Now two horses do the same work equally well, without
either gaudsman or gundyman; no doubt this is contributed to in the
present day by the land being more friable for one thing from
improved drainage, and the great improvement in the breed of horses
for another. It is to this form of plough-yoke that our national
bard refers in his “Salutation to the Auld Mare Maggie when
speaking of her offspring, he says—
"My pleugh is now thy bairn-time a’,
Four gallant brutes, as e’er did draw.”
And, again, in the “Inventory,” when describing the
four brutes o’ gallant mettle he was possessed of, when he says—
“My Lan’ afore’s a glide auld has-been,
An wight an wilfu’ a’ his days been.
(This was the fore-horse on the left hand in the
My Lnn’ ahin’s a w eel gaun fillie,
That aft lias borne me hanie frae Killie.
(The hindmost horse on the left hand in the plough)
My Furr ahin’s a wordy beast
As e’er in tug or tow
(The hindmost on the right hand in the plough)
The fourth’s a Highland Donald hastie.”
So that the custom of having four horses in the
plough must have been quite common in Burns’s time.
The wages of farm labourers about the end of the
eighteenth century were—for men servants, £10 yearly and board;
women servants, £3 10s. yearly and board; and common labourers, 1s.
6d. per day. By this time also the system of succession cropping was
mostly, if not entirely abandoned, and that of rotation cropping
generally in use. This method was found to be advantageous in two
ways—it produced more satisfactory results to the farmer, and the
ground was kept in better heart by the manure used.
But with the advent of the nineteenth century,
agricultural methods began to assume a different aspect, especially
was this the case towards the middle of it; and concurrently with
the improvements in the farmer’s implements and methods, the
dwelling-houses and offices began to receive attention. One-storeyed
houses gave place in a great many instances to houses of two
storeys, with corresponding comfort to the farmer’s family; and the
extension of modern conveniences generally greatly increased the
facilities for carrying on the work. So much has this been the case
in our own agricultural community, that it may now be said there is
not a farm steading in the parish that has not undergone almost
entire renewal, or received great enlargement in some respect, as
regards either milk-house, byre, hay-shed, stable, or barn, and also
a pure and abundant water supply, so that not only is there
increased domestic comfort for the farmer’s family, but the cattle
upon which so much depends, have now more comfortable and sanitary
surroundings, which should aid in warding off disease. The land has
been better drained, and fences have been made more efficient.
Sixty years ago, as now, sowing was begun generally
by the end of March, but reaping, especially of oats and food-stuff,
was a much slower process than it is now. Human food crops were then
cut entirely by the hand sickle. To have cut them otherwise, as with
the scythe, seemed to evince such a want of a proper sense of
thankfulness for the gift of human food, as to amount almost to
impiety; although the scythe was regularly used for the hay crop,
and the harvesters who
came annually from Ireland “scutched” the corn crop
with the hook. The writer can remember the first farmer in the
parish to cut his corn crop with the scythe. His proceedings were at
first looked upon with surprise, if not with something more, by his
neighbours, but the advantage of it was soon apparent, and ere long
the practice became general. The reaping machine, which was invented
in 1827 by the Rev. Patrick Bell, LL.D., minister of Carmyllie, in
Forfarshire, since so greatly improved, and the many other modern
implements of agriculture, and the great advantages they have
brought within the range of the present-day farmer’s work, were then
practically things of the future. Sanitation as now carried out was
to a large extent unknown, and certainly quite beyond the ken of the
ordinary farmer ; nor was it then of such transcendent importance,
as his connection with the outside public was chiefly confined to
cereal cropping, oats, barley, flax, etc. But the broad hold the
farmer has now taken of the general community, and especially upon
every large centre of population within a radius of many miles of
his steading, through the enormous development of dairy produce,
especially the new milk trade, has put him on an entirely new
footing. He has now become such an important factor for good or
mischief, according to the care manifested in his productions, in
regard to cleanliness and wholesome surroundings, as to make it
matter of absolute necessity that the most scrupulous watchfulness
and sanitary care should be bestowed upon his daily productions.
Another important factor, and one which has been
largely exercised by the farmers of our parish, is the application
of agricultural chemistry to the various crops grown. In point of
fact, agriculture, to be profitably and successfully carried out in
the present day, and I daresay this is the experience of every
intelligent farmer, is the outcome of sound judgment, a good stock,
and practical skill, aided by the discriminating use of chemical
manures to ordinary manuring, and the latest mechanical implements.
Leases used generally to run for a term of nineteen years, but of
late many farmers have been less anxious than formerly for long
leases. Another change has been gradually coming over farming
operations in our parish, of late years, largely due no doubt to
the great extension of dairy produce ; cereals, as oats, etc., have
received less attention than formerly, and have been replaced by
more grazing and hay crops, which the farmer no doubt finds to his
advantage, as he can probably supply himself more profitably with
grain for feeding from the foreign market, whilst dairy stock and
Clydesdale horses are now double the price they were seventy years
Present-day Wages of Country Servants.
Man servant (ploughman), £14 to £16 and £18
half-yearly, with board: woman servant (dairymaid), £12 to £14 and
£15 half-yearly, with board; second girl (if she can milk), £11
half-yearly, with board; drainer, from 4s. to 5s. per day ; common labourer, 18s. per week. This shows an enormous advance over any
previous record of farm workers in the parish, but it is only in
accordance with the general advance in wages of all kinds of
Current Prices of Produce.
Butter, on an average over the year,
1s. 1d. per lb.
Oats, 18s. per boll (Renfrewshire boll, 240 lbs., 6
Oats grown in the upper part of the parish, about
15s. per boll of 240 lbs.
Barley, 28s. per quarter (very little grown in this
Wheat, 35s. per qr. of 8 bushels (very little grown
in this parish).
Rye Grass Seed, 8s. Gd. per cwt. (not much grown).
Probable Rental of Land in the Parish.
In the lower district of the parish, where the land
is all well suited for cropping, on an average about £2 5s. per
In the upper district, where the soil is more
moorland, and better adapted for grazing purposes, £l 5s. to £1 10s.
Increase in Valuation.
In the valuation of Renfrewshire for 1907, there was
£1,248 6s. 2d. of an increase in the valuation of Neilston parish,
compared with that of the previous year.
In dealing with the agricultural interests generally
of our own parish, it is to be observed that the cultivation of the
land is carried on’ by a very intelligent and industrious class of
farmers. In the eastern or lower division of the parish, where the
land is of the best description, cropping of every kind is most
successfully carried on, and the corn crops are generally amongst
the earliest in the market in the season, and excellent in quality.
In the middle division of the parish, where the ground is more of a
mixed character, dairy produce is that to which the agriculturist
devotes his attention; whilst in the higher or upland district,
where the grassy slopes and rough moorland are better suited for pastoral pursuits, though the dairy is not neglected,
grazing sheep and rearing lambs and young cattle and horses, receive
the farmer’s utmost attention. Each in his own sphere brings to bear
upon the productions of his particular branch of the business, the
most recent improvements and advances that have been made in
machinery, and the application of agricultural chemical knowledge ;
whilst the landlords seem to possess a generous and enlightened
desire of seeing their tenants fairly dealt by, and not rack-rented,
the result being that the tenants as a class have a prosperous
appearance. But the labours of the dairy-farm are of the most trying
nature. In order that the morning’s milk may be in the city for the
breakfast hour, it is necessary that the milk-cart leave the farm
between the hours of three and four o’clock in the morning, and
nearer three than four, in the upper and western parts of the
parish. To admit of this being accomplished, the farmer’s household
must be up by two o’clock, sometimes earlier, in the morning, in
order that the cattle may be fed and milked, and the cans filled and
put on the cart ready for the driver, and as this has to go on
morning after morning, Sunday and Saturday, all the year round, the
exacting character of the labour to the men and women alike, is
obvious, and the consumer in the city, in the large majority of
instances, has little idea of the labour his morning’s milk has
entailed before reaching his breakfast table. In the summer mornings
this is not so laborious, for then the cattle are in the fields all
night, and only require to be driven into the byre and foddered
before milking ; and then the cheery milk-boy drives his team
citywards with song and whistle as the rising sun meets him with its
early rays; but the per contra is the case in winter, when in the
dark, stormy, sunless mornings, pinched with frost or pelted and
battered with rain, he has to plod his way along the roads—a task
frequently the duty of the farmer’s son.
For a considerable number of years past an influence
has been at work in our parish, in common with most parishes in the
neighbourhood of large towns, the tendency of which has been to
induce the best and most thrifty class of farm labourers, both men
and women, to leave the rural occupations of the country and crowd
into the city, in quest of better wages and more leisure ; though,
unhappily, not always with the best moral results. This great evil
has, no doubt, been the outcome of much ungenerous treatment in
bygone times, and now its effects upon all classes of farmers is of
a serious character; but especially is this so upon dairy farmers
who require female labour. Formerly a highly moral, robust, and
reliable peasantry grew up in every farming district of Scotland, from amongst whom men for ploughing and
women for dairy-work were obtained, who could be trusted by the
farmer with as much confidence as could the members of his own
“Buirdlv chiels and clever hizzies.”
But now that this healthy source of labour has been
removed, or greatly curtailed, a class of workers, drawn from
entirely different environments and surroundings, has taken their
place, with results, in many instances, disastrous alike to both the
work and the household. This is, no doubt, a serious grievance, and
anything of the nature of a remedy is worthy of most earnest
consideration. This grievance, as has already been said, is not
confined to our parish alone, it more or less affects agricultural
interests everywhere ; and to counteract it, an endeavour should be
made by presenting inducements of a kind that would appeal to the
farm labourer’s sense of comfort and advantage, without which, the
appeal would be in vain. At a meeting of the farmers of the parish,
held under the regis of the Renfrewshire Agricultural Society, in
the Glen Hall, some time ago, to consider the question of servants,
amongst other things, speaker after speaker deplored the
difficulties that beset the servant question, but without arriving
at any practical solution of the matter. But to this end, every farm
of any size should have a cotter’s house attached to it, with a
piece of land, where a married ploughman could live in comfort and
bring up a family. The members of such a family would, from their
earliest years, be familiar with all the operations of the farm, and
would form a nucleus from which, as they grew up, dairymaids and
farm-workers of every description could be drawn, and who might be
expected to have some moral stamina in them—when the picture of the
national bard might again be realized in the cotter’s home—
“When the elder bairns come drappin in,|
At service out amang the farmers roun;
Some ca’ the pleugh, some herd, some tentie rin
cannie errand to a neebor town.”
That our parish at an early period had a crofting
population is borne ample testimony to by the evidence discernible
in the ruins of their homesteads in the neighbourhood, whilst the
land belonging to them has been absorbed in the adjoining farms. The
names of the places are, and they by no means exhaust the list:—The
Mains, Mossneuk, Rhodenhead, Sclates, Broomdyke, Dunsmuir, Craigha’,
Mid-Upla, Howcraigs, West Head of Syde, Windyha’, Tinnoch, and
Connected with the agricultural interest of the
parish there are two societies—Neilston Agricultural Society and
Barrhead Agricultural Society. Both are in a flourishing condition,
and hold annual exhibitions of every description of farming stock,
in the month of May.
Amid the many changes that have taken place within
the last sixty years, few things have undergone greater change than
the internal economy of village life everywhere. Railway extension,
by bringing rural populations more into contact with city life, has
led to greater interchange of opinions, and new aspects of affairs
have broadened out ideas in such a manner as to influence every
relation of life; whilst the narrower and more contracted thoughts
incident to isolation have given place to more enlarged views and
almost cosmopolitan information, through the agency of a cheap daily
press, with the result that something akin to public opinion is now
found in every village.
In the earlier period, few facilities were offered
for travelling. The mail-coach usually stopped as it passed through
the town, night and morning, on its way from one large centre of
industry and population to another, to take up or to set down
passengers, and generally there would be a little bustle round the
steaming horses. But a visit to the city implied a tedious journey,
and, in winter, exposure to the inclemencies of the season, with
often serious consequences; and, therefore, such trips, unless
where absolutely required, were seldom indulged in. Social relations
were thus very much restricted, and intermarriage became not
uncommon, with the consequent result that the greater part of a
village, and even large tracts of the parish around it, were
frequently connected to each other by the ties of blood
relationship. Clannishness, with all its prejudices, whether for
good or bad, usually dominated the life of the place, and each one’s
affairs being known to every other family of the community, became
In this respect the town of Neilston bore a strong
resemblance to other towns similarly placed, with this great
difference in its favour as regards many places : that the great
good sense of the original inhabitants so guided opinion that it
never became intolerant. The people were interested in and helpful
to each other, and the old proverb “that blood is thicker than
water,” was frequently manifested through their consanguinity, when
the sorrows, equally with the joys, the prosperities, no less than the distresses, were participated in, or
rejoiced over, by their kindred neighbours.
In these conditional environments, constitutional
peculiarities and idiosyncrasies were no doubt liable to be brought
out, and there were at times odd characters to be seen—mental
weaklings, with strange temperaments and tendencies, generally
innocent and harmless, frequently hangers-on to their better-off
relatives and neighbours, and often useful in their way. Sixty years
ago there were several characters of this class to be seen in our
community, but they have passed away, and it is satisfactory to know
that their places are not being taken up in the newer generation.
Within that number of years the town was innocent of
street lamps, and in the long winter nights, the streets were
anything but attractive; and this notwithstanding that the gas work
had been erected in 1837, that the gas had been brought into the
town for many years, and that the shops and places of business were
lighted by this illuminant. At this time the church bell—there was
only one in the town then, there are three now—was rung at 5.30
o’clock a.m. for the purpose of awakening the people to their work;
again at 8 o’clock p.m., for the shopkeepers to shut their places of
business; and again at 10 o’clock p.m., for what purpose I have
never heard clearly defined, although the influence of the
custom—for it was very general in villages—is noticed in the words
of the old song :—
“I’ve heard my uncle tell,
When he gaed wi’ the lass himsel’,
When he heard the ten-hour bell,
He would hie awa hame.”
But I am not aware whether or not it influenced
matters in this direction in our parish. The morning bell, however,
as the owners of works had evidently discovered, was not a
sufficient method for rousing the sleepers, and as the invention of
the noisy syren was not then known, the custom was for the night
watchman, before going off duty, to perambulate the streets, each in
the neighbourhood of his own work, about half-past five, blowing a
fierce, loud, and protracted blast upon a long trumpet, similar to
that used by the guard of the stage coach at an earlier date, in
order that the sleeper might have no reasonable excuse for a late
appearance at the hour of commencing work.