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History of West Calder
Chapter X. Beautifying and Improving some Estates


In the year 1800, owing principally to this country’s wars with France and Spain, the average price of wheat per quarter was 113s. 10d.: in 1801 it rose to 119s. 6d. In 1803, owing to Nelson’s victories, the price suddenly fell to 58s. 10d., gradually rising again to 126s. 6d. in 1812, when Napoleon was at the height of his power; but falling again to 65s. 7d. in 1815, the year that Waterloo was fought and won.

These rapid rises and falls in the price of the principal article of food must have been very distressful to a country like this, which cannot support its population entirely from its own soil. But "it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good”! for “necessity is the mother of invention”; and to this severe ordeal we can trace the great impetus given to agricultural improvement in the early part of this century. Land that had never grown corn was brought into cultivation. Mosses were drained, limed, and plowed. Hedges and stripes of plantations were planted for protection and shelter. Schemes and methods of all sorts were mooted and tried. Some succeeded, some failed, but all tended to bring experience, and with experience success in the end.

The land-owners, farmers, labourers, lawyers, merchants, doctors, chemists, clergy, and all sorts and conditions of people, vied with each other, and gave sound or foolish advice.

The Royal Agricultural Society was the outcome of this fever of excitement, and taking the matter judiciously up, gave it a healthier and wiser tone; and, strange as it may seem, the Sheriff of Hamilton proved one of their most active and successful agents, and threw himself heart and soul into his work, and trudged on foot no less than 4000 miles— north, east, south, and west—in all directions, to gain information from practical and successful experimentors.

I have read his work with much delight and profit. Copies of it are now very rare, but Mr James Calder, coal agent in West Calder, happens to have one, which he prizes much. It is a book I have quoted from in Chapter I., viz., “Treatise on Mosses, by Wm. Aiton, Air, 1811.”

West Calder was not behind in this fit of activity. In fact, the whole east end of the parish was improved and beautified by it.

I am also indebted to Mr Wm. Clarkson, of West Calder, for the loan of a book, (bought at the Rev. Dr Muckersy’s sale,) which contains a very interesting account of some of those improvements and their immediate results, which I will quote for the benefit of the farming interest. I regret I cannot abridge the article without spoiling it, for it repeats some things already recorded in these chapters.

The book in question is—“The Literary and Statistical Magazine for Scotland. Vol. I. Edinburgh: Macready, Skelly & Co. 1817.

Statistical Account of West Calder.

Note.—The Editor has to regret that, from the want of the materials, he is obliged to delay one or two very important Statistical articles which he intended to publish in this Number. The following statements connected with the Parish of West Calder are correct; and as he is able to give a particular account of the Parish Bank, instituted in 1807, for which the minister has had many applications, he trusts that this Statistical Report, though not completed in the present Number, will be interesting to the public.

Statistical Report of the Parish of West Calder, Presbytery of Linlithgow, Synod of Lothian and Tweedale, and County of MidLothian.

The parish is bounded by the parishes of Carnwath and Cambusnethan, in the county of Lanark, on the south-west and west; by Whitburn and Livingston, in the county of Linlithgow, on the north; by Mid-Calder on the east; and by Dunsyre and Linton on the south.

Its greatest breadth from north to south, in the line of the village, which is nearly two miles from the boundry on the east, is seven miles, and its greatest length from east to west is nearly ten miles; but the breadth to the west varies from three miles to one.

A continuation of the Pentland Hills, here called “Carin Hills,” limits the prospect on the south, while the parish stretches considerably beyond the greatest height of the first range of those hills. Within this, and also within the Carnwath boundary, lies an extensive moor, on high ground, for nine miles from south-east to north west, which, at an average, may be two miles in breadth. This, after deducting some cultivated acres surrounding a few houses, is occupied by sheep -farmers, and fit for sheep-pasture alone. The remaining part of the parish is arable ground.

The soil, west from the village, rests on a stiff tenacious yellow till, and consists of a thin stratum of black earth mixed with sand. On the east side of the village the soil is better, and mixed with clay. The crops chiefly raised are oats, potatoes, rye-grass, ila.x, and, of late, a few turnips. Barley and pease are now seldom raised to any extent. Some attempts have been made to raise wheat, but though nothing was wanting, either in the skill of the farmer or in the manure employed, they have not been repeated. The expense is found to be as great as in a kindlier soil, it’ not greater; the comparative quality may require a reduction of 10 per cent.; the quantity is less in the proportion of 7 to 10, and the soil, even by this imperfect crop, is brought nearer to its unimproved state than in places more adapted to it. The lowness of the rent is the only thing which can be considered as a compensation for these disadvantages; but even with this the cultivation of wheat is not persisted in, the best proof that it is not profitable. No crop, indeed, in this parish, hay excepted, will pay more than the expense of rearing it, and the farmers have, therefore, to look to the produce of the dairy, and to the cattle which they can sell yearly for their rent.

The hardship under which the farmer labours with respect to corn is, that when the price is above the average he has little to sell; and in crops like those of 1782, 1800, and 1816, he has not meal for his family beyond Whitsunday. Under all these disadvantages the improvement of this parish has been advancing rapidly for 20 years past, while the rents, at a general average, have not risen so much as in a richer soil. The rents here are scarcely doubled, while in many other places they are four times what they were 30 years ago.

The general tendency to improvement has been impelled here by many causes. Several proprietors have very judiciously, though at great expense, improved their own estates. It is not probable that in every instance they have had a fair rent out of the return; but in the rapid rise in the value of land, they could have done more than pay themselves by the sale. The enterprise of the farmers, on the other hand, has been aided by the great rise in cattle, and on the produce of the dairy, by the advantage of the Edinburgh market, and by the opportunity they have of driving coals to the lime kilns, 10 miles off' and bringing lime in return. The lime is used in compost on lea, and in a few instances among the farmers it is laid on fallow; but this last, except among the gentlemen improvers, is not likely to be a general practice.

The average crop of the richest and best cultivated ground in the parish, taken for four years, may be about six boll3 per acre. The substantial improvement both in the face of the country and on the soil, for 20 years past, lias been made by enclosing and planting. In the judicious manner in which these operations are conducted, they serve for draining, for shelter, and for ornament. The principal improvers in these respects, as well as in cultivating the soil, are Lord Hermand of Hermand, Mr Young of Harburn, Mr Cunningham of Gavieside, and Mr Mowbray of Little Harwood. A great deal was also done by the late Mr Davie of Brotherton, and the late Mr GIoag of Limelield. The estates of these gentlemen, since the author of this report knew the parish, have been new-modelled and completely changed. Within these three last years, Mr Douglas, who resides in London, and is the proprietor of Baads, the most extensive estate in the parish, has also begun to sub-divide his farms by belts of planting, sufficiently enclosed.

Among the most enterprising of our heritors are Lord Hermand and Mr Young of Harburn. The former has improved almost every part of his estate, and made considerable plantations on the banks of a small river that runs through liis property, and in most other places where they can be employed for shelter 01* beauty. Mr Young has done everything towards the improvement of his property, which wood, water, and substantial enclosing can accomplish. If others have clone as much to the improvement of the soil, it must be allowed that he has done more in making Harbum a finished and delightful residence.

The following authentic account of his (Mr Young’s) florin deserves to be recorded. It is taken from his letter to Mr George Rennie, and published in the Irish Farmers Journal, Sept. 22, 1816. After several attempts, which were not very successful, he was persuaded by Dr Robertson to make a trial of raising florin on a piece of very indifferent land, nearly 20 acres, which the doctor himself selected; the upper part, exceeding 13 acres, being a dry heathy moor, the under part 6|- acres of very indifferent moss, not worth a shilling per acre.

What follows is in his own words :—

“I began paring and burning the upper part of this field in the common way, but the ashes produced by the operation were by no means abundant, and the lower or mossy part of the field, I found, could not be treated in the same manner to any advantage. Resolving to confine my florin .plantation to the lower part, I got the whole very carefully trenched a full spade deep, with a proper inclination towards a large drain; and, for the purpose of covering the surface, I cut down a small kind of clayey gravel in the irnmediate neighbourhood, which 1 mixed with ashes from the upper part, and 78 bolls of unslaked lime, spreading the whole on the surface of the trenched moss, upon which, in spring, 1814, I planted from strings in the usual way, and it was rolled and occasionally weeded in the course of the summer.

“In the beginning of November last, I began to cut the crop of grass, and gave it in abundance to my cattle and horses, to whom it afforded a liberal supply of green food till the end of February last, with a few short interruptions from the frost and snow. I cannot tell you what quantity of grass was produced in each acre, but I can assert with confidence that it was at least equal to a heavy crop of clover and ryegrass.

“In the beginning of July last, the crop of florin on the 6½ acres, has again become so luxuriant, that I was induced, contrary to all instructions from my preceptor, Dr Richardson, to mow it for a crop of hay, at the same time with the ordinary crop of clover and ryegrass crops of the country, and it has been treated in exactly the same way, producing hay, as I think, of a superior quality, perfectly dry; the same bulk of florin hay, when weighed against clover and ryegrass, in perfect good order, being uniformly a fifth less in weight.

“Of the same six acres and a half. I only made four acres into hay, using the remainder, as I am now doing, for green food. The produce of the four acres, before it was put up in a stack, was carefully weighed by John Cay, tenant in Broadshaw, an intelligent fanner, who attests its weight to be 1820 stones, or 455 tons per acre. The whole operation oil the field b^ing performed at his sight, I was desirous that he should also weigh the produce, and see the stack put up, as he was formerly, when my overseer, a great unbeliever in the virtues of this grass, though the success of my experiment, I believe, has now converted him to the florin faith.

“The expense of trenching was considerably more than it ought to have been, but it was done with particular care and attention.

“I intended originally to have given much more lime, but I was persuaded by a gentleman more skilled in such matters than I pretended to be, that the above quantity, with the ashes and clay, was sufficient.

Subject to the ordinary expense of cutting, making, and Leading home the produce; and I can assure you that there is no difficulty whatever in mowing the grass with a scythe. —Harburn, August 19, 1815.”

The Irish mode of burning clay was attempted in this parish in the summer of 1814. Both the gentlemen improvers and farmers entered into it with great avidity. It was a proof, if any were wanting, of the readiness with which Scotch farmers adopt a new plan, when there is any promise of success. This plan was, however, immediately abandoned. The tilly subsoil of this parish seems to be altogether unfit for the operation. There is little doubt, however, in all cases where paring and burning afford more ashes than is necessary for the field, that burning the bog, mixed with moss, clay, and decayed vegetable substances, in the Irish manner, will produce more ashes, and that they may be used to a better purpose for turnips elsewhere, than spreading them where they are burned. A prudent farmer, therefore, may find many detached places on his farm, from which he may add a few acres yearly to his turnip husbandry, and leave as much soil in the place from which it is taken as will permit it to return to grass as before.

These observations, however, are only applicable to places in a farm where, from the quantity of bog, moss and clay, the produce of ashes will be much greater than necessary to manure the surface from which they are taken.

The rent of arable land is from 15s. to 25s. per acre. One or two farms are let from 28s. to 33s.


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