Rothiemay: Milltown

Farming in the 18th century

In an article contributed to the Scotsman newspaper, dated November 25th, 1895, the writer, speaking of Scottish farm life in and about the thirties, says:-

"On the whole, the days of harvest were happy days, and the song of the reaper and the merry laugh were much more hearty than they are in these days of prevalent machinery. There was spirit in the work, and it sometimes took the form of what was called "kemping"; that is, the reapers on the different "riggs" would strive which would reach the end soonest. The scene was often animated, but sometimes led to confusion. "Canny" farmers did not encourage it. One of this class, when he saw his reapers starting off at a brisk rate, would say,

"Tak' time, tak' time; nae kempin'. Kempers are wasters..""

Thirled to the Mill

About 1760 or 1770 the two-wheeled cart was introduced into the parish of Rothiemay. Previously, and for a good while after, the usual method of transport was on horseback. When grain had to be conveyed to the mill for grinding, the sacks were either laid across the horse's back, or slung in pannier fashion, one on each side. Dr. Cruickshank recollected seeing, when a boy, in the end of last century, a dozen horses with sacks on their backs, proceeding in a line to the mill. In the eighteenth century, tenants were often "astricted", bound, or "thirled" to certain mills, to which they were compelled to carry their grain to be ground, even though other mills might be nearer or more conveniently reached. The tenants astricted to a certain mill were called "suckeners", and were liable to be called on to assist with their horses in conveying a new millstone from the quarries, where millstones were made. The miller was entitled to appropriate, as payment, every twelfth or sixteenth peck of the grain or meal.

Harvest Time

"Thraving" was an old term used to denote working by the piece in the harvest field. A "thrave" consisted of a complete twelve-sheaf stook, and the more industrious and expert would of course realise better wages than those who received a fixed sum for the period of harvest. Women were often employed on this principle; and, the work being done by means of a reaping hook, two reapers (not un frequently a man and a woman) often entered into competition to determine which of them was the faster. This sort of rivalry was designated "kemping".

Dr. Cruickshank remembered well the unfortunate harvests of the years 1799 and 1816. In 1816 it is said many would have starved, had not Government opened its stores of pease, which had been provided for the army. Meal in Banffshire was sold at three shillings a peck (a measure of capacity=2 gal. or 1/4 bushel), and forty-four shillings a boll (6 bushels). The Earl of Fife of that time had stored up in his girnals a large quantity of meal, which he sold to his tenantry at half-a-crown a peck. The oatcakes prepared from the homegrown meal were of a black colour, and not very wholesome. The crop of 1800 was also defective, owing to the inferior quality of the seed grain. The crop of 1816 would have been as defective but for the intervening agricultural improvements and the sowing of earlier varieties of grain. The cause of this disaster was a great frost, which occurred on the first Monday of October, when a great part of the crop was still green. Snow fell that month and covered the stooks, and the harvest was not commpleted till after the Martinmas term. As a conseequence, the crop of 1817 also failed from bad seed. The black colour of the bread was the result of the action of the frost on the grain when still in the milky state. 

The Kiln

Drying the Grain

A kiln, called the "logie" or "kiln-logie", where the corn was dried by means of artificial heat before it was sent to the mill, existed at every large farm down to the end of the eighteenth century. It was sometimes attached to the barn, or more commonly was at some distance from the steading for fear of fire. It was a stone building in the form of an in-verted cone, eight or ten feet high, ten or twelve feet in diameter at the top, and four or five feet in diameter at the bottom. A projection was built out from it for the fire. On the top of the kiln were laid wooden "bauchs" and straw, above which was laid a layer of grain a few inches thick. While drying on the kiln, the corn had to be frequently turned. The openings between the "bauchs" and the straw produced the draught which caused the heated air from the fire to act on the grain. Instead of bauchs and straw, however, perforated bricks, the holes of which were small enough to prevent the falling through of the grain, came into use about 1798.

The Common Diet

The common diet in the end of last century in an ordinary farmer's house in the north of Banffshire consisted of oatmeal porridge and milk (or beer, when milk was scarce), sowens and milk, mashed potatoes, kail and kail-brose, turnip-brose, which was deliciously sweet when made with the concentrated "bree" of a large potful of boiled turnips. Butcher meat was a rarity. Whey and buttermilk were used where cheese and butter were manufactured. Little wheaten bread was eaten. A penny loaf was a treat enjoyed by a boy when he could procure one at the country markets. Potatoes, though greatly relished, were not reckoned sufficiently strong meat. They were introduced into Banffshire between 1750 and 1760, when a present of two or three was more valued by children than as many apples.

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