Rothiemay: Straw Bales at Kinnoir

Farming in the 18th century

In 1819, while travelling in his native district, Professor Cruickshank entered into conversation with a person on the public road. The talk turned on the state of the country's agriculture.

"Ift warna for twa o' the lairds," remarked this resident, "I dinna ken fat the fowk hereabout wad dae". "How so"? said Dr. Cruickshank, "are they good landlords"? "Na", was the reply, "they aye hae land to set."

The "Aberdeen Journal" always contained advertisements of farms or holdings to let on these estates, the tenants being rack-rented and constantly resigning their farms.

The tenant's view is illustrated by the reply given by a labourer employed by one of these lairds at the home farm in harvest. "John", said the laird, "you should take that croft on the hill, as it would keep you in work all the year". "Ay", replied John, "Aye, but in hairst".

Stent and Bindage

In winter female farm servants employed much of their time in spinning; and in the long dark evenings it was a common practice for the servants of the neighbouring farms to meet at each other's houses, bringing their wheels along with them, when they enlivened the work with humour and singing. A little friendly rivalry as to which of them would execute their task or "stent", as it was called, with the greatest dexterity and speed, frequently enlivened the work. Male servants often had, as part of their agreement, to work in the evenings at knitting worsted stockings. Elderly men, when no longer able for outdoor work, often spent their leisure hours doing this type of work. Eventually both spinning and knitting gave place to other employments because articles made by hand labour could not compete after the introduction of machinery in mills and factories. Women worked less in the fields in those days than now (1900), their outdoor work being confined chiefly to the peat-moss and the harvest field.

A curious relic of Feudalism existed in those days, whereby the laird could call upon his tenants to come to his assistance in reaping his crop, even to the neglect of their own. As late as the middle of the present century several of Lord Fife's tenants in the parish of Rothiemay had to send a certain number of harvest hands, for a day or more, to assist in the harvest on the home farm attached to Rothiemay House. This was known as "binage" (bondage). Work in the peat-moss was also exacted, as well as the cartage of materials for building, if any additions to the mansion house were required. For instance, a farmer in the north of Banffshire told Dr. Cruickshank that he had given for the benefit of the Laird, when erecting a mansion house, a man and a pair of horses for a whole summer. The Laird could even call upon the tenant for a supply of poultry, in fulfilment of a condition attaching to his lease.

Fair Days

The annual fairs in those days were events of special importance, lasting, as they often did, for two or three days. Of these fairs the most notable in the north were Summereves Fair, held in the month of July at Keith; Aikey Fair, held at Old Deer; St. Sair's Fair, at Culsalmond; Hawkhall Fair, at Forgue; and Paldy Fair, at Auchinblae. At Keith and Auchinblae the first day was confined chiefly to sheep, the second to cattle, and the third to horses. The Highlanders brought to the fair at Keith carts entirely made of wood, which obtained a ready sale until the time when the more modern cart was introduced. Even Aberdeen merchants would shut their shops and proceed to the Keith and other northern fairs for the purpose of selling cloth; while at the Auchinblae market they were accustomed to lay in a supply of a coarse kind of cloth made by the female servants at the different farmhouses. This material was worn mostly by the poorer classes; while, for the more affluent, a finer quality was brought from the West of England.

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