Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group


Ploughing using horses and a tractor

It was very important to plough a straight furrow. Other farmers would walk miles on Sunday mornings to see how straight their neighbours’ furrows were.

John Johnston of Ploughlands near Kirkbrampton was still using a fiddle drill in the 1930s.

The fiddle drill hung by leather straps round the shoulders, and consisted of a woven sack containing the grass seed attached to the body of the drill. The seed was metered onto the flanged disc which was spun round, by the action of the bow, shaped like a violin bow, against the spindle. This flung the seed in an arc onto the ground. It was a very tricky job.

Most farmers used a mechanical Drill, like the one in the picture below. Seed was placed in the wooden box on top of the drill. It dropped down a pipe into the top of the stitch and rollers followed on to cover the seed in soil. This prevented the birds eating it.

Farmer planting seed using fiddle drill
Mechanical Seed Drill
Farmhand cutting hay with sythe
Herbert Willis sharpening his scythe.

Summer brought hay time. In olden days, the grass, like all crops, would be cut by hand.

By the 1930s, the scythe had been replaced by machines.

Grass was cut as early in the morning as possible because an insect called a cleg used to bite the horses in the heat of the day and they were unable to work

It was a time of hard labour and so much depended on the weather.

Tractor-drawn hay rake
Bob Edgar proudly shows off his new hayrake
and his daughter, Margaret
After the grass was cut, sun and wind was needed to dry it. It was then raked into rows using a horse drawn rake, separated and forked into haycocks which were about a yard high - small heaps that could be forked to the person loading the cart. In wet weather the haycocks had to be dispersed to let the hay dry. This meant extra work and poorer quality hay.

Corn and haystacks had to be constructed by a certain method otherwise they collapsed. The heads of the corn went into the middle of the stack, making a circle as the sheaves were forked from the cart to the person making the stack. The stacks were made after much hard labour in the field.
2-horse mowing machine

Farm workers making hay stacks

Horse-drawn binder Young woman making stooks
Harvest was another busy time. The oat crop known locally as corn was cut with a binder, which was drawn by two or three horses. As the sheaves left the binder they were hand lifted from the ground and put together in heaps of eight or ten to form “stooks”, in such a way that the air circulated and dried the sheaves. Arms and legs were scratched by the straw if not covered.

The sheaves coming through the binder were tied automatically with string, known locally as, “John Robert”. This name was derived from the man who owned the threshing machine, who was called, John Robert Holliday and lived at Abbeytown.

Threshing day was quite an occasion. On that day neighbours joined forces and each farm provided one or two men to help. A thresher driven by a coal-fired steam engine went from farm to farm. The thresher and engine arrived very early in the morning so the owner could get it fired up and running before the helpers arrived. The farmer provided the coal. The steam engine kept the thresher going non-stop and there was noise, dust and activity everywhere.

Threshing day with steam traction engine

The most exciting and frightening time was when mice and rats began escaping from the bottom of the stack and the dogs were trying to catch them as well as the men trying to stamp on them or using their pitch forks. There was always a lot of yelling and shouting.

Threshing day meant a busy day for the farmer’s wife and her helpers, having to provide food – ten o’clocks, dinner of perhaps tatie pot and rice pudding and sandwiches and cake for tea, for twelve or fourteen hungry men. Farm hands taking tea break in harvest field

One or two men forked sheaves from the stack of corn to another man on the thresher, who then passed it to the man feeding the sheaves into the thresher. This man cut the string, which was tied around the sheaf. His knife was tied with string to his wrist to stop him dropping it into the machine. The loose straw was tied into large bailes and the chaff was blown down loose onto the ground – a very dusty operation.


Men loading corn into treshing machine

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Spring is the season of hope, the beginning of the farming year, when fields are ploughed and cultivated for planting potatoes and sowing seeds. This was originally done with the help of Clydesdale horses but, by the 1930s, most farmers were using tractors.
The Farming Year