Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Farming in Earlston in Days Gone By

As we come close to marking harvest time, we here take a look at farming in Earlston  in days gone by,  with photographs from the Auld Earlston collection. 

The Statistical Account of Scotland for 1791 in the chapter on Earlston gives us an early description of farming around the village. 
"The farmers rear a considerable number of black cattle...which they fatten on turnips.  The most common crops in this parish are  oats, barley and peas.  There is also some wheat.  The oats that grow on the grounds at Fans are much esteemed. There is now a greet quantity of clover and of  rye grass sown." 
The account also noted that two fairs were held in Earlston  - on the 28th June  for sheep, black cattle and horses, reckoned to be "the second best fair in the south of Scotland".  The other fair was held on the third  Thursday of October. 

 Hiring Fair 1909
Hiring Fairs, held in the Market Square,  were important events where men and women  farm  workers, (ag. labs (agricul.tural labourers), hinds*,  shepherds, dairy maids domestic servants etc.)  would gather to bargain with prospective farmers for work, and hopefully secure a position for the following 6-12 months.  

*The Scottish National  Dictionary defines a "hind" in  Southern Scotland and Northumberland as  "a married skilled farm worker who occupies a cottage on the farm and is granted certain perquisites in addition to wages. 

Hiring Fairs were also social occasions with a rare opportunity for friends and family to meet and enjoy side shows and stalls - as can be seen in the two photographs featured. .  
 Hiring Fair in the 1930's.

Hiring Fairs lost their importance in the First World War and had largely died out by the late 1930's.


Bondagers were female farm workers in south east Scotland and Northumberland.   As part of their husband's contract (or bond) with the farmer, he would undertake to  provide another worker (usually his wife) to help as and when  required. The women  wore a distinctive dress with bonnet, described as the "last remaining peasant costume" in Britain. 

"Horses are absolutely necessary in this part of the country, for it is by them the farmers labour their farms and drive their corn to market.  They never work with oxen now as they did formerly." - a quote from the 1791 Statistical Account. 
Oxen feature in this old photograph which is described as on the  "Road between Earlston and Melrose". 

Anyone tracing their family history may well have  a "carter or carrier " in their ancestry - an essential occupation in transporting farmers' goods around.  

A heavily laden cart on Station Road.


A view from Craigsford Farm
Sheep outside the Smiddy on Station Road - 
on the way to the Auction Mart by the railway?
Sheep Shearing


Note the woman helping with the hay-making
      Building a Haystack at Cowdenknowes
Earlston from Craigsford Mains


Thank you to everyone who has  donated or loaned old photographs for scanning.

Auld Earlston welcomes all contributions on the village's past  - contact us on or via the comments box below.  

For more photographs on village life,  
look at our associated Facebook page  Lost Earlston

1 comment:

  1. Excellent selection of photographs with background information.


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