History Index : Agriculture

Sir Francis Grant - Lord Cullen
Sir Francis Grant -
Lord Cullen
Monymusk Estate Purchased by the Grants

During the 1690's there was a decade of bad weather when harvests failed and there was starvation in the Buchan and the Mearns and a great deal of hardship in the North East of Scotland in general. The Forbes family had bought the Monymusk Estate in the 1560s from the Church, but by the beginning of the 18th Century they were heavily in debt. Sir Francis Grant, Lord Cullen, was a close personal friend of Sir William Forbes and bought Monymusk from him in 1713. In order to raise the necessary capital he sold one of his Estates in Banffshire. He sent his Factor to view Monymusk, so he did not see the House or the Estate before he bought it and was very disappointed when he did. Sir Francis felt he had exchanged a good estate for one which was very poor and ill-equipped. Sir Francis did not play a significant part in the agricultural improvement of Monymusk, but spent much of his time in Edinburgh, where he was occupied with the law and other literary activities.

Sir Archibald Grant (2nd Baronet) 1696 - 1778
House of Monymusk 1720
House of Monymusk 1720

Sir Francis' eldest son, Sir Archibald, wrote a short description of the Estate and House as he found it in 1713.

"The house was an old castle with battlements and six different roofs of various hights and directions, confusedly and inconveniently combined, and all rotten, with two wings more modern, of two stories only, the half of windowes of the higher riseing above the roofs, with granaries, stables and houses for all cattle, and of the vermin attending them, close adjoining, and with the heath and muire reaching in angles or goushets to the gate, and much heath near, and what land near was in culture belonging to the farmes, by which their cattle and dung were always at the door. The whole land raised and uneven, and full of stones, many of them very large, of a hard iron quality, and all the ridges crooked in the shape of an S, and very high and full of noxious weeds and poor, being worn out by culture, without proper manure or tillage. Much of the land and muire near the house, poor and boggy; the rivulet that runs before the house in pitts and shallow streams, often varying channel with banks, always ragged and broken. The people poor, ignorant and slothfull; and ingrained enemies to planting, inclosing or any improvements or cleanness; no keeping of sheep or cattle or roads but four months when oats and bear, which was the only sorts of their grain, was on ground. The farme houses, and even corn millns and mans and scool, all poor dirty hutts, pulled in pieces for manure or fell of themselves almost each alternate year."*

In 1716, Sir Francis made Sir Archibald (2nd Bt), who was then only 20 years old, the Estate factor. Archibald wrote, 'By indulgence of a very worthy father, I was allowed in 1716, though very young, to begin to enclose and plant and provide and prepare nurseries. At the time there was not one acre upon the whole estate enclosed, nor any timber upon it, but a few elms, sycamore and ash about a small kitchen garden adjoining to the house, and some straggling trees at some of the farm yards, with a small copse wood, not enclosed and dwarfish and browsed by sheep and cattle.'

When Archibald was married in 1719, his father handed complete control of the Estate over to him. Most of his life was subsequently dedicated to the transformation of Monymusk Estate, the changes he wrought were the biggest change in agriculture for 2,500 years and he married four heiresses which helped pay for the improvements. He did not take up permanent residence at Monymusk until 1734 before this he spent most of his time in Edinburgh where he was employed as an advocate. He was twice elected as a Member of Parliament for Aberdeenshire (1722 and 1727), thereby spending time in Westminster too. He was the first man to introduce the reforms of the Agricultural Revolution to Scotland, so Monymusk was the first place to see these changes, though it took a generation before people could really see how successful these reforms were.

While he was away from Monymusk, he employed his friend Alexander Jaffrey of Kingswells to act as his factor to keep an eye on agricultural improvements. He instructed and advised Alexander Jaffrey by letter and he sent Sir Archibald regular accounts of happenings on the Estate. He also remained in regular contact with the other main employees, who would send him detailed weekly accounts of their work.

Agricultural Reforms

One of the first and most important things Sir Archibald did at Monymusk was to drain and clear the land of stones, which probably doubled the amount of acreage that could then be farmed. The stones were used to build dykes to enclose the fields, and new roads in place of the dirt tracks.  At that time the 'infield' or land nearer and most accessible to the farm got all the manure, so was considered the good land, but it was never given a chance to rest or cleared of weeds. The 'outfield' or 'poor' land, further away from the farm, was used for five or six successive crops and then left uncultivated but with no attempt to improve the soil with manure to allow it to recover the nutrients it had lost. As a result, the crops grown were usually of a very poor quality.

Sir Archibald had become a good friend of the English agricultural reformers Lord Townsend (Turnip Townsend) and Jethro Tull and was greatly inspired by their new ideas about farming. Townsend advocated the growing of crops in rotation to regain lost nutrients and leaving the land fallow to let it rest. Tull concentrated on improved mechanisation, better distribution of seeds rather than sowing broadcast, and clean farming, and detailed these ideas in his book "Horse Hoing Husbandry" which Sir Archibald also bought for use on the Estate. Sir Archibald combined both Townsend and Tulls ideas and put them into practice at Monymusk.

Salt Cupboard in Fireplace
Salt Cupboard
in Fireplace

New field crops such as peas and turnips were also introduced. In fact Sir Archibald was the first agriculturalist to introduce the turnip to Scotland. This nutritious vegetable enabled livestock to be fed throughout the winter, where previously most animals had to be slaughtered in the autumn. Not enough fodder could be grown to feed them through the winter so they were mostly salted down in barrels of beef. Salt was precious as it was the main means for preserving food to eat through the winter. It was kept locked and by the fire to keep it dry. As the roads were so bad and salt could not be made locally, it had to be 'imported' and was very expensive. Soured milk was another method used for preserving vegetables, and herbs and spices from the Far East were sought after by those who could afford them, to improve the taste of these preserved foods.

There was no fresh food until the Spring when the new crops grew, so the old and young suffered particularly with this poor diet, although many of the big houses kept doocots which provided fresh pigeon meat for the wealthy through the winter. Once the cattle could be kept alive through the winter on turnips and with the improved crop yields from rotation, peoples' diet and health improved dramatically, as fresh meat and vegetables were now available throughout the winter.

The Don at Paradise 1720
The Don at Paradise

Sir Archibald also planted many trees throughout his life-time - almost 50 million! Sir Archibald encouraged this by giving out trees to plant as Christmas presents! He laid out ornamental gardens including Paradise Woods, which today still contains a wide variety of trees including giant coast redwoods, yews and beech. Queen Victoria visited Paradise Woods twice, so she must have enjoyed the first visit. The people of Monymusk were at first hostile to the changes. They did not like enclosure as it meant that they could no longer graze their animals in the areas they had used for centuries. Enclosure and the creation of larger fields meant that the old crofter's houses were removed and instead most people lived in farm communities or villages known as 'ferm-touns'

Prior to Sir Archibald's reforms, most of the workers on the estate had worked as farmers on the land but due to increased mechanisation there was no longer the need for so many farm labourers. Instead the people became experienced tradesmen such as smiths and wrights who made the new machinery, ploughs and cart-wheels, or masons who built the new houses and farm buildings. Better farming practices led to more food being produced and a wider variety of crops led to an improvements in peoples' health which became obvious within one generation. As a result the population steadily increased, until it had almost doubled seventy years later. The survival rate of the animals was also increased and horses and cattle equalled the amount of sheep for the first time, which up until then had been the easiest animals to keep.

A record in the 'Poll Book of Aberdeenshire' showed that in 1696 the village had a population of 45, which included 2 wrights, 3 smiths, 3 millers, 1 mason and 28 weavers. The 1792 Statistical Account gives the whole Parish population as 1127, with an increased number of tradesmen to; 9 house carpenters, 3 plough and cart wrights, 4 masons and 5 smiths. As the population dramatically increased, people began to leave the area for the new towns and villages to find employment. Sir Archibald himself founded a new village in Morayshire called Ballintomb (now called Archiestown) in 1760. Others emigrated to Canada to start new lives with the promise of cheap and plentiful land.

Agricultural Maps from the 1700s

Many of the original maps of Monymusk from the 18th Century are housed at the Scottish Records Museum in Edinburgh. The original maps are very large and rolled up into huge scrolls. Large scale copies of some of these maps can be viewed at the Monymusk Arts Centre and at Monymusk School. Below is a selection of maps showing field divisions and the farms around Monymusk in the 1700s.

Crofts of Ordmill and Garden of Paradise Map, 1774
Kirktown of Monymusk Map, 1774
Mains of Monymusk & Crofts of Dykehead Map, 1774
Survey Map of the Haughs of Enzean (Inzian), 1736
Plan of Upper Coullie, 1798

There are also other maps online on the Arts Trust Website.

Nether Mains Farm

To illustrate the changes made in Sir Archibald's time we can look at Nether Mains Farm, which is a large farm to the Southeast with some of the best land in the parish. In the 18th Century it covered roughly 300 acres, and employed mainly cottars who each held small pockets of land at 'Coat Town' near the Bridge of Ton. Archibald recorded in 1748 that they held small cottages with yards, common byres and barns, small holdings worked by the farm plough and grass for a cow and ten sheep. Each family would have been required to have a least one good workman and two spinners.

From 1749-50, drill cultivation of turnips, potatoes and cabbage, and fallowing in summer was practised at Nether Mains. The old Scots plough, a huge wooden instrument with an iron culter, drawn by up to six horses and two oxen, or 'twal ousen', was used from Autumn until seed time. Sir Archibald had bought ploughs from England, but the heavy Scots plough was useful on the difficult stony ground and continued to be used until well into the second half of the Century.

The importance of clover and grass was recognised as early as 1720, as this provided grazing for animals in summer and also hay for their fodder in winter. The grass lands at Monymusk became an important source of income, as the fields could be let to tenants for grazing, and the hay could be sold to people beyond the Estate. By growing clover and pease, cattle could be fed throughout the year and at the same time the soil would be enriched ready for cereals. This led to the new practice of crop rotation, and the old distinction between infield and outfield gradually faded.

On most farms the first task of the morning was to thresh the daily corn. Ploughing went on steadily throughout the winter, and the ground was sown with oats, which would be completed by the end of March. Peas would be being sown by this time, while ploughing continued steadily in preparation for sowing of barley, kale and turnips. Clearing of stones and repairs to buildings went on all year round.

During summer, the turnips and kale had to be weeded and hoed, thistles removed, and the peat dug and brought home. During harvest, the whole community would get involved in clearing the crop, with horses and carts bringing in the corn, and both men and women making rope and binding the pease. No sooner was the harvest over, then the ploughs would be seen once again in the fields, ready for the winter crops of wheat and rye, which were sown in November.

Farming at Monymusk was well ahead compared to other areas of Scotland at the time. By the middle of the Century the methods of clean farming and fallowing had been widely adopted, and a large variety of crops were being grown. Oats, barley, rye, wheat, peas, clover, rye grass, kale, turnips, potatoes and flax.

Tenant Tacks or Leases

One of the ways in which Sir Archibald succeeded in forcing through his reforms was the introduction of the agricultural lease or 'tack', which meant that the tenant farmed the same area of land for 7 years at a time and meant that the tenant had the incentive to improve the land. The new leases detailed how much money and produce the tenant had to give to the Laird, and the 'services' the tenant would have to carry out for the Estate. They also specified quite precisely how the tenant should carry out farming work on the land, such as what crops should be grown and what machinery and methods should be used. This ensured that the tenants were bound by their leases to employ the new agricultural methods and ideas.

Produce rent included meal, barley, hens, eggs etc. and the lease usually stated the exact amount the tenant had to give and to whom. The lease also stated that 'the tenant must transport the meal on his own horses to Aberdeen or any place of like distance, (where Sir Archibald had his warehouse,) at his own expense'. In having to transport their grain, the tenants were 'encouraged' by the landlord to improve their own transport links, as the roads at the time were so rough and hard-going as to be virtually non existant.

Both tenants and sub-tenants were responsible for the 'services' part of the lease. Services included agricultural work like ploughing, harvesting and carting, or work such as the repairing of buildings. The early leases did not specify what or how much service would be required, but the later leases specified exactly what the services were to avoid disputes. By the 1740s produce rents had been reduced and converted into money, but services continued to be an important part of the lease.

    Services were not always given willingly and sometimes tenants refused to carry them out. In 1722 a complaint was lodged by two tenants, blaming in particular the crofters, who had refused to send their horses for service to the Laird. The tenant's gripe was that when others refused to offer services, it meant that they themselves had to do more than their fair share. This complaint was dealt with in the Baron Court, which eventually fined the defaulters and threatened to impound their goods if they did not comply.

    Services were also used as a fine to anyone who was in arrears to the Laird. Services were a recurring source of friction on the Estate and Sir Archibald wrote in his Memorandum Book under the heading of 'Tennents Irregularities', that the tenants never turned up when called for and sometimes needed several messages; that they did not always do what they were asked, nor do it well, and performed services grudgingly.*

    *Source p.183 Henry Hamilton, Selections from the Monymusk Papers (1713-1755)

    All leases contained the clause that tenants should "doe dutie to kirk, school, miln and officer ust & wont.' This meant payment of meal to the minister, schoolmaster and the ground officer, but the most important of these duties was to the mill.

    Suspension Bridge at Ramstone
    Suspension Bridge at Ramstone

    The Parish had 3 mills - Monymusk, Ordmill and Ramstone. Ordmill and Ramstone Mills were on opposite sides of the Ramstone Suspension Bridge in this photo, built in 1879. It had been derelict for many years and has now been removed altogether. Each tenant was 'thirled' or 'assigned' to one of these mills, which meant he was bound to take his corn to that mill to be ground. This service was known as a 'lick of goodwill' but had to be paid for whether it was used or not.

    In addition the tenant was required to pay the miller a 'multure' based on how much grain he possessed. This caused many disputes, but another greater source of dissatisfaction was that the Miller, within the terms of his lease, had the authority to demand the services of the tenants to repair and reconstruct the mill. The people disliked this service as it meant hard labour and long journeys from home to gather the building materials, but to refuse meant they would be fined by the Baron Court; the local court which administered justice.

    An illustration of the strength of feeling against services to the mill is shown in 1746, when the tenants declared that they would rather renounce their tacks than have any part in the construction of a dam for the new mill on the Don.

    The Baron Court intervened, and despite the apparent strength of feeling against this service, the Court ordered all tenants to pay a fine and gave the Miller the power to impound goods and sell the proceeds to hire labour instead.

    As well as specifying the method in which rent was to be paid, the leases also contained directions about the methods to be employed on the land, such as limits on the number of successive crops that could be planted in the outfield, or restrictions on the use of the 'flaughter spade', a tool for cutting turf used to cover the roofs of the houses, as this practice did much damage to the land by destroying and removing the good fertile meadow ground.

    The new lease system was very complicated to administer as there were so many diverse forms of service as well as money and produce to collect. Sir Archibald employed a Factor and a Ground Officer to ensure that everything ran smoothly and he relied on the sessions of the Baron Court to handle any wayward tenants and to settle any disputes.

    The Estate Factor

    The Factor was the executive head of the Estate whose main business was to let the land through tacks or leases, and to collect the rent.

    As a fair proportion of the tenant's rent was paid in produce, such as bear and meal, he also had to be a keen business man, as this produce - as well as produce from the Home Farm - had to be sold at market in Aberdeen.

    The Factor had to be aware of all the goings-on on the Estate and to keep a watchful eye on the tenants, gardeners, forester's and other employees. He was the Laird's representative in his absence and was also responsible for appointing the Baron Bailie of the Court.

    The Ground Officer/Baron Bailie

    The ground officer, or foreman, was responsible for ensuring that the instructions and orders from the Laird concerning cultivation, enclosure, planting etc. Were carried out. The ground officer also held the role of Baron Bailie and presided over meetings of the Baron Court, a local form of justice, which was held in his house in the village or at the House of Monymusk.

    Relations between Sir Archibald and his ground officers were not always harmonious as this job required someone with very particular skills: a middleman who could command respect from the workers and also communicate and converse well with the Laird and the senior management.

    The first man in this role was Moses Morgan who held office from 1713 to 1737 and the second ground officer was William Lunan, who Sir Archibald required to keep a journal of work which was to be brought to the School Master each week to be transcribed. Often the journal failed to appear and Sir Archibald thought him ungrateful writing in his Memorandum Book that 'the officer shows repeated ingratitude despite having been shown so much favour'.*

    *Source: Henry Hamilton, Selections from the Monymusk Papers (1713-1755)