Tuesday, 16 February 2016

A Collection of Old Scottish Ploughing Match Prize Medals

A Ploughing Match Medal presented by the Highland
and Agricultural Society of Scotland to John Watson,
of 'Muirhead', Dalserf, 1869

Back in 19th century Scotland my Great Grandfather John Watson of Dalserf Parish in the County of Lanark, regularly entered and later judged local and regional ploughing competitions. These were - and still are - a popular and keenly competed for event on the annual farming calendar.

Ploughing Match Medal won by John Watson,
'Muirhead', Dalserf, 1867

His success at these competitions can be gauged from the beautifully detailed and engraved silver and gold medals he won and which I now hold. More recently, digitised newspapers have provided interesting reports of these self same events.

"Given By His Grace The Duke of Hamilton" -
Reverse of Ploughing Match Medal won by
John Watson, 'Muirhead', Dalserf, 1867

John Watson would have learnt the skilled art of ploughing under the expert tutelage of his father Thomas who had himself judged competitions from at least 1849 so I can safely assume the latter had himself successfully competed in earlier years to have earned this singular honour. Thomas also appears to have passed on his ploughing skills to his "farm servant" Dougal McArter who I note gained a first placing in the senior class at the 1864 competitions.

John Watson, of 'Muirhead' and
'Candermains", Dalserf, taken c.1875

The plough John used would have been a typical single furrow two-handled wooden or iron plough pulled by two solidly built Scottish Clydesdale horses especially bred for such work, their leather “collars” being stuffed with straw. The ploughman would walk behind directing the horses by holding the reins.

Ploughing a field in Scotland using a hand held plough
[Source : KC Martin : Scotland - Vintage

My own father, who worked Clydesdale draught horses for close to 25 years, had an enduring respect for these intelligent animals and they apparently needed very little direction. I can still recall the old collars hanging in the then disused and empty stables, worn from many years of hard toil.

"Presented by Robt. Wotherspoon Esq. of Overdalserf
Colliery to the Dalserf Agricultural Society Senior Class"
- A large Ploughing Match Medal in a presentation box,
being won by John Watson of 'Muirhead', Dalserf,
Scotland, January 1869.

Ploughing with draught horses and a hand held plough required considerable skill, and as newspaper reports of these competitions noted, the state of the field and how this was handled was also critical to the final result.

Ploughing Match Medal won by John Watson. 'Muirhead' 1869
"Given By His Grace The Duke of Hamilton To The
Blantyre and Cambuslang Agricultural Society"

Although not part of the ploughing competitions, the resultant turned field would normally then be gone over with a pronged grubber to break up the sods then smoothed over with a spiked harrow, again pulled by a Clydesdale horse(s). After hand sowing of seed the field would be harrowed again to work the seed into the soil.

Ploughing Match Medal presented by the Highland 
and Agricultural Society of Scotland to John Watson, 
'Muirhead', Dalserf, 1869

Many farmers, my own family included, often employed "ploughmen" who were obviously respected for their hard work and skill. This is evident by three 1870's named carte-de-visite photos of ploughmen on the Letham family farm at East Mains in Stonehouse Parish being placed together in the family photo album. Not that long ago I was even able to provide one descendant with a copy of one of these old photos.

East Mains Ploughmen, Stonehouse, c.1881
(L to R) : Charles Harvey, James Hutson (upper),
James Hamilton.

But returning to the ploughing competitions. I note that John Watson won ploughing medals from 1867 through to 1869 and by 1875 was himself now also judging competitions. The last reference to his now elderly father Thomas judging competitions is in 1874 so the 'mantle' appears to have then seamlessly passed from Father to Son. To avoid any possible hint of nepotism it should be noted that three respected judges were nominated to jointly judge each of these ploughing competitions.

"Dalserf Ploughing Match Medal" -
An engraved gold boxed Medal
awarded to John Watson  of
'Muirhead', Dalserf, circa 1867-69

Around 1901 John's own son, William Watson, won a further two silver medals in the "Junior Ploughman" class, most likely at the "Dalserf Agricultural Society" competitions as His Grace, The Duke of Hamilton, donated the medals.

Silver Ploughing Match Medal awarded to
William Watson of Candermains, Dalserf,
Scotland, circa 1900

Thus three generations of my family competed in ploughing competitions with two generations additionally having the honour of taking part in judging. These beautifully engraved silver medals (there are actually as many as seven in total) today continue to commemorate and affirm their achievements and are now treasured heirlooms.

My Great Uncle Thomas Watson ploughing with a two
furrow plough pulled by a team of four draught horses, c.1909

Of the three Watson family generations featured in this Blog, Thomas Watson died at 'Muirhead' farm, Dalserf Scotland in 1881 aged 70, his son John Watson at Heddon Bush, New Zealand in 1912 aged 65, and his own son William Watson (my Great Uncle) died as the result of an accident on the family farm at Heddon Bush in 1914, aged 30 years.

A later Blog will feature my Horse Showing medals, another keenly competed for event!

Copyright : Unless otherwise stated all images are from my own collections and may be freely copied for non-commercial use provided this site is acknowledged, thank you.

Sources :

- Watson family artefacts and photographs in my possession
- Letham family photographs in my possession
- "The Watson Family Annals - The Story of the Watson Family of Lanarkshire Scotland and Heddon Bush New Zealand", by the writer, published 2014
- "The Glasgow Herald" (The British Newspaper Archive)
- "The Hamilton Advertiser" (The British Newspaper Archive)

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