Land Ownership and Use

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Hiring Fairs

Farming was very much a family affair but where there were not enough sons and daughters to carry out the work of the farm, extra “hands” had to be hired. This was done at the hiring fair.

Twice yearly, usually in May and November, farmers and potential farm workers would gather at set locations throughout the country where negotiations would occur between these parties as to wages and conditions on offer over the following six-month period. Young people, of an age to work, were brought to the market, usually by their parents and hired to a local farmer for a small financial return. As farmers wanted to ensure that the person being hired was fit for the work involved, these young people could be subjected to the humiliating practice of a physical inspection within the marketplace in view of family and neighbours. The hiring fairs were discontinued in the 1930's. This was due in part to the increased mechanisation of farming practice but also because of laws providing benefits for the unemployed and laws ensuring compulsory education for children
Such gatherings were also an excuse for the farmer to enjoy a break away from the never ending drudgery of farm work. If at all possible as many of the family as could manage would attend the fair, all with their own agendas. For the womenfolk it was an opportunity to meet neighbours and catch up on the gossip as well as inspecting the wares of the many traders who attended these events. The menfolk on the other hand often swapped tales within the confines of the local inn once they had completed their business for the day. The fair also gave the young people from the farms the chance to meet up with their peer group from other farms whom they would often not see for months on end. Many a marriage was arranged through meetings at the fair.


Agricultural Shows

By the mid 1800’s, farmers began to come together to meet and compete against one another in what became known as Agricultural Shows. The focus of these shows was not about hiring labour but about farmers displaying their pride in their work.

The success of these shows depended greatly on the support of sponsors, usually found from within the ranks of local landowners and trades people. To attract the participation of the farmers, prizes were offered to winners in each show category. Depending on the monies raised the categories of competition were many and varied. Virtually all farm animals from horses and cattle to chickens and ducks were put up for competition and to win a prize for an entry added to the farmer’s reputation. Women were not forgotten as they would compete in such diverse activities as butter and cheese making, baking, knitting and flower arranging. Farmers held these events in such importance that they would often travel great distances with their exhibits to compete in shows.


Mearns Agricultural Show

The Mearns Show was held in April and was one of, if not the most important event in the parish calendar. Preparations for this event would take place many months in advance. On the day of the show the population would gather, usually in a field near to the village where they would enjoy the many sights and sounds associated with such an event.

Members of Mearns Agricultural Society in the 1930s
Members of Mearns Agricultural Society in the 1930s


Premier amongst the competitions being judged was those relating to livestock and in particular cattle. The Ayrshire cow, ever the favourite of the dairy farmer for its prodigious capacity for producing milk, was given prominence in the show and much pride went into the preparation of the competing cattle for presentation to be judged.

Champion Ayrshire cow owned by Robert Harvie of Waterside.  Pictured at the 1932 Mearns Cattle Show.
Champion Ayrshire cow owned by Robert Harvie of Waterside. Pictured at the 1932 Mearns Cattle Show.


Other categories of competition included not only livestock but domestic skills such as baking and jam-making which came just as high in the importance of the womenfolk of the farm as did her spouse’s cattle. Children were not forgotten, with sections relating to their handling and obedience of dogs many of which were of the working collie variety.


Mearns Agricultural Society, the body responsible for organising the Show, also held various other functions throughout the year for the benefit of the farming community. Outings and dances were very popular with farming families and were often the only opportunity for a social life away from the travails of the farm.


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The First Statistical Account of Scotland  written in 1796, describes the type of farming in Mearns:

“The greater part of the lands is in pasturage. Every farm is stocked with milk cows;and the principal object of the farmer is to produce butter, and butter milk, for the Glasgow market. The butter that is made here....... is reckoned preferable to any other, and the demand for it is vastly greater than can be answered.”

Until the late 1700’s it was difficult to transport fresh dairy products any distance from the farms. At that time the roads around Mearns were poor but as the roads improved so did the trade. One result of this expansion was the daily morning exit of a convoy of assorted wheeled vehicles which could be seen leaving the parish carrying their sought after fresh products to eager customers in the cities. This increased business was of benefit to the Mearns farming community.

Milk production being such a large element of farm production in Mearns meant that farmers could use the milk to produce other dairy products. Originally butter churns were turned by hand which was a laborious and strength sapping activity, mostly carried out by the womenfolk of the farm.


This dairymaid is pictured with the tools of her trade. Her milk bine, butter search and spade are on her left and the butter churn is on the right. A bine was a shallow, large diameter basin, used for skimming the cream off the milk.

Most farms had been developed  to create individual holdings of usually around 60 acres. On such units there would be a one storey farmhouse with adjoining barns, byres and outhouses. Such buildings often were built round three sides of a square and if possible within a short distance from a stream or water course from which the farm’s needs could be supplied.

This close proximity to a water source and in particular a fast flowing stream had many advantages to the daily tasks carried out on the farm. Water driven churning devices were introduced making the process of butter making easier and quicker.



Again the First Statistical Account of 1796 contains the following paragraph:

“The churning of milk makes a great and laborious part of the farmers’ work. Of late they have introduced the use of churning-mills driven by water. There are many streams which run through the parish and answer for these mills, and on trial they prove highly beneficial and save a great deal of labour.”

The farmer’s daughters at Langlee Farm  with dairy cows in the early 1900s.


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