The Plough used in agriculture with Clydesdale horse and tractor

Clydesdale horse

At vintage working rallies you will see many different ploughs in action, from the single furrow tractor plough developed to be used by Harry Ferguson’s invention of the three point lifting system. This allowed the plough for the first time to be lifted up by the hydraulic system on board the early tractors. It also enabled the plough to now be a fixed part of the tractor. Previous all the ploughs were pulled behind the tractor. This took place here in Aberdeenshire in the early 1900s. You will also see steam ploughing featuring two steam engines pulling a multi furrow balanced plough up and down the field. These ploughs were seldom used in Aberdeenshire because the fields were smaller and the ground too stony.

Like many other inventions the plough can be traced back to early biblical times. It evolved as part of Scottish heritage through time. Man settled down in one place at different times within different world regions. During the period when he was a hunter gatherer he lived off the natural growing food stuffs. He would not stay in one place long enough to reap what he had sown. It was only when man started to settle down that the plough became a necessary implement.

When man decided to stay in one place he required a cultivated food supply. This cultivation started by using whatever was available to him at that time. Nature was the early provider of tilling equipment. A limb of a tree would form a hand held hoe type implement. The early pulled plough type implement made out of wood and pulled by man power. The depth into the soil which was tilled was very limited and seeds planted were poor growers. As man started to harness other power sources such as oxen the design of the plough had to be stronger. This still featured wood but had two different parts, the pulling beam and the ploughing part. In Aberdeenshire the “The Twall Oxen Ploo” was worked. This was pulled by 12 oxen. It required 4 oxen handlers and two men in the shafts of the plough.

Any invention is a result of composite advancements and the plough is no exception to this. As man began to master the art of working with metal the farmers requirements integrated these new techniques into different designs of the agricultural plough.

With the use of stronger metals the wooden parts of the plough were covered with metal. This made it easier to pull. Farmers soon realised that grass when rotted became a good growth additive eg an early fertiliser. So ploughs soon were designed to turn the sod underneath and expose new soil to the surface. This helped to improve the quality of the soil and aid its productivity. The evolution in the plough design, which led to the present day design features did not happen until the mid 1700s. These features were front cutting culter the metal cutting edge of the plough and the curved mould board were seen as essential.

It must be remembered that all the previous inventions were state of the art thinking and our Scottish ancestors were at the cutting edge of their technology. We owe them a great deal for taking us to this point in time, and leaving us their cultural footprint. Here in Aberdeenshire you will see good examples of the multitude of differently designed plough each with their makers crest and name. This shows you just how many manufacturers there were within any local district. One man who played a significant roll in the development of the plough was the local blacksmith. Once a farmer had bought a plough to be pulled by the Clydesdale horses it would need modifications which allowed it to work better within each different soil type. The ploughman who worked the Clydesdales had a dual role. He had to control the Clydesdales and he had to control the depth of the ploughing and keep the furrow straight. In the fields today the furrows may not be as straight as these skilled horsemen could plough. Many of our exhibitors today may never have ploughed as a farm servant in the past. Many are collectors and we welcome them here this week end. As the era of the Clydesdale horse disappeared from the 1930s onward tractors began to appear. The horseman kept warm in the winter when ploughing as he walked 11 miles per day behind the plough. The old horse ploughs were converted by the blacksmith to be pulled by tractor. Sitting on an early tractor without a cab could be very very cold for the driver, so thick army coats were worn to keep them warm. Tractor power ratings were more than the Clydesdales so bigger multi furrow ploughs evolved. Today’s ploughs share with all their predecessor inventions the same basic requirement to allow man to maximise the quality of his growing soil to satisfy his basic requirement of survival.


Tractor plough
5 furrow reversible plough modern Scottish Heritage


Don Carney