The last decades of the 18th Century were a period of major change in Scotland. In all aspects of life, established practices were challenged and overthrown, with consequences for all levels in society. In no field of endeavour was this change more marked than in Scottish agriculture: increasing demand and the development of new farming methods and more efficient tools led to dramatic changes in agriculture throughout Scotland. These changes included new crops and new methods of land division, while greater understanding of the science of animals and plants brought further re-evaluation of the ways in which the land was worked.
For historians of the period, some of the most important sources are the contemporary accounts, including the Reports written by Andrew Wight for the Commissioners of the Annexed estates, and the county reports to the Board of Agriculture. These are often hard-to-find, and the Ayrshire Archaeological and Natural History Society has done a great service to historians by reprinting, in one competitively priced volume, Wight's reports on Ayrshire, and William Fullarton's report on the county. Dating from 1778 and 1793 respectively, these reports not only illustrate the changes going on in Ayrshire farming, but also show how much had changed in the intervening period.
Both reports make fascinating reading in their own right. Some of the changes advocated seem commonsense, and other suggestions seem very advanced. Fullarton, for instance, advocates the use of Indian corn (maize) as a fodder crop for cattle; a change which has only come to pass in the last 15 years or so. Both Wight and Fullarton were astute observers, and comment not only on farming practice, but on many other aspects of life in the Ayrshire countryside, and the life of the people who live there.
This is a book of great value, and the Society is to be congratulated on producing these texts in a convenient form. Particular credit must be given to their editor, David McClure. The extensive notes, and a comprehensive index, give a sound context for the reports, expanding and explaining where necessary, while a number of appendices provide additional information on weights and measures, the importance of lime, and the costs of enclosing land.
Ayrshire in the Age of Improvement can be strongly recommended to anyone with an interest in Ayrshire and its history. It can be equally recommended to all with an interest in Scotland at this period of great change, for much of what Wight and Fullarton saw and advocated in Ayrshire had, and has, as much validity in other parts of agrarian Scotland. At £6 for 192 pages, this is a bargain!
Copies can be obtained form Ronald W. Brash, Publications distribution manager, AANHS, 10 Robsland Avenue, Ayr, KA7 2RW. Price including postage: UK, £6; overseas £8.
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