The Wee Grey Fergie

Not a title which means much to many people of this generation, but to those of us baby-boomers, and those with a connection to the land, it engenders an era gone past.

But to go back to the beginning…….

Tom Monroe on tractor  undated.jpg

My father was born in 1918 (so a baby-boomer of the First World War) into a family which might have been called gentlemen farmers. They obviously had a lot of farm machinery, and accounts which I have, show that they did lots of contract work for the local farming community who could not, or did not want to, purchase equipment which they would only use for a short time.

I have no records of when they bought their first tractor, but the above updated photo shows my father driving what I believe to be a Wee Grey Fergie. Now, I may be wrong because his model had many variants. The formal model name was TE 20, (from Tractor, England, 20 horsepower) not a very inspiring name.

In 1916, Harry Ferguson started development on ‘The Ferguson System’ to make a plough and linkage become part of the tractor as a whole. He got a patent granted in 1926, and then worked further on the linkage in the early ’30s. Production of the pre-TE20 models began in Huddersfield in the David Brown Factory in 1936, and in 1939, Henry Ford in Detroit, in the States, took on production of some 300,000 Ford Ferguson units to 1947.

There were some problems between Ferguson and Ford about the production location, and by 1945 the Wee Grey Fergie TE20 was built by the Standard Motor Company, Coventry (who built the Standard car). In all, from May 1936 to July 1956, approx one million units were sold worldwide.

So why am I such a nerd about this tractor? Well, I never knew my paternal grandparents and their farming business, but I did know my maternal grandparents, also farmers, with a relatively-small-holding near Lisburn, Northern Ireland. An undated photo of my grandparents, shows the compicated kind of mechanical reaper which was used with horses.

Sarah and John Stewart at Ballymullan on reaper date unknown.jpg

This 1966 photo shows their Fergie with direct linkage from the tractor engine to the reaper blades…

Bobby Stewart ploughing Jul 1966.JPG

…..and this one of the same year shows a different mechanism attached to ‘turn-over’ hay to dry it off. Nice to see the evident equality with my aunt driving the tractor…..

Bobby and Agnes Stewart on 'wee grey Fergie' Ballymullan.jpg

…..and still manual labour was necessary until the farmer could afford another module  for their Fergie to do the job…

Agnes, Bobby Stewart, and mother Marg Crawford, Ballymullan.jpg

So I was regularly at the farm with my brother and eventually at about the age of 11 or 12, was allowed to briefly drive the Fergie. I can clearly remember the cold winter’s day in a field of kale, which was being cut by my uncle, and thrown into a trailer, and I was empowered to move the tractor and trailer forward. I don’t think my Grandmother or Mother were informed! It was not an easy vehicle to drive but eventually I believe I made some small contribution to local agriculture!

Hence my strange ‘attachment’ to this farming machine……

Move forward to a week ago when I received a birthday present which delighted me immensely. A little scale-model of the TE20, along with a lovely drawing of a rural scene by Trevor Mitchell showing a Fergie, ploughing, a postie on a bike,  a church clock-tower, and a flock of birds…..

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!

Not the slightest idea….

The old Irish Homestead, which has seen better days

The old Irish Homestead, which had seen better days, but still very much part of my childhood.

The Scottish ancestral home, near Inverness, Scotland

Foulis Castle, the Scottish ancestral home, near Inverness, Scotland, which we have visited many times

s I have become older, I have become more interested in my back-ground. Where have we fitted-into the world, what influence have our great-grandparents had on who we are. And what influence have we individually had on our succeeding generations. Besides our blood family, there are also many other circles within which we move, our neighbours, club memberships, school friends, and work colleagues, to name but a few. So do we have an influence on all these folk?

Then there are those far-off relatives-by-marriage whom we have never met, and are unlikely to meet. However we are duty-bound to at least use one ear when listening to the intricacies of the relationship when relayed by someone close. Social media has brought many of these people within communication range, but we will still not meet them in the flesh.

No, I am mainly concerned about my own recent, and not so recent, predecessors and their close families, …….my DNA, if you will.

I am fortunate in that those before me were able to utilise the clan system, and the known history (from about 1100 ad) to document the earliest ancesters right through to my grandparents on my father’s side. This info was available to me through family publications….so no real problems there.

Luckily I knew my maternal grandparents well and many aunts, uncles and cousins, but my paternal grandparents had both passed-on before I could know them, even as a child.

So I was able to get into the history of a well-to-do Scottish land-owning family, and the life of a small Irish farming family, but even then I have only scratched the surface. I know nothing of their daily lives and how that influenced their approach to life. Did it make them ‘harder’ if life was difficult, and would this percolate into the ethos of the family, and the behaviour of their descendents?

Images of more than two or three generations back are limited so we cannot see, or image whether our facial features, skills, attributes etc are discernible as part of a long line. Very strange, that we are part of this long lineage, and yet, we are only in connection with a maximum of two generations on either side of ours.

Presumably, future generations will be asking the same questions as we do, but I hope that the work I have been doing on digitising all the available photos, documents etc into some form of logical order for generations to come will prove hopeful……

You scratch my back………..

My maternal and paternal grandparents made their living off the land in the area of Lisburn, which is now a major City in Northern Ireland, but in those days (1940’s and ’50s) was just a sizeable market town about 8 miles south-west of Belfast.

Sarah and John Stewart at Ballymullan on reaper date unknown

My mother’s folks were humble, but hardworking, farmers with cattle and lovely arable land which afforded a beautiful vista over Belfast from the

agnes-bobby-stewart-and-mother-marg-crawford-ballymullan[1]

Ballymullan hills. All the ground was based round a little cottage, in which five children (four girls and a boy) had been brought up, and although the facilities were primitive, it had a lovely

Ballymullan homestead...seen better days Jan 1969

warmth about it….maybe the subject of another post. You could walk to anywhere on their farm within 15 minutes so it was not extensive. They grew potatoes and wheat, along with hens, pigs, and their herd of cows, which provided the farm with eggs and milk, as well as some income. I don’t remember horses being used but the ‘Wee Grey Fergie’ tractor was where I started to learn to drive about the age of 11′
On the other hand, my father came from what must have been

Baling 1943 Jim Monroe on rt, Tom Monroe 2nd from right

a relatively-wealthy family. All the photos I have from two generations back, are smartly-dressed men and women, posing with staff in front of large houses. The

H's Monroe g'parents + unnamed uncles large house

Monroe family was well-known in Irish history, (specifically in this area) although this was not really discussed at the time. They had an agricultural contracting company (to do work for local farmers who did not have, or require, the expensive machinery), bus company, brickworks, a large farm, workers houses etc and as far as I know.the road was named after the Belsize House where they lived. With little imagination the company was called ‘Monroe Bros’

So there were two quite different families in the same area, and the common link was the marriage of my mother and father in 1943.

Four ladies (Monroe)

My mother had worked in some office in Belfast so was aware of accounting practices. It appears that she took on the position of Book-keeper within the

Perhaps great aunt Minnie

firm, and I recently came upon an old accounts book for 1944/45. She probably gave up when I was born in 1945.

It makes wonderfully-interesting reading, at least for the family, as many of the customers of the agricultural contracting business were individuals (or their descendents) whose names were mentioned regularly in our childhood, but we as children would never meet them. There were also titled people whose estates obviously needed extra help during the ploughing, planting and harvesting seasons.

The various activities involved in this business were numerous, and many would not be known to urban dwellers and the costs are well detailed. They included the following (with modern-day coinage in brackets):-

  • Ploughing, £1/5/00d per acre….(£1.25)
  • Cultivating, Discing, grubbing, carting, digging, harrowing, sawing…7/6d per acre…… (38p)
  • Threshing…..10/00d per hour….(50p)
  • Binding bales, 14/0d per acre……(70p)
  • Tractor work including 2 men, 8/00d per hour……. (40p)Tom Monroe on tractor  undated

But the one set of entries which intrigued me most was the one, in 1944, where my father’s father’s business did work for my mother’s father’s farm at Ballymullan. It came to £14.16.00p, a not-insubstantial sum. It may have been that the bill could not be paid immediately due to a cash flow problem, but the accounts show quite clearly that cash of £4/16/- was paid on 16th October 1944, with the £10 balance being paid-for by 2 tons of potatoes!

I have no way of confirming the value of potatoes in 1944, so cannot comment on which side felt they had done well out of the deal, so perhaps someone can enlighten me if such information would be available…….

To the beautiful north of Scotland, Day 3…Inverness to Thurso

We set off from Kingsmills Hotel Inverness on the Tuesday, fortified by a large breakfast, and Kessock Bridgeknowing that the weather was likely to be a bit unpleasant. Fortunately we had not had the terrible gales and rain which England and Europe had experienced the previous day, but still, it might not be nice. The east of Scotland is usually colder but drier than the west, which has the Gulf Stream to influence it , but not this time.

The road north takes us along the continuing A9, over the Kessock Bridge. This divides the Beauly Firth and Moray Firth (sea lochs), but joins the ‘mainland’ with the Black Isle Peninsula. The Isle does not deserve this description, as it is a  bright, flat, lush. area, criss-crossed with many pretty roads,  with a long coastline, and villages and small towns such as Cromarty (of weather forecast fame), Rosemarkie, Jemimaville and Fortrose. When crossing the bridge, luckily the weather was OK but showed signs of worsening weather.

We were now travelling in an area well-known to our family, as these were the lands of the Foulis castleMunros of Foulis Castle in Ross-shire. Born in N Ireland, I claim descent from Prince Ocaan of Fermanagh (of about 1000AD) the chief of a Scots clan which had been driven from Scotland in the fourth century, by the Romans, to Ireland. The clan had lived near Loch Foyle on the River Roe near Londonderry (from whence the name Munro, or Monroe, was derived). His son Donald then took the clan back to Scotland, and after fighting for King Malcolm 2nd in 1025, he was given a Barony (which he named Foule or Foyle) and was granted lands in Ross-shire. Hence the name Foulis Castle at the town-land of Evanton. There is normally a wonderful view of it from the Black Isle, but not today. I described the view, and called the castle a beacon, in a poem I wrote for the Clan Gathering, many years ago. If any Monroes or Munroes want a copy I can get it to them or post on the clan FB page.

A number of years ago the Clan Chief Storehouseestablished a rather pleasant eating place and shop just as you come off the Black Isle. Called ‘The Storehouse of Foulis’ it presented good food and information about the Munros, and the usual momentoes for those interested. It has now passed into other hands but is still an excellent location for a stop.

As you can see the weather, had started to break down, and so we sat in what was a bit like a marquee for our hot chocolate, and looked out on what is called Seal Point. At the right time, many seals can be spotted coming into the shallow area to catch fish. We were there on a beautiful night some years ago at a Clan Gathering with fireworks going off, and since there is a minimum of light pollution there, it was very spectacular.SAM_0442

But we still had some distance to go, and the storm clouds were gathering. Farewell to the area, and hoping to be here again next year at the next gathering, we sallied forth. We were going to an area where road fuel is sold only in a limited number of places, so were astonished to discover that at our first petrol station it was available cheaper than we get it at home…..so filled-up at Tain.
SAM_0445
Round the corner of the Dornoch Firth, is a small town called, not surprisingly,
Dornoch. It has a rather sophisticated and dignified appearance with a lovely large square with Courthouse, Jail, and Police House…..obviously a peace-loving area!
It also boasts a Church of Scotland Cathedral……one of only a few. We were  fortunate and privileged some years ago to be asked to do work on the sound system and it was a very-pleasant experience. So we had to pop in and were delighted to see SAM_0447that our original wiring was still there. The photo looks toward where the altar would be in an Anglican cathedral, but here it is simply an entrance door. It is a beautifully-light area with large stained-glass windows. Unfortunately the weather was worsening and we had no chance to spend much more time in what is a delightful town.
It is a great holiday/fishing/countryside/seek-the-Scottish ancestors, sort of place, so it is well-catered-for with regard to hotels and guest-houses. As a curiosity there isSAM_0450 local accommodation called www.fourpenny.net. So you may like to look at it.
North of this is where the scenery becomes really spectacular as the coast road allows us views of great  headlands and deep valleys, or glens….when weather permits, of course. It was not terribly kind to us in that regard, so we called-in at Golspie for some nourishment, at ‘Poppies’. The tablecloth design says it all!
We passed through Brora, Helmsdale, Berriedale, Latherton etc, but with poor views due to mist and cloud, before arriving at Wick. It had meaning to us as we once were asked to come and sort a problem in a Church sound system (we had not put it in!). We travelled from near Glasgow one Sunday, sorted the problem the next morning, and returned home on the Monday! Not to be recommended!
John O’Groats was but 20 miles north of this, but we preferred to go to Dunnet SAM_0457Head, which is the true most-northerly-point on the mainland. The shades of evening were descending but the cloud formation was spectacular. We could not stay long at the sands as the light was fading fast and so we made tracks for our overnight stop in Thurso, Pentland Lodge House.
Because of the proximity of the sea, almost all restaurants advertise themselves as the ‘Best Seafood Restaurant in the north of Scotland’. We decided not to go into the town to eat, so dropped down to the local fishing harbour of Scrabster, where we found the Ferry Inn, and ‘Upper Deck’ Restaurant. SAM_0463
It nestles into the local cliffs, and commands a view over the harbour. I can’t pretend that it is looks exactly a beautiful or ostentatious building; in fact it almost looks like a giant set of wooden packing cases! It was gratifying, then that when we went in, we saw a clean, airy, immaculate restaurant, with cheery staff and a good menu. You probably do not need two guesses as to what we ate……yes, fish!
Then off to bed…..for we were about to have our longest day trip on the morrow…..

If only……………

 

 

question mark

I’ve kept a detailed diary for over fifty years, in an attempt to preserve a record in the life of an ‘ordinary person’. It has proved invaluable in settling many arguments about where or when an event occurred in our lives, often giving us a surprise as memory detail fades with time.

Unfortunately, I know of no such diaries kept by my grandparents, on either side. This leaves me with an amazing lack of information about my forebears. I had obviously many, many chances to ask questions, but never did. Such questions would not have been about great philosophical ideas or earth-shattering revelations, simple day-to-day enquiries about their life.

  • Their parents were farmers, and lived in the country, so how did they get to school?
  • What games did they play?
  • What toys did they have?
  • What was their favourite food?
  • What did they do for holidays?
  • Did they have to wear hand-me-downs?
  • How well did they do at school?
  • How did they meet their eventual spouse?
  • What was their wedding like?
  • How could they afford the relatively-large families?
  • Did they read a lot?
  • How did they get to a doctor…and how could they afford it?
  • How did they keep warm without central heating and double glazing?

………….Just a few of the questions which shall be forever un-answered. None is of great importance, but put together and with a bit of imagination we might be able to piece together ‘a day in the life of’ for people just over 100 years ago.

Are there any questions you wish you had asked your parents or grandparents…but never did?

And do your children ask you questions about your youth?

Singing in Argyll….NOW WITH PHOTO

choir-31

 On Sunday our Choir ‘Angelus Singers’  went to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ballachulish, at Argyll near famous Glencoe, for the service of Sung Evensong. You can’t miss the Church, in its glorious setting halfway between Glencoe and the Ballachulish Bridge. It has an ancient history with the graveyard of especial historical interest, and they have the Communion Cup and Plate reputedly used by the Jacobites just before Culloden. The building is in some need of restoration, but the beauty is still evident. 

The fact that we were asked made us feel very proud, as the area of course is full of musical choirs, who participate in the Mod Festival, and Gaelic is still extensively spoken.We were supplemented by some local choir members, and a total of  18 singers filled the choir stalls. This allowed us to have a rousing service of well-known hymns, traditional sung responses, collects, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, and Psalm 119 (only a small part!). In addition we had an Introit and Anthem. The performance of the latter, ‘I saw a new heaven’…. was a first performance. Words of the Revelation of St John were the inspiration of this piece, and it is dedicated to the present congregation, and those who have gone before.

The weather was foul, during the two hour  journey both ways, but ballachulish-original-churchwe all arrived safely. We couldn’t  process from the ‘old church’ (really an old storehouse), to the ‘new church’  (1830’s)  because of the rain and snow.  The  organ then threw a tantrum by ‘ciphering’, when certain stops and notes got stuck and kept on playing! The organist kept her cool and and played well under the circumstances!

An excellent congregation had braved the weather, many from a long distance, and obviously enjoyed the old well-kent words, spoken and sung.
So it was a great event, and shows that many people working together, despite the many problems can produce something bigger than any of us.

How fortunate can anyone get to be in the midst of some of the most wonderful countryside in the world, and sing our hearts out!

 

Snap!

When we were at Aberfoyle on Sunday, a few of us took some photos of St Mary’s church and, of course, the assembled choir, for use in the local Church Newsletter. This will be retained in the archives, and, probably, occasionally looked-at over the coming years.

We all try to preserve a written or photographic record of outstanding events in our lives, and rightly so, but what about the not-so-important ones? I have been keeping a daily diary since 1958, and have been slowly reducing it to an autobiography. Not from some narcissistic wish to remember my life, but to record something for the children and future historians.

What I found interesting was the number of bits of information I had kept, like my wages, the price of petrol, what we paid for our first house, what we ate for breakfast nearly 50 years ago, bus timetables, when we stopped getting milk in bottles, the video out-takes from weddings…… All were not tremendously exciting at the time in the writing, in fact mundane. But from a historical point of view, someone will find them interesting.

So can I appeal to you to record not only the things which are important to you, but also those which might turn out to be important to your children, and your children’s children.

My parents and most of my uncles and aunts are dead, and there are now many questions I wish I had asked them, but didn’t. So ask that question now, and take your camera everywhere   ……..Because you rarely get a second chance!