Blantyre Fermtouns

If your Blantyre ancestor was a farm servant, dairymaid, farmer or an agricultural labourer, then he or she may have been employed on one or more of Blantyre’s fermtouns (farm towns). Before the industrial revolution and the availability of work in large towns, a substantial percentage of the population lived and worked in the countryside.

During the industrial revolution, the population increased rapidly so it was necessary to increase the amount of food grown. The subsequent agricultural revolution wasn’t so much a revolution as a gradual change that took place over the years between 1650 and 1900. Blantyre was no exception and even by 1650’s had small hamlets or fermtouns springing up.

These little hamlets all had their own identity, were often clustered around one of two farms with a small congregation of homes near to them. There were six fermtouns in Blantyre Parish. Blantyreferme, Barnhill, Hunthill, Auchinraith, Auchentibber and Kirkton at the centre of them all. Springwells may also have become a fermtoun.

Farming in Scotland started to accelerate from the 1760’s. The old infields and outfields were gradually removed and replaced by fields enclosed by hedges and walls, marking clearly the property boundaries. This period often led to disputes as heritors set out their territory properly. Developments in agricultural mechanization during the 18th century needed large, enclosed fields in order to be workable. More of the land could be used for cultivation but the dynamic Blantyre fermtouns changed as the smaller tenant farmers lost their tenancies and they and the cottars who lived on their land had now to resort to selling their labour to make a living. Drainage was improved in places like Auchentibber, Calderside and Blantyreferme and crops like turnips were introduced to feed cattle.

Farm steadings in all of these hamlets were often built in a courtyard design. To see this, you only need to look at old maps of Broompark Farm, Barnhill Farm, Calderside, Croftfoot Farm, Priestfield, Coatshill Farm to name a few.

The farmhouse and the barn would be located at opposite sides with accommodation for animals, workers and machinery forming the other two sides. Later, mainly because of the adjacent dung heap, the farmhouse would be built separately a small distance away from other outbuildings. Blantyreferme and Park are good examples of this. In the 19th Century and before, farm workers usually co-habited together, often in a communal bothy forming part of the outbuildings although some farms built separate accommodation for their married workers near to the farm steading.

Other workers living in one of Blantyre’s fermtouns might include the grieve (foreman), a bailie to look after the cattle, a ploughmen, the dairy maid(s), house maid(s), kitchen maid, oot-woman (who did the outdoor work), labourers, the orra man (handyman), the soutar (shoemaker), although he probably worked for a local shop and visited the fermtoun in the evening to repair shoes. There would also be visiting masons to maintain the buildings and construct extensions and addtions for each heritor as the farms prospered.

During harvest, many more workers were employed usually on a temporary basis as they took to the fields in the summer for the berry picking and in the autumn for the ‘tattie howking’ (lifting potatoes). Larger fermtouns like Kirkton sometimes also had orchards and had a dedicated smiddy or the blacksmith with his own premises suitably placed to serve a number of farms or families. The blacksmith shod the horses and also made, repaired and sharpened the ploughs, harness and other implements and rimmed cartwheels. At Wheatlandhead and Broompark, the hand plough, drawn by a pair of Clydesdale horses, continued to be used until around the 1940’s.

Farm workers were rarely employed on a permanent basis and often lived quite a nomadic lifestyle. They were usually hired on a temporary basis at a feeing market at Lanark and Glasgow, usually held every 6 months in May and November. On accepting the fee, the farm servant would be bound to the farmer for the next six months or a year. He probably wouldn’t see much of his fee in hard cash but would be provided with a roof over his head and some basic food and fuel. If he was a married man, he might be lucky enough to be taken on by one of the larger farms that provided accommodation for his family. Otherwise he would have to stay in the bothy with the single men while his family stayed elsewhere, perhaps with the wife’s parents. There are cases of the family of a farm worker living apart from him in abject poverty and relying on the parish for sustenance. Most parishes had fair days, a brief holiday usually lasting a few days, where labourers and farmers came together before harvest time. Farmers came to buy and deal. Pedlars sold their wares. The recruiting sergeant would be present, trying to tempt the labourers away from their lives of drudgery. Drink was taken.

The time of the fermtouns passed when increasing mechanisation arrived, as implements were devised that could sow and pick far quicker than squads of labourers and, in time, tractors replaced horses. People also began to be attracted to other industries like weaving and coal mining, which were often slightly better paid and usually more permanent with less of the drudgery of working in the fields in all weathers and the inevitable sores and ailments that would come from that work in later life.

Even on Blantyre’s 1898 maps, these hamlets were still spaced out enough to be considered separate areas. It took until the 1930’s until the 1950s with the slum clearances and building of many new housing estates like The Village, Orlits, the Crescents and timber houses within the intermiediate fields in Blantyre, that eventually saw all of Blantyre’s fermtoun hamlets, merge into one identity known only as Blantyre. The names are not forgotten and still proudly used on postal addresses, but the boundaries are becoming very difficult to determine and most people simply refer to themselves as “coming from Blantyre.”

From “Blantyre Explained” by Paul Veverka (c)2016
Photo courtesy of the late Neil Gordon: Malcomwood Farm, just outside Blantyre Parish, believed to be the 1920s

1920s Malcolmwood

On social media:

Janet Cochrane My granny owned Barnhill little farm my grandfather Robert Main stayed three. My mother Annie Main Marshall left home when she was 14 and went into service. She worked on farms in the by re and outside. She worked at Auchentibber Farm and at Broompark Farm along with her brother She worked for Alec Rocheads grandfather
her older sister worked at Birdsfield and Bellsfield farms her other sister worked as housemaid in houses in Largs she also worked at Drumlanrig and Stobo castles she travelled to London with them. We still had a working horse late 40s early 50s. The women from Auchentibber used to come to Calderside to help with the threshing mill and the potatoes.

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