Up to the 1960s most farms practised some form of mixed farming, i.e. they grew commercial as well as “fodder” crops. The main crops sold off the farm were wheat, barley and potatoes. The fodder crops were oats, turnips and grass / hay. Farms at one time were labour-intensive (see photo below).
During the depression in farming in the 1920s and 1930s much of the arable laid was laid down to grass. Crop production only started increasing again with the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 (“Dig or Plough for Victory”).
Cattle kept in the area increased and were either reared locally or were bought in as “stores” e.g. from highland Perthshire, to be fattened and later sold at Perth market on Mondays, when local butchers bought their meat “on the hoof”.
Many families in Abernethy and District were traditionally salmon fishers. The same surnames appear down the years from the late 18th century, right up to the present time when salmon netting is at an end. The importance of salmon fishing to the community is indicated by the following figures:
In 1796, 40 men from the parish crewed 20 boats for a wage of 6s 6d per week “with what trout they catch”. By the 1850s 70 men “were at the fishing, having recourse to the loom during the winter months”. Wages had risen to circa 15s. per week.
In the 1901 census 58 men were classed as salmon fishers, and wages had risen to 21s 6d per week. Numbers of fishermen began to drop after 1900 as operating fishing stations fell out of use, going from over 100 to under 20 by the 1970s. Wages had, however, improved to £12per week in 1965. It is ironic that a male-only occupation was represented by a woman fisher at the last netting station on the Earn and Tay, namely Mrs. Nan Jarvis at Ferryfield.
Some of the fisher families were: Kemps; Scobies; Doigs; Haggarts; Ramsays; Powries; Scotlands; Betts; Jarvises; Wilkies; Johnstons.
Apples, Pears, Plums and Damsons in the Abernethy Area
Most gardens had a fruit tree, normally a cooking apple (Codling, Bramley Seedling or such) or dessert e.g. Beauty of Bath, Irish Peach. Since this museum opened in 2000, awareness of Scottish ‘Heritage’ varieties has grown (eg. Bloody Ploughman), and there has been an attempt to restore some orchards in the Carse of Gowrie. Most of the private orchards once common in Abernethy have disappeared, but in the 21st century fruit trees are again being planted in the village for the benefit of the public, and many private gardens retain apple and plum trees.
A few pear trees are also in evidence.
The ‘Big houses’ e.g. Ayton, Carpow had many fruit trees in walled gardens – a wide selection of apples, pears and plums, as well as peaches and apricots (sometimes in special greenhouses).
Commercial fruit growing was limited to the following:
John Sandilands - The Orchard, planted late C19th
Alex Sandilands - Marylea, planted 1902
Andrew Haggart - Earndale, planted c. 1900-1910
Thomson - Cordon Farm, planted late C19th
John Saunders - Thornbank, planted c. 1905.
Main production was apples, mainly cooking but with a few dessert varieties e.g. Beauty of Bath, James Grieve, Charles Ross. Main cookers – Grenadier, Lane’s Prince Albert, Bramley Seedling. Plums – mainly Victoria, but also Czar (purple) and Warwickshire Drooper (yellow). Pears – Conference, Louise Bonne de Jersey, Pitmaston Duchess. (The oldest Scottish pear orchard was at Lindores Abbey, varieties unknown).
Abernethy was once a typical Scottish village, self-sufficient in all goods, with carry-out fast food (chips), bakers, bank, corner shop (above), general store, Post Office, drapers and the famous Tower factory works. Many details of the shops and businesses that once occupied the village can be found in the Museum,
Scotland was a prime location for watermills and were established from the middle of the fifteenth century. By the early 17th century, these structures were considered an important element in the community as both a source of livelihood and food production. Landowners built and maintained water mills on their land ensuring their tenants used their mill to generate income for the estate.
The Mills of Aberargie were powered by the fast flow of the Water of Farg as it rushed down the narrow glen from the Ochils. The small settlement expanded to house the millers and the workers. The oldest maps showing the mills in Aberargie date to 1747, and Charters from the sixteenth century, signed by King James VI, mention Farg and Pottie Mills, but they may have been in existence even earlier.
Grain, of every type, was the main part of the diet of most Scots who lived in the countryside, supplemented by some vegetables they grew in their own gardens. Many agricultural tenants also paid their rent in grain. In 1815 a local tenants annual rent was 67 ½ bolls of wheat, 67 ½ bolls of barley, 26 hens and £190!
Water mills were still in use in the second half of the 19th century and into the early 20th Century. But as steam engines became more reliable than the rivers as a source of energy, they fell into disuse. Rural water mills began to close down to be replaced by the large, industrial, port-based, steam-powered mills and by the end of the 19th Century almost all rural watermills had ceased commercial production.
Now owned by Carr’s, Hutchisons Flour Mill at the Harbour in Kirkaldy was founded by descendants of the Hutchison Family who operated both Pottie and Aberargie Mills in the 18th and 19th Century. Farg Mill began its transition to a farm in 1819 when it was sold by the owners of Culfargie Estate to Ayton Estate, and the last Millers at Aberargie Mill, the Rogers Family, gave up their tenancy in 1911.