An Introduction to Farming

Agricultural Revolution
Local Land & Soil
Farm Photos












An Essay on Farm Servants, Hillside, Portlethen - 1859.

In the early years there were many obstacles to overcome before agriculture could become fully established in the Portlethen. The geography of the land, the quality of the soil, the primitiveness of the machinery and the fact that the farmers didn�t actually own the land meant that it was challenging to eke a living out of farming in our area. 

During these early years, and we are referring to the early part of the 19th century here, the estates of Portlethen and Findon were run by landowners, not all of whom were familiar with farming and agriculture. The landowners primary concerns was to make money from their estates and the most obvious way to do this was to charge their tenants for leasing property and land, usage of roads and accessing natural portions of the local environment such as peat and kelp (seaweed). Rentals were also due to the landowners in respect to the production of crops. 

Within these estates were farms and crofts and the leasers of these farms and crofts were likely to have paid higher rental costs to the landowners than those tenants situated in the fishing villages � perhaps a reflection that agriculture was more lucrative than fishing. 

The tenants of the larger farms within the estates acted as factors for the landowners and collected the rentals from the other tenants within the estate as well as keeping books and accounting records. These monies were collected, passed to the landowners and accounting records were reported on a regular basis. 

From this it can be seen that the chief farming tenant or �factor� of the estate was often acting as the landowners �right hand man� and although he was likely to have been substantially better off than many others living on the estate he wasn�t in total control of the purse strings. In those early days he was reliant on the landowner if extra capital was required for working horses, farming equipment and extra livestock. In other words, he did not have the final say on how he could develop or make his farm more efficient. 

It was as the 19th century progressed that the farmers, slowly and surely, began to develop more say in Estate matters, and they began to become more powerful and more in control of their own destination.  

In respect to the estate of Portlethen the reason for this was that since the end of the 18th century the estate was literally under the control of absentee landlords. The first landlord of the 19th century was Sir William Johnstone and, being an owner of other estates in the area and a frequent visitor to Edinburgh he didn�t actually live within the estate at Portlethen at any point during the time that he owned it. 

Johnstone became bankrupt and the estate was sold on to the Gammell family, the ultimate owner being Ernest Gammell who inherited the estate from his grandfather when he was only nineteen years of age in 1823. Gammell remained a gentleman of leisure and continued to reside in the south of England and showed no desire to move north to Portlethen. This would have meant that he would have been reliant on his main factors and farmers to keep estate matters ticking over. When Gammell died in 1855 the estate reverted to his second wife Rosa Ann Bertram, who remarried two years later to a surgeon James Taylor. They too, showed no interest in moving to Portlethen and like Gammell, they probably managed Estate matters from afar, thus becoming ever more reliant on the factors/farmers to do the �hands on� management of the estate. 

Portlethen estate did remain in the Taylor/Bertram family for many years and well into the 20th century but as the years passed their influence became less and less. The position and importance of the local farmers grew in indirect proportion to the falling influence of the landowners and eventually these farmers almost became lairds themselves. This was also reflected in the way that they became involved in the hierarchy of the community and estate matters. The local population were soon looking up to these farmers as the real pillars of the local establishment, which was a role that they had been cultivating for themselves for some time in the absence of the true landlords in the community.