[From General View of Agriculture, 1794]
THE inhabitants of this island are sufficiently numerous for its cultivation; but the herring fishery bringing in so much money, tempts the owners of small farms, tenants, and labourers, to spend the three most important months in the year in that employ. Upwards of five thousand men are engaged in the fishery, who, after having tilled their land and sown their corn, prepare their boats, nets, &c. and leave the weeding of the crops and the saving of their harvests to their wives and families, and those few men who prefer being ashore. This custom is no way prejudicial to those whose crops are small; but is severely felt by the farmers, whose chief dependence is on corn; it frequently happens that corn, both uncut and cut, is much injured for want of sufficient number of hands. The women are expert reapers, and can do many other parts of husbandry work. Threshing is chiefly performed by them, on the upland farms; and in digging up of potatoes, they are little inferior to men.
The lower class of inhabitants live on meal of oats, and barley, and potatoes, and fish, with a small proportion of fleshmeat. Their breakfast is of meal pottage and milk; their dinner is potatoes, and either salt or fresh fish; sometimes beef or pork, as they can afford; and their supper either pottage, or potatoes and milk. What bread they use is made of barley meal, which is cheaper than oat meal, and is considered as more wholesome.
The labourers have a small piece of ground for the growth of potatoes; and those who keep cows are obliged to cultivate some corn for their provender.
The price of labour is increased within there left ten years, from six-pence to eight-pence per day; and in some places as high as a shilling. Many works are found as expensive as in the opposite coasts of England, though the daily wages are lower, occasioned by the want of activity and ingenuity. The customary mode of employ being by the day, and not by the job, is the chief reason of this want of exertion. House servants have also raised their wages, near one half, since the above period. A ploughman is not to be got under six guineas; when, ten years ago, none required above three and a pair of shoes, or a quarter of a hide for sandals. Boys, from fourteen to seventeen years of age, have two guineas, when formerly they got but one. Some expert intelligent men servants have been procured from Scotland and England, at wages from sixteen to eighteen pounds a year, and have proved valuable acquisitions, by reducing the ancient mode of ploughing to less trouble, and bringing the practice of drilling potatoes and turnips to greater perfection; by which means more cattle are stall fed, and the markets, in winter, better supplied with provisions.
The wages of mechanics are, carpenters and masons, one shilling and six-pence; quarriers, one shilling and four-pence per day. Mowers also have one shilling and six-pence, with a quart of strong beer, per day; they cut only three quarters of an acre. Women earn six-pence per day, at potato setting, hay-making, weeding, and pulling flax a eight-pence in harvest, and seven-pence when digging potatoes. Five reapers, and one to bind, can cut an acre of middling corn in a day. The practice is, to cut the corn as close to the ground as possible; and the usual number of stooks per acre is between sixty and seventy. stooks of wheat are never topped, and consist of ten sheaves; but barley and oats have twelve sheaves, and are covered. Mowing corn has been tried by way of experiment; but tying and stooking after mowing, makes it come as expensive as reaping. Shoeing horses is always paid for by the set, at two shillings; their yearly cost is about twelve shillings a horde. Heavy iron work stands in four-pence per pound, and fine work five pence. The hours of work are from six to six in summer, and if later in the morning are obliged to make it up in the evening, allowing two hours for victuals, and rest at noon; in winter, from eight in the morning to four in the afternoon, without stoppage at noon.
THE farm-houses and offices in this island are, in general small, and not well constructed, no attention being paid to Situating them regularly; but they are built wherever fancy directed Those lately erected are on a better plan, having the farm offices built round a yard, where young cattle are foddered on the dunghill. The buildings are also larger and more substantial than formerly; the walls built of lime, mortar, and stone; the covering mostly of slates. A common plan here is to have the barn over the cow-houses, but the cattle are never kept so clean, and, if fatting stock, do not thrive so well; it is also inconvenient and expensive to drag in all the crop of corn. Tying the cattle to stakes is still the custom on the small farms; but on the larger, they are secured by yokes, or small uprights, moving in grooved beam,. Open stables are too much in use still, the horses being very apt to kick one another.
The cottages occupied by labourers on the upland, are very mean, built of earth and thatched with straw; but near the towns they are better. Thatching with straw, and securing the covering with netting of straw ropes, is particularly well done in this country. The duration of this roofing is short, not lasting above two years; but when the thatch is sewed on, as in England, it lasts fourteen. There are a few estates well supplied with offices and commodious barns.
THE inclosures in this island are usually from four to ten acres, and for the most part, appear to be of ancient date; very many of the fences are unaccountably crooked and irregular.
The mode of fencing, except on a few farms, is by banks built of sods or square spits of earth, to the heighth of five or six feet, which is a work at which the labourers here are remarkably expert. Ditches for conveying off the water would cause them to be more secure; but the outsides of the hedge requiring so large a portion of the surface, they are little lower than the head land, from which the sods are cut. These fences stand in need of frequent repairs, the cattle and sheep climbing over them, either to eat the grass which grows on the hedge or to get into better pasture. Goss, or furze, where it will thrive, is drilled on the ridge, and makes this mode of fencing very secure; but it must be cut down every two or three years, or it will destroy the hedge. Dry stone walls, where stones can be procured at a low rate, are used, and are considered the best fencing, as they last a long time, and are easily repaired. Several new upland inclosures have been fenced this way, and cost from one shilling to one and eight-pence per yard in length, five feet high, and two thick. A few farms have thorn fences, but they only grow on some situations, very rarely with a westerly aspect. A single hedge four feet high, and ditch four feet wide at top, eighteen inches at bottom, and four feet deep, planted with two rows of quick sets, costs here eight-pence the rod of five yards and a half, and when backed with sod work stands in two-pence more. Plashing and clipping is practised where the thorns are of a sufficient size and age.
THE state of the roads has been rapidly improving within there last twenty years; before which period they were dangerous in the winter season, and scarcely passable in the summer, for carriages. Travellers generally went on horseback; even corn, hay, and manure, were carried by the same mode of conveyance. By the attention of the legislature of this island to the due application of the funds allotted to the highways, they are now much altered; there are, however, many roads very bad, but as there are no turnpikes, the funds are too slender for a general improvement. The committee of the legislature for the direction of the roads, have great merit for the repairs already done, and the new roads they have made and are making, which in many places are difficult and troublesome, on account of the numerous rills and streams running down from the mountains, and the unevenness of the land. The number of bridges necessary in a country abounding with rapid rivulets, causes road-making to be a great expence, and retards so useful an improvement. By the Statute of 1776, new high roads were ordered to be eight yards wide, and to have ditches on either side, according to the dryness of the soil, and to be well gravelled on the top; the old roads were also to be made broader where required. The funds originate from parochial labour, including three day's labour from every house in the towns, amounting to about 7501. A proportion of the revenue arising from public-house licences, of about 1801. and a tax on dogs, of 701. Amounting altogether to 1000l. per annum.