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The Rotherham Plough

The Rotherham Plough
The Rotherham Plough

Following the Romans, early British law required every ploughman to make his own plough, and no one was entitled to use one unless they constructed it themselves!

The word 'plough' appears to derive from the Saxon 'plou' and some of the history records show that even Saxon farmers fastened their animals to ploughs by their horns or even tails to draw the implement through the soil.

In the mid 1600s the Dutch attempted to make improvements to the plough, however a capital improvement in the plough was the invention of the iron mould-board and landside by Joseph Foljambe of Eastwood, under the direction of Walter Blythe. It was patented by him in November, 1730.

Joseph Foljambe later sold it to Disney Staniforth of Firbeck, who at first charged the farmers 2s. 6d. each to use it. Mr Staniforth afterwards attempting to raise this premium to 7s. or 7s. 6d.

While not the first iron plough, it was the first iron plough to have any commercial success, combining a number of technological innovations in its design, and being lighter than traditional ploughs. It remained in use in Britain until the development of the tractor.

It was referred to as a swing plough, because no depth wheel was used, it was like ploughs before it, constructed from wood. The difference was that the fittings and coulter were made of iron and the mouldboard and share were covered with an iron plate. This new design was considered by all who saw it at work to be more efficient as it was light and economical enough in draught to be drawn by a pair of horses.

Joseph Foljambe's was perhaps the first factory where a plough was produced on a large scale. It was not until the 1760s that the plough came into general use outside of Rotherham.

The plough measured from the end of either handle to the point of the share, 7 feet, 4 inches. Length of the beam, 6 feet. Length of the landside and share, as they run on the ground, 2 feet, 101 inches. Height from the ground to the top of the beam where the coulter goes through, 1 foot, 8 inches. Weight of wood and iron work, 140 lbs.

Rotherham Plough

James Small, a wagon-maker from Doncaster set up his own factory in Scotland and improved upon the plough. There was a spirit of improvement between plough makers and it seems that in the 1770s all ploughs were made by local craftsmen, some tried to improve the efficiency under local conditions, i.e. the condition of the soil etc.

For over 30 years this design proved very popular and was used extensively up and down the country, as well as abroad. One of these patented Rotherham ploughs was imported and used for some time with satisfaction by General Washington. On becoming worn, his plowrights were unable to repair it , as is shown in an extract from The Writings of George Washington , 1732-1799 in a letter to the merchant, Wakelin Welch of London. The letter is thanking Wakelin for offering to supply Washington with men, cattle, tools, seeds or anything else that may add to my rural amusements:

... Two of the simplest and best constructed ploughs for land, which is neither very heavy nor sandy; to be drawn by two horses; to have spare shades and coulters; and a mould, on which to form new irons, when the old ones are worn out, or will require repairing. I will take the liberty to observe, that some years ago, from a description or recommendation thereof, which I had somewhere met with, I sent to England for what was then called the Rotherham or patent plough; and, till it began to wear and was ruined by a bungling country smith, that no plough could have done better work, or appeared to have gone easier with two horses; but for the want of a mould, which I neglected to order with the plough, it becomes useless, after the irons, which came with it, were much worn .. .

The letter continues with a request from Washington for further supplies

Source : Agriculture of the United States in 1860 : compiled from the original returns of the eighth census, under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior by Joseph C. G. Kennedy. Publication date: 1864.

Joseph Foljambe was born in Eastwood, Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

Disney Stanyforth, a merchant from London, married a Mary Skinner. He was the son of Jonathan Stanyforth who owned land in Rotherham, Brinsworth, Kimberworth, Catcliffe and Sheffield; and the moiety of the manor of Morthen including Morthen Hall. The Manor of Firbeck came into their hands by marriage.

Recent Discovery at Woodlands Farm Treeton

During the current conversions at Woodlands Farm on Front Street, Treeton, Rotherham, the workmen found a two-foot iron tool in a cavity which baffled everyone, until a farming cousin suggested it was a COULTER. The Rotherham Plough revolutionised farming all over the then known world because of the coulter

Note: It has been recorded that a Charles (1725?1796?) Varlo or Varley , agriculturist, who was born in Yorkshire about 1725, took over English farming servants and implements of husbandry, particularly a plough of his own invention,known by the name of the Yorkshire or Rotherham plough. A Journal Royal Agricultural Society, 1892, 3rd ser. iii. 53 states that the statement that Varlo was the inventor of the Rotherham plough is incorrect, as the implement had been patented in 1730, when Varlo was a child, by Stanyforth & Foljambe of Rotherham

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