May 22, 2022

Scotland and its History (Inventions)

Andrew Meikle (5 May 1719 – 27 November 1811) was a Scottish mechanical engineer credited with inventing the threshing machine, a device used to remove the outer husks from grains of wheat. He also had a hand in assisting Firbeck in the invention of the Rotherham Plough. This was regarded as one of the key developments of the British Agricultural Revolution in the late 18th century. The invention was made around 1786, although some say he only improved on an earlier design by a Scottish farmer named Leckie.Michael Stirling is said to have invented a rotary threshing machine in 1758 which for forty years was used to process all the corn on his farm at Gateside, no published works have yet been found but his son William made a sworn statement to his minister to this fact, he also gave him the details of his father’s death in 1796.

Earlier (c.1772), he also invented windmill “spring sails”, which replaced the simple canvas designs previously used with sails made from a series of shutters that could be operated by levers, allowing windmill sails to be quickly and safely controlled in the event of a storm.

Meikle worked as a millwright at Houston Mill in East Linton, East Lothian, and inspired John Rennie to become a noted civil engineer.

He died at Houston Mill and is buried in East Linton’s Prestonkirk Parish Church kirkyard, close to Rennie’s father, George Rennie, who farmed the nearby Phantassie estate by the River Tyne.

In 2011 he was one of seven inaugural inductees to the Scottish Engineering Hall of Fame.

Threshing is the process of loosening the edible part of grain (or other crop) from the straw to which it is attached. It is the step in grain preparation after reaping. Threshing does not remove the bran from the grain.

History of threshing.

A grain flail

Through much of the history of agriculture, threshing was time-consuming and usually laborious, with a bushel of wheat taking about an hour. In the late 18th century, before threshing was mechanized, about one-quarter of agricultural labor was devoted to it.

It is likely that in the earliest days of agriculture the little grain that was raised was shelled by hand, but as the quantity increased the grain was probably beaten out with a stick, or the sheaf beaten upon the ground. An improvement on this, as the quantity further increased, was the practice of the ancient Egyptians of spreading out the loosened sheaves on a circular enclosure of hard ground, and driving oxen, sheep or other animals round and round over it so as to tread out the grain. This enclosure was placed on an elevated piece of ground so that when the straw was removed the wind blew away the chaff and left the corn. A contemporary version of this in some locations is to spread the grain on the surface of a country road so the grain may be threshed by the wheels of passing vehicles.

This method, however, damaged part of the grain, and it was partially superseded by the threshing sledge, a heavy frame mounted with three or more rollers, sometimes spiked, which revolved as it was drawn over the spread out corn by two oxen. A common sledge with a ridged or grooved bottom was also used. Similar methods to these were used by the ancient Greeks, and continued to be employed in the modern period in some places. In Italy the use of a tapering roller fastened to an upright shaft in the centre of the thrashing floor and pulled round from the outer end by oxen seems to be a descendant of the Roman tribulum or roller sledge.about:blankImageUpload an image file, pick one from your media library, or add one with a URL.UploadSelect ImageInsert from URL

The flail, a pair of connected sticks used to beat the grain, evolved from the early method of using a single stick. It, with the earlier methods, was described by Pliny the Elder in his first-century CE Natural History: “The cereals are threshed in some places with the threshing board on the threshing floor; in others they are trampled by a train of horses, and in others they are beaten with flails”. It seems to have been the thrashing implement in general use in all Northern European countries, and was the chief means of thrashing grain as late as 1860. It was known in Japan very early, and was probably used in conjunction with the stripper, an implement fashioned very much like a large comb, with the teeth made of hard wood and pointing upwards. The straw after being reaped was brought to this and combed through by hand, the heads being drawn off and afterwards threshed on the threshing floor by the flail. Much more recently, just such an implement, known as a “heckle”, has been used for combing the bolls or heads off flax, or for straightening the fibre in the after-treatment.about:blankImageUpload an image file, pick one from your media library, or add one with a URL.UploadSelect ImageInsert from URL

After the grain had been beaten out by the flail or ground out by other means the straw was carefully raked away and the corn and chaff collected to be separated by winnowing when there was a wind blowing. This consisted of tossing the mixture of corn and chaff into the air so that the wind carried away the chaff while the grain fell back on the threshing floor. The best grain fell nearest while the lightest grain was carried some distance before falling, thus an approximate grading of the grain was obtained. It was also performed when there was no wind by fanning while pouring the mixture from a vessel. Later on a fanning or winnowing mill was invented. Barns were constructed with large doors opening in the direction of the prevailing winds so that the wind could blow right through the barn and across the threshing floor for the purpose of winnowing the corn. The flail continued to be used for special purposes such as flower seeds and also where the quantity grown was small enough to render it not worth while to use a threshing mill.

With regard to the amount of grain threshed in a day by the flail, a fair average quantity was 8 bushels of wheat, 30 bushels of oats, 16 bushels of barley, 20 bushels of beans, 8 bushels of rye and 20 bushels of buckwheat.

In the 18th century there were efforts to create a power-driven threshing machine. In 1732 Michael Menzies, a Scot, obtained a patent for a power-driven machine. This was arranged to drive a large number of flails operated by water power, but was not particularly successful. The first practical effort leading in the right direction was made by a Scottish farmer named Leckie about 1758. He invented what was described as a “rotary machine consisting of a set of cross arms attached to a horizontal shaft and enclosed in a cylindrical case.” This machine did not work very well, but it demonstrated the superiority of the rotary motion and pointed to the ways in which thrashing machines should be constructed.

True industrialization of threshing began in 1786 with the invention of the threshing machine by Scot Andrew Meikle. In this the loosened sheaves were fed, ears first, from a feeding board between two fluted revolving rollers to the beating cylinder. This cylinder or “drum” was armed with four iron-shod beaters or spars of wood parallel to its axle, and these striking the ears of corn as they protruded from the rollers knocked out the grain. The drum revolved at 200 to 250 revolutions per minute and carried the loose grain and straw on to a concave sieve beneath another revolving drum or rake with pegs which rubbed the straw on to the concave and caused the grain and chaff to fall through. Another revolving rake tossed the straw out of the machine. The straw thus passing under one peg drum and over the next was subjected to a thorough rubbing and tossing which separated the grain and chaff from it. These fell on to the floor beneath, ready for winnowing.

A later development of the beater-drum was to fix iron pegs on the framework, and thus was evolved the Scottish “peg-mill,” which remained the standard type for nearly a hundred years, and was adopted across the USA. In Britain, the development of high-speed drums carried considerable risk, and a type of safety guard was mandated by the Threshing Machine Act of 1878.

Contemporary industrialization.

Today, in developed areas, threshing is mostly done by machine, usually by a combine harvester, which harvests, threshes, and winnows the grain while it is still in the field.

The cereal may be stored in a barn or silos.

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Scottish Towns-Cities. (Ayr.)

Ayr (/ɛər/; Scots: Ayr; Scottish Gaelic: Inbhir Àir, “Mouth of the River Ayr”) is a town situated on the southwest coast of Scotland.

It is the administrative centre of the South Ayrshire council area and the historic county town of Ayrshire. With a population of 46,780, Ayr is the 14th largest settlement in Scotland. The town is contiguous with the smaller town of Prestwick to the north.

Ayr was established as a Royal Burgh in 1205. It served as Ayrshire’s central marketplace and harbour throughout the Medieval Period and was a well-known port during the Early Modern Period.

On the southern bank of the River Ayr sits the ramparts of a citadel constructed by Oliver Cromwell’s men during the mid-17th century. Towards the south of the town is the birthplace of Scottish poet Robert Burns in the suburb of Alloway. Ayr has been a popular tourist resort since the expansion of the railway in 1840 owing to the town’s fine beach and its links to golfing and Robert Burns.

By Alan Reid.

Ayr is one of the largest retail centres in the south of Scotland and was recognised as the second healthiest town centre in the United Kingdom by the Royal Society for Public Health in 2014. Ayr has hosted the Scottish Grand National horse-racing steeplechase annually since 1965 and the Scottish International Airshow annually since 2014. The town also accommodates the headquarters of the Ayr Advertiser and Ayrshire Post newspapers.


The name Ayr can be traced back to a pre-Celtic word meaning “watercourse” or “strong river”. This name was used before the establishment of the Julian calendar in reference to the River Ayr. The town was formerly known as ‘Inverair’ or ‘Inverayr’, meaning “mouth of the river Ayr”, yet this was later abbreviated to ‘Air’, and then to ‘Ayr’. Elements of the old name remain present within the Scottish Gaelic name for Ayr – Inbhir Air.


The areas surrounding modern day Ayr were known to have been occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gathers more than 5,000 years ago. There is also a Neolithic standing stone at the end of Stonefield Park in Doonfoot, which is believed to have been upended as a place of sun worship by Stone Age people.

Establishment and early settlement (1197–1500)

In 1197, King William the Lion ordered that a new castle be built between the River Ayr and the River Doon. It is believed that the castle was a wooden structure built around Montgomerie Terrace. Ayr was later established as a royal burgh and market town on 21 May 1205 by King William the Lion.At its establishment, the burgh encompassed a single street (The Sandgate) and the Church of St John. By 1225 the town reached as far as Carrick Street and Mill Street along the south side of the River Ayr. The town grew quickly to become the main seaport, marketplace and administrative centre for Ayrshire.

The King gifted fishing rights to the burgh for the River Ayr and the River Doon in 1236. In the following year, a timber bridge was built across the River Ayr, linking the town to the north side of the River. Since 1261, annual fairs were held in the town. At this time the town had a recorded population of 1,500 and served as a major port on the west coast. The town was unsuccessfully attacked by Norwegian forces in 1263 and invaded and occupied by English forces from 1296 until 1312 as part of the Scottish Wars of Independence. In 1298 the original castle at Ayr was destroyed by Robert The Bruce’s forces. On 26 April 1315, a Parliament of Scotland was held in Ayr by Robert The Bruce at St. John’s Tower by the sea.

As a Royal Burgh, Ayr was afforded various privileges relating to trade, tolls and fishing rights, which allowed the town to out-compete the neighbouring free burgh of Newton which was established in the 14th century and situated on the north side of the River Ayr.

Early modern period (1500–1707)

St John’s Tower

By Rosser1954 – Own work,

Ayr was continuously hit by a number of plagues from 1545 to 1647, resulting in the town’s port being quarantined and plague victims being removed from the town on pain of death. Mary, Queen of Scots visited the town in 1552 and 1563. Ayr remained a significant port throughout the 16th century, exporting goods such as fish, hide and wool and importing salt and wine.

Ayr played a pivotal role in the Plantation of Ulster throughout the 17th century, in which a significant number of British people settled in present-day Northern Ireland. The town provided the largest share of colonists from Great Britain, with many colonists from Ayr joining the Earl of Eglinton, Hugh Montgomery’s, plant in the Ards Peninsula (particularly around Newtownards), and others going on to settle around Belfast. In 1652, the town was used as a base and fortress for some of Oliver Cromwell’s men. They established a large fortress along the mouth of the River Ayr and erected walls around the area just south of the River’s mouth – most of these walls remain present to this day. St John’s Tower, which sat around the centre of the fortress, was originally part of a large church yet this was knocked down during the construction of the fort with the tower being used for military practice; it is now protected by “Friends Of Saint Johns Tower” (FROST) residents in the “Ayr Fort Area” which sits atop the former site of the citadel.

The lands occupied by the fort were granted to the Earl of Eglinton, Alexander Montgomerie, in 1663, who established the separate Burgh of Regality named Montgomerieston around the fort, which was eventually absorbed into the Burgh of Ayr. The separate village of Alloway to the south-east of Ayr was also annexed by the town in 1691, despite numerous petitions against this to Edinburgh from residents of the village. Although the importation of French wine continued to be Ayr’s most important trade during the 17th century, the port was one of the first in Scotland to establish regular trade links with the English colonies in the Americas. This commenced during the 1640s when the English Civil War disrupted established colonial trading arrangements, and during the Cromwellian occupation there was free trade between Scotland and the English colonies. Following the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy, the Navigation Acts excluded Scottish ships from this trade apart from a few exceptional cases. Several English merchants had settled in Ayr during the Cromwellian occupation, and they collaborated with local merchants in circumventing the Navigation Acts by disguising Ayr ships as English vessels. Tobacco, sugar and indigo were imported, and salted fish, meat, clothing and indentured servants were exported.

Deposits of coal were found and mined in Newton during the 17th century, resulting in the town becoming a base for the industry, with coal being exported abroad from its harbour. At this time, Ayr’s population is estimated to have been at around 2,000.

By the late 17th century and early 18th century, Ayr was widely regarded as a town in decline, with Daniel Defoe remarking in A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain:

The capital of this country is Air, a sea-port, and as they tell us, was formerly a large city, had a good harbour, and a great trade: I must acknowledge to you, that tho’ I believe it never was a city, yet it has certainly been a good town, and much bigger than it is now: At present like an old beauty, it shews the ruins of a good face; but is also apparently not only decay’d and declin’d, but decaying and declining every day, and from being the fifth town in Scotland, as the townsmen say, is now like a place so saken; the reason of its decay, is, the decay of its trade, so true is it, that commerce is the life of nations, of cities towns, harbours, and of the whole prosperity of a country: What the reason of the decay of trade here was, or when it first began to decay, is hard to determine; nor are the people free to tell, and, perhaps, do not know themselves. There is a good river here, and a handsome stone bridge of four arches.

Daniel Defoe, A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain

Acts of Union (1707–1914

The formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain through the Acts of Union 1707 was initially harmful to Ayr, due to the importance to its economy of the wine trade with France. The terms of the English Methuen Treaty of 1703, which favoured the importation of Portuguese and Spanish wines and was accompanied by punitive duties on French wines, were extended to Scotland. However, the Union provided Ayr with significant trading opportunities with Britain’s colonies around the world and resulted in improvements to the town’s infrastructure, with Ayr’s textile, wool, linen and shoemaking industries thriving as a result. A small lighthouse was constructed on the River Ayr in 1712, followed by a quay in 1713. Repairs to the town’s Harbour and High Tolbooth took place between 1724 and 1726, with funding provided by the Convention of Royal Burghs. Street lighting was installed around the town centre in 1747. A sugar refinery at the harbour was in operation during the 1770s.

The grounds of Alloway were sold in 1754 to help pay off Ayr burgh’s public debts, resulting in the establishment of the Belleisle and Rozelle estates to the south of the town, which are now public parks. Rozelle was acquired by Robert Hamilton, who named his estate after one of his plantations in Jamaica. In 1760, Wallacetown was formed to the east of Newton by the Wallaces of Craigie House. Ayr Racecourse was established in 1777. The “New Brig” of Ayr was constructed in 1785–88 and rebuilt in 1877 after severe flooding. In 1792 and 1817, Parliament passed acts to deepen and maintain Ayr’s Harbour. During this period Ayr’s population was estimated to be around 4,000.

Ayr in 1804 etching

A permanent military presence was established in the town with the completion of Ayr Barracks (later known as Churchill Barracks) on the citadel site in 1795. Ayr Town Hall was designed by Thomas Hamilton and completed in 1832.

Ayr Town Hall

In 1801, the parish of Ayr had a recorded population of just under 5,500, with the adjoining burgh of Newton to the north having a population of just under 1,700 people. By 1826 Ayr’s streets were lit by gas and by 1842 Ayr had a water supply, with sewers being dug soon after. Ayr was connected to Glasgow, and thus the rest of Great Britain, by rail in 1839, with the first service operating in August 1840 to a terminus on North Harbour Street. This led to a significant expansion in Ayr’s tourist industry due to its attractive, sandy beach and links to Robert Burns. In 1857 a line was built from Dalmellington to export iron from Waterside and a new station was built to replace the old station called “Ayr Townhead Station”. In 1877 a line was built between Newton and Mauchline for the export of coal. By 1851 Ayr’s population was 21,000 and by 1855 between 60,000 and 70,000 tonnes of coal were being exported to Ireland from Ayr’s Harbour each year, with imports of hide and tallow coming into the harbour from South America and beef, butter, barley, yarn and linen being imported into the harbour from Ireland. In 1854, 84,330 tonnes of goods were exported from the town and 36,760 tonnes were imported into the town. Other prominent industries in Ayr at this time included fishing, tanning and shoemaking, with several sawmills, woollen mills and carpet weavers located in the town as well. Timber and tobacco were also traded between Ayr’s Harbour and North America.

The Burgh of Ayr Act 1873 resulted in Newton and Wallacetown being absorbed into the Burgh of Ayr. Newton’s more industrial character has left the town today divided into two distinct areas, with areas south of the River Ayr incorporating a mixture of affluent Victorian residential suburbs and modern suburban developments, in contrast to more deprived and industrial areas to the north of the river. The Carnegie Library was opened in Ayr on 2 September 1893. By the turn of the century, Ayr’s population was around 31,000 people. The Burns Statue Square drill hall was completed in 1901 and the Wellington Square drill hall was probably completed shortly after that.

On 26 September 1901, a tram service was opened between Prestwick Cross in Prestwick and St Leonards in Ayr. This was expanded south the following year to Alloway, and east in 1913 to the Racecourse at Whitletts. The tram service was eventually shut due to expensive repair costs, with the last tram running on New Year’s Eve in 1931.

Modern history (1914–present)

817 men from Ayr died during the First World War. A memorial was unveiled at Wellington Square in 1924 dedicated to those who died, with other memorials being put up at Alloway Village Hall and Whitletts Cross.

Ayr’s growing population following the war resulted in significant slum clearance and redevelopment around the town centre, with the development of new housing estates on the periphery of the town. The lands surrounding Woodfield House were acquired by the council in 1919 to build council housing on, with the first residents moving in 1921. In 1929 Ayr was designated as a large burgh and its boundaries were expanded to include Alloway, Castlehill, Doonfoot and Whitletts. In the 1930s, council estates were also developed at Lochside and Heathfield. The mining villages of Dalmilling and Whitletts were also cleared and developed into sizeable council estates.

Following the Second World War, more council housing was developed in Ayr at Kincaidston, with the Wallacetown and Whitletts estates being expanded. Suburban housing was also developed at Alloway, Doonfoot and Holmston, and many disused industrial buildings throughout the town were redeveloped into flats.


In 2019, GUARD Archaeology team led by Iraia Arabaolaza uncovered a marching camp dating to the 1st century AD, used by Roman legions during the invasion of Roman General Agricola. According to Arabaolaza, the fire pits were split 30 meters apart into two parallel lines. The findings also included clay-domed ovens and 26 fire pits dated to between 77- 86 AD and 90 AD loaded with burn and charcoal contents. Archaeologists suggested that this site had been chosen as a strategic location for the Roman conquest of Ayrshire.

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