Sunday, June 22, 2008

Scotland Over a Century Ago


The produce was carried in sacks on horseback or on sledges, or — later in the century — on tumbrils, which were sledges on "tumbling" wheels of solid wood, with wooden axle trees, all revolving together. These machines were often so small that in a narrow passage the carter could lift them bodily, for they held little more than a wheelbarrow. They had wheels a foot and a half in diameter, made of three pieces of wood pinned together like a butter firkin, and which quickly wore out and became utterly shapeless, so that a load of 600 pounds was enormous for the dwarfish animals to drag. Yet even such vehicles were triumphs of civilization when they came into use when the century was young.

Carts are a later invention still, and when one, in 1723, first carried its tiny load of coals from East Kilbride to Cambuslang, "crowds of people," it is reported "went to see the wonderful machine. They looked with surprise and returned with astonishment." In many parts of the lowlands they were not in ordinary use, even till 1760, while in the northern districts sledges or creels on the backs of women were chiefly employed to the end of the century. The wretched condition of the roads was the chief cause of the reluctant adoption of carts.

In the driest weather the roads were unfit for carriages and in wet weather almost impassable, even for horses — deep in ruts of mire, covered with stones, winding up heights and down hills to avoid swamps and bogs. It was this precarious state of the roads which obliged judges to ride on circuit, and a practice began as a physical necessity was retained as a dignified habit, so that in 1744 Lord Dun resigned his judgeship because he was no longer able to "ride on circuit." — Scottish Review.

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