Background is the Kerr Tartan The following story and photographs were published in the Shotts History Group Bulletin, Vol 4 2005
the author being Martine Young (nee Stewart)of Fort William. Unfortunately all efforts to contact
both the Society and the author to obtain permission to reproduce the article and
scan of photos have so far been unsuccessful, I will continue to endeavour to contact them
however in the meantime I am putting this page up in the interest of providing my extended Kerr
Family and other interested persons the opportunity to share this important piece of our family history.
MEMORIES OF FARMING IN THE FIFTIES
(A tribute to the Kerrs of Hillhouseridge Farm)
My first memory of Peg (Margaret) Kerr was her friendly patience with an inquisitive four-year-old child.
During WW11, before the compulsory pasteurisation of milk, Peg drove round the streets of Shotts each morning in her little blue van,
delivering milk from her family's dairy herd. She decanted the milk, stored in ten gallon churns, from pint or quart measures into her customer's jug.
To me this was a far more interesting way of getting the milk than having it delivered in bottles from the Co-op.
It was some ten years later, when I moved with my parents to Eildon Cottage (Squirrel Cottage) at Springbank, that I got to know Peg and her
family much better. Over the next four years, I spent much of my spare time and school holidays helping on the farm.
The Kerr Family, Mr Andrew and Mrs Sarah Kerr (nee Fell)and their daughters Agnes (Nan) and Margaret (Peg),ran the 150 acre Hillhouseridge Farm with Mrs Kerr's
brother, Will Fell. Ion Hague was the farmhand for most of the time I was there. The Kerrs took over the farm around 1930 but
there had been a farm there for several hundred years. There may well have been one in the 1680's. A lintel, found by the Kerrs in one of the
fields and re-used over a byre door, had two sets of initials carved on it with the date 1689(after 50 years I cannot remember the exact date but it was in that timescale).
(?Too this may have been a marriage lintel). Harvest 1956
The farm is recorded on the Roy map drawn up in the second half of the 18th century. Hints of the run
rig-system marked on the map were still visible on the small field just north of the farmstead when I lived there.
The Kerrs ran their dairy farm as self-sufficient as possible. They grew oats and hay, a difficult task so near the margins of arable farming six hundred feet above sea level.
Some concentrate feed was bought, the rest of the animal feed and bedding was produced on the farm. Although there was some mechanisation in the mid 50's, echoes of farming methods,
which would have been familiar to Hillhouseridge's earlier tenants, were still being used. However, the tractor was the workhorse by this time.
Machines were used to milk around twenty Ayrshire cows twice a day. The central dairy collected the full ten-gallon churns each morning. The herd bull was changed every two years.
Some were placid and content to come into the milking parlour with their harem each morning and evening, others were so evil tempered and, although they were secure in their own looseboxes, I would
not go into the same byre. Female calves born to the herd were retained for the next generation of milkers and bull calves were sent to market. When female calves were a year old, they were grazed at
another farm over the summer and were brought back when the harvest was in and the fields available for grazing. In nature Ayrshire cattle have horns. Most cattle in the 1950's still had them and they caused
many nasty accidents to farm workers. Around this time vets began to treat the horn buds of calves which stopped the growth. Nowadays, it would seem strange to see a herd of cows with horns.
Enough land was set aside to produce hay for winter feed. Hay was cut at the end of June. It was cut and turned by mechanical means but often, in a wet summer, it was more practical to turn it by hand, a hard, labour-
intensive operation. When the farmer reckoned the grass was dry enough, some was built into stacks in the field and the rest forked onto the tractor-drawn trailer and taken into the hayshed on the farm.
There a close eye was kept on it. With a certain moisture content and the weight of the hay, spontaneous combustion could set it on fire.
The grain harvest began in August. The grass was cut and bound into sheaves by the tractor driven binder. Stooks of six sheaves were stacked together by hand and placed so that the prevailing wind could blow through,
drying the grain. Stooking was not the most pleasant of jobs if thistles were present. It was thirsty work on a hot day and tea and Nan's delicious scones and pancakes were a welcome break.
Mr Kerr would sit at the top feeding the machine, which separated the chaff from the grain and the grain from the straw, depositing these at different outlets at the bottom of the machine.
The animal muck and bedding straw was cleaned out of the byres each day and built into manure heaps. This was left for a year to mature and then used to fertilise the fields. Nothing was wasted.
Over the winter, for added income, sheep were brought in and fattened in the harvested fields. Some rape and turnips were grown to supplement their feed.
Peg worked mainly outside with her father and uncle, Nan worked inside with her mother, helping with the milking and sterilising the milking equipment. She also ran the poultry side of the family business.
There were several hundred free-range hens and, latterly, some battery ones. Eggs were sold from the farmhouse but, on two days a week, Nan went off round the area delivering eggs to shops and individual customers.
This is how I remember their way of life. I left home in 1959 and, although I went to the farm when I visited my parents, I did not work there again. No doubt, they changed some of their ways of working, eg: silage was cut
instead of hay and the tanker collected the milk from a storage tank and not milk churns. Two of the large fields were incorporated into the ground of Shotts Prisons (of interest is the fact that Shotts Prison has an area called
"The Kerr Field" at this time). Neither Agnes (Nan) nor Margaret (Peg) married and Will, who married later in life, had no family. Mr and Mrs Kerr died and the others worked on until they retired. I have not been back for many years.
I believe the farm is no longer an economic unit, the building having been taken over by the Countryside Trust; I do not know what has become of the land.
The life this family led was hard, revolving relentlessly round the care and welfare of the animals on which their livelihood depended. Their farming ancestors stretched back into the past. From time immemorial,
these unknown men and women had nurtured the land...The Kerrs were the last of their kind.
It was a privelege to have known them....Martine Young (nee Stewart) Fort William
April 2006 - Hillhouseridge Farm is now owned by the Countryside Trust and the farmhouse is a visitors centre.
Agnes (Nan) Kerr gave guitar lessons from home and taught guitar and mandolin to the inmates of Shotts Prison, next door, for over 20 years. She was awarded an OBE in 1993
for service to the community. (Sadly Agnes (Nan) died in Glasgow c.July 2003).
To see Photos taken in 2000 of Nan & her OBE click on the button below