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'It seemed to me that the machinery which man had created to help him was being allowed to crush him' – an account of the centenary of the Caithness Agricultural Show in 1934


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Thurso’s Heritage by a Thirsa Loon

Prize presentation at the centenary show with the Duke of Portland (second from left), Marigold Sinclair, Sir Archibald’s wife, and Charles Davidson, Cogle Farm, Watten, the oldest member of the society who attended 72 shows without a break. Picture courtesy of the Wick Society, Johnston Collection
Prize presentation at the centenary show with the Duke of Portland (second from left), Marigold Sinclair, Sir Archibald’s wife, and Charles Davidson, Cogle Farm, Watten, the oldest member of the society who attended 72 shows without a break. Picture courtesy of the Wick Society, Johnston Collection

This second instalment concludes the eyewitness account of the centenary of the Caithness Agricultural Society show, held at Thurso. The unknown lady continues her letter after thinking back to how the show 50 years before may have looked.

“Suddenly I was brought back to the present with a voice almost in my ear shouting, 'Don’t allow anyone else in; there are no more seats.' I glanced round; the grandstand was packed.

"The speaker, I noticed, was the son of a laird. What a contrast, I thought, to the olden days. If the laird had deigned to appear at the show, all the commoners would have stood with bared heads as he passed. Today, the laird’s son was acting as usher.

"A voice spoke across the ring. At a luncheon in one of the tents the Duke of Portland, Sir Archibald Sinclair and others were speaking and by means of a microphone it was possible for everyone in the field to hear.

“The tenor of the speeches was the strides agriculture had made in Caithness in the past hundred years. All around were evidences of the triumph of man over nature. There were on show wonderful and various machines for ploughing, sowing, reaping and churning, special houses for poultry, specimens of what scientific research had made for the treatment of animal diseases and the dressing of the soil, etc.

"As I sat there with all these modern inventions for the alleviation of man’s labour round me, I could hear the voice from the microphone talking about brighter times coming, taking courage for the future. There seemed to be a pathetic determination to look on the bright side of things.”

She continues: “The contrast was there still. More than fifty years ago Dr Cleland of Glasgow, speaking of the prosperity of Caithness, said – ‘It is perhaps the most extraordinary circumstance recorded in the history of political economy that the remotest and most northerly county in Great Britain should surpass all the other 85 districts of the kingdom in regard to that great criterion of national prosperity when it is properly regulated and employed – increased population.’

“Today there is only half that population in Caithness. In those days there were about twenty fairs held annually – chiefly in Olrig, Dunnet, Bower, Latheron and Watten. There was also a good trade with Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Fir and iron were imported and meal and victuals exported.

"Herring fishing was, of course, the main industry. Kelp was made from seaweed and sent south for glasshouses and soap-making, and many other small industries were carried on. Where are all the happy crofter families now? I wondered. Some of them perhaps in the slums of the big cities.

"It seemed to me that the machinery which man had created to help him was being allowed to crush him.”

She finishes: “Just then into the ring paraded fine black Aberdeen-Angus cattle, Clydesdale horses, etc. Later we were treated to a performance by the Royal Scots Greys, and there were races on foot and horseback arranged for the occasion.

"In the evening the crowd dispersed their various ways. Every available tea-room in Thurso was filled to overflowing. The cattle sailed off in their several stock-carts, the people in their buses and cars. The clouds closed in and the rain began again.”

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