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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
1979 - October
Old Letter of November 1799
The following two pages are a typed copy of an original single sheet letter to:
Sir Robert Anstruther Bart.
posted in Wick at the cost of 7d.
Acknowledgement: The original document is part of a postal collection belonging to Mr. G. Lewthwaite and the Field Club is indebted to Mr. Lewthwaite for permission to study and reproduce the letter. The notes on the letter were compiled by Mr. G. Watson.
State of Crops on Mains of Watten and Strath 1797 & upon the former 1798
1797 Oats on Wattin &
The sixteen Bolls difference between the stock and delivery is said partly to have been given to the Horses and partly to have broke in upon 186 Bolls put up in Bykes in January where they remained untill dressed again and shipped.
State of Farms, payable by the Tenants of Watten Crops 1797 & 1798 received by David Murray
The 173B:2f:1p & 7lib was paid in at 8½ stones which 184B:1f:3p & 5lib at 8 stones. Therefore David Murray has crops in 5B:1f:3:5 lib & smalls come out 4:2:3:6 Murray says he had from six firlots to 2 Bolls spoilt meal & three smalls parcel of his own so placed together that it was impossible fully to distinguish the difference
N.B. As to the 33B:2f:2p:2lib arrear, 12B:3f:3p:5½ lib are due by Mr. Taylor being his farm for crops 1797 & 1798, & is kept back in part payment of his victl. stipend for these two years
The remaining 20B:2f: p:51lib at 8½ stones equal to 21B:3f:3p:2 lib at 8 stones at 15/- per B & which is stated in the charge,
amounts to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .£16: 9: 3¾
Major McLeay 10B:2f:2p at 12/6 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6:12: 9¾
Laborers 5B: 1f: at 15/- . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3:18: 9
To pay up Mr. Taylor his victual stipend for crops in 1797 & 1798
given to his servants. The New Meal at Watten was shipped before they thought of reserving coste for themselves & then finding the former years meal old tasted grumbled exceedingly, to remove which Mr. Taylor kept back what he had at his House to dispose of for their accommodation & they have received as above stated.
22nd Nov 1799
State of victll delivered Mr. Rogers
Notes on the units used in the above letter.
The units are Bolls, Firlots, Pecks and Librae or pounds. From the letter:
4 lib. = 1 Peck
The Boll was the old unit of capacity based on the Stirling Pint Jug of 1457, which had a volume of 31bs. 7ozs. of the Water of Leith. The Linlithgow Firlot (or Fourth-lot) for bear, malt, barley and oats was defined as 31 pints, and therefore a Boll equalled 124 pints. The weight of this volume depended on the contents being measured and agreed conversion figures which could vary locally
were often specified as in the Watten Letter where 8 to 8½ stones per boll is used.
Now from the above table the libra was one sixty-fourth of a boll i.e. one sixty-fourth of 8½ stones or 119 pounds avoirdupois. Therefore a libra was equivalent to 1.86 pounds avoirdupois and was not the modern pound but the old Scottish Pound.
In passing it should be noted that quarter of a peck in the old Scottish system, was a 'lippie' a word which is clearly a corruption of libra.
Joseph Taylor, was a schoolmaster in Wick until 1764 when he resigned to become a licentiate of the Caithness Presbytery. He was ordained in 1779 and became minister of Watten. He wrote the account of his parish for the first Statistical Account. It is on record that "He was a person of superior endowments, highly cultivated mind, exemplary conduct, and earnest in his wishes to discharge ministerial and parochial duty". This letter would seem to confirm Alexander Auld's assertion that Joseph Taylor also acted as factor on the Watten estate. He remained minister of Watten until 1805, when he was translated to Carnbee.
Caithness Bykes. The old method of storing grain was to drive a circle of stakes into the ground in a suitably dry location. A floor of chaff, straw and sacks was made inside the stakes. The interior was then filled with the grain to be stored and the whole outside was thatched with straw and closely wound and bound with straw ropes. This method of building temporary granaries was said to be rat-proof.
Beans. There is one mention of beans in the letter, this shows that even before Agricultural Improvements got underway there were some attempts at crop rotation to replace nitrogen in the soil by sowing beans. The inclusion of beans in the accounts of barley, bear and oats is not as unusual as it now sounds, for bean-meal was used to bake unleavened cakes on girdles just as oat-cakes are baked today.