-written by Diane Newland, Bookseller.
“The Farmer’s Companion; Being a Complete System of Modern Husbandry: Including the Latest Improvements and Discoveries, in Theory and Practice” By R.W.Dickson, M.D.
This book, in two volumes, contains swathes of fascinating detail on every aspect of farm, arable and livestock management. It covers everything about an early 1800’s farm that you could possibly imagine. It even includes precise measurements for planting with, and setting drills, as well as tables of monetary accounts from that time.
What really drew me to this two volume set, however, are the beautifully detailed, fold-out illustrations; meticulous engravings of various ploughs, carts, rakes, harrows and hoes. These I could study, and marvel at, for ages. They are like precise engineering drawings, and have a clear, descriptively graphic quality to them. The objects they depict, although purely practical, appear beautiful in both proportion and shape.
The subjects covered by these volumes include different ploughs, drills and “thrashing” machines, the maintenance and construction of various farm buildings, the methods of enclosing land with fences, walls, palings, hedges, ditches and gates, road construction, soils, manures, preparation and cultivation of arable and grassland, and, of course, all kinds of livestock. An exhaustive list which, once the information is absorbed could no doubt turn you into the perfect nineteenth century farmer. Even if this is not your calling, the immense detail is absorbing and fascinating.
There are Swing-ploughs, Rotheram-ploughs,Wheel-ploughs, Two-furrow-ploughs, Skim coulter-ploughs and Common Mole-ploughs. A variation of the latter, invented by a Mr Lumbert was designed “especially for women” to use apparently, and was operated by windlasses. They are so called because they create drain channels while leaving the surface nearly intact and there is a lovely diagram of Lambert’s Mole Plough. Some of the more unusual sounding implements include a Hop-nidget, a Scuffle, and a Twitch-rake!
Many of the planting crops mentioned sound the same as a conventional farmer would probably plant today; carrots, parsnips, potatoes, wheat, barley and oats..(white, black, red, blue, naked, Siberian, Friesland, Scotch grey, Short smalis, and Churche’s). I had no idea there were so many types! Other crops however, like woad, weld, flax, hemp, madder, mangle-wurzel, teasels, liquorice, and lavender, sound much more unusual these days, certainly as everyday farming crops, and much more rooted in the main farming of the past, when there would have been real practical demand for their use as cordage, for cloth, as a dye, in the woollen trade, or as a sweet treat etc:
An equally wide array of natural grasses are listed, including ones called Cocksfoot, Crested dog’s-tail and Meadow fox-tail. I love the visually descriptive names. The grasses described as “artificial” (ie; needing to be especially sown, to restore tillage lands to the state of grass), include Red Clover, Saintfoin, Lucern, Tares, Bush Vetch, Tufted Vetch and Chicory.
This book is, therefore, agriculturally, botanically, and historically fascinating. Published in 1813, the volumes are leather bound and decorated with a fine filigree gilt border. If you are into older, traditional farming methods, or even if you’re not, this rare two volume set is a rich and fascinating storehouse of farming expertise straight from the pre-Victorian past, and it is worth purchasing purely for the intricate engravings alone.
It can be purchased online, and is also currently for sale in our Darwin Rare Books Room for £498.
Do also come in and browse all our other rare and unusual books we hold in stock, as we have a vastly eclectic collection of old books on a huge array of subjects including history, nature, ancient crafts, the sciences, and many more!
Visit us on the Bank Holiday Sunday or Monday to enjoy our Kilo Sale, in which you may find little treats just like this one!