Thursday, 22 March 2012

Light My Fire

In the present age of soaring fuel costs it's easy to think that things were better back in the "good old days". Well, unfortunately not!!

I'm currently cataloguing the records of an Orkney Estate, D15: The Halcro Johnston papers. The records reveal the history of the Coubister Estate in the Parish of Orphir and, once cataloguing is complete, will be an extremely valuable source for researchers interested in family history, farming techniques and practices, and a host of other topics too.

I came across the following two documents yesterday which reveal a startling rise in the cost of the tenant's main source of fuel, peat.

Both documents are lists of subscribers who have paid for the right to cut peats in the property of Greenigoe. The first, dated 23 June 1865, states that the subscribers agree to pay three shillings for each tusker of peats they cut.

D15/6/2/6: List of subscribers 23 June 1865

However, less than a year later on 24 April 1866 the subscribers agree to pay four shillings for each tusker. A price rise of 33%!

D15/6/2/6: List of subscribers 24 April 1866

Not only that but, to rub salt in the wound, the Laird has also restricted the amount of cutting time allowed to ten hours a day and raised the price again to five shillings for peat cut in the month of August.

A tusker is an implement used to cut peats and traditionally a tusker of peats was measured as the amount of peat a man could cut from sunrise to sunset. This obviously varied depending on the fitness and stamina of the cutter as well as the differing length of day throughout the year, and on one reported occasion three men took turns throughout the day and managed to cut double the normal quantity!

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