February 23, 2009

Daft Laddie tales from North Tyne & Rede: Rocks & plough socks

Northumberland, farming, history, dialect, humour, machinery, ploughing, plough sock(shares), 1950s

By Donald Clegg

Not all a Daft Laddie's knowledge was gained the hard way. Some came simply by asking questions of the boss, or the old hands on the farm.

I had been ploughing a field ready to sow corn, or maybe turnips, when the plough struck a rock. This was a very common event on farms in the North Tyne and Rede as most of the soils were of boulder clay which came with the compliments of the ice age from the Scottish Highlands, mixed with large round boulders. It would have been nice to send the back at times.

Rocks to wreck socks
The big boulders which had worked their way up to just below the surface were a real hazard to plough socks (shares). The socks were the removable, pointed bit of the plough which dug up the soil after it had been cut by the coulter, and before the mouldboard inverted it.

The two-furrow mounted plough designed by Harry Ferguson.
Note the round disk coulter to cut the soil, the sock or share to dig it up, and the long mouldboard to turn the cut furrow over.

Socks were a made of hard brittle metal and broke quite easily, and were expensive to replace, as the boss was forever reminding us. So if possible, nuisance stones were dug out and rolled or carted in whole or in bits to the edge of the field, out of harm’s way.

The share or sock on a Fergie plough. The disk coulter is on the right

Use the other end ‘o the heed man
This large stone proved to be a bit of a brute, as I discovered by digging a deep trench right round it. The boss then came to investigate the hold up and, deciding this boulder was too big to dig up, sent me to fetch the sledgehammer to see if we could smash a lump off the top. This particular sledgehammer weighed about ten pounds, with a three-foot hickory shank. The head had one square face and the other chisel shaped.

I was then given the job of trying to break enough off the top of the rock so that it would no longer present a risk to passing plough socks, while the boss looked on. I, in my wisdom, was using the chisel-shaped end, hoping to split a sizeable chunk away, when the boss intervened.

The sharp end and the blunt end

“Howt howt! Use the other end man!” he said. Knowing that, in the distant past he had once worked in a stone quarry and new that these sandstones or freestones (as opposed to the Northumbrian whinstone) had a “grain” or lines caused when they were formed in layers. I bowed to his superior expertise, but asked him why he thought the square end would be more successful than the chisel end? “Whey man, the square end’s heavier!” was his reply.
Obvious, isn’t it?

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