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Horse-drawn ploughs

The Museum of English Rural Life has a superb collection of horse-drawn ploughs.

The following notes are from the catalogue of ploughs in our collection, and will be useful to guide you in using the Online Database. As with many agricultural tools and implements, there are numerous types of implements that are called 'plough' of one type or another. There are different types of plough, many regional, or designed for a specific task. This is more a discussion on the terminology used to describe ploughs than a history of ploughs and ploughing. Further material about ploughs can be found in the INTERFACE section of this website, alongside photographs of ploughs in the field.

The term 'plough' is used for a number of unrelated implements. In some cases, a 'qualifier' - a further word used to more accurately describe the object - will be used, e.g. mole-plough, ridging-plough, drill-plough, which will tell you the difference in function from the ploughs in the catalogue. For objects described as 'ploughs', these are implements which break up the soil in order to prepare a seed-bed. The soil may simply be pulverised, or it may be inverted as a whole or broken furrow slice, in which case it will be moved a furrow width to one side of the line of draught. So this definition excludes e.g. the potato-plough, which is a harvesting implement and the mole-plough which is a draining tool, but the ard is included because it makes a seed-bed by pulverising soil. So also, does a disc-plough and a chisel-plough. The paring plough and the subsoil plough should also be included by the definition as both perform for the seed-bed as earlier stage of soil cultivation than normal ploughing.

Types of plough (used for museum classification) and some useful definitions:

Cable ploughReversible Balance Plough
With one exception, steam-powered.
Chisel ploughing
Invariably tractor powered. Not to be confused with some types of heavy cultivator.
Disc plough
The disc plough only came into use in the UK after the introduction of the tractor but was used in America with horses.
Plough without mouldboard.
Swing Plough
Plough without wheels or foot.
An L-shaped wood or iron skid at the head of the beam.
Single-furrow plough
Plough with one mouldboard.
Multi-furrow plough
Plough with 2 or more mouldboards.
Subsoil plough
Implement to break soil.
Riding plough
Plough with a seat as on a sulky plough or a gang plough, (Sulky - single furrow, gang - 2 or 3 furrow).
One way ploughing
a plough which turns a furrow slice either to the right or to the left in order to lay the furrow slices in all the same direction. The following terms are applicable to horse-drawn one way ploughs used in England and Wales.
This is a dialect term used in Kent and Sussex and widely adopted in the 19th century by plough manufacturers for most types of one way plough. It is the traditional type of Kent and Sussex wheeled and swing ploughs on which the mouldboard (wrest) is actually removed from one side to the other side of the plough to change the direction in which the furrow is thrown. All otehr ploughs fall in to the following types:
Also known as a 'cock up'. Two or more sets of bodies rotating in a vertical plane, e.g. Ransomes LLB
A double one piece mouldboard and share which swings under the beam. (not to be confused with swivel-head (screw-head) plough).
Also known as a 'turnabout' (Ransomes). Two sets of bodies rotating in a horizontal plane, e.g. Huxtables' Perfection.
Also known as a 'butterfly'. Two mouldboards operating alternatively and moved by a lever which also turns the share through 180 degrees, e.g. Skeltons' (Ransomes SPT) plough.
Double ended
Two shares and breasts, one at either end of a share beam, with a hinged mouldboard.
A type of one way plough that was also used for banking (or ridging) in Devon and Cornwall. Two mouldboards pivot at their front edge and are pegged at the back so that one or other is at an angle to the forward direction of the plough.

Some plough parts are shown and labelled on this 1920 advertisement from Howard's Catalogue. Click the image to see a larger version.

plough diagram

Ploughs in the collection are also classified by regional types. There are examples in the collections classified as: Sussex turnwrest, Gloucester Long, Cambridgeshire plough and Huntingdonshire plough.

Gloucestershire Long Plough: Gloucestershire Long Plough There were strong traditions of regional styling in plough design around the country, reflecting differences in soil, climate and farming practice. These tended to fade as the nineteenth century progressed, especially from the 1860s, when more standardised ploughs made in large quantities and mostly of iron were available nationwide from specialist manufacturers. The traditional form of plough made by local workshops in Gloucestershire had a very distinctive long wooden beam and long straight-surfaced mouldboard. It was meant to be well suited for working the heavy clay land of the district. There were no wheels at the front to become clogged and the long beam gave a good line of draught for the four or even five horses that could be required for the heaviest land. Another Gloucestershire long plough in the collection is described as "an all wooden plough from the clay land of the Vale of Tewkesbury. It is almost fifteen feet long and was pulled by five horses."

Ploughs in the Online Database

Most of the detailed text above will help in finding references to ploughs in the online database. Only a selection of the collection has so far been added to the online database. Searching under KEYWORD for PLOUGH or PLOUGHING will find most relevant material. You can further refine your search by using the "Restrict to items of media type:" options. If you select Artefacts/Realia, this will refine your search to objects, including ploughs, ploughshares and model ploughs.

Follow this link to open the Catalogue

For further details please contact the Museum.