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:
Some plough parts are shown and labelled on this 1920 advertisement from Howard's Catalogue. Click the image to see a larger version.
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: 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.
For further details please contact the Museum.