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‘As Good as a Holiday’
Potato Harvesting in the Lothians from 1870 to the Present

Heather Holmes

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Subject: History/Agriculture royal octavo 288pp
Illustrated: 8pp plates
July 2000
ISBN: 1 86232 061 6
paperback £20

  • Winner of the Michaelis-Jena Ratcliff Prize

  • First comprehensive study of the social/economic history of the potato harvest



In Scotland the potato harvest has been the last large-scale agricultural process to be completely mechanised. Until recently it was undertaken by a large number of people, including farm servants, school children given leave of absence from school through the potato holiday or potato exemptions, housewives, migratory workers from the west of Ireland, and other workers employed at time of crisis. There has been little written about it.

This book examines that work in an area of Scotland famous for its potato growing and agriculture, during a period of great change, when the process altered from being very labour-intensive to being completely mechanised.

The potato harvest is discussed under a number of themes: harvest technology, labour supply, employment conditions (especially of school children, local women and Irish immigrant workers), and adoption of mechanical harvesting methods. These themes show the process as a complex one not only at the level of the field but at the level of policy-making by local authorities and government departments which had a great impact on the work. Themes are discussed through a wide range of sources of evidence, some of which have hitherto been little used, such as oral testimony, printed accounts of the work, local authority records and records of government departments.

Heather Holmes is currently Research Fellow in the Department of Print Media, Publishing and Communication at Napier University, Edinburgh