The main credit for much of what I intend to put on this site should go to Angus MacDonald, he worked for 38 years with the weekly agricultural journal, The Scottish Farmer, the last 18 years, until 1994, as editor. Hopefully I’ll be able to add a bit of historical context if needed and some further family background.
Sadly Angus died in August 2011, without ever seeing any of his hard work come to fruition, his obituary can be found here.
Just a month or so before he retired, Mr. MacDonald prepared a history book of The Scottish Farmer (some of the chapters can be found on the Scottish Farmer website). He scanned each year of the publication for this purpose, taking note of all news of farming interest —- shows, sales, meetings of all kinds, statements by the Government and other relevant bodies.
Among the discoveries he made in such researches were the weekly contributions of Margaret Shanks, from 1893 until she died in March, 1925. These were greatly varied in nature, much of it to do with cooking and house-keeping, but also of much wider and general interest. Mr MacDonald greatly admired much of this and resolved to look at them more closely in his retirement.
As is the way of life, Mr MacDonald’s initial enthusiasm, especially in the years immediately after retirement were not full taken up with the Shanks writings. However, as time past he became increasingly interested. Eventually he had to resort to visiting the Mitchell Library to extract whatever he could from the columns of The Scottish Farmer. This he had to do by taking shorthand notes and transcribing at home. He did this, sometimes once a week or a fortnight, depending on other commitments.
The contributions, under the headline, The Household, were scarcely ever omitted. They were begun when Margaret was 30. She chose the by-line Gretchen but changed back to her own Christian name of Margaret during the first World War, the German nick name being considered then to be inappropriate.
A sub-heading attached to the article was: “She looketh well to the ways of her household and eateth not the bread of idleness.” This, however, was dropped soon afterwards
The subject matter of the articles varied from recipes to housekeeping and indicated that Margaret had a thorough knowledge of most aspects of housework. Gradually, however, there was increasing interest in practical matters of a topical nature, descriptions of work outside the kitchen, in the farm steading, in the fields, the village, natural studies of birds and flowers, foxes and otters and their depredations, the impact of the war, books and authors. She met many people who came to the kitchen door looking for such ordinary things as cups of water, milk, and bread. These provided interesting material for her pen.
Though shy and introverted, Margaret was remarkably clever. She had been to Glasgow University when she was 16 where she had won the junior and senior scholarships on each of two years. She had then, however, had a nervous breakdown which prevented her taking up a position as a teacher or similar professional posting. She returned to Egremont and the farm at Woodend
This blog contains excerpts from her articles, sometimes small, on other occasions quite lengthy.