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Corn-drying Kilns

  • Sir Lindsay Scott
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* In collecting the scattered material used in this paper I have received the most generous help of Mr Basil Megaw (Manx Museum), Mr Robert Stevenson (National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland), Mr A. T. Lucas (National Museum of Ireland), Mr F. G. Payne (Welsh Folk Museum), Dr Sigurd Erixon (Stockholm Folk Museum) and Mr John Stewart of Whalsey. All these have given me unpublished, or obscurely published, information and Mr Stevenson, Mr Lucas and Mr Stewart have further allowed me to reproduce unpublished plans.

1 K. Williamson, The Atlantic Islands, 1948, 206.

2 A. Roussel, Norse Building Customs in the Scottish Isles, 1934, 61.

3 Ovid, Fasti, 11, 519 and VI, 313, and the notes of Sir James Frazer quoting Festus ; Pliny, Natural History, XVIII, X, xxiii and lxxii.

4 Relying on the distribution of technical terms belonging to the kiln-drying of corn as recorded in Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary, s.v. Kiln.

5 The Farmer’s Weekly, Dec. 22, 1950, 34. Current practice in the big mills is to dry English wheat before milling if the season is wet, since otherwise the requisite degree of extraction is not achieved ; imported corn, and English barley and oats, are not kiln-dried (information from Messrs Spillers, Ltd.). Corn cut by a combine-harvester is kiln-dried, since it is threshed as it is cut and deprived of the normal opportunity to dry in the straw in the field.

6 A. Mitchell, The Past in the Present, 1880, 46.

7 S. Johnson, Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, s.v. Ostig in Sky ; J. Boswell, Tour to the Hebrides, published from the original manuscript, 1936, 134, s.v. 9 September, 1773. Boswell records arguments in favour of the practice. He also records (p. 138) a farmhouse which had ‘a little house-kiln for drying corn ... a little at a time . . . instead of having one’ (a kiln) ‘to attend in an outhouse’. ‘It was about the size of a hogshead ; was made of wattles plastered with clay very firmly both on the outside and the inside’. The most reliable account of graddaning is in Martin Martin, A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, 2nd edn., 1716, 204. At that time (c. 1700) it was ‘yet us’d in several Isles’, but was ‘much laid aside, since the number of their Mills encreas’d’. Pennant met the practice in Rum and records that it was prohibited in some of the islands. He notes also a practice of stripping the ears from the straw, drying them in a kiln and then setting fire to them to burn off the husk (Second Tour in Scotland, 1776, 11, 280.)

8 Advertisements for Ireland : being a description of the State of Ireland in the reign of James I, ed. G. O’Brien, 1923, 33.

9 K. Williamson, The Atlantic Islands, 206.

10 Roy. Commn. Anc. Mon., Orkney and Shetland, 1, 56 ; A. Roussel, op. cit., figs. 38 and 39.

11 P.S.A.S., VII, 273.

12 T. S. Muir, Characteristics of Old Church Architecture in the Mainland and Western Islands of Scotland, 1861, 142 (with plan) ; Reeves’ edn. of Adamnan, Vita S. Columbae, 11, xviii and note on p. 127 ; J. Anderson, Scotland in Early Christian Times, 1881, 98, n. Anderson is mistaken in comparing the kiln to one in Fair Isle planned, but not described, in Muir’s Ecclesiological Notes on Some of the Islands of Scotland, 1885, 250 ; this is almost certainly of the Orkney type. A kiln now being excavated by Mr Megaw shows that the Hebridean type extended as far south as the Isle of Man.

13 Irish Heritage, 85.

14 C. Coote, A Statistical Survey of the County of Cavan, 1802, 244; E. Wakefield, An Account of Ireland Statistical and Political, 1812, 365,

15 P.R.I.A., XXVI, Sect. C., 265 and pl. XX, fig. 6.

16 Cork Hist. Arch. Soc., XLVI, 98.

17 Translated by Mr Payne from J. Jones, Llên Gwevin sir Gaemarfon, 1908, 63.

18 F. S. Price, History of Llansawel, 1898, 34 ; letter from E. Evans of Parselle in Pembroke County Guardian, Jan. 1, 1898.

19 J. F. S. Gordon, Chronicles of Keith, 1880, 107.

20 For Sweden see Sigurd Erixon, Svensk Byggnadskultur (Stockholm, 1947, in Swedish), 176 and figs. 208 and 523a ; for Norway see Norske Bygder, Bd. IV, Sogn (1937, in Sogn dialect), 230 and figures there quoted.

21 Attention was first drawn to these references by Mr O. G. S. Crawford in a note to Dr Curwen’s paper in ANTIQUITY, XII, 286 ; the passages are recited in Reeves’ Adamnan, 88. Reeves confused the canaba, which undoubtedly means a storehouse, with the kiln ; the examples given above show that what was meant was a barn containing a kiln and also floor-space for threshing. For Iona, see Adamnan, Vita S. Columbae, I, xlv ; Pennant, Tour in Scotland, 11, 296 ; O. G. S. Crawford, ANTIQUITY, VII, 453 (with map) ; only the drained mill-pool is now identifiable. A stone-built flue leading from one earth-dug pit to another in Baliycatteen Fort, Co. Cork (P.R.I.A., XLIX, c, 12) may well be a corn-drying kiln of this period (c. 600 A.D.), but produced no evidence of its use.

22 For a recent discussion, with references, see Ant. J., 1943, 148 ; the method of working of the kilns was there first demonstrated. A possible kiln of the late 2nd century is in the Park Street villa, St. Albans (Arch. J., CII, 110), but the reconstruction with a wooden flue, and the interpretation as a corn-drying kiln, are tentative and seem doubtful.

23 Arch. LXXI, 158 ; Natural History, XVIII, 298. Pliny’s argument (that, if fully ripe, the grain falls out of the husk) is, I am told, not cogent ; certainly the practice he recommends has not found favour.

24 P.P.S., 1940, 60–3.

25 Natural History, XVIII, lxxiii.

26 R. E. M. Wheeler, Maiden Castle, 96 and 321.

27 P.S.A.S., LXXXII, 3.

28 P.S.A.S., XLVIII, 375 ; LIX, 270.

29 Arch., LXXXVII, 137.

30 P.S.A.S., LXIV, 173 ; Skara Brae, 49 ; Scotland before the Scots, 31.

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  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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