Turra Coo

Almost a hundred years ago Lloyd George’s National Insurance Act came into force. It was intended to improve the lot of farm labourer’s and factory workers who were often employed for a contractual period of 6 months or less. The Act of Parliament provided for medical and unemployment benefits for workers and their families who were in need of state support through ill health or lack of employment.

The farmers around the Aberdeenshire market town of Turriff in Aberdeenshire were incensed, partly because of the now increased costs of employing farm labourers and partly because they felt that they already took good care of the workforce upon which they relied.

There were riots, demonstrations and protests. In the end a farmer by the name Robert Paterson became the focus of Sheriff’s Officers when he refused to pay the “unfair and unjust tax”. Stating that “because it was a service that farmers and farm labourer would rarely use” he would not pay the tax!

Patterson became a cause célèbre. The authorities reacted by seizing one of his cows, intending to auction it to re-coup the debt he owed to the government for unpaid National Insurance Contributions.

Things got from bad to worse. There were riots and much civil disobedience. The cow then became the cause célèbre and the press had a field day. No one of course liked Lloyd George at the time and of course the war to end all wars was looming.
The cow was eventually bought at auction by Paterson’s supporters and returned to Lendrum Farm, where it died six years later.

There are a few bothy ballads about the story. One of the finest I think is this one from The Bothy Songs and Ballads of North East Scotland.


About Duncan Harley

Author, photographer and feature writer.
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