Potato king recognised at last

John Marshall at the spot where the plaque will be unveiled
John Marshall at the spot where the plaque will be unveiled

The name of Archibald Findlay may not be instantly recognisable but anyone who enjoys tatties, chips or even crisps owe him a debt of gratitude .

And now this unsung hero is to get the recognition he deserves with the unveiling of a plaque in his honour.

Findlay, who died in 1921 at the age of 80, was a pioneer of the potato industry whose achievements had far-reaching effects throughout the world.

His potatoes fed the nation throughout two world wars and saved precious ships on the Atlantic grain convoys which were subject to U-boat attack.

Findlay will be commemorated at a special ceremony in Auchtermuchty on April 16, when youngsters from the local primary school will unveil a bronze plaque at his former seed warehouse, known in the burgh as ‘the Old Factory’.

The occasion is part of a Scottish Government initiative announced by culture secretary Fiona Hyslop last November.

Findlay is one of 12 Scottish luminaries to have a plaque erected on a building synonymous with their achievements, and he’s in such illustrious company as Dudley B.Watkins and James Watt.

Born in 1841, Archibald Findlay was a publican in the Portland Bar, Markinch, who supplemented his income by trading potatoes.

Parish records list him as ‘publican/potato raiser.’

With memories of the Irish potato famine still fresh, he was determined to find higher yielding, more disease- resistant potatoes.

Using material from an earlier breeder, William Paterson of Dundee, he cross -pollinated potato flowers to produce new seeds, from which he could select his many new varieties.

His reputation grew initially with farmers in the Markinch area, and spread throughout the country, in particular in the food larders of industrial England.

His new varieties were keenly sought after.

When the glebe lands became insufficient for all his stocks he moved to Mairsland Farm, Auchtermuchty, and used ‘the Old Factory’, a formrer linen mill, as his seed potato warehouse for his many thousands of seedlings.

At the height of the boom in 1904 he bred a variety called Eldorado, and a four ounce tuber sold in Cupar for £30 - the equivalent of tens of thousands of pounds today.

Auchtermuchty ‘s John White & Sons weighing machines and Valente’s Crisps, the first in Fife, were all part of this potato culture.

“Majestic, his most successful variety, had the lion’s share of the market for over 60 years,” said potato expert John Marshall, who’ll be giving a presentation before the unveiling ceremony.

“It is not seen on supermarket shelves but still grown by gardeners today.

“The pedigree can be traced in most of today’s modern varieties, such as Pentland Dell, Maris Piper, Albert Bartlett’s Rooster and Mackie’s Lady Clair, a crisping variety.”