A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MENDIP PLOUGHING SOCIETY
In October 1923 the well known reporter for the Western Daily Press Mr Eldred Walker produced an article about the Society. He interviewed Mr S Filer of Blagdon, who was the secretary of the then Blagdon, West Mendip and Charterhouse Ploughing Society who gave as far as he could the authentic history of the Society up to 1923.
Up to the middle of the 19th century most of the ploughs used on Mendip were made by the local wheelwright and blacksmith and were called Zulas. About that time the large implement makers brought out an improved plough with wheel and other parts. Local farmers invited the implement manufactures to send their own ploughmen to demonstrate their ploughs and instituted a match at Tynings Farm, Charterhouse with a class for the implement makers’ men and two classes for local ploughmen, thus started the Blagdon, West Mendip and Charterhouse Agricultural Society circa 1858.
The original minute books of the Society are missing, but it appears the first secretary was Mr William Spurlock, followed by Mr Henry Woods, then Mr Frank Keel of Bourne, Blagdon and then Mr S Filer who took on in 1891.
The first record in the books was the meeting of the Blagdon, Charterhouse and West Mendip Agricultural Society on the 17th January 1870, which stated” the committee of the above Society has met this evening for the consideration of their annual ploughing match”. Mr Thomas Dibble and Mr Charles Watts offered their land, Mr Watts offered 1pound 10 shillings for the ploughing of his land and 1 shilling to each man for ploughing the land allotted to him. Mr Dibble gave his usual subscription and 1 shilling to each ploughman. It is interesting that the committee met frequently in those days, for the next meeting was held on the 31st January 1870. The present secretary is concerned to note that at that meeting, the committee decided to disperse with the services of the secretary (Mr Spurlock) who was paid £2 10 shilling per year and appoint Mr Wood who would offer his services free of charge!
In 1870 the Weston Mercury reported a considerable interest in a new double furrow plough, which started to be used in the north but was a novelty in the West Country!
The Society went from strength to strength until 1914 when no match was held until 1919 due to the outbreak of the Great War. According to the minute books, it was in 1905 that hedge making was introduced when the minute book recalls that “after a general discussion it was resolved to offer prizes in two open classes for hedge making, one class to consist of competitors over 21 year of age and the other to consist of young men under 21 years and it was also agreed that the ditch be not thrown”. In 1913 a thatching competition was started and the minute book recalls that it was proposed “that prizes be offered for thatching hayricks to persons residing in the Parishes of Blagdon or Charterhouse and the members of the committee residing elsewhere being farmers or smallholders, their sons or workmen that have been employed on the same farm or holding for the three months previous to August 1st.” However, the thatching competition was discontinued in 1920. It was 1921 that the first mention of root classes was made, when there were 31 entries for yellow globe mangolds, 12 tankard mangolds, 21 swedes and 9 turnips. Field crops and leys were introduced after the Second World War. The match was reinstated and held from 1919 until 1938. The match then was held on land attached to Brislington House, Brislington with most of the ploughing still being done by horses. The first match after the Second World War in 1945 was held on land at Blagdon Hill when hardly any horses were present showing the massive mechanisation of agriculture which had taken place during the war years. In 1947 the match was held at Haydon Grange, East Harptree, when it was reported that over 1,000 spectators were present to see for the first time a Ferguson tractor with a new type of Ferguson plough with hydraulic lifted plough shears being used.
After the war discussions were held with the Winford Ploughing Society and a merger was agreed. In 1964 it was proposed and agreed that the Society should be renamed the Mendip Ploughing Society. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s the Society struggled and the only way that they could hold a match was to borrow tractors from local farmers and implement dealers to be used by ploughmen coming from outside the area. In 1969 the 100th match was held at Home Farm, Compton Martin when silver cups to be won outright and extra prize money was offered. At that time the minutes also recalled the not very “politically correct” proposal that the “dinner should be restricted to men only”!. This was carried by a majority but with the proviso that the ladies who helped at the match should be treated to an evening out on another night. It was not until 1980 that the dinner became open to the fairer sex!. In a newspaper report in 1965 Mr Reg Wear recalled that taking part in the match in the early 1900’s took ploughmen three days “in the days when we ploughed with horses we used to bring the ploughs to the field on one day, plough the competitions the next and take the plough back the next day”. In those days the dinner was held on the evening of the match usually at the Seymour Arms at Blagdon. The ploughmen did not have time to attend the dinner itself, but turned up at the end to be awarded their prizes. Reg was one of the longest serving members of the committee serving since 1919 and first ploughed in the competitions in 1912 when he was 19. The Wear family have always been closely involved in the Mendip Ploughing Society and “Uncle” Frank Wear was on the committee as a Life Member until his death in April 2015.
Since the early 1980’s the fortunes of the Society have improved immensely, firstly with the introduction of the vintage tractor classes, which are now very well supported and secondly with the introduction of the modern commercial plough and reversible plough competitions. In the early days the Society relied on subscriptions and donations for survival. But in more modern times the introduction of sponsors and advertisers has taken over including the most successful draw. From 1999 the Society was sponsored by Gaymer Cider who generously donated packs of cider as special prizes for the prize winners!. Since 2012 the Society has been delighted to be sponsored by Yeo Valley Farms and in 2014 the match was featured in the autumn special of Countryfile.
Throughout its history the match has very rarely been cancelled due to bad weather, although several times the marquee has blown down! and in 1999, which was the first year of sponsorship by Gaymer Cider, ploughing had to be cancelled due to extraordinary rain storms which was recorded on television as the match was featured on Sky television, although it should be noted that the hedging and stone walling continued regardless!
The Society held its 150th Meeting on Wednesday 25th September 2019 on land known as 100 Acres Yoxter, Nr Priddy, Wells by kind permission of Yeo Valley Farms. The morning brought along Mendip mist and some quite difficult conditions but a record entry of 125 ploughs, 11 hedgers and 15 stone wallers completed their work.
With the help of supporter’s, sponsor’s and advertiser’s the future of the Society looks secure for the foreseeable future and will no doubt adapt to changes in agriculture as it has done over the last 150 years.
PREVIOUS MATCHES CHAIRMAN
2021 Green Ore Farm (B King and G Bown)
2020 No match held due to Covid 19 Virus
2019 100 ACRES, Yoxter, Priddy (Yeo Valley Farms Ltd)
2018 FRANKLYNS FARM (L& S Clothier)
2017 PRIDDY HILL FARM (Yeo Valley Farms)
2016 GREEN ORE FARM (R & M King)
2015 STANTON WICK FARM (H C Curtis & Sons)
2014 PRIDDY HILL FARM (Yeo Valley Farms)
2013 GREEN ORE FARM (R & M King)
2012 YOXTER, PRIDDY (Yeo Valley Farms)
2011 DEER LEAP, PRIDDY (R Maine)
2010 MODEL FARM, NORTON MALREWARD (K D Hasell)
2009 THICKTHORN LANE, CHILCOMPTON (Osborne and Saunders)
2008 PRIDDY HILL FARM, (Yeo Valley Farms)
2007 WOODBARN LANE, CHEW MAGNA (Hasell Family)
2006 STANTON WICK FARM, STANTON DREW (H C Curtis & Sons)
2005 PRIDDY HILL FARM, (100 ACRES)
2004 WHITCHURCH FARM, STON EASTON (K J Osborne & Partners)
2003 WELLS HILL BOTTOM FARM, WEST HORRINGTON (G G Bown)
2002 STANTON WICK FARM, STANTON DREW (K Sparkes & H C Curtis)
2001 GREEN ORE (Bruntwood)
2000 PRIDDY HILL FARM (Mary Mead Yeo Valley)
1999 GREEN ORE (Messrs S White and J J Saunders) - rained off!
Ms Tina Bath
Ms Tina Bath
Ms Tina Bath