Ellel Ploughing and Hedging Association’s annual competition at the weekend was the association’s 90th event, writes Sam Ashton.
The first event was held in 1918 at Cinder Hill, Dolphinholme, but there have since been years when, for one reason or another (including weather) the competition couldn’t be held.
Farming people have always prided themselves on their skills, and the competitive individuals among them keen to show them off.
At that first competition 35 horse teams took to the field and there were 22 hedge layers.
Typically each ploughman had to complete a plot, or ‘bed’ measuring 65 yards by 14 wide; all the plots set out exactly parallel, so that each competitor tested his skill in matching up exactly with his neighbour.
The hedgers were arranged along the hedge, or hedges, in ‘stints’ of a defined length.
Thus the managing committee had to find a host farmer with both a sufficient acreage of land, and length of hedge which had the right dimensions to be ready for laying to make a stock proof fence.
In our district the local style is known as ‘Lancashire & Westmorland’, and nowadays the stints are eight metres for the seniors and seven for the juniors.
In those early days there were also classes for working horses, and these were further divided between Shires and Clydesdales.
All this meant that a considerable number of judges were required, mostly men, but also two or three ladies whose responsibilities included choosing the smartest judge from the ranks of the over-coated, bowler hatted gents, the neatest hedger, the best turned out ploughman, and the steadiest team of horses.
In both the ploughing and hedging there were Open and Local classes. The latter were defined (and largely still are) as the parishes of: Ashton with Stodday, Cockersands Abbey, Cockerham, Cleveley, Ellel, Forton, Holleth, Nether & Over Wyresdale, Scotforth, Quernmore, Thurnham, Winmarleigh, Bulk, and the borough of Lancaster south of the Lune.
There were other similar societies, for example the Arnside & District, the Farleton & District, (Westmorland), and the Bolton-le-Sands society that included a class for tile draining.
A news cutting from February 1939 describes that year’s Ellel event in detail; there were 22 ploughmen and no less than 45 hedgers. The young hedgers are noted, the youngest of whom was a Miss Mary Redhead of Cartmell, aged 14 and who was judged second in the class for competitors from ‘County Council Schools’. In addition there were classes for Under 19s and Under 17s. That event was described as the ‘coming of age’ competition and in celebration a ‘novelty’ class was included for ploughmen aged over 50. This attracted six competitors and was won by Tim Cook, aged 62.
Most classes had cash prizes; in addition, over the years individuals and commercial companies donated cups, which the Association still has; local companies and individuals also donated ‘specials’, e.g. a billhook, drum of oil etc. or cash.
Thus, to run the competition cost appreciable sums of money, so the committee, and relevant sub committees organised a variety of functions to raise it, including occasionally, booking the Central Pier Morecambe, or the Ashton Hall, Lancaster, for a ‘grand dance’, so there was quite a social element to Ellel.
Catering on competition day was two-fold: ‘baggin’, including a hot drink, was brought to all competitors; an entry from the minutes in 1943 describes how the local War Agricultural Committee agreed to supply seven land girls to help, and someone loaned a pony and cart.
By contrast the officials and judges went to a nearby pub or hotel for sit down, knife and fork lunch.
In the evening the prizes were awarded at a supper and dance at, for example, Cockerham Parish Hall.
The schedule for the 1950 competition, at Little Crimbles, Farm, Cockerham, shows that little had changed except that there was no longer a horse show, and that there were now four classes for tractor ploughing, including one for Under 19s; the tractors classes having been introduced in 1940.
The big changes began in 1976. Hitherto the competition had always been held in the winter, typically the first Wednesday in February, and there sometimes had been postponements due to wet weather; entries in the horse class had become minimal and sporadic.
That year the event took place at Cockerham Hall, in October, and on a Saturday.
This latter change in particular made it more convenient for employees to attend. A local vintage enthusiast, at rather short notice, asked could there be a class for vintage tractors and ploughs.
Accordingly three such outfits were squeezed in to the field. From the next year onwards the vintage class expanded massively, and divided, first with the addition of a ‘mounted’ class, and later, in accordance to conditions formed by the National Society of Ploughmen, a ‘Classic’ class was added, to include tractors made between 1960 and 1976.
The hedging classes remained as ever, but with noticeably fewer juniors.
Today the format remains as above and still with Local and Open classes, but with changes to the pattern of farming, the ploughing is in September (this year on the 5th) which is too early for hedging, and thus nowadays is thus a separate event held in late March.
The hedging competitors include one or two juniors, and the senior ranks include conservation volunteers, male and female.
No longer are there cash prizes; the cups remain, ‘specials’ also, and rosettes are awarded. There is no ‘baggin’ or sit down lunches, but on ploughing day a catering van on the field supplies food and drink all day, and most importantly, all competitors, judges and officials receive a hot-pot lunch.
This anniversary year’s hedging event, at Cockerham Hall on March 28, was sponsored by the Lancaster University Wind Turbine Community Benefit Fund.
There were 10 competitors in total. The Overall Champion Hedger was Tom Kendal, who is 19 and a pupil at Queen Katherine in Kendal.
Tom won cups for Overall Hedger and Winner of 19 Year and Under Class.
The other results were as follows:
Local Class: 1st Phill Noble, 2nd John Greenwood, 3rd Mark Chippendale 4th Roger Briggs.
Open Class: 1st Henry Kirkwood, 2nd Andrew Kirkwood 3rd Damon Peacock 4th Heather Swift.
Novice: 1st John Gibson.
Preston Farmers Silver Salver for ‘Best Nicker’ - Mark Chippendale.