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The History of the Southwell Ploughing Match & Society

The Society was first established in 1855, originally as the ‘Upton Farming and Gardening Society’, with an aim to ‘Educate and Inspire’, to encourage competition to improve agricultural skill levels, to promote pride in the skills of agricultural workers, and to educate the general public attending the show. At the first ‘Festival’ in 1856 there were two ploughing classes, two for Hedging, two for ‘Hogg clipping’ and one for ‘Draining’. Each ploughman, whether man or boy, was required to plough half an acre withing four and a half hours, with a pair of horses without a driver, to a depth of 4 inches. The first prize was £3, which was not an inconsiderable sum at the time when average weekly wage was a third of that.

By 1870 the Society had become the ‘Southwell Agricultural Association’, and included a Stock show. In 1871 there were classes for Hunters and for Jumping. By 1880 a severe agricultural depression had set in, with millions of acres of wheat being brought into cultivation each year in the USA, there was much talk of how duties on foreign imports were required to keep English farming viable. In these difficult times the Southwell Society effectively went into hibernation for twenty eight years.

In 1908 it was resurrected as the ‘Southwell and District Farmers Club’ and a Ploughing Match was held at Hockerton. From then until the outbreak of the Great War the Society grew and re-established itself.

In 1912 the chairman William Bradwell presented a silver cup, the ‘Frank Bradwell’ trophy for the best young ploughman, this trophy is still competed for in the same class today.

During the war all able bodied men (and horses), who could be spared from the land volunteered to do their bit for ‘Blighty’. Such frivolities as shows and competitions were put under wraps.

After the war, in the face of increasing imports, the price of corn dropped dramatically and attention turned to producing more perishable commodities such as milk. The situation was so dire that government policy changed from Free Trade to Protectionalism.

It was 1922 before the ‘Southwell and District Ploughing Match and Show’ was again held. In 1936 Tractor Ploughing was introduced for the first time, a large number of American tractors had been imported during the First World War, but even so, more acres were still being ploughed by steam and horses than by internal combustion engine.

1938 was the last show to be held before the outbreak of war, and while Britain needed to ‘Dig for Victory’, there was neither time, money, or members to run a show.

The Agriculture Act of 1947 provided a level of guarantee of prices, and given this stability farmers rose to the challenge and became spectacularly successful at increasing food production. Mechanisation became king, horse power became obsolete in the 1950’s. Tractors became bigger and faster, this combined with better fertilisers and pesticides, enabled yields of most crops to triple, and milk production to double by the end of the century.

This progress carries a cost, in 1940 Britain had half a million farms and 15% of the population worked in agriculture. In 2000 a third of those farms had gone and those that were left were worked by about 2% of the population.

From 1948 until the present day there has been a show almost every year, (exceptions being 2001 due to Foot and Mouth, and 2019 due to Covid). In the late 1950’s flower arranging and baking classes were introduced, and by 1969 the Ladies Committee was well established, running the Domestic and Horticultural Produce section of the show. A Chidren’s section was incorporated in 1970 to encourage the younger generation to develop their creative skills, this continues to enjoy enthusiastic competition today, including the popular ‘Animal from Vegetable’ competition.

Over the years Whippet racing made a brief appearance, pigs came and went due to problems with red tape and movement controls. Clay Pigeon shooting appeared briefly, until it became clear that horses and gunfire were found to not mix! The Nottinghamshire Goat Club held a ‘Show within a Show’ for several years. The dog show was introduced in 1981 and remains a favourite for visitors.

The Ploughing Match and Show has continued to go from strength to strength, and in recent years has enjoyed record attendances of over twelve thousand people. It is the largest agricultural one day show in Nottinghamshire, run by a committee comprising of farmers, local business people and rural enthusiasts, the annual show is held at a different venue every year.

The show represents all the really important interests of agriculture from horse ploughing through the vintage years, to the modern day tractor, a variety of livestock, static displays and rurally themed trade stands to suit all tastes. The Show has consistently worked at staying aligned with support of rural pursuits and values, and unlike many shows, has deliberately avoided excessive commercialisation, bouncy castles and fairground rides.

If anyone wishes to become a steward or become a helper please contact the show office, help is greatly appreciated, as the show is only able to run from the very generous help and time given by the committee members, stewards and helpers.

The Society is eternally grateful; to those farmers who offer to host the show which requires some 150 acres of land, causing much disruption over several years. The Society is very lucky to have an excellent supportive committee, all who work tirelessly in the weeks leading up to show day, to ensure it’s success – every year we reflect and feel proud of being the biggest one-day agricultural show in the area.

Much of the information in this section History has been taken from the book ‘Ins and Outs’, the history of Southwell and District Ploughing Match, written and compiled in 2008 by Juliet Elliot.

For a fuller history, copies of this book are available for sale from the Society Secretary.



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