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ASHREIGNEY PLOUGHING MATCH

Transcribed by Debbie Kennett

The following article was originally published in the North Devon Journal on 23rd October 1873 (page 2, columns D-F). This transcription was prepared from a microfilm print-out of the article supplied by the North Devon Record Office. The speeches reported in the article provide an interesting insight into the concerns of the village farmers, the role of the clergy in the schools, the employment of children, and the labour shortages resulting from the promotion of emigration. For ease of reference all surnames have been reproduced in capital letters.

The annual Winkleigh cum Ashreigney ploughing match came off under very auspicious circumstances on Monday last. The union of these adjacent parishes, neither of which is quite strong enough to maintain an Agricultural Association of its own, has proved so satisfactory that the only wonder is that it was not thought of before. Not only is the Association able to give better prizes, but the entries are more numerous, and the interest more general. In Class one, open to all England, there were six entries; in Class two, for farmers' sons, three; in Class three, for farmers' servants, seven; in Class four, for boys 17 years of age and under, three. For the first class there were two prizes of £3 and £1 10s. respectively; for the 2nd, two prizes, £2 and £1; for the 3rd, four prizes, £1 10s., £1, 10s., and 5s.; for the 4th, three prizes, £1, 10s., and 5s. In addition to these there were extra prizes for quickness in finishing, and also prizes for hedging and ditching, these latter being given by E. S. DREWE, Esq.; prizes for thatching; a prize for the best cultivated farm; a prize for the cleanest and best kept cottage; and to complete the very useful omnium gatherum, there was a prize for the best shirtmaker, and two prizes for the best stocking knitter. We fear that the lady inhabitants of Ashreigney cum Winkleigh are by no means accomplished sempstresses, as only two of three prizes for gentlemen's under-linen were awarded, the Sisters HARRIS, of Ashreigney, being the competitors without peer in this class. Both the stocking knitting prizes were carried off, and both went to Winkleigh by the aid of Mary FARMER and Elizabeth WEBBER. The winners of the other prizes will be found below.

PRIZE LIST

Ploughing (open to all England) - 1st, Wm. MARES, Exminster. 2nd, Robert FEWINGS, Roseash. Highly commended - Wm. WEBB, Horwood. For farmers' sons - 1st, Joseph TRICK, Winkleigh. 2nd, Wm. TRICK, Winkleigh. To servants working a pair of horses - 1st, John MITCHELL, with Mr. Cole, Ashreigney. 2nd, Richard TUCKER, with Mr. Miller, Ashreigney. 3rd, Thomas VERNOM, with Mr. SHORT, Ashreigney. 4th, Hy. BRIGHT, with Mr. HEYWOOD, Winkleigh. Boys under 17 years of age - 1st, Thomas MILLS, with Mr. TURNER, Ashreigney. 2nd, Wm. ALFORD, with Mr. HARRIS, Ashreigney. 3rd, J. COLE, Ashreigney. - Hedging - Prizes given by E. S. DREWE, Esq. - 1st, Wm. BENNETT, with Mr. SQUIRE, Ashreigney. 2nd, G. Bird, with Mr. Cole, Ashreigney. 3rd Wm. Darch, with Mr. SQUIRE, Ashreigney. 4th, J. HARRIS, with Mr. HARRIS, Ashreigney. Thatching (open to agricultural labourers) - 1st, George BIRD, Ashreigney, 2nd, J. HARRIS, Ashreigney. 3rd, James MOLLAND, Winkleigh. 4th, Wm. TURNER, Ashreigney. - Best cultivated garden - 1st, Wm. DARCH, Ashreigney. 2nd, Wm. TURNER, Ashreigney. - Neatest and best kept cottage - 1st, Wm. BAKER, Ashreigney. - Industrial prizes - To the agricultural labourer's wife, widow, or daughter, for the best made shirt - 1st, Elizabeth HARRIS, Ashreigney. 2nd Jane HARRIS, Ashreigney. 3rd, withheld. - Ditto for the best knitted pair of stockings - 1st, Mary PALMER, Winkleigh. 2nd, Elizabeth Webber, Winkleigh. 3rd, Ann DARCH, Ashreigney.

The ploughing took place on Hole Farm, in the occupation of Mr. HARRIS, who is one of the Committee. The soil was somewhat light and friable, which gave the ridge and furrow rather a more crumbly look than it would otherwise have had; but still the judges had an excellent account to give of it, the ridges being straight, well set up, and with plenty of good solid wholesome earth about them. The finishing was in some cases not very good, but no fault could be found in this respect with the work of John MITCHELL, working for Mr. COLE, of Ashreigney, who took the first prize in the farmers' servants' division. His last ridge was as level as a die, and a mouse might have crawled from the back of one to another without being much troubled by unevenness. The brothers TRICK, of Winkleigh, also made some good ploughing, as also did Wm. MARES, of Exminster. The Boys' Class was rather poorly represented, and we believe there was a little difficulty to age as well. Those who like Ploughmakers' statistics may be interested to hear that Messrs. EDDY's plough, or the hand that guided it, took the All England prize; while John MITCHELL steered a Ransome and Sims to victory. The Judges were Mr. PEARCE, of Newnham, Mr. ASHTON, of Merton, and Mr. SNELL, of Northtawton. Their decisions gave the greatest satisfaction. The competition was in many cases very keen, and the excitement amongst rival ploughmen and their friends great. The belles of the village, attired for the most part in red, looked on with approving eye. We hope, if their glances fell with more than usual approval on any particular swain, that that swain got a first prize. The weather was an agreeable contrast to the deluge of the previous Monday at Petrockstowe. It could not be said to be exactly summer weather, and once a shower came scudding across the hills, but there was no damage done, and the cold wind served as a whetstone for dinner. This was served in the British schoolrooms, and reflected the highest credit on mine host BOUNDY, of the 'New Inn,' Ashreigney, the caterer. The roast beef of old England was flanked by geese, fowl, and pheasant, piping hot: a first-rate plum pudding brought up the rear, and the whole was moistened by some genuine home brewed, which did not savour either of mahogany or brick-dust. The farmers scorned those potations, and wound up with that horror of a Good Templar - intoxicating liquors of the gin and brandy type. We could not discover, however, that they were the "worse for the drink" in any respect. J. G. JOHNSON, Esq., of Cross House, Torrington, presided, and proved an efficient Chairman. He was supported in the discharge of his onerous duties by the Rev. HOLE on the right, and the Rev. F. TANNER on the left. There were also present Mr. J. G. COOPER, the steward, the Rev. S MORTON, Mr. R. S. CARTER, sec., the three judges, Messrs. MADGE, COLE, MOLLAND, DUFTY, SKINNER, HARRIS, SHORT, and DUNN, besides about 100 others, too numerous to individualize.

The speaking commenced by the Chairman proposing the usual loyal toast. As Mr. JOHNSON very truthfully remarked, the health of Her Majesty had been proposed 37 years in succession in such unvarying terms, that that circumstance alone might almost be taken to show the universal feelings of loyalty and attachment which Englishmen everywhere entertained towards the throne and the gracious lady who filled it. The health of Her Majesty was drunk with the usual honours.

In proposing the health of the prince and Princess of Wales, the chairman again adduced the cordiality with which that toast was received as a tribute to the value which Englishmen attached to the principle of a settled succession. The thorough knowledge which the heir apparent to the English throne acquired of the national tastes and habits gave him afterwards tact and judgment to fulfil the duties of his situation when he became a reigning monarch. He felt sure that this would be so in the present instance when the Prince of Wales succeeded to his august mother, and his illustrious father. But still they must all say, May that day be very distant! (Applause.)

The toast of the Bishop and Clergy of the diocese was the next toast on the list - a toast which the Chairman said commended itself to a favourable reception at all public meetings. None who knew the clergy could fail to be struck by their indefatigable energy, zeal, and devotion in every good work. The Bishop of the Diocese went about his master's service in a way which inspired all who came in contact with him, and he succeeded in imparting his own spirit to most of his clergy. In every part of the county, owing to our admirable parochial system, those who were charged with the ministration to our spiritual wants were also always at hand to support in sorrow, counsel in trouble, aid in sickness, and to afford substantial relief in cases where it was needed. He believed too that for the most part they recognised the common ground of charity, on which they might work with those who differed with them in creed, for the spiritual welfare of those among whom they lived. He would couple with the toast the name of the Rev. Mr. MORTON, who, although he had only been with them a short time, had succeeded in securing for himself the regard and esteem of all the parishioners who had seen him. (Applause.)

The Rev. S. MORTON acknowledged the toast and the courtesy which had been manifest in the selection of so humble an individual as himself to return thanks for the Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese, inasmuch as he was a stranger. But although a stranger he was already beginning to feel at home. (Applause.) Of the Bishop of the Diocese he could only say "all good things." He was a man of capacious intellect, a man of deep and extensive learning, a man of extreme courtesy, above all a man of truly devout disposition, who had his Master's service thoroughly at heart. (Applause.) He was working his way thoroughly among the people of the Diocese, and becoming every day more popular. He was setting too an example to the clergy, which he was glad to think, as the Chairman had said, they were thoroughly imitating. The Bishop was a real hard worker, and just as in agriculture you could not have good crops without hard work, and due tillage to the soil, so, if you wished to reap a rich harvest of immortal souls, you must toil hard in spiritual husbandry. He thought the clergy of the diocese worked with great energy, with great intelligence and with greater self-denial. He might particularize one portion of their work, which was exciting some comment just now - he referred to their work in their schools. There was no portion of their work which shewed a more complete unselfishness on the part of the clergy, and was of more benefit to the rising generation, than the assistance which they rendered by their presence and by the presence of their families to the National Schools of the county. If that assistance was taken away it would be a serious and irreparable calamity to the poorer part of the population, and through them to the whole nation. To those who said there ought to be a school board in every parish he would reply by giving an instance of a Yorkshire clergyman, who was several miles from any market town, and who had a very small income, and who yet supported his school chiefly out of his own pocket, although his income was not sufficient to pay for the keep of a horse and carriage. He (the speaker) happened to be present when a celebrated character of the day, Mr. Ichabod WRIGHT, who was thoroughly acquainted with all the requirements of his parish, and who was in every sense of the word a fine old English gentleman, said to his friend the clergyman, alluding to his hard work among his parishioners and in the schools, "Sir, Society ought to be obliged to you." He thought Society ought to be very much obliged to the clergy for the active and unselfish manner in which they were supporting their various schools throughout every part of the country. If voluntary schools were removed, the result would be an addition to the rates of some £7,000,000 a year, and he was sure farmers would think they were heavily enough taxed already. (Hear, hear.) Nearly 11,000 schools were under the superintendence of clergymen. They were under the management of efficient teachers. They were visited by the clergymen's wives and daughters, who superintended occasionally the day school, and almost always the Sunday School, and attended in every way to the spiritual and temporal wants of the scholars. (Applause.) In reply to the toast of the Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese of Exeter, he would say that, so far as he was personally concerned, he had been very happy in his work, and ascribed what little success he had attained to the hearty way in which he had been assisted by the people themselves. He could not hope to take a very active part in ministerial work much longer, but anything he could do to promote the happiness of the parishioners he hoped he should always be willing to do. (Applause.)

The Rev. HOLE then proposed the health of the Lord Lieutenant and Magistrates of the County, and in doing so alluded to the effective work of the unpaid magistracy. The magistrates gave up a great deal of time to hear petty quarrels, which they had much rather not hear, and incurred a certain amount of odium in the discharge of their duty, which was not always pleasant. He thought they could fairly stand before their fellow-countrymen and say they did their duty impartially and well.

The Rev. J. V. TANNER, in responding to the toast, reminded his hearers that paid magistrates, in addition to being an expensive luxury, would live at a distance, and only come on circuit once now and then, and by that means be necessarily ignorant of a great deal of the under current of feeling in a parish. The present magistrates were very useful in settling petty quarrels out of court, when the would-be injured person came to take out a summons, and they thus prevented a great deal of bad blood and ill-feeling.

The Chairman then rose to propose "Success to the Army, Navy, and Reserve Forces," and touched upon the Ashantee war, into which he thought we had allowed ourselves to drift.

After this toast had been appropriately received, Mr. JOHNSON rose to propose the toast of the evening - "Success to the Winkleigh and Ashreigney Ploughing Association." He said that, great as was the pleasure which he had felt in proposing that toast in former times, that pleasure was considerably increased through his having the opportunity, for the first time, of presiding over a meeting of the Association in the parish of Ashreigney. He congratulated that parish upon having joined that of Winkleigh, and having thus entitled itself to the benefits which such associations were calculated to confer. It would be almost useless for him to attempt to enlarge upon the advantages which such associations as these tended to promote. The encouragement of good ploughing was, as they all knew, the encouragement of an operation to which they must look, in a great measure, for the proper preparation of the seed-beds, and it exposed the soil to the fertilizing influence of the atmosphere, and thus tended greatly to the success or failure of the crops in the ensuing year. Anything that might tend to promote a careful preparation of the soil must be a desirable object. When they came to consider that early habits were everything, and that the boy was the father to the man, he should be very much pleased if he could see greater competition amongst the boys' class. He fancied that if anything could be done to encourage a large number of them to enter for the ploughing, it would tend to make them better workmen in the future; and if they were in a position in which they might become farmers hereafter, it would also tend to make them better judges of the work done by others for them, of which they had proved themselves the masters by practical experience in their early days. Upon that point, if it would be any encouragement, he should be glad to offer a special prize as an inducement to boys who could do the best work, regard being had to the time in which it was done. (Cheers.) He considered that time was of very considerable importance - (hear, hear) - for unless they made it a rule in these associations that the work should be done at the same time well, quickly, and properly, they were certain to detract from the advantages which would otherwise be obtained, and the competitors would be no better off than if they had simply gone on in the routine of everyday life. There were other prizes offered in connection with this Association which, he thought, were very desirable. They offered prizes to workmen for skill in some of the more technical branches of agriculture, namely, for hedging, and ditching, as well as for thatching. He thought any encouragement which tended to induce a man to devote to the labour which was part of his daily work a considerable amount of skill and intelligence, must prove productive to the employer and of great benefit to the man himself. (Hear, hear.) There were prizes given also for the neatest cottages and the best kept gardens. Prizes for the neatest cottages were certainly most advantageous, because if there was any one thing upon which the comfort of a man depended more another, it was to find his home tidy, clean, and comfortable when he returned to his family after a hard day's work, wet, tired, and needing rest. If he came home to an unhappy and untidy place what wonder that he should be driven to seek in objectionable places that comfort which he could not find at home, and thereby was led to spend that which otherwise might be put aside for old age or sickness, or laid out to advantage for the benefit of his children. (Cheers.) He could not help thinking that associations such as these lost much of their value if they were not made use of for allowing farmers opportunities of exchanging their opinions on points of interest to them all, and for exchanging and considering suggestions which, when tested by experience and practical sense, might tend to their arriving at a correct conclusion on the points at issue, while at the same time they would find that their differences upon those points only consisted in their having approached them in different ways. (Loud cheers.) Recent events had brought them very painfully into contact with one great difficulty which presented itself for solution at the present moment, namely, the scarcity of labour. He was not going to say one single word that could be construed into a depreciation of those who had been endeavouring by artificial means to create a demand for higher wages, because although they might have been mistaken in their modus operandi he thought they were actuated by benevolent and well-intentioned motives. He thought it was well to remember that wages must always be regulated by the laws of supply and demand. The laws of political economy were as inflexible as the laws which regulated physical health, and any attempts to regulate them by artificial means were sure to recoil upon those by whom those attempts were made. A considerable rise had lately taken place in some of the most important products of this country - for instance, he noticed that the prices of iron and coal during the past eight or nine months had risen fully 100 per cent. What was the result? Did they find an increase of property in any part of the kingdom in consequence of that advance? Were the men who obtained higher wages, by reason of that advance, better off, and were their families better provided for? No; if they looked at the Savings' Banks returns they found that the deposits had hardly increased by one single fraction, whereas the consumption of Exciseable commodities had increased immensely. He thought, therefore, that any sudden rise, which did not find its source in the laws of nature, was sure to culminate in a point which was at variance with the ultimate prosperity of those classes which that rise might seem for the moment to benefit. (Applause.) He was one of those who thought the real way, the only sound way, to promote any increase in the material prosperity of the country, was to improve the condition of the labourer, by giving him a better dwelling, greater opportunities for acquiring education, and the means of becoming more skilful in his occupation, so as to enable him to bring to bear on his daily labour additional intelligence, and thus improve the quality and the value of his services. That, then, was the direction in which a more stable and more certain prosperity could be attained than by an adventitious aid, such as the promotion of emigration. It grieved him to see the pith and bone of the country going away into other parts of the world, and he thought that, if possible, they ought to do something to induce the labourer to remain at home. In the meantime they had the difficulty to face. How it was to be met he could hardly suggest - it might be done by using mechanical appliances, so as to economise labour and thereby release a certain number of hands; or, possibly, it might be met by increasing the quantity of grass land upon a farm, in order to reduce the demand for agricultural labour. (Cheers.) They might accept it as a fact that it was to the increase of the production of food for the people that they would have to turn their attention in days to come. Reverting, again, to the necessity of improving the dwellings of the labourers, he said no one would desire to shrink in the slightest degree from any responsibility devolving upon him; but if one were asked to take up this matter apart from motives of benevolence, as a commercial undertaking, and subject to the hard and fast lines of a commercial bargain, one point could not be overlooked, namely, that it would be impossible to build habitable cottages - cottages, that was, which would accommodate a family decently and comfortably - under £120, the ordinary interest on which would amount to £6 a year, or 2s. 4d. a week. What would be the effect of that upon the wages? What had to be done must be done not in a commercial sense, but from the earnest desire that everybody must entertain to see that the houses in which people had to live were such as would conduce to their comfort, conduce to their happiness, and enable them to bring up their children in habits of decency and self-respect. (Cheers.) He wished just to call their attention to one matter of importance to agriculturists, namely, the Act of Parliament that was to come into operation on the 1st January, 1875, with regard to the employment of children in farming operations. Under that Act it would not be possible for any farmer to employ any children under eight years of age in agricultural pursuits at all except it were on the property of his father, and any child above eight and under ten was to be prohibited from employment unless he could produce a certificate showing that he had made 250 attendances at school during the 12 months previous. If the child was above ten 150 attendances would be required. It would therefore be seen that although the Act did not come into operation until 1875 it had a practical bearing upon the attendance of children at school during the present year. There were certain exceptions to this rule to provide among other things for the increased requirements during hay and corn harvest, and hop picking, and also for children living two miles away from any school. He thought it desirable to bring the matter under their notice - because otherwise it might have escaped the observation of some of them until the law came into force - in order that parents might see the importance of keeping their children as regularly at school as possible, and thus qualify them for contributing their earnings at the proper time. He would detain them no longer, and feared he had already trespassed too much upon their time, and he hoped they would not think that what he said had been out of place in being spoken at the meeting of such an Association as theirs. (Cheers.) He would conclude by proposing the toast of the evening, "Success to the Winkleigh and Ashreigney Ploughing Association." (Loud cheers.)

Mr. DEAN, of Winkleigh, made a humourous speech in response to the toast. He referred amongst other things to the bone manure question, and recommended farmers to club together in order to obtain the services of a professional analyst, and hoped that there would be even greater union than at present amongst landowners and land occupiers, and deprecated the departure of England's most stalwart sons leaving behind them wives and babies, both legitimate and illegitimate, as a charge to the parish.

Toasts were proposed in due course to judges, the secretary, the committee, and the ladies, and the meeting broke up in a thoroughly "jolly" condition, in the best acceptation of the term.

Last updated - Brian Randell, 11 Jun 2005

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