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History

The South Bucks Agricultural Association was founded in 1833 however its members had already been meeting since 1821.

In 1813 the Rev. St. John Priest researched and published “A General View of the Agriculture of Buckinghamshire for the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement”, one of a series of studies covering the whole of England undertaken in the first quarter of the 19th Century which were intended to form the basis for policies to improve agricultural practices and economics. He comments in this that Buckinghamshire would benefit greatly in having an Agricultural Society to encourage business and thinking so inducing necessary changes to agricultural management. He also comments that a Society could encourage the poor and those already employed in Agriculture by having competitions and rewarding them.

 

The Board of Agriculture accepted the advice and indeed encouraged the formation of a number of societies, South Bucks Agricultural Association being formed towards the end of 1820. Their purpose did not quite turn out as planned as 1813 had seen a bumper harvests when the price of wheat almost halved from 117s a quarter to 69s. The lifting of the Napoleonic blockade followed by dramatic post-war currency fluctuations only worsened the farmer’s situation despite the Corn Law import barriers. In a meeting at the George Inn in West Wycombe on January 1st 1821 the South Bucks Agricultural Association drew up a petition for relief from the Corn Law and a further meeting at the Lion Inn in High Wycombe on 17th August 1821 saw them passing a resolution stating that “nothing less than an import duty of 40s per quarter on wheat can secure to us the fruits of our industry”. The pressure from these societies caused the government to, in 1822, exclude all wheat completely until the price reached 70s with a sliding scale of duties above that price. The SBAA appears not to have met again for some time but these lobbies were successful as the Corn Laws were repealed in 1846.

 

When the South Bucks Association was properly inaugurated in 1833 a number of farmers involved in those early meetings were the founding members. There have been a number of misunderstandings about the actual “birth” date but a printed history was found by Mr J.C. Ive in 1882 which states:

“In the latter part of the year 1833, our esteemed Vice President G.S Harcourt Esq. and other gentlemen interested in Agriculture, feeling the great want of something to stimulate Farm Labourers and Servants to greater industry and skill in their several callings, and to increase respect for moral character, met at Salt Hill. They resolved to establish a Ploughing Match, and to distribute awards among the deserving, with a view to realising the great desideratum. Exertion was made and 73 of the neighbouring Noblemen, Gentlemen and Farmers came forward; the sum of £64. 14s 6d was subscribed; a Ploughing Match was held on the 3rd December in a field kindly lent by William Nash Esq., of Langley, where 19 prizes and rewards were given away; and thus ‘The South Bucks agricultural Association ‘ was formed.”

 

“So great an interest was excited by its proceedings that, in the following year the number of Subscribers increased to 89, and the Subscriptions to £106. 3s 0d., including £10 from his late Most Gracious Majesty King William IV and £5 from Her Royal Highness Princess Augusta, who with their known condescension permitted their names to be placed at the head as Patron and Patroness, conferring upon the Association the title of The Royal South Bucks Agricultural Association’.”

 

The numbers competing at the Ploughing match steadily increased and in 1887 at Mr S. Pullen’s farm at Horton 77 teams of horse drawn ploughs competed, the Queen’s Cup winner being John Lowe of Dorney. In 1933, the centenary year, 36 ploughmen competed.

 

The Ploughing Match and Show has always been the focal point of the Association’s year and it has been held every year with the exception of the war years. It’s importance to the members was such that having suspended all activities of the Association on 6th September 1939, shortly after VE Day a committee meeting was arranged for June 1945 where the minutes of the 1939 meeting were read and signed and the date was set for a Ploughing Match to be held on 26th September 1945 on a Mr. A.J. Major’s farm.

This match was a tremendous success and the following year saw tractor entries outnumber horse teams for the first time. Horse drawn entries continued to be an important part of the day and in 1951 the only entry was overall champion beating 17 tractor teams.

 

Prizes and awards for farm labourers and servants increased in scope over the years and categories widened but from the first year the emphasis was on long service, good husbandry and the raising of large families without recourse to parochial relief. The long service awards were generous and in today’s world shocking. In 1840 a Moses Tombs aged 17, received 15s as a reward for ten and a half years service and in 1879 Thomas Lake aged 53 was awarded £2 for 43 years of service! The longest continuous service award appears to be that of James Lesley who received 15s in 1882 for 58 years service.

 

Cups were donated to the Association to be presented as prizes for different classes. In 1845 John Palmer Esq. gave cups for the best load of wheat and the best five acres of swedes, this was the first occasion that members and subscribers were able to compete for awards. In 1855 a cup was presented by the Prince Consort for the best cultivated farm and this cup, known as the Prince Consort’s Cup until the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, has been presented every Show day since, first by the Prince Consort and after his death by each Monarch in turn. King Edward VII continued the tradition presenting the King’s Cup each year although a telegraph had to be sent to Messrs. Garrard & Co on Show day 2nd Oct 1901 to get them to send the cup in time for the Luncheon. Amazingly it arrived in time! In 1937 King George VI presented a cup to be competed for annually and a replica for the winner to retain, a practice that has been continued by Queen Elizabeth, a certificate replacing the replica cup in 1982. Winning this Cup is one of the ultimate accolades a farm can achieve within the Association and at the Luncheon on Show Day the winning member fills the cup with "bubbly" and it is passed around to everyone present to share their success.

 

Other prizes started to be donated to the Association for award to the winner of varying classes in the show. Messrs. Sutton, seedsmen donated a cup in 1866 closely followed by other well known local companies. 1874 saw the establishment of classes for the improvement of the quality of agricultural horses with a prize offered by Captain Purefoy Fitzgerald. Undoubtedly, one of the strengths of the Association has been that strict rules have been laid down which have helped maintain its integrity. Over the 183 years it has been the committee members hard work and dedication to the Association that has ensured competition classes remain current and pertinent to Agriculture and Livestock husbandry and it has played its part in encouraging good agricultural practice.

 

The area that the Royal South Bucks Agricultural Association covers has altered little since its inception. It is generally regarded as covering an area around Beaconsfield of about 10 miles radius. 1846 saw an extension northwards to include Turville, West Wycombe, Amersham and Chenies. In 1889 a group of farmers around High Wycombe who wanted to form an Agricultural Association suggested an amalgamation to form “The High Wycombe and South Bucks Agricultural Association” but the South Bucks committee were not impressed and it did not come to fruition. These days relations with neighbouring Associations are very amicable, indeed some members are also members of these others and there is mutual assistance in providing judges for each other’s competitions.

 

The Ploughing Match and Show is now held on the first Wednesday of October each year at a local farm. The Ploughing match attracts a number of ploughmen who compete regularly at the show but also at other Ploughing matches to gain points to compete at the World Ploughing Match if they so wish and consequently the match rules are the international ones. In a neighbouring field are the show marquees which house the Luncheon, Show Secretary, Bar and Domestic Classes which range from cookery, flower arranging, handicraft and childrens’ classes. The Domestic classes were introduced in 1954 for the interest of the wives of members, the classes being a Dundee cake, Victoria sandwich, a fatless sponge and bottled fruit. As with society in general the Show has mirrored the change of attitudes to involve women and children. In 1966 a Ladies committee was established, the ladies being: Mrs . J Connell, Mrs HC Cox, Mrs G Lidstone, Mrs WC Emmett and Mrs R Urquhart (the initials being their husbands!). The Ladies committee took over the organisation of the Domestic Classes and the number of the classes increased. Children's' classes were introduced and lots of those who first entered are now members in their own right.

 

In the early days of the show a dinner was held in The Royal Hotel or the Old Crown in at Slough for members, a lunch of bread and beer having been supplied to the ploughman at the show. Later a light lunch was provided to the members, 1892 saw the first sit down Luncheon with about 60 or so members attending. It became so important that a Luncheon sub-committee was formed and it became a fairly formal affair with a decadent menu and toast list. No longer quite as decadent but equally impressive, 2015 saw nearly 400 people sit down for lunch in a marquee at Wilton Farm, Little Marlow ably provided for the 15th and final year by Lynda Johnston. In 2018 we had 450 members and guests sit for the luncheon at Moor Farm, Lane End, Bucks which was hosted kindly by the landlords Lord Parmoor and the Cripps family alongside the Connell Family who farm the land here. Lets hope the growing numbers and success continues for our future shows.

 

The membership of the RSBAA pays a subscription to the Association and over the years its funds have gone up and down – in the last few years of the 19th Century funds were extremely low. Good management and hard work by its officers kept it going. Again in the 1920’s funds were so low that in 1927 the bank demanded guarantees from 20 members of £5.00 each before they would allow money already collected to be paid out in awards and for the purchase of prizes. Occasional dinner dances and other fund raising event were arranged and in January 1932 a dinner dance was held at the Adelphi, Slough which made a profit of £19 and became the first of an Annual event which happened for a number of years. It was also thought prudent to charge for parking at the Ploughing Match and a charge of 1s was introduced in 1932. Parking is no longer charged but also in 1932 it was decided to auction off the exhibits and this Auction continues to this day and not only provides a substantial amount of money to pay for the marquees but also a highly charged and amusing hour post lunch where members and friends bid for the vegetables, produce and edible exhibits of the domestic classes. For the past few years the Committee has organised a Winter Lunch in January where members can meet together socially as well as raise money for the Association and this is always well attended. There is also a Summer Party, usually in June which is very much a social event.

 

When Agricultural Associations and Ploughing Matches first came about many people living in rural areas were employed on the land and consequently they were a pertinent part of the demographics. These days less than 1% of rural dwellers are employed in farming and yet the RSBAA’s membership remains constant – this is telling of both its success and the hard work and dedication of the committee members and the loyalty of the members themselves. Lately it has been noted that the membership is getting older and so a drive has started to introduce young people to the Association. A Junior section was introduced in 2015 with the idea that social events will be arranged over the year and two younger members have been co-opted on to the executive committee to represent them.

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