Whilst the exact details may be uncertain, the origins of the Society go back to the day that Melplash Village Church was consecrated on 20th October 1846. The Church had been built by Mr James Bandinell of Melplash Court, a well known benefactor, and a new parish was carved out of the parish of Netherbury.
On the same day a ploughing match, was held to resolve a dispute between two farmers as to whose ploughman was the better. Each staked £5, a not inconsiderable sum in those days, and in the celebrations put on for the consecration of the church and at the feast that was held in the Melplash Inn, now the Half Moon, the assembled farmers and landowners agreed to form the Melplash Agricultural Society and hold a ploughing competition open to all comers on 20th October 1847.
So since 1847 the Melplash Agricultural Society has held an annual ploughing match. Initially it was very much a local parish affair with horse drawn ploughs. It was a great occasion as it celebrated the successful gathering in of the harvest, and was the time when local farmers and their workers could show off their skills, impress their neighbours and have some fun. There was often a wager or two to be had too. After which, during the winter, they would plough the fields ready for sowing next year’s harvest. They used to say with two horses you could plough an acre a day if it was going well but you would have to have a good furrow horse and one on the land.
After the war more tractors began to appear in the fields. They started with the trailer ploughs and then with hydraulic power lifts on tractors, hydraulically operated implements were introduced. Gradually tractors replaced the horses in the annual ploughing match and due to increased mobility attracted more competitors from around the locality.
Ploughing is an ancient craft, and even though the speed of doing it has changed through mechanisation, improved machinery and implements, the art of ploughing has changed very little. The objective of ploughing is still to turn the top surface of the soil over to bury the plant growth and rubbish beneath where it will decompose. The depth of ploughing depends on the condition of the soil and what is going to be grown. A good ploughman is still someone who can keep a straight furrow whilst keeping the depth and turnover consistent.
PLOUGHING MATCH (affiliated to the Society of Ploughman) Today at the Melplash Agricultural Society Ploughing Match there are various types of ploughing on show – reversible, conventional, vintage and classic classes, for ploughman of all ages and abilities including farmers, ‘Young Farmers’ and agricultural contractors from the locality or further afield. There is a novice class to encourage people who have not competed in a competition before or for some considerable time. Stewards are available on the day to help them and to answer any queries they may have. A complimentary Ploughman’s lunch is provided to all competitors.
HAVE A GO AT PLOUGHING
It is recognised that it is not easy these days to learn to plough, with less people working on the land gone are the days when the skill would be passed from generation to generation. To give everyone a chance to have a go, there is a tractor and a plough available on Match day for anyone to have a try at ploughing with the help of an expert.
HEDGELAYING (affiliated to the National Hedgelaying Society) Hedgerows define the uniqueness of the West Dorset countryside; they are a living fence which can be finished at different heights to keep in livestock and are essential for wildlife habitat. It is thought that the skill of hedgelaying dates back to Roman times. As well as marking field boundaries, they provide shelter and firewood. Many were made during the enclosures between 1770 and 1845. Ditches were dug to mark the boundary and hedges then grew on the banks of earth thrown up. In later years, men who laid hedges were paid to leave an oak tree every chain. (If you look across the Marshwood Vale you can still see evidence of this)
There are 30 different styles of hedge laying in the UK developed over many years to cope with the soil, topography and climate of the area. Although there are three different styles of Dorset Hedging they all follow the same principles. The preferred choice in this area is as follows:
Pleachers (cut stems) are laid flat and are secured by twisting ends of each pleacher under the proceeding one. Crooks are only used for securing at the start and to finish off.
FREE HEDGELAYING TRAINING DAY
In order to preserve this ancient art for future generations the Society aims to encourage more people to learn and develop the skills. Every year prior to the hedge laying competition the Society hosts a free training day for novices and Young Farmers on how to lay a Dorset Style hedge. Attendees are encouraged to enter the novice hedge laying competition on match day.
HEDGELAYING MATCH – On Match day there are various classes where hedge layers of all abilities can compete and demonstrate their skills. Local (12 miles radius of Melplash Village Church), Novice, Open, Young Farmers (Open) and Pairs (Open). All classes are free to enter. All hedging competitors who finish their work to the satisfaction of the judges and are not placed will receive a small donation towards their expenses. A complimentary ploughman’s lunch is provided to all competitors in the ploughing and hedge laying classes.