Ploughing Match 1913

The photographs below are from The Royal South Bucks Ploughing Match and Agricultural Show held at Cippenham 1st October 1913. The ploughing competition took place on Josiah Gregory’s Farm (Western Farm). The field in the pictures is probably south of the Bath Road where the St Andrew’s Estate is today, with Elmshott Lane left and the great hedge in the background. Ploughing matches were held annually and entries came from all over the district. It must have been a great social occasion for those involved once competitors had completed their five hours of careful graft in the field.

The Winner

The gentleman below, far right, is Frank Sutton from Gerrards Cross, who was the winner of the Champion Class which was open to veterans. He earned a fifty Guinea prize presented by King George V [1]. This would be the equivalent of five hundred pounds in today’s money. Mr Sutton had been a frequent winner of the Champion Class over the previous decade.

The Mystical Horsemen

Although machine traction was becoming more widespread, this was still an age where horses were pivotal and the men that worked them were steeped in tradition. Michael Bayley, an expert on local customs wrote that many such men in the area belonged to a secret society of horsemen [2]. The society was open only to those who worked heavy horse and initiates included the dwellers in Burnham Beeches referred to as gypsies but were Ep Saeri – people skilled with horses in the old tongue. Mr Bayley’s own father had been inducted in the 1920s as a former yeomanry officer. According to folklore, members of the society were privy to a doctrine of horse magic originally brought to Britain by Celtic charioteers in the Bronze Age. It was said that adepts could exert a mystical influence over any horse causing it to fall into instant obedience. Against the fraternity’s ethics, their powers could also be worked on women. Initiates concealed a special stone in their hand when they wished to assert their will, but this may have been a subterfuge to conceal their use of a preparation which acted as a potent pheromone. Old wives’ tales perhaps, but there is much to suggest that there were a number of separate secret societies of horsemen around Britain with at least one acting as a union to protect the trade and maintain wages, whilst another incorporated rituals and trappings more akin to freemasonry.

A Good Time to Emigrate

The Canada roadshow van made an appearance, its purpose to entice farming folk into emigrating. If people there had been able to glimpse into the future perhaps quite a few might decided to go, for although most could see that change was coming, none could have anticipated the rapid and monumental form it would take. The Great War was less than a year away and it would take the lives of many local men. Near the end of the war, the government commandeered much of Cippenham’s rich farmland to create a giant war-vehicle repair depot. This became the Slough Trading Company in 1920 and fields like the one in the photographs would be turned into housing estates for influx of workers.

Fortunately the competitors would have been blissfully unaware of what was to come as they sat down together at noon on this warm autumn day to enjoy a simple meal of bread, cheese and onion, washed down with a mug of local ale, surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature in the beautiful village of Cippenham in the heart of the rural middle-Thames Valley.

  1. The Slough Eton and Windsor Observer, October 4, 1913.
  2. Kecks, Keddles & Kesh – Celtic Language, Lovespoons and the Cog Almanac. Michael Bayley, 1996, Capall Bann. ISBN 1898307628.

Images licensed from and © Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans. Originally published 11 October 1913 edition of The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic news.


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