Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Loss Of The Working Horse In Rural England (Part 3 & Conclusion)

There was also much tradition lost as time progressed and the horse replaced. In areas including Yorkshire, ploughing did not begin until Plough Monday[1]. This was the first Monday following the twelfth day after Christmas. Often, the farmworkers would parade through the village streets and dance, not dissimilar to Morris Dancing today[2]. Also widespread in Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire and other central areas was the Plough Play. The performers would pull a brightly decorated plough through the village streets and ask to enter the village houses. If the performers were allowed in they performed their play and were given food and drink. If the householder refused to give them entry, they would plough the ground in front of their property[3]. This tradition, like that of the hiring fair has fallen into disuse with time and progress[4].

Three manufacturers of tractor emerged who could supply farmers with reliable, cheap tractors – David Brown, Fordson and Ferguson. The tractor not only began to replace horses but changed agricultural methods forever. Production increased as a tractor could plough or cultivate much more land than a horse. The binder disappeared and was replaced by the combine harvester. Grain from combines initially was run into large sacks frequently weighing sixteen stones. These were later collected and put onto trailers. This method was replaced by the collection of loose grain into trailers and then tipped into large sheds or silos.

Ferguson revolutionised the tractor. It no longer was a vehicle that just pulled trailed implements after he incorporated a three-point linkage onto the Grey Ferguson. The Little Grey Fergie, as it became known, also had a power-take-off (P.T.O.) enabling the tractor to drive implements. Before this, implements were wheel driven. Now tractors could tip trailers, drive balers, muckspreaders, spray crops with chemicals and carry bales behind the tractor. In short, the tractor had not only replaced the horse as the main source of power on the farm, it had revolutionised agriculture. However, although working horses were becoming fewer in number, it took many years for them to virtually disappear from most farms. In September 1965 there were still twenty one thousand horses being used for agricultural purposes in Britain[5].

To conclude, the loss of the working horse in rural England in the twentieth century was inevitable. The demand for more food during two world wars demanded higher productivity from the land, and this could only be achieved by the use of tractors. The ploughing of grassland for the use of arable crops could not have been achieved with only horse power. The later post war policy ensured high productivity and efficiency would be required of British farmers. There was no return to extensive types of farming and a reversion of the plough policy after the Second World War. As time progressed the tractor became more versatile, more reliable and affordable. The invention of the P.T.O by Ferguson made the tractor more than a pulling machine, like the horse. Nowadays one sees working horses at ploughing matches throughout the country, but one rarely sees a horse ploughing at a genuine working farm. Perhaps, in these times of bio fuels we may see the horse reappear in the countryside, but it is unlikely it can ever replace the tractor.

22/3/09, Jonathan Severs, B.A History (Hons), York St John.

Bibliography

Brown, J, Agriculture in England, Manchester, (1987).

Dewey, P, British Agriculture in The First World War, London, (1989).

Dewey, P, The Supply of Tractors, found in p.p 89-100, The Front line of Freedom, Exeter, (2006).

Holderness, B.A, British Agriculture Since 1945, Manchester, (1985).

Howkins, A, The Death of Rural England, London, (2003).

Martin, J, The Development of Modern Agriculture, British Farming Since 1931, Basingstoke, (2000).

Morris,Rev M.C.F, Yorkshire Folk Talk, 1892, found at http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/YKS/Misc/Books/FolkTalk/Chapter11.html , accessed 23/1/09.

State-Led Agricultural Revolution, Short, B, Watkins,C, Martin, J, in The Front Line of Freedom, Exeter, (2006).

Primary Sources and Journals

Caunce, S, Twentieth-Century Farm Servants: The Horselads of the East Riding of Yorkshire, found at: www.bahs.org.uk/39n2a5.pdf, accessed 2/12/08.

Davidson, T, Plough Rituals In England and Scotland, p.30, found at: http://www.bahs.org.uk/07n1a4.pdf, accessed 1/3/09.

M.A.F.F, A Century of Agricultural Statistics, Great Britain 1866-1966, London, (1968).

Storey, N, Ancestors at Work, Ploughmen and Penny Boys, in Family Tree, (09/06).

Websites Visited

David Brown Tractor Club, found at :http://www.davidbrowntractorclub.com/David%20Brown%20History.htm, accessed 23/1/09.

Ferguson Family Museum, found at: http://www.ferguson-museum.co.uk/index.php, accessed, 29/1/09.
Society of Ploughmen, (U.K), found at: http://www.ploughmen.co.uk/, accessed 29/1/09.

The Little Grey Fergie, A Legend In Its Own Lifetime, found at: http://www.myfergie.co.uk/index.html, accessed 29/1/09.







[1] T. Davidson, Plough Rituals In England and Scotland, p.30.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid, p.31.
[4]] One cannot help but think of the chaos and lawsuits that would result from such an act today, especially with a large modern 200hp tractor and eight furrow plough.
[5]] M.A.F.F,p.61.
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