Everything you need to know about The Ongar Ploughing Match

PUBLISHED: 11:34 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:38 04 September 2018

The Ongar Ploughing Match

The Ongar Ploughing Match

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If you have never been to a ploughing match, this month is a great time to put that right as the The Ongar Ploughing Match marks its 100th event. Ralph Metson explains more

Have you ever heard of The Ongar Ploughing Match?

Each year there are three major ploughing matches held across Essex, and this year The Ongar Ploughing Match, naturally held in the Ongar area, celebrates its 100th meeting. If you have never been to a ploughing match before, you are missing a treat – and this anniversary occasion will be an extra special place to start.

Creating quite a spectacle, and in keeping with the centenary, organisers expect around 100 ploughmen to be demonstrating their considerable skills on tractors dating from the 1910s up to the very latest vehicles — some with ancient ploughs, others with modern leviathans.

There will also be teams of horses, representing the earliest farming traditions and operating much as they would have done in 1901, the year of the first known Ongar match. Apart from missing a few years during the world wars, or because of exceptionally wet conditions, The Ongar Ploughing Match has occurred annually ever since, making 2018 the 100th match.

A publicity poster for one of the earliest ploughing matches shows what a spectacle these traditional events would have been for the local community. The poster is promoting the 1905 show, which would have been quite something, taking place on four different sites and clearly demonstrating the changes in agriculture over time.

The Ongar Ploughing MatchThe Ongar Ploughing Match

Two of the three farms that combined to give a site for the competition no longer exist as separate entities. Only Shelley Hall is still in existence and members of the Kerr family who now live there are helping to run this year’s match and even hosted the match again in 2009.

Beyond that, the original ploughmen seemed to be well rewarded as there were up to seven prizes in some classes and those prizes were of a considerable value for the time. £2 as a first prize would be about £230 today, and Class One for farmers or their sons had a new plough as first prize.

The size of the day partly reflects the large labour force employed in those days, probably one man per 20 acres rather than today’s figure of perhaps 20 times that area.

Today’s matches are entered mainly by people enjoying a hobby, using their own equipment, but the original purpose of the ploughing match was to give the key farm workers some relaxation by way of friendly competition with ploughmen from other farms, and using their employer’s equipment.

This of course caused them to hone their skills over the year – to the benefit of their employers – so everyone was happy.

The Ongar Ploughing MatchThe Ongar Ploughing Match

Additional evidence of the importance of the match in 1905, to ploughmen and employers, is demonstrated by it being held on a Thursday, a working day. And for the ladies, a washing and ironing competition. How would that go down today?

We smile today at the sexism portrayed as we can imagine no men would be entering those competitions and the ploughing classes were specifically for men or lads, with no thought that a woman might have a go. Thankfully, times have changed there as well and there will be at least one lady competitor at the Ongar Ploughing Match this year.

Katie Boardman on her trusty orangy-red 1950s Nuffield has been a feature of a dozen or more Ongar matches and won’t want to miss this one. The longest-serving competitor, Eddie Metson, is also expected to be ploughing. Eddie first entered (and won a prize) aged 14 in 1945 and has entered most matches since.

This year’s Ongar Ploughing Match is being held at High Laver Hall, near Moreton, Ongar, on Saturday, September 15 and entry is free. Get there early, as ploughing starts around 9.30am and the earliest ploughs are often the most skilful. Entertainment continues throughout the morning with activities taking place until around 1pm.

Catering for all those tractors makes for a big site, but if walking round seems rather daunting there will be a free courtesy ride available on a trailer kindly supplied by Ernest Doe and Sons, and on which there will be a running commentary by a couple of knowledgeable and very entertaining experts who will explain everything that is going on.

The Ongar Ploughing MatchThe Ongar Ploughing Match

There will also be an opportunity for some visitors to have a go at driving a tractor and drawing a straight furrow of their own in a friendly competition, or you may like to try your skill at pacing a chain length (22.1 metres). Visitors can buy refreshments during the match, while there are still some tickets available for a centennial buffet lunch in the match marquee.

Find out more

The Ongar Ploughing Match takes place at High Laver Hall, near Moreton, Ongar, on Saturday, September 15. Contact opmsecretary@btinternet.com for details. Ploughing starts at 9.30am and finishes at 1pm. Entry is free.

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