Denbighshire & Flintshire Agricultural Society ~ a brief history
The origins of the Society lie in the period of the great advances in farming, made in the late eighteenth century. North Wales was influenced by increasing contact with the more developed agriculture of England and the Napoleonic Wars, with the threat of famine and the stimulus of high prices, led to an interest in agricultural experiment. It became the fashion for the important landowners to take an interest in new farming methods. Sir Watkin Williams-Wynne of Wynnstay tried to grow hops in Denbighshire and to improve the breed of Meirioneth Cattle by introducing Highland Bulls. Sir Stephen Glynne of Hawarden offered premiums to his tenants for successful drainage management of fallows, and cultivation of turnips, and John Wilkinson, the Brymbo ironmaster, introduced the first threshing machine into North Wales. In 1796 Sir Watkin formed the Wrexham Agricultural Society. Shows of sheep and cattle were held every year at Wynnstay, with prizes for good farming and “a gargantuan feast where five or six hundred guests discusssed crops and manures and drank appropriate toasts”. One of these was attended by Thomas Coke of Holkham, Norfolk (1752 – 1842), the pioneer of new farming methods. Other Societies were started in the Upper Dee Valley and in the Vale of Clwyd in 1808, and the Flintshire Agricultural Society was formed in 1817. The Denbighshire and Flintshire Agricultural Society seems to have united a number of these small organisations. It was formed at a meeting held at the Black Lion Hotel in Mold on 24th July 1839, with C.B. Trevor-Roper of Plas Teg in the chair. It was established “for promoting Agriculture and encouraging Industry” in Denbighshire and Flintshire only, but from 1842, membership was extended to the Edeyrnion district of Meirioneth.
Members were to pay a subscription of a guinea, but occupiers of lands with a rent of less than £60 paid half a guinea. Seventy-seven subscribers are listed in the Society’s minutes for 1839. Nearly all were prominent landowners and many subscribed more than the minimum; Sir Watkin gave £50 and the Bishop of St Asaph, PhilipDavies-Cooke of Gwysaney, Sir Stephen Glynne of Hawarden Castle, Lord Kenyon and F.R. West of Ruthin Castle each paid £10.
The Society organised local ploughing matches and paid premiums to men with the best cultivated farms, to those successful with a particular crop, or who produced new types of implements and also to long-serving workmen and labourers who brought up the largest families with poor relief.
The minutes book provides a wealth of details in the early years:
“To Mr Robert Jenkins of Plasyward near Ruthin for the best cultivated farm of 150 acres and upwards…….a piece of plate or £10”. (1840) “To Mr John Humphreys of Berse near Wrexham for having drained 10 acres of land in the best and most approved manner as tenant and occupier……£7”. (1840) “To Mrs Williams of Plas Llangwyfan near Denbigh for having planted the greatest number of thorn quick hedges…..a piece of plate or £10”. (1840) “To Mr John Catherall of Mold for the best crop of Swedish Turnips not less than seven acres….the Society’s Medal”. (1840)
By 1843 the Society’s annual meeting at which the premiums were awarded was referred to as the Show. The Annual Show, which we now think of as the main business of the Society, has been held in most subsequent years, except when prevented by disease or in wartime.
The Society’s records, including minute books for 1839 and a fine series of show catalogues from 1888 have been deposited in the Flintshire Record Office at the Old Rectory, Hawarden, where they will be available for research by historians.
The County Archivist would be interested to hear of old farming account books, correspondence, photographs or other agricultural records of both counties, and would be grateful if anyone who knows of the existence of such records would make contact.