Its formation must be seen against the background of agricultural development of the time. Only a year before, the Royal Agricultural Society was trying to rescue British farming from the agricultural depression of the 19th Century. General adverse climatic conditions had led to the abandonment of heavy soil, rot had led to the killing of many sheep and blight had taken a heavy toll on the crops. This was “The Hungry Forties”, intensified by the Corn Laws which kept the price of wheat high so that the poor could not afford to buy bread. The very poor in the Hadleigh area in 1837 were getting half a ton of flour per week in “Out Relief” i.e. people not in the workhouse.
Board of Agriculture
A Board of Agriculture survey in the 1800s showed that the effective rotation of crops had been ignored and that grain yields were low. There was much unemployment and unrest among the labouring class.
Hope stemmed from developments in agricultural science. Work on artificial manures was gaining momentum and making an impact on farming methods. Hadleigh Farmers Club was particularly fortunate to have the Rev Professor John Henslow who was keen to help. Professor Henslow was the most eminent botanist in the land and Charles Darwin’s mentor. He became rector of Hitcham in 1837 – a Crown appointment. Henslow was knowledgeable in the scientific treatment of soil so the Club made him an Honorary Member on the 20th November 1840. They held meetings every month and immediately had a lot of support.
The first Secretary was William Grimwade and the first minute book is now in the Suffolk Records Office at Buy St Edmunds. One report reads: “Professor Henslow introduced his second lecture on Elementary subjects essential to Vegetation – Oxygen, Hydrogen and Nitrogen. He elucidated his remarks by many interesting experiments, both amusing and instructive.”
Other subjects discussed included the best kind of sheep for breeding and the best for grazing in this neighbourhood. Topics also included the best manner of preparing the land; ploughs and ploughing, diseases of wheat and the modes of preparing the seed.
Mr Grimwade and other members of his family served the Club as Secretaries continually for over a hundred years. The Rowley family have now been Presidents for more than 100 years.
The Hadleigh Farmers Club held shows and gave prizes to encourage and promote good farming. The first Hadleigh Show was in 1840. It is now one of the few surviving small town Agricultural Shows in the nation.