Stalham Farmers' Club - the early years | Stalham Farmers' Club | Leading speakers from the agricultural industry.

Farmers’ clubs in Norfolk and Suffolk

Prize-winning author Richard Noverre Bacon wrote a definitive essay on Norfolk agriculture in 1844.

He noted five farmers’ clubs. Harleston founded on February 9, 1838 was “one of the liveliest in the country.” (Incidentally, clubs in Suffolk at Ashbocking and Yoxford were a little earlier).
Watton began on May 29, 1839; Stoke Ferry on May 1, 1840; the Blofields in the 1840s and North Walsham in 1841.

On the clubs, Mr Bacon noted that Harleston was the "most cautious and practical" but Watton "convened in a district of more advanced cultivations is more decided." Stoke Ferry "follows in the same track" and North Walsham"is the boldest in experiment" while Blofield "is the most scientific."

These clubs were short-lived because none were listed in White’s 1864 Directory.
Curiously, Stalham is not mentioned by Mr Bacon but it was founded before the Farmers’ Club, London, which dates from December 9, 1842.

Stalham’s records and rules

An 1876-minute book is the earliest surviving record. A little black book, dated December 17, 1841 noted “when the following rules were made.”

Rule four: A meeting would be held in December to “conduct the general business of the society” and three others on a Tuesday nearest the Quarter Day.

Presumably in the days of pony and trap, it would be easier to return home in the moonlight.

Rule eight: “Every member absent from a quarterly meeting is fined one shilling (5p) to be paid towards the expenses of the annual meeting.”
A new rule was added on April 12, 1883. "Any member opening a discussion not to occupy more than 20 minutes, and any member replying to such discussions not to occupy more than 10 minutes." Was this an attempt to stop speakers “running on?

Swan Neck hoe

The club’s distinctive silk tie, features a Stalham hoe with “swan neck.” It was ideal for singling sugar beet – and this general-purpose hoe, which was used around the world, was designed and made at a foundry in Stalham’s High Street in the 19th century – opposite the former Barclay’s Bank.


In the early years, absent members were fined a shilling (5p) but an annual subscription was introduced when the club was revived after three years’ dormancy on April 22, 1890. It was agreed to charge one shilling, 5p plus 5p on election. Pegged for almost 30 years, it doubled to 2s (now about £4.41) in 1921 and reached £1 pa in 1965. The subscription increased to £20 two years ago.

Stalham's key role in launch of Norfolk Agricultural Station more than 100 years ago

Stalham Farmers’ Club’s long-serving president played a crucial role in the launch of the Norfolk Agricultural Station more than a century ago.

Mr EG Cubitt, of Honing Hall, then president of Stalham Farmers’ Club, spoke at a public meeting in Norwich in support of the scheme.

It was 107 years ago that on March 21, 1908 at the Agricultural Hall, Norwich, Mr Edward George Cubitt, formally proposed the motion to establish the Norfolk Agricultural Station.

Incidentally, one of Stalham’s oldest trophies for best milling wheat had been presented by the then president Mr Cubitt in 1905.

And incidentally, his great nephew, Sir William Cubitt, of Honing, was elected a member of the club last year in December 2014.

The historical background to the formation of the Norfolk Agricultural Station (later Morley Research Centre) and then NIAB TAG East Anglia.

September 1907 - A leading south Norfolk landowner Mr Sancroft Holmes, of Gawdy Hall, wrote an informal circular seeking support for an “agricultural bureau and experimental farm in Norfolk, the idea being to provide in some central location a farm, of say, 200 acres, where the best and most practical methods of husbandry could be demonstrated and where expert and scientific information would be available for all concerned in the cultivation of the land.”

It was proposed to run the farm on business principles with a view to making a profit, the experimental plots being on such a moderate scale as to involve little, if any, loss.

Nevertheless, there was recognition of their predecessors in 1885 that educational and experimental work cost money which would not be recouped out of farming profits.

“It is intended to ask the (Norfolk) Education Committee to given an annual subsidy in recognition of the educational  advantages which the farm will provide,” wrote

Mr Sancroft Holmes. It would be necessary to raise at least £1,000 and negotiate a further loan of £1,500 to £2,000, he added.

Following a favourable response, an informal meeting was held at Norwich Shire Hall on Wednesday, January 30, 1908. Mr F Sancroft Holmes, chairman, and JB Forrester, secretary to the Norfolk Chamber of Agriculture since 1881, joined Prof TB Wood, of Cambridge, who set out a proposal for the establishment of a demonstration farm.

Prof Wood said that a farm “concerned in putting into actual practice on the farming scale the latest discoveries of the experimental stations” could be run at very little expense and might pay its way.

The farm should be under the management of a “thoroughly practical farmer with a good all-round grounding in the science bearing on Agriculture,” said Prof Wood.

He had also suggested that the neighbourhood of Wymondham would be a suitable place for the farm – almost 60 years later, the Norfolk Agricultural Station moved to Morley in 1964!

A total of £350 has been promised for what would be a demonstration farm not an experimental station. Capital to the extent of £10 or £12 per acre plus £200 for demonstration extras (threshing machine and weighbridge) would be raised by voluntary subscription.

An income of £300 would be needed to pay the manager’s salary, £200, and expenses. It was also hoped that the county council would make a grant of £300pa.

It would be run for eight years and would be under the control of a committee. Norfolk farmers and others interested could visit the farm.

 This scheme was discussed at a public meeting at the Agricultural Hall, Norwich, on March 21, 1908. Mr Sancroft Holmes, in the chair, set out the objectives of the enterprise.

He emphasised the intention to demonstrate what had been proved by experiment, rather than to add another to the experimental stations already in existence. For this reason, the Norfolk station would be dependent on the agricultural experts in Cambridge for new information, and in no way in competition with the Cambridge School.

He hoped to raise £1,500 capital for the project, and to enlist support in some measure from the local authority.

He pointed out that Cambridge had the benefit of a farm at Impington, rent free for nine years but it is recorded that his hope “that someone who had a farm would give it to the purposes of this scheme for the next eight years” was greeted with laughter.

On the motion of Mr Edward George Cubitt, seconded by Mr H (Henry) Overman, it was agreed: “That  this meeting, approving the scheme of the foundation of an agricultural station for the county of Norfolk, resolves that the gentlemen, whose names are appended to the report be, and are hereby appointed a committee with power to add to their number, and that the committee be requested to open a subscription list for the purpose of raising the required funds, and to take such other steps as will be necessary to give effect to the scheme.”

The names were – J Sancroft Holmes, E G Cubitt, Eustace Gurney, F H Millington, H Overman, B B Sapwell, Garrett Taylor, J M Wood, T B Wood, and J B Forrester.

At this very first meeting, Lord Hastings, who was present and spoke in favour of the scheme, was elected a member of the committee.

The meeting was informed that the chairman, Prof T B Wood and Henry Overman had met at Jex Farm, Little Snoring on Lord Hastings’ Melton Constable estate.

The farm had been offered rent free for eight years.

By July 1908, the committee had raised £1,325. It included a contribution of 50 guineas from King Edward VII but they failed in their application for support from Norfolk County Council.

The station would be run by a committee of 26, with 12 representing the subscribers, 12 representing the Norfolk Chamber of Agriculture, and two representing the Cambridge University’s department of agriculture.

An executive committee was authorised to take over Jex Farm, Little Snoring, at Michaelmas 1908.

The day to day management would be the responsibility of the executive committee, chairman Mr B C Perowne and Mr Henry Overman. Mr Musgrave Mordaunt was appointed superintendent to work under their direction.

Summary compiled by Michael Pollitt, secretary, Stalham Farmers’ Club.

 An extract from “Change and Innovation in Norfolk Farming.” Seventy years of experiment and advice at the Norfolk Agricultural Station. Michaelmas 1908 to Michaelmas 1978.

Authors – Sir Joseph Hutchinson and the late AC Owers, formerly director of Norfolk Agricultural Station, with foreword by the president, Sir Edmund Bacon, president of the NAS.

Published 1980, Packard, for NAS.

Stalham Farmers' Club origins
Founded December 17, 1841.

Origins of farmers' clubs in Norfolk.

A summary of a 28-page history of Norfolk farming, undated, and by an unknown author, is contained in a minute book, dating from possibly the late 1920s or early 1930s.
A paper presented to members was entitled: "East Norfolk farming in 1841 and the old minute books of Stalham Farmers' Club."
It discussed the first 12 annual reports of Harleston Farmers' Club (1838 to 1849) - 1st meeting on February 9, 1838.
The first three reports of the Watton Farmers' Club (1839 to 1841) - 1st meeting, May 29, 1839
The first three of the Stoke Ferry Farmers' Club 1840 - May 1, 1840.
The first report of the North Walsham Farmers' Club from its commencement 1841 to 1843.

The talk referred to comments made by Richard Noverre Bacon, who wrote the prize-winning essay on  Norfolk agriculture, which was published in 1844.
He wrote a short chapter entitled - Farmers' Clubs." Five of these institutions exist in Norfolk. The Harleston commenced in 1838, described as "one of the liveliest in the country." (Incidentally, clubs at Ashbocking & Yoxford were a little earlier than the Harleston Club.)
Watton was founded in 1839, Stoke Ferry and the Blofields in the 1840s and North Walsham in 1841.
The annual subscription to all but the Blofield, which is only half a crown (12.5p), is fixed at five shillings (25p) and there is in connection with each club a good library, and an autumn root show for prizes.
There was also comments about the clubs too by Mr Bacon. Harleston, as the first founded, is the "most cautious and practical." Watton "convened in a district of more advanced cultivations is more decided." Stoke Ferry "follows in the same track" and North Walsham "is the boldest in experiment" while Blofield "is the most scientific."
Stalham Farmers' Club, established on December 17, 1841 was not the first Farmers' Club in Norfolk. But none of these five clubs mentioned by Bacon lasted long enough because White's Directory of Norfolk, published 1864, gave not one.
I think this proves that the Stalham Farmers' Club is the oldest club in Norfolk (and perhaps in England) that is still in existence.

Stalham's early history

No minute book before 1876 has been found or any information about its activities from these early years.
At the beginning of the oldest book, there are six rules - including details of election of the president and officials.
Other rules found at the beginning of minute books were added as required.
The 7th rule said that the secretary should desist summoning those members who do not attend for 12 months or show sufficient causes for their absence.
The 8th rule - Every member absent from a quarterly meeting is fined one shilling (5p) to be paid towards the expenses of the annual meeting.
On April 12, 1883 - a new rule was added. "Any member opening a discussion not to occupy more than 20 minutes, and any member replying to such discussions not to occupy more than 10 minutes."

Club revived

The club was dormant between 1887 and 1890. When the club was revived on April 22, 1890 with Ash Rudd, junior, as secretary and B C Silcock as chairman, the rules were revised but there was a difference of opinions about the subscriptopns.
Mr Worts proposed "that fines for non-attendance be done away with and an annual subscription in place of them be established." The motion was carried unanimously.
It was proposed that the yearly subscription be fixed at one shilling (5p). An amendment proposing a two shilling (10p) subscription was lost only having four supporters; but new members paid an entrance fee of one shilling.


In 1921, the subscription was raised to two shillings and in 1923, the secretary was "instructed to discontinue summoning members who did not pay their subscriptions are a second applications."


There used to be four meetings per year - on the Tuesday nearest Quarter Day when members of the club discussed various agricultural subjects.
Very seldom was an outsider asked to come to the meetings to lecture.

A progress club.

Some topics discussed

1876 - "Whether a large bank of mangolds was better than a small one."
1876 - "Whether superphosphate every four years supersedes the use of marl."
1876 - "Whether you are likely to have a laid crop of wheat by ploughing fleet or deep."
1877 - The formation of county boards (of agriculture?)
1878 - Mr Cubitt spoke on the best means of encouraging labour.
1879 - Mr Cubitt spoke on the five course system of farming
1883 - Mr Cubitt spoke on imports.
1884 - Mr Gladden - Agricultural Holdings Act and advantages to tenants.
1898 - E G Cubitt read a paper on the "Cultivation of Sugar Beet" and the same year, the club visited the experimental plot of sugar beet in November.
1900-  Mr RJ Price, MP, talked on the Agricultural Holdings Act with the result that he was made an honorary member of the club.
1901/2 -  Many discussions on the manufacture of beer and resolutions were telegraphed to Mr Price with regard to the Pure Beer Bill.
1915 -  Miss Burton spoke on Women and Farm Work.

Foal shows

1904 - 1908 Held on Mr Henry Cooke's meadows
1906 Class 1: Colt foals, 13 entries. Class 2, filly foals 12 entries. Class 3 Mares with foals, 10 entries