December 9 2013 Latest news:
Monday, October 7, 2013
Amidst the stalls, steam engines, stilton and pork pies, and cider making demonstrations the real action – and the purpose- of the weekend was gathering pace.
In a field off the B1382 between Ely and Shippea Hill, the 3rd annual Prickwillow Ploughing Festival was under starter orders.
It was revived to help raise money both for the neighbouring steam museum and cancer research and large crowds watched awestruck as enthusiasts with an eye for detail- and a competitive streak- battled for supremacy.
“A lot of those taking part are not farm workers,” says Gary Brown, Prickwillow born and bred and one of those behind the festival. “Many of those taking part have all sorts of jobs- but what they have in common is their own tractor, which they bring here to take part.”
He admits there is a desire to win (“we call them trophy hunters”) but for Mr Brown it’s simply “nice to win but if you don’t no matter. We do it because we want to do it.”
Not that the farm worker of 30 years standing – made redundant because of the changing nature of agriculture and now working for a tree specialist- doesn’t take it seriously. His home is full of awards from previous competitions.
His only regret is the fact that most of the 22 competitors are from his generation with few young people willing or enthusiastic about taking up the hobby.
His co-organiser is Alan Newman, son of a farmer but for most of his life a builder until he branched out and became a specialist restoring vintage tractors.
“I love it,” he says, proudly showing off a vintage Fordson he found in a field last year and since lovingly rebuilt. It’s one of a half a dozen he’s been working on alongside helping customers from around the country restore their own tractors back to working and showable condition.
The Fordson, complete with Perkins engine, is his competition entry and throughout Saturday he was busy on the practice field awaiting the serious business of competing on Sunday.
“We do a lot of these shows for charity and have built up a good following,” he says as he explains the skills involved and the workmanship required to catch the judges’ eyes.
“They look for neatness of work, straightness and like to ensure your furrow is a minimum of six inches deep- anything less you get deducted points,” he says.
The intricacies of judging aside, Mr Newman is equally enthusiastic about the need to preserve and protect the countryside heritage.
“You’ve got to keep these shows going or else a new generation won’t know what these things are all about,” he says.
Anita Brown knows a thing or two about tradition – with her husband Reg they have been collecting rural memorabilia for the best part of 45 years.
On display was a glimpse into Mrs Brown’s collection, comprising such items as a thatcher’s knee pad, frost screws used for horses in cold weather, a potato dibber and a marigold trimmer.
Mrs Brown, 78, and from Soham recalls the day her hobby started back in the 60s when both she and her husband were helping with a steam engine rally.
Faced with the prospect of a hired marquee and none of the expected craft exhibitors they hurried home and rounded up anything they could find to put on display.
“We found some of grand father’s wheelwright tools and some items from a house clearance which the people had put out to throw away, and we set up,” she said.
“I wrote labels because I knew people would ask what the items were and after that it just snowballed. I still write the labels on everything we exhibit.”
She has no idea how many items make up her collection though having built a larger house once to store them all she is quietly easing off “because we have nowhere much left to put them”,
But she prides herself on capturing the theme of various shows so at North Norfolk rail weekend she did a 1940s display and at a recent steam rally at Haddenham near Ely her collection had a seaside theme.
“We never intended any of this to happen but when someone asked us to start exhibiting it sort of snowballed from there,” she says. Peter Swann of Emneth near Wisbech likewise stumbled across his latest pride and joy, the original 1933 City of Ely fire engine which he proudly displayed at Prickwillow.
Not that when he found it in a scrap yard in Kent he knew of its history for it had been converted to a showman’s vehicle before being allowed to rot away.
Only after he got it home did he research its history and discover the lorry he thought he had bought was once a fire engine, bought by the then Ely council for £635.
At the weekend his fire engine (it was once nicknamed ‘’The Flying Pig’) was re-united with the fire service Shand Masson steam pump (‘Old Blossom’) from the same era, which has likewise been restored and is display at the nearby museum, and which his engine towed.
“The fire engine was in service for about 10 years but late in the last war it was sold,” he said. By a remarkable coincidence he discovered the man who bought it when it was decommissioned in the forties had lived just down the road from his own home.
“I think the engine wanted to come home,” he said.
Mr Swann’s story is recalled in his recently published book ‘The Lost Engine’, a nostalgic and informative slice of post war Britain.
Much like the rest of the Prickwillow festival, which on this and past showing can confidently express itself as having been revived most magnificently.