Young Farmers Clubs may be fewer in number these days, but they have an eventful history to look back on, as Chris Berry discovers.
Hiding from the local village policeman has never been part of any alternative Young Farmers Club rally, but such were the exploits of Wharfedale YFC in the 1960s.
Sadly the club held its last meeting at Pool in Wharfedale in 1991 and now only one of four clubs in the area survives today. But last week the Class of 1960 or thereabouts was back together meeting at the Millstones Restaurant near Blubberhouses.
Bill Lupton, a farmer’s son from Otley who made his name with the development of the flail hedge cutter and started the Ripon-based manufacturing company Econ, was chairman of the club in his youth.
“We were a tremendous team at Wharfedale. I joined the club when I was 15 when my brother took me. It was a great social activity and the only one I ever got involved with. The public speaking events proved invaluable to me in business.
“We started getting together again eight years ago. Susan Rowson, who is now no longer with us, came up with the idea when a few ex-members were having a chat on the Limousin stand at the Great Yorkshire Show. It has mushroomed from there and we now include anyone who was a member of the club during those days and is now at least in their 60s.
“Walker Barrett is the club’s longest surviving member and he’s still farming. He maintains a presence at his local livestock market although he doesn’t think he will be up to dealing with lambing this year. Well he is only 91-years-old.
“Young Farmers Clubs often emanated from Calf Clubs in the 1930s,” says Margaret Vesty, who currently organises today’s get-togethers and was at one time both secretary and social secretary of the club in the 60s.
“We were involved in so many events from cake making to clay pigeon shooting and visiting other clubs and parts of Great Britain. We held two exchange visits during my time with Wharfedale when we went to Wrotham YFC in Kent and to Kelso YFC in Scotland.
“I also particularly enjoyed the dances. It was a time when you could go to a dance nearly every week with one club or another. ”
The social benefit for those attending Young Farmers Clubs has led to many marriages. “Hatches and matches” have become a regular announcement at club meetings over the decades.
Mary Penny was secretary of the club and her brother, John Rushworth, was chairman. She believes that the partnerships made have largely stood the test of time.
“Wharfedale YFC was a marriage bureau. I met George. Edwin (Marshall) met his wife Jane; Geoff and Susan Rowson; Zoe and Brian Penny, and there were many others. All of the marriages have lasted 50 years and more.”
Edwin Marshall farmed at Bramhope and was 15 when he started at Wharfedale. It shaped his whole life.
“Joining the club and taking part in events such as stock judging and public speaking gave me more self-confidence. I always saw myself as a bit of a wallflower up until then. But the best thing that ever happened for me was to meet Jane, my wife.”
One man who didn’t meet his future wife through the club was Malcolm Spence, but he was one of those lads who hid from the village bobby years ago.
“George Rice, John O’Donnell and I were cycling back from the club meeting one night and George didn’t have a back-light on. The local bobby stopped us and asked where George’s light was. He then told George he’d have to walk, so we all got off our bikes.
“There wasn’t much traffic so after we’d watched his headlights disappear over Pool Bridge we all jumped back on and started pedalling.
“We had just reached Leathley when we saw these headlights coming back toward us. It had to be him, we knew that much, and he would have known that we jolly well couldn’t have walked that far so quickly.
“We threw our bikes over the wall then jumped over. Sure enough it was him.
“He never found us, although he would probably have been able to smell us for weeks as we’d jumped into a field of kale!”
Traditionally one of the proudest moments for any Young Farmers Club has been to emerge victorious at a rally, winning most points across all competitions. Malcolm recalls Wharfedale’s major triumph of 1960.
It is sometimes thought that today’s youth getting home at four in the morning is a relatively new phenomenon, but it was the same for at least some of the members of Wharfedale even before the 60s had started to swing.
The only difference being that they didn’t stay in bed for long once they were home.
“We had a dairy farm and a milk round and I used to get back at all hours in the morning. My father would tell me that he’d wish I’d get in a bit sooner.
“I told him that I was always up again at 5.30am so what was the problem?
“But Wharfedale YFC was everything to me for 10 years. If I went out it was always to a Young Farmers ‘do’. I didn’t go out otherwise.”
How to get back in touch
Past members of Wharfedale YFC meet up annually at the Millstones Restaurant. They are always interested in catching up on past members aged 60+ whether you were involved with Wharfedale or any of the Harrogate District clubs.
If you would like to find out more please contact Malcolm Spence on 01943 462325.