Bulletin 376

November, 2013

 An Agricultural Chaplaincy in the Marches

The Rev’d David Gwatkin, of an old Welsh farming family, currently at Luntley near Pembridge, where his father is the sole manager of a herd of 370 dairy heifers, has been the sponsored Agricultural Chaplain of an area in the Marches, including South Shropshire. N. Herefordshire, and part of East Wales, for the past four years.

The present day problems faced by the farming community were outlined, mainly isolation and the break up of communities, largely accounted for by increased mechanization of farming practice, with a loss of rural personnel to the towns, and also interference from without, i.e. red tape and suchlike, plus overall the unpredictable weather – which can vary from the splendid (and productive) one year, to the disastrous – ruining everything from planting to harvesting, and for animal husbandry, the hovering presence of disease, as not just a few – but a whole herd, may have to be sacrificed.

There may be clergy present at livestock markets, but the rural chaplain can and does get out, and sees his ‘flock’ in situ, and relieve some of the sense of isolation, which can impose a severe psychological strain – evidenced by the increase in suicides among the farming community.  In addition, because of the relative isolation, there is always the worry of “who is going to take over later on”, particularly where a farm has been in one family for generations, as an alternative career can be much less stressful.  Also, modernity in communication depends on countrywide cover – but there are rural pockets of electronic isolation – so computer based contacts are out, (? a blessing – but not if legally required!)

And over all this lingers the memory of the last episode of foot and mouth disease, with financial consequences – but even more so the spectacle of whole flocks of animals being destroyed.

So the chaplain can mitigate some of the personal and psychological problems by lending an ear, and possibly suggesting practical help, but from an historical perspective – we have been here before – as much of  this as a return of the severe problem faced by our agricultural community in the late Victorian period, when mechanization started to make an impact on farming, and the rural worker left for the town, compounded by the severe cattle plague of 1865, followed in the 1870s of the effect ‘from elsewhere’, on the huge imports from North America of wheat, leading to the loss of wheatfields here to which was later added the effect of the beginning importation of frozen meat from the Southern Hemisphere, all of which benefited the food supply of urban workers – but left the agricultural community with severe problems.  The eventual upshot was often the arrival of new people from elsewhere, with funds, taking over farms and keeping the flag flying until the need for home grown food became mandatory in the early 1900s, and there are signs that something similar is occurring now – with ‘diversification’ of farming practice and use of land and buildings, and of course the beginning emphasis of encouraging the use of locally sourced foodstuffs, which we can only recommend.     Review by JR.

A Reminder from Nancy Wheatland

For the next meeting on Nov. 15th there will be a talk on Ffrancis Payne.   The guest speaker is Cyril Jones who has sent these brief notes regarding his talk:  Ffrancis Payne was born in Kington in 1900. In this talk his background will be outlined and how his upbringing in this town influenced his decision to become a Welsh speaker & eminent Welsh writer. The talk will include translated descriptions of the Kington  (and East Radnorshire/Herefordshire) of his childhood & adolescence. His importance as a prose writer & an academic who was steeped in the literary and agricultural past of this area will also be assessed.


November 15th.   See notes above.

December 6th.  A quick reminder from me that this is the date of our annual Social & Quiz.   The quiz is very easy this time, I promise.   Please may we call on you once more to bring along  some Christmas fare for the table and something for the raffle but above all, yourselves.   You can’t have a party without people!  We all hope to see you then.

Vera Harrison:   Editor