The little-known inventor from Beverston who helped revolutionise farming in the Costwolds
How an inventor from Beverston changed farming in the Cotswolds
Italk a lot about the diversity and range of farming, from pigs and potatoes to environmental care and energy crops. I’m the first to say that one of the great joys of life on the land is the never-ending variety of our industry. So I’m as surprised as anyone to be returning to a topic which I devoted this page to just a few months ago.
Back in January I told the story of ploughing and how the task of cutting and turning the soil has played such an important role in the story of Gloucestershire farming over the centuries. But in the last few weeks I’ve discovered a remarkable story of a forgotten Cotswold inventor and a tale of long-lost treasure.
The story goes back more than 230 years to an enterprising man with the delightful name of Lewen Tugwell. He was a farmer at Beverston (or Beverstone as it was known then), near Tetbury, and like so many ploughmen he was frustrated at the shallow, stony soil in our part of the country. We call it Cotswold brash and in the 1780s it was a real problem for arable farmers because ploughs back then were pretty slow and awkward. So Tugwell took it upon himself to come up with something new and his solution was the Beverstone plough; a lighter, quicker and more easily manoeuvred contraption with the added benefit of a guide-wheel at the front. Not only did it cut a better furrow but it could be done with just a single horse, which meant even more efficiency for hard-pressed farmers.
It’s hard for us to appreciate just what a coup this was for the south Cotswolds. If you don’t know it, Beverston is a tiny village a couple of miles west of Tetbury, not far from the site of the old Babdown airfield. The village is easy to miss as you drive through it on the A4135 because there are only about 30 homes scattered throughout the parish; it’s a shame that such a pretty place with a fantastic heritage is out of sight and out of mind for most people. It really deserves to be better known.
Apart from Tugwell’s revolutionary plough, there are also suggestions of a link to England’s greatest-ever playwright. The parish records go back to the 1500s and buried deep in the archives are entries relating to the Shakespeare and Hathaway families. A Shakespeare was certainly baptised in Beverston church at one time and the great Bard himself must have been familiar with the area because he gives an accurate description in Richard II. But it’s memories of the village’s place in farming history that have recently been revived after a chance discovery 3,500 miles away. A family in the Canadian city of Toronto were clearing a relative’s house when they came across a Georgian silver trophy in the shape of a fruit basket inscribed with Lewen Tugwell’s name. It was presented to him in 1808 by the Bath & West of England Society in celebration of his great invention.
The news prompted Anthony Gibson to find out more about Tugwell and his ingenious plough. Anthony is wellknown in Gloucestershire thanks to the many years he spent as the Regional Director of the National Farmers Union. But he’s also a talented cricket commentator and broadcaster (like his late father, Alan) as well as a writer and author. Pick up a copy of his book The Coloured Counties if you fancy dipping into the landscape and literature of the Cotswolds and the heart of England. All of us who love the story of Gloucestershire farming should be very grateful to Anthony for doing such brilliant historical detective work. I’m happy to say that the recovered silver trophy is now back home in the safekeeping of the archivist at the Royal Bath and West Society.
Next time I drive through Beverston, I’ll definitely spare a thought for Lewen Tugwell, the forefather of today’s shrewd, resourceful and imaginative Cotswold farmers.
Lewen Tugwell was frustrated at the shallow, stony soil that we call Cotswold brash.