Adam Hen­son:

The lit­tle-known in­ven­tor from Bev­er­ston who helped revo­lu­tionise farm­ing in the Cost­wolds

Cotswold Life - - EDITOR’S COMMENT - contact @Adamhen­son T: 01451 850307 cotswold­farm­

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.

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