Nearly 100 years ago the Devon village of Hemyock started a Calf Club. It was the forerunner of what has since become a worldwide movement, the Young Farmers Clubs (YFC), with many tens of thousands of members, and which has had a huge impact on farming.
It started with 19 teenagers, 12 boys and seven girls, from farms supplying the local milk factory run by the Wilts United Dairy Co. The aim was to increase the supply of clean milk, which had fallen after the First World War because of lack of feedstuff and manpower. The youngsters were each given a shorthorn calf to look after. The cows that were chosen were all from mothers giving 600 gallons a year. The average locally was about 400.
The teenagers were given instruction in the latest agricultural knowledge at fortnightly meetings and time was allowed for social interaction too. The project was taken up by the Daily Mail, which took them, in 1923 and 1924, to see the Empire and Ideal Home exhibitions and drove them round London in an open top bus emblazoned with the Calf Club logo. They were filmed for Pathe News, which was shown in nearly every cinema in the country. After that the Government became involved and began to encourage the initiative. Two of the original Calf Club members were sent to Canada for six months to work on farms.
After three years Ayrshire calves from cows giving 800 gallons were distributed in Hemyock. After six years the milk factory had doubled its output. The Calf Club itself evolved, developed and grew. Other groups were formed locally, the idea soon spread and in a couple of years it had turned into the Young Farmers movement, familiar to everyone in the farming world. The local group, the original Calf Club is still thriving today as the Culm Valley Young Farmers’ Club.
This amazing initiative is going to be celebrated in Hemyock next year, with events, a book, and a commemorative bronze sculpture of a calf to be sited at the location of the old factory. Sculptor Tanya Russell has been commissioned by a small group of local people to create the statue as a worthwhile legacy for this groundbreaking initiative.
Heather Stallard, member of the Calf Club Centenary Committee, said: “We would like support from anyone who has ever had a connection with the Young Farmers, farming in general and all the supporting networks of agriculture. It is not only an important moment in the history of our small Devon village, but also the entire farming industry around the whole country.”
Hemyock Calf Club was a brilliant idea driven by the management of the village milk factory. Milk production had fallen during the First World War and this was a fun solution, which caught on across the UK. We intend to celebrate the centenary of this historic event by commissioning a sculpture, putting on a lights parade, making a film, writing a book and putting on an exhibition, all culminating in a grand opening in May 2021, (the centenary year.)
The bronze sculpture
Tanya Russell has produced this model (maquette) of a calf, which will lead to a full-size bronze sculpture to be sited at the foot of Pencross Hill in Hemyock. Tanya has become known for her animal sculptures, each one handmade and sculpted in her studio in Wales. She has been sculpting since she was a child, as both her parents were sculptors. Although she has carried out many commissions of people and has even written a book ‘Modelling and Sculpting the Human Figure’, she has always intrinsically been an animal sculptor. Tanya raised £20,000 for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and raises money and awareness for several other animal charities. The founder and principal of The Art Academy in London between 1999 and 2017, she says she aims to use her work to support nature, natural habitats and animal welfare.
Hemyock filmmakers, Tim Martin and Jenny Parsons, have produced a short film about our centenary plans, see above.
Calf Club Centenary Book
Local historian Penny Lawrence is writing a book about the part Hemyock Calf Club played in the Young Farmers movement.
She starts with a question:
How did the concept of a rural youth organization which had come from North America, find its first home in the UK in a small Devon village in the Blackdown Hills? What combination of circumstances and people made it such a success that it is now part of a global movement?
Her research has covered milk production in Hemyock and the wider rural community in the early 1920s. She has looked at how education played a major part in the story of an industry still deep in the horse and cart era. All told with an eye for detail and through the memories of local farming families, who still live and work in the area, this book will be a fascinating read, packed with wonderful old, and rarely seen photographs.
The Lights Parade
There will be a Calf Club theme for the December 2020 Hemyock Lights Parade. Taking place on Saturday 5 December, this popular parade will start as usual outside the Garages at 6pm, the very place where the Milk Factory used to stand.
A weekend of celebration is being planned for May 2021. There will be an official unveiling of the sculpture, the launch of the book along with an exhibition full of further information, wonderful old photographs, fascinating memorabilia from then and now. On top of all that, The Culm Valley Young Farmers will be hosting their annual county activities event in Hemyock itself. It’s going to be an unmissable weekend!
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