The Weald of Kent Ploughing Match Association (WKPMA) came in to being in 1947 following the amalgamation of the Marden Agricultural Society and the Sandhurst Ploughing Match Association. A clear enough statement of fact, one would think, but one that disguises a much more complicated, and interesting, story.
Perhaps, like all good stories, the beginning isn't truly the beginning. While the Association came into being in 1947, its first ploughing match actually took place at Mathurst Farm in Staplehurst in 1946, immediately after the World War II, to raise money for the Red Cross. The charitable aims of the match still underpin the WKMPA today and every year the Association contributes to a variety of local and national charities.
The other quirk of the initial statement is that when two organisations amalgamate it usually results in a single entity. In this case it spawned to highly successful organisations the WKPMA and the Marden Fruit Show Society. The Marden Fruit Show, has since evolved even further and is now known as the National Fruit Show and takes place annually at the Kent County Showground at Detling.
The Association's title rather understates the full scope of its endeavours. While there is indeed a ploughing match there are also hop drying and crop growing competitions which come under its auspices.
The match has undoubtedly changed over the past 60 years. In the hey day of hop growing, the 1950s & 60s, there was both a hop stringing competition held in April and a hop drying competition, held in October. Sadly, the decline of the hop industry meant that the stringing classes ceased in 1978, and only the hop drying competition remains.
The physical size of the match has grown and it has undoubtedly become more important to the local farming and agricultural community. Ploughing remains the main focus of the event. It is a skill which has also evolved, as ploughing by tractors with no cabs or sophisticated hydraulics has given way to a mixed entry of modern, vintage, steam and horse ploughs.
In 2000 the WKPMA was the first ploughing Association in England to host the European Vintage Ploughing Championships where 17 ploughmen from 15 countries came together to compete for the European title.
So what of the Ploughing Match today? It is a vibrant and growing event that is well supported by the local agricultural and allied trades, with more than 80 trade stands forming the heart of the modern show. It also has a true "Thelwellian" gymkhana, a clay pigeon competition, sheep dog trials, farmers market and a variety of events in the main ring which all attract huge crowds.
In short it is a true country event, organised by the local agricultural community, for everyone who lives in the area. Well worth a visit.