The Cheshire Agricultural Society (CAS) was founded in 1838 by the landowning gentry of the county.
The inspiration came from the founder President; Field Marshall Viscount Combermere, who was one of The Duke of Wellington’s generals at Waterloo. He later received his Field Marshall’s baton through his successful campaigns in Asia. Born Stapleton Cotton into a landowning family, he had travelled much in England and had observed better farming practice in the drier region of England than in his native Cheshire.
At the age of 65, the Field Marshall persuaded his fellow Cheshire landowners to set into motion a whole series of competitions to encourage better farming methods. This spirit was also transferred to competitions for rural people to ‘improve the moral and industrious way of life’. All this was to be incorporated into the CAS, which organised an elaborate system of competitions for farms of all sizes, all kind of crops, for livestock health and improvement, and for the wellbeing of the rural people. In fact, the social conscious of the Field Marshall was to group together into one organisation (CAS) all that the modern world expects from a whole variety of organisations that provide these services today viz National Farmers Union, Young Farmers Club, Churches, Parish Councils, government and Social Services etc. The CAS is fortunate to have written evidence of this period, as each selected judge had to submit a written report of the competition.
Why was the CAS important or popular enough to attract so many outside landowners when it already consisted of powerful estate owner, like Grosvenor, Wilbraham, Cholmondeley, Legh, Warburton, Davenport, Leycester, Edgerton etc? I do not know the answer to this question. Perhaps Cheshire being a County Palintine gave it a certain standing and no doubt, our renowned cheese also helped. However there seems little doubt that the CAS became a kind of role model for other agricultural societies in England. The noted ‘Cheshire Farming Ladder’ was copied in many counties, as were our competitions. I guess not as successfully as Cheshire because of our unique farming structure. Cheshire was a county of hundreds of ”cottage farms” and ”small holdings”. This policy was still continued by the Cheshire County Council after the First World War. Sadly today the economic climate and modern pressure from commuters to live in rural Cheshire has changed all this. From around 20,000 farmers 100 years ago the county has only some 2000 today with just 25% of those producing milk.