1975 And All That
Country Smallholding|November 2020
Country Smallholding is 45 this month. To celebrate, Jeremy Hobson takes a look at some of the changes — both good and bad — to small-scale farming over that near half-century
Jeremy Hobson

Some readers may have enjoyed the light-hearted classic 1066 And All That which, although written in the 1930s by WC Sellar and RJ Yeatman, is still in print today. In it the authors classified some historical events into Good and Bad things — and gave their tongue-in-cheek reasons for coming to such conclusions. While never forgetting that the book is poking gentle fun at the style favoured by (then contemporary) serious writers, reading it does, however, make one realise just how history has helped to mould and change today’s world. Since 1975 — the year in which this magazine first appeared — the ensuing decades have also seen many changes in the world of smallholding.

Forty-five years ago, while the idea of being self-sufficient (or at least growing one’s own) using organic methods and escaping the manic modern life appealed to some, to others it appeared a bit of a hippy fad and those who wished for such a lifestyle were sometimes regarded as oddballs. It was an attitude no doubt fuelled by the amusing and invariably ill-fated antics portrayed in the TV comedy series The Good Life which was first aired on TV screens in 1975, the year of Country Smallholding’s (then known as Practical Self-Sufficiency) birth.

Thankfully most changes — in both the public’s attitude and in smallholding practice itself — have, using the 1066 And All That analogy devised by Sellar and Yeatman, subsequently proved to be Good rather than Bad.

THE HIPPY INFLUENCE

Many smallholder associations and groups have been created over the past 45 years (obviously a Good thing). Undoubtedly one of the oldest is the Fenland Smallholders Club, formed in 1976. John Clarke was one of its original founders and he is still involved in smallholding today.

A solicitor by profession but now retired and living in Somerset, John took his induction into smallholding very seriously and even spent time living with that guru of smallholders, the famous John Seymour. Others did likewise alongside him and it was, according to John, a “happy but chaotic period” spent among “hippies with great ideas but who actually did very little”.

John opines that it was no wonder the smallholding movement was associated with “cults and ‘drop-outs’”.

Despite the fact that his father apparently thought he was mad — and he already had a profitable career — John was determined to do things properly on his smallholding and he took time out to work for a “proper” farmer in order to learn more.

“People laughed about self-sufficiency back then,” says John. “But their attitudes taught me resilience.”

In a Daily Mail article of 2007, reflecting on the success of The Good Life TV comedy and the whole back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s, this magazine’s co-founder David Thear mentioned people’s attitudes as being the reason why many people’s favourite magazine is now known as Country Smallholding: “We had to change the name Practical Self-Sufficiency because the term ‘self-sufficiency’ had become associated with a joke.”

LOOKED DOWN UPON

Joke or not, the term ‘self-sufficiency’ was meant to imply just that and, as John Clarke mentions, “it wasn’t done to employ or use the services of a professional”. The size and scale of many smallholdings meant that the land on some was of insufficient acreage for commercial machinery to be used. So, in the 1970s and immediately following, it was sometimes necessary to either adapt the equipment that might be available to a commercial farmer or, alternatively, do everything by hand. Nowadays far more machinery is made with smallholders in mind.

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