The rain lashed down but that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of 23 skilled rural craftsmen battling it out in the North East Hedgelaying Match held in Northumberland on Sunday.
On the day, the winner of the Open Class was former national champion Peter Gibson from Cumbria, who also had the satisfaction of seeing his student Jack Carradice, win the Novice Class.
Open Class runner-up was last year’s winner Clive Matthew and two entrants from the North East also made it on to the title board.
The competition was held at Whinney Hill Farm, near Morpeth, Northumberland
The Open Class of 13 was very strong and included cutters from throughout the country from the South Coast to the Scottish borders.
Commenting on his win, Peter said: “I am delighted to have won the Open at the North East Hedgelaying – and that Jack won the Novice.
“We both cut Westmorland style which is double-sided. It originated to provide a good field boundary for both cattle and sheep.
“It’s easy to recognise because it has two rows of stakes – one on either side – and the hedge is square-cvut and looks the same from both sides.
“Hedgerow birds should be able to fly through a good Westmorland hedge and native animals, like rabbit, fox and badger should be able to travel up the inside.”
Peter, who runs the family dairy farm near Kendal, travels all over the country to take part in competitions throughout autumn and spring, the hedgelaying season, and competes most weekends.
He added: “We have a very active group in Cumbria and we are really keen to encourage youngsters to take up this skill so it was great that we had eight competitors at the competition from Cumbria and Lancashire.”
Other prizes on the day included Best Local Cutter which was won by David Boyson from Hartburn near Morpeth in the Open and James Stafford from Blyth in the Novice.
Tom Kendal, from Kendal, won the under-25s award while Heather Swift and Karen Humble won the Best Ladies award in the Open and Novice classes respectively.
The all-important Regrowth Awards involve the previous year’s cutting being re-judged 12 months on for the quality and quantity of new growth that has been generated.
The Open Class award was won by Jasper Prachek from Yorkshire and local man Stan Pinkney from Spennymoor won the Novice award.
Stan also has the distinction of being the oldest competitor at 84.
David Wood, who with his wife Pam hosted the event at Whinney Hill Farm near Morpeth, said: “We were delighted with the day.
“It was immensely interesting to see all the different styles of hedgelaying being cut; it was a real showcase event.
“Most importantly I was delighted with the whole job itself – every single competitor made a very good job which was well up to standard. I’d have been happy to pay for the lot!
“We’re very much looking forward to hosting the event again next year when visitors will have the opportunity to revisit the hedges cut this year and check out the Regrowth standard for themselves.”
Andrew Adams, president of the National Hedgelaying Society, whose family organises North East Hedgelaying Match, said: “I was very pleased with the day. Although the competition is only in its third year, it once again attracted a lot of very skilled cutters from far and wide.
“This is a competition which really takes some winning and all the prize-winners are to be congratulated.
“We were very grateful to all of our sponsors including George F White, Robson & Cowan, Rickerbys and WM Dodds Ltd. Without their generosity, our job would have been tougher.
“We were also particularly pleased to be awarding a new trophy to the winners of the Novice class.
“The Kathy Matthew Memorial Trophy was donated by her husband Clive. Kathy was a wonderful lady and was passionate about encouraging people to take up and develop the skill so it’s a great way to keep her memory alive.”
Winners: Open Class - 1, Peter Gibson. 2, Clive Matthew, 3, Jasper Prachek. Novice Class - 1, Jack Carradice. 2, John Gibson. 3, Craig Proctor.
Hedgelaying declined after the Second World War due to the lack of available labour, introduction of machines to cut hedges, wire fences and growth of large-scale agriculture.
By the 1960s hedges were declining at an alarming rate. Lack of maintenance led many to become overgrown, tall and gappy and many were grubbed out to create larger fields.
In the early 1970s hedgelayers Fred Whitefoot, Clive Matthew and Valerie Greaves realised that soon the valuable skills of hedgerow management which had been acquired over hundreds of years would be lost forever and set up a national society to enable the skills to be documented and passed on to others.
Legislation was introduced in 1997 to help protect hedgerows. The decline has now been halted.