THE Craven Herald didn't pull its punches when in 1918, the final year of World War One, the town's MP William Clough was fined the then not unsubstantial sum of £50 for refusing to allow the ploughing of a meadow field in his ownership. Lesley Tate reports.

THE Craven Herald made no apology when it spoke for the 'outspoken opinions of the electors of Skipton' stormed an editorial of February, 1918. The attitude of its Liberal MP William Clough towards food production in the country was 'bitterly resented', it went on, adding that his constituents were calling for his immediate resignation.

Mr Clough, who was indeed to stand down aged just 56 at the general election a few months later, had been MP for the Skipton division since 1906, and had been re-elected at both general elections of 1910. A true local, he was educated at Steeton Provident School, and Keighley Trade School before going on to Pannal College, Harrogate, and had married a Keighley girl, Louisa Clapham. He was also a member of the West Riding County Council.

He was a supporter of votes for women, but in the early part of 1918 he fell foul of regulations under the Defence of the Realm Act, which gave the government extra powers during the war years. Landowners and farmers across the country were called upon to plough up their land to help solve the food shortage, which in the last year of the war was beginning to bite hard. The fields were to be sown with cereals, potatoes and turnips.

Mr Clough was the owner of Coppy Farm, Steeton, and when his tenant, Joseph Boothman, was ordered by the West Riding War Agricultural Executive Committee to plough a four acre field on the farm, Mr Clough refused to give his tenant permission.

Following a flurry of letters and telegrams between Mr Boothman and an official of the war committee, in which Mr Boothman kept insisting Mr Clough would not give his consent, the two men were charged and appeared at the Keighley Police Court.

When he appeared in court the MP insisted he had given the consent to plough the field - which just happened to be his best meadow - and the delay had been down to him being away in London. He further pointed out a request had been made for horses and ploughs, but that none had been forthcoming.

Mr Boothman faced a charge of failing to cultivate certain lands under notice of the committee, while Mr Clough, as landlord, was charged with aiding and abetting.

Mr Boothman pleaded guilty and was fined £5, but Mr Clough,who entered a mixed plea and asked that his tenant not be charged, was fined £50 - about £2,000 in today's money. He also received a severe ticking off from the magistrates bench.

In court, Mr Boothman had said his landlord, Mr Clough, was of the opinion that the field was producing milk, beef and mutton for the country. Furthermore, it was very good grassland, and would take 20 years to return to its current state if ploughed. There were also six good sized trees on the land, which would pose problems for a team of horses and a plough.

He went on to say he believed it was his duty to plough the field, and had told Mr Clough he would return it to grass if ever he was to leave the farm, but that Mr Clough had insisted the field was not to be ploughed.

But, the magistrates were having none of it; they believed the farmer had put off ploughing, just to avoid friction between himself and Mr Clough. They had a certain amount of sympathy for him, but wished it to be known by farmers that they could not shelter behind landlords. They had the right to plough and the law would protect them from any negative consequences from their landlord.

Turning to the MP, the bench had no such sympathy. Mr Clough was a man in the public eye who occupied a position of great responsibility. He knew the absolute necessity for ploughing and must feel that every week that ploughing was delayed it made the risk to the country greater, insisted the magistrates. Mr Clough had finally given his consent to ploughing - but following a delay of several weeks. He should not have delayed ploughing for a single day, continued the bench. It was a serious offence and the action had no doubt had a great impact in the neighbourhood. After fining him £50, and awarding costs of five guineas, the bench hoped Mr Clough would encourage people to plough in the future. They 'knew a bit' about farming, and believed all farmers were making a great mistake if they were not for ploughing.

In its storming editorial, the Craven Herald pointed out Mr Clough was paid £400 per year by the state for his services. He was in Parliament to assist government in fighting the war against the 'most unrighteous foe' in history. But despite his speeches and actions giving the impression he believed in the cause, he apparently deliberately refused to obey the law for food production by interfering with the patriotic duty of his tenant to plough his land.

"The imposition of a £50 fine shows the serious light in which the magistrates viewed the offence," said the paper. "His constituents regard it in a more serious light however, they resent his attitude, are out of sympathy with him, and call upon him to resign his seat and give his place to a successor who will subdue his personal predilections and consider his country's good as the first and foremost plank in his parliamentary platform."

In a letter to the Craven Herald, William Maude, of Ellinthorp Hall, Boroughbride, chastised letter writers to the paper who had complained about the ploughing of fields in the dales, claiming the high altitude would mean little chance of cultivation. He had just received a request from a farmer for some seed oats whose land was 1,200 feet above sea level.

"Surely it ought to be thought a privilege and a duty for those who have suitable land - even though it might be rich grass land - to help the nation in this way."