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The National Harvest Service, The Harvest Torch and History of celebrating the Harvest

The National Harvest Service, The Harvest Torch and History of celebrating the Harvest

The National Harvest Service

The National Harvest Service is a unique and special occasion that has formed part of the Bring Home the Harvest campaign. It aims to bring together communities to rekindle the age old tradition of celebrating the Harvest.

This year, in Somerset, there will be a Great Harvest Trail for British Food Fortnight.  Announcing two weeks of events to celebrate the harvest during British Food Fortnight, with a Flower Festival Trail across the five parishes of Chantry, Buckland Dinham, Great Elm, Mells with Vobster, and Whatley.  The five parishes are coming together for a very special harvest time, with church services, a flower festival, harvest suppers and music.

British Food Fortnight is being promoted across Somerset with the County Young Farmers Clubs and the Livestock Market near Frome.

The Harvest Torch - the 'Olympic like' travelling emblem of Love British Food and British Food Fortnight will be carried all over Somerset and ending up at Harvest Festival service in Wells Cathedral on Sunday 6th October. During September the torch will travel to all the churches and any others who want the torch plus YFC events.  The torch will be delivered by a young farmer to Wells Cathedral in time for the special service.

Previous Harvest Services

The Service was held for the first time in 2013, in Westminster Abbey, and has been supported by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall who, when possible, enjoys joining hundreds of children and a host of supporters from the world of food and farming to celebrate the British food and the harvest at this special occasion.

In 2014 the Service was held in Birmingham Cathedral and welcomed a wide cross section of the local community.

The 2015 National Harvest Services were celebrated at hundreds of Services throughout the UK and Bristol Cathedral held the harvest torch.

In 2016, Lincoln Cathedral were hosts of the Harvest Torch and organised a stunning display of Lincolnshire grown and produced food which spanned the entrance to the nave and alter at Lincoln Minster. The country's finest award winning fresh vegetables, fruit, eggs, rapeseed oil, were attractively around the NFU banners, posters and flags as well as the Lincolnshire flag highlighting the special agricultural county.

In 2017, St Davids Cathedral, Pembrokeshire hosted the Harvest Torch which displays provided by local Co-op stores.

2018 saw the Dioceses of Chelmsford and Ely jointly hosted the National Harvest Festival on 30th September 2018 and 14th October respectively. The Chelmsford service began with the arrival of the Harvest Torch with Bishop Stephen Cottrell, Bishop Roger Morris, farmers and friends. The torch commissioned by Love British Food formed the centre of celebrations as the community gave thanks for the food produced by its 1750 farmers across the 250,000 hectares of agricultural land in Essex.



The Harvest Torch then made its way to Ely Cathedral over the weekend 12-14 October under the theme 'for the beauty of the earth'. It included displays of farm machinery, food, flowers, sheep and wormery showing what happens beneath the ground.





The Service is begun with the procession of the Harvest Torch, a metalwork sculpture, which you can read more about below. Watch the highlights: Service to Celebrate the Harvest, in Westminster Abbey.



The Harvest Torch


The Love British Food Harvest Torch is very special sculpture which symbolises the harvest and which moves from city to city, with the National Harvest Service. The torch was be made by Master Blacksmith Andy Hall.

"I am delighted to have been selected to create the Harvest Torch, many of my designs are inspired by nature and so this is a wonderful opportunity to create a piece so dedicated to that subject. I am also delighted to be supporting such a worthy project and hope that it will bring inspiration to future generations for celebrating the harvest.” Andy Hall, Blacksmith.

Andrew Hall has been a blacksmith in Devon since 1986 starting at Branscombe Forge and now also at Powderham Forge. He started his career by completing a 4 year Precision Engineer Apprenticeship at A.K. Wyles in Trowbridge where he successfully achieved an O.N.C. and H.N.C. qualification in Mechanical Engineering and stayed with the company for a further year. He went on to put these newly learnt skills into practice by joining the family business where he spent two years working on the fabrication of gates and railings. Andrew aspired to a more creative way of working with metal and began to explore the traditional craft of blacksmithing - he attended courses at Cannington College to greater develop his skills.

In 1984 Andrew was approached by The Guild of Wrought Ironwork Craftsmen of Wessex to produce a bouquet of handcrafted steel flowers to be laid across a horseshoe. This was presented to H.R.H. The Princess Royal by The Master of the Guild, Roland Hall (Andrew's Father). In 1986 left the family business to set up on his own, founding ASH Ironworks. Working from the idyllic location of a traditional thatched forge nestled in picturesque village of Branscombe he developed a range of traditional and contemporary products to sell from this forge / showroom. Andrew has developed a unique range of products many of which are inspired by nature, and undertakes bespoke commissions of both contemporary and traditional designs which illustrate his great skill as a blacksmith and artist

In 1992, looking for a new challenge, Andrew began competing in live Blacksmiths competitions. In just the second year of competing, he won the title of 'International Live Blacksmith of the Year' and first prize at the 15th International Blacksmith Live Forging Championship in Warwickshire presented by the National Association of Farriers, Blacksmiths & Agricultural Engineers.

From 2005 - 2008 Andrew held the title of 'National Live Blacksmith of the Year', awarded by the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths. This title is won by the blacksmith who earns the most points in live competitions at the county shows. Blacksmiths are given a limited time and an assortment of metal together with a brief description of what should be made. He returned to competing in 2013 and took the title again.

Late in 2009 Andrew was given the title of 'Accredited Judge' and is now qualified to judge at county shows on his own and in June 2012 Andrew was awarded the Bronze Medal by the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths in recognition of his work and now has the title of Master Blacksmith.

About The Harvest


Harvest is one of the most important times for farmers – the culmination of a year's work and investment. Why not organise a visit from a local farmer who can tell your school what he does throughout the year and at Harvest time?

The word ‘harvest’ is from the Old English word ‘hærfest’, meaning ‘autumn’. It then came to refer to the season for reaping and gathering grain and other grown products.

The full moon nearest the autumnal equinox is called the Harvest Moon. So in ancient traditions Harvest Festivals were traditionally held on or near the Sunday of the Harvest Moon. In two years out of three, the Harvest Moon comes in September, but in some years,it occurs in October.

Harvest time is also no longer confined to the traditional months of August and September – early potatoes can be lifted from April and digging winter hardy vegetables throughout the winter is possible. Recent trends like poly tunnels have helped to delay or speed up growth, thus extending the season.

Ample food, and freedom from the necessity to work in the fields are two central features of harvest festivals: eating, merriment, contests, music and romance are common features of harvest festivals around the world. Why not investigate how different cultures celebrate the Harvest?

During a harvest celebration, people bring in produce from the garden, the allotment or farm. The food is often distributed among the poor and senior citizens of the local community, or used to raise funds for charity.

Tradition and Folklore

Harvest is such an important time of the year and natural elements such as weather and fertile soil play a key part, so it is surrounded by tradition and folklore. Here are a few harvest traditions, but it is always worth a visit to your local museum or agricultural society who may be able to uncover some local Harvest secrets!

  • The harvest was brought in with the help of casual labour, overseen by the harvest lord, who wore a rush hat entwined with green bindweed and red poppies.
  • When ploughing, it was customary to leave a deliberately crooked furrow near the farmstead so that fairies couldn't aim their arrows along the furrows, also to direct the eye of the “evil one” away from the farmstead.
  • Planting while the moon was on the wane was thought to ensure a good harvest.
  • The juice from wild arum or mouse-ear plants was rubbed into scythes to “charm” them into continued sharpness.
  • Each field was cut in a circle, from the outside in.

Some regions have their own special ways of celebrating the harvest, for example:

  • As the last sheaf was gathered and carried in procession into shelter, this bringing of the ‘harvest home’ would be an occasion for great rejoicing accompanied by feasting, music and dancing. ‘Harvest Home’ is still celebrated in many villages throughout the West Country.
  • In Cornwall, the ceremony of Crying the Neck was practiced and is still re-enacted today annually by The Old Cornwall Society
  • When the time came to cut the last handful of standing corn, one of the reapers would lift up the bunch high above his head and call out in a loud voice…

"We have it! We have it! We have it!"

The rest would then shout…

"What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee? What 'ave 'ee?"

And the reply would be…

"A neck! A neck! A neck!"

Everyone then joined in shouting…

"Hurrah! Hurrah for the neck! Hurrah for Mr. So-and-So"

The important role the harvest plays in society is reflected in the wealth of harvest related literature, poems and artworks. Traditional songs and hymns include:

  • Here's a Health to the Barley-Mow
  • We Plough the Fields and Scatter
  • Come ye Thankful People, Come
  • All things Bright and Beautiful
  • God Speed the Plough

Famous artworks include:

  • Harvest Moon by John Linnell
  • The Hayfield by Ford Maddox Brown
  • Reapers by Noonday Rest, John Linell
  • The Harvest Moon by George Mason
  • A Cornfield with Figures by John Constable
  • The Haywain by John Constable
  • The Harvest byVincent Van Gough

Famous literature and poems include:

  • The Harvest Moon by Ted Hughes
  • Harvest Home / The Hock Cart by Robert Herrick
  • The Shepherds Calendar by John Clare
  • Summers Last Will and Testament by Thomas Nashe

Things to do to celebrate the Harvest

Start growing. You can grow almost anywhere, from the tiniest pot or a single raised bed, to a large allotment.




A huge range of activities for children of all ages can be planned around gardening and growing and there are many organisations willing to help. Just a few are listed below:

  • The Campaign for School Gardening, run by the RHS, provides a wealth of practical information as well as running fun competitions such as “Young School Gardener of the Year”.
  • The BBC and RHS have teamed up and provide some great tips for gardening with children of all ages.


Make and bake. To preserve the spirit of the corn, the final ears used to be fashioned into corn dollies (also known as 'kirn-babies' (also spelt kern), ivy girls, and mell dolls), and kept in the farmhouse all winter, often having a place of honour at the banquet table, before being ploughed into the first furrow in spring. They were originally fashioned into a likeness of the Greek Goddess Demeter. Sometimes they would be laced with red thread to ward off evil spirits.

Making Corn Dollies © Gillian Nott



Today, corn dollies are woven into a variety of shapes including chandeliers, horns and horseshoe. Some of the most collectable of all agricultural crafts, these days they are often made by hobbyists and handcrafters. The Eden Project Website shows you how to make your own corn dolly.

Get involved with bread. Harvest sheaf loaves were made from the grains harvested from the fields and fashioned into the shape of a wheat sheaf. Why not celebrate the part bread has to play in the harvest by:

  • Bake a mini harvest loaf with flour that has been milled as locally as possible from the most locally grown grain possible
  • Running a real bead making class, perhaps to teach a traditional local recipe - fun, tasty and messy hands-on learning for children
  • Run a tasting class to show that real bread isn't generic and different types work with different foods and drinks
  • Organising a competition for the best design for a Harvest loaf
  • Visit a local bakery
  • Visit a local wind or watermill

Learn more! Visit a Ploughing Match to watch how it's done. There are several museums that have exhibitions focused on working farms and agricultural including the Pitt Rivers Museum, the Acton Scott Working Farm and the Chiltern Open Air Museum.