History of The Odiham Agricultural Society and the Release of “Mr. Darcy’s Bet”

Britain’s first veterinary college has its roots in Hampshire’s Odiham Agricultural Society, formed on 16 May 1783 for the purpose of encouraging local development of industry and agriculture. Livestock breeding and management was very important to this group. The activities and influence of some of its key members was to result in a far more important outcome: the foundation of the veterinary profession in Britain. It led to the establishment of Britain’s first veterinary college in 1791. 


Bishop Burgess ~ Image Available from the National Library of Wales ~ Public Domain ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Burgess_(bishop)#/media/File:Bishop_Burgess.jpg

Among the Society’s initial members was Thomas Burgess, Winchester and Oxford scholar and son of the local grocer. Burgess later became Bishop of St David’s and he founded St David’s College, Lampeter before being translated to Salisbury. Other members of the group were gentlemen of rank and fortune, as well as a few “intelligent farmers.” 

Burgess was known for his zeal for the Scriptures and his philanthropic nature. [Ironically, “at Salisbury and St David’s, he founded a Church Union Society for the assistance of infirm and distressed clergymen. He opposed both Unitarianism and Catholic Emancipation. The latter policy led to several clashes with the Government: the Duke of Wellington told him sharply that he would do far more to strengthen the Protestant faith by staying in his diocese and minding his flock than he could by bombarding the Government with political pamphlets.”] [Thomas Burgess (bishop)] With the influence of the Odiham Agricultural Society, he, however, took up the cause for animal welfare and humane treatment of sick animals. 

“The minutes of the meeting of 19 August 1785 record Burgess’ motion:

‘That Farriery is a most useful science and intimately connected with the Interests of Agriculture; that it is in a very imperfect neglected state and highly deserving the attention of all friends of Agricultural economy.

“That Farriery, as it is commonly practised, is conducted without principle or science and greatly to the injury to the noblest and most useful of our animals.

“That the improvement of Farriery established on a study of the Anatomy, diseases and cure of cattle, particularly Horses, Cows and Sheep, will be an essential benefit to Agriculture and will greatly improve some of the most important branches of national commerce, such as Wool and Leather.”

The minutes also record that the meeting resolved:

“That the Society will consult the good of the community in general and of the limits of the Society in particular, by encouraging such means as are likely to promote the study of Farriery upon rational scientific principles.”

Unfortunately, neither Burgess or the Society possessed the money or the scientific knowledge to make the resolution a reality. The idea did not die, however. It took root and soon we have further developments.

The next step was agreed at the meeting on 17 June 1786 [Pugh, page 13] at which it was resolved to set up the Farriery Fund: “For the breed, management and improvement of horses, cows, sheep and hogs – for the best fully authenticated cures of diseases incident to horses etc, for accurate registers of dairies – for registers of management, profit and loss of a flock of sheep, etc.”

Arthur Young joined the OAS in 1785 and led the group into the next phase. Young was an author and traveller. Young had visited the French veterinary school (near Paris) in 1787. “In his ‘Travels in France’ he wrote that the school had ‘over one hundred pupils from different parts of France, as well as pupils from every country in Europe except England, a strange exception considering how grossly ignorant our farriers are’. The result of Young’s observation was that, in 1788, the OAS decided to send, at least, two boys to France to study at the French school. They advertised for contributions for the boys’ educational expenses. 

Also in 1788, a Scottish farrier by the name of James Clark published a treatise titled “Prevention of Disease.” He purported the idea of farriery schools in Britain similar to the French ones. 

Granville Penn had read Clark’s treatise and had heard of the OAS’s work in training farriers. He became a subscriber to the Farriery Fund and a member of the Society.

“In the 5 August 1789 minutes of the Society, under his influence it was resolved that:

“From the information collected on this subject it appears that the improvement of Farriery would be most effectually promoted by the Regular Education in that Art on Medical and Anatomical principles. It is to be lamented that there is not yet in England any Establishment adequate to the desired improvement of Farriery by a regular education in that science.”

“This was an admission that it was not enough to send a few boys to France, but that a school was required in England.

“In October 1789 Penn met a Frenchman named Benoit Vial de St. Bel [Pugh, pages 17-19] who was in England finding out about agriculture and thoroughbred horses. He had trained and qualified at the French veterinary school and was also trying, unsuccessfully, to interest the English in establishing a veterinary school in England.

“The combined efforts of Penn and St Bel resulted in a plan for an English school and, for the first time, someone who could provide the teaching experience required.

“Penn sought out the financial support [Pugh, page 22] he needed from wealthy animal owners and also sought moral support from the medical and scientific professions regarding the need to move treatment of animals into the professional sphere. In order to raise money rapidly, he sought large subscriptions from sponsors and patrons, who would be become the first governors of a new ‘College or Body Associating for the purpose of encouraging Veterinary Science” and which would direct the schools.'”

The Odiham Agricultural Society accepted the plan on 5 August 1790. The London Committee of the OAS included both Burgess and Penn, along with Lord Rivers. Penn openly advocated for the school to be in London. Fortunately, Burgess had the foresight to have all related resolutions of the parent Odiham Society read aloud and recorded in detail in the new Minute Book, capturing the OAS’s history for future generations. 

download-1.jpgIn order to earn patronage from the Duke of Northumberland, the London Committee separated itself from the Odiham Society on 18 February 1791. Mr Saint Bell be appointed Professor to the College. The OAS agreed to the separation and presented the Farriery Fund to the new school in London. 

download.jpg  The role of the Odiham Agricultural Society in the foundation of what became the Royal Veterinary Society (in 1844) had ended, and the Odiham Society itself ended a few years later. But its legacy remains today in the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. 


Bell, F.R., 1977. The Days of the Farriers. Veterinary History.

Odiham Agricultural Society 

Pugh, L.P., 1962. From farriery to veterinary medicine 1785–1795. Cambridge, Heffer.


MrDarcy'sBet3x5 Book Blurb 

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” – Act 1, Sc. 4, William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

FITZWILLIAM DARCY has done everything within his power to prove his devotion to ELIZABETH BENNET. He believes they are so close to knowing happiness; howbeit, when his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, accosts Elizabeth with predictions of Elizabeth never being able to fit in with his social connections, everything changes. Although the lady sent his aunt packing with words to the contrary, a bit of doubt has slipped under Elizabeth’s shield of confidence, and she again refuses his hand in marriage, this time to protect him from the gossiping beau monde.

Therefore, Darcy must take a leap of faith; he proposes to her before the congregation gathered for the marriage of Jane Bennet and his friend Charles Bingley—a public proposal from which Darcy cannot legally or morally withdraw, one only Elizabeth Bennet can refuse. He bets, this time, he can win not only her heart, but also her consent. With the assistance of his family and hers, a plan is put into motion to prove to all comers that Elizabeth Bennet is not only worthy of his attentions, but also the only one Darcy should consider marrying.

In Chapter 11 of Mr. Darcy’s Bet, Darcy speaks of the Odiham Agricultural Society to a boy whose family he is assisting. 

The three boys slept, as they had done for the last two days. Darcy suspected the two older ones had stood guard over young Cobb while in their cell, for when he had arrived to remove them from their incarceration, he found, despite his specific orders to the contrary, two men were also in the cell with the boys. Filthy, he had first taken them to Darcy House and demanded they be scrubbed clean. Jasper had been sent out to purchase new clothes and shoes, and, by mid afternoon yesterday, they had set out for Kimbolton. His steward’s letter said the man had departed Lincolnshire two days prior to Darcy’s leaving London, so, he expected to encounter the man on this very day. However, with the days shorter in November and the roads north of London less well maintained, it was difficult to make good time. It could be possible he must wait another day to meet up with Mr. Atkinson, but he prayed otherwise.

Darcy had despised leaving Elizabeth, especially after the kiss they had shared. Even now, he could taste her sweetness on his lips, and it was all he could do not to groan. He closed his eyes and relived the moment: the surprise he had felt when she willingly encircled his waist with her arms, the brush of his lips against hers, then her capitulation to a deeper kiss. He was so close to claiming happiness; yet, he feared she might still step away from him. What would happen if he failed to gift her with his childhood wish? Would she overlook his failure and agree to marry him, or would she again deny the bond, obviously resting, between them?

He opened his eyes to discover Kit Fyre watching him closely. “How much longer?”

“Depending on the weather we should meet Mr. Atkinson late this afternoon. You will travel to Lincolnshire with him.” The boy nodded his understanding. “Have you thought more on what trade you wish to pursue? Do you wish to be a smith, like your father?” Darcy had learned from the younger boys that the late Mr. Fyre had been a blacksmith, who was often used by Tattersalls before the family fell on hard times.

“I dost not think I’ll be as strong as was me Pa. He be’d a big man, bigger than you even. I’s take after me Ma. I’d like to work with horses, though.”

“A groom, perhaps, or a farrier,” Darcy suggested. “Learn all you can of horses and then set your sights on becoming what Sir Thomas Brown called ‘veterinary medicine.’ There is even the Odiham Agricultural Society in Hampshire whose purpose is to encourage agricultural development and livestock breeding. I consult regularly with some of its members on the latest ideas in improving the stock upon my tenant farms. The group founded a veterinary college in London some twenty years back. A ‘vet’ tends more than horses; yet, learning all you can of those animals would be an excellent start. Even a truly knowledgable farrier would earn a steady income large enough to support himself and a family.” The boy again nodded his understanding. “Do yourself the favor of speaking honestly with Mr. Atkinson of your aspirations. You must consider whether it will be enough for you simply to earn a fair wage to support your younger brothers. You must consider what will happen when they reach an age to take off on their own. A future stretches before you, and you must have the foresight to understand where you wish to be in ten years. Twenty years. Atkinson is a good man and will do all he can to assist you and your brothers, but he will not coddle you and plead with you to do your job. If you do not perform, he will release you at the drop of a hat, and I will not step in again to save you, for, if you fail, it is because you broke your word to me.”

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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4 Responses to History of The Odiham Agricultural Society and the Release of “Mr. Darcy’s Bet”

  1. Danielle C says:

    I am reading Mr. Darcy’s Bet right now….LOVING it!!! It is so funny!

  2. Vesper says:

    Wonder how many tasks Elizabeth has set Darcy to win her

Comments are closed.