Many happy returns!
‘Decades later Dad was still quoting June’s 1967 article as a brilliant piece of early publicity and one of the reasons the Cotswold Farm Park got off to such a flying start’
Birthdays are a great time to reflect on the past and as Cotswold Life celebrates its 50th anniversary I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s changed in the last five decades. For the rare breeds movement, 1967 was a pivotal year.
Older readers will remember that there was a major outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease that year, centred on the Midlands and Wales. The outbreak not only shattered confidence in British farming but also devastated livestock numbers in the worst hit counties. The disease and the Government’s culling programme meant that one of England’s rare cattle breeds, the Blue Albion, was officially wiped out. Known as the Blue Breed of Bakewell, it was a beef and dairy animal which had been fashionable in Derbyshire and Staffordshire. They were also popular at agricultural shows throughout the Midlands and the East of England.
Although it was too late to save the Blue Albion, Foot and Mouth made everyone think seriously about how to protect their animals from infection and disease; what we call biosecurity today. In Northumberland, the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association were concerned enough to established a ‘reserve’ herd in Scotland, just in case the worst happened.
It was a big year in the rare breed pig world too. Low breeding numbers and a trend in the industry for white breeds saw the Essex pig amalgamated with the Wessex to form the British Saddleback. Closer to home, things were looking precarious for a breed that today is so well-loved that it’s become a symbol of Gloucestershire. In 1967 the Old Spot pig was seriously endangered with just 176 breeding sows left in the UK. It’s hard to believe that now, but 50 years ago everyone was wrapped up in so-called progress and hardly anyone gave a second thought to conservation. Years later when he was asked about attitudes to rare breeds in the 1960s, my dad, Joe, would say: “Nobody was interested in those days. I’d get laughed at, if I took Old Spot pigs to Gloucester Market.” How times have changed! I’m pleased to say that Cotswold Life was never that blinkered and the magazine has played an important part in spreading the message about preserving and promoting our native pig, cattle, equine, sheep and goat varieties. When dad opened the Cotswold Farm Park in 1971 quite a few farming friends and some of his neighbours thought he was barking up the wrong tree. The doubters were either opposed to tourism or sceptical that the public would want to visit a farm. But from the outset, Cotswold Life was waving the flag for dad’s great innovation. In October 1972 the magazine published a lengthy article about the Farm Park written by another greatly-missed Cotswold character, June Lewis, and her headline said it all; ’Survival on a Cotswold hillside’. She told the story of Britain’s native breeds and beautifully described the collection of animals that had been assembled by dad and his business partner, John Neave. There were several photographs of the livestock and special mention of Gloucestershire’s county breed of sheep; ‘unlike Longleat, the only lions you will see at Bemborough Farm are the Cotswold Lions.’
June produced a glowing report on her visit and included the memorable observation; ‘as I walked freely around the farm I felt the same kind of awe and privilege one feels on being shown a rare and priceless Old Master which has been miraculously saved and restored.’ It’s no wonder dad was so impressed! In fact decades later he was still quoting June’s article as a brilliant piece of early publicity and one of the reasons the Cotswold Farm Park got off to such a flying start. So it’s with great fondness and gratitude that all of us at Bemborough wish Cotswold Life a happy birthday and best wishes for the next 50 years!
Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power, near Cheltenham, GL54 5UG Above: In 1967 the Old Spot pig was seriously endangered with just 176 breeding sows left in the UK
You can read an exclusive extract from Adam’s new book, A Farmer and his Dog, on pages 150-152.