Adam Hen­son:

Why Wick Court is such a spe­cial place

Cotswold Life - - NEWS - ADAM HEN­SON con­tact @Adamhen­son T: 01451 850307 cotswold­farm­

Ev­ery­one loves a party. I come from a big fam­ily, work with amaz­ing col­leagues on the farm and know lots of out­go­ing peo­ple at Coun­try­file, so I get more in­vi­ta­tions to par­ties than I can hope to at­tend. I know how for­tu­nate I am in that re­spect. But some­times an in­vite ar­rives in the post which it’s im­pos­si­ble to turn down. That’s ex­actly what hap­pened a few months ago. So I replied im­me­di­ately, marked the big day in my di­ary and set up a re­minder on my phone. There was no way I was go­ing to risk be­ing dou­ble-booked.

The in­vi­ta­tion came from Wick Court, a cen­turies-old farm on the Ar­ling­ham penin­sula, an idyl­lic part of Glouces­ter­shire where the River Sev­ern forms its fa­mous horse-shoe bend. I was to join the au­thor, Sir Michael Mor­purgo, as guest of hon­our at the 20th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tion of the char­ity Farms for City Chil­dren open­ing Wick Court as a res­i­den­tial cen­tre for ur­ban school kids. They say the best ideas are the sim­plest ones and since 1998 that’s cer­tainly been the case at Ar­ling­ham; chil­dren and teach­ers from schools in Lon­don, Birm­ing­ham and else­where spend a week liv­ing and work­ing on a gen­uine farm. For in­ner-city young­sters the ex­pe­ri­ence of feed­ing and car­ing for cattle, sheep and pigs or tend­ing veg plots and salad crops can be life-chang­ing.

Be­fore Farms for City Chil­dren brought its dis­tinct brand of in­spi­ra­tion to the farm, Wick Court had been run for decades as a fam­ily farm, fi­nally in­her­ited by two sis­ters, Ella and Alex Dowdeswell; nei­ther had mar­ried, they rarely left Ar­ling­ham and their farm was a sort of liv­ing time-cap­sule of a by­gone era. So much so that by the 1960s, when vir­tu­ally every other beef and dairy farmer had mod­ernised, the Dowdeswells were still rais­ing se­ri­ously un­fash­ion­able Old Glouces­ter cattle. But thank good­ness they were.

For me, Wick Court is a spe­cial place be­cause it marks the be­gin­ning of the Hen­son fam­ily jour­ney in rare breeds con­ser­va­tion. My dad, Joe, got to know the Dowdeswell sis­ters when he was still gath­er­ing to­gether his first col­lec­tion of Bri­tish na­tive farm an­i­mals in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He bought two Glouces­ter cows from them, which we chris­tened Ella and Alex in hon­our of their orig­i­nal own­ers but which we later dis­cov­ered the old ladies had nick­named ‘the kicker’ and ‘the bar­rener’. Then in 1972 the Dowdeswells de­cided to sell all their cattle, the last sur­viv­ing herd of pure bred Glouces­ters, and dad was there at the auc­tion with a hand­ful of fel­low en­thu­si­asts on a mis­sion to save them from al­most cer­tain ex­tinc­tion.

That story was told again at the Wick Court birth­day party as more than a hun­dred peo­ple en­joyed af­ter­noon tea, de­li­cious cake and live en­ter­tain­ment in glo­ri­ous sun­shine be­side the fa­mous old farm­house. Tuck­ing in were some won­der­ful farm­ing folk who’ve played a huge part in my life and in the suc­cess of the Glouces­ter Cattle So­ci­ety; among them the High Sher­iff of Glouces­ter­shire, Charles Martell and the great cham­pion of our lo­cal breeds, Eric Freeman. The Wick Court ar­chives were on show too and I spot­ted a news­pa­per cut­ting of a very young Matt Baker vis­it­ing the place dur­ing his time on Blue Peter. I must re­mem­ber to rib him about that next time I see him!

Much of the suc­cess of the last two decades is down to the tire­less work of the Farm School Man­ager, Heather Tarplee. In his an­niver­sary speech, the founder of Farms for City Chil­dren, Michael Mor­purgo, mag­icked up the per­fect trib­ute; “Heather has grown this place as if it were a cab­bage. She has fer­tilised this cab­bage for 20 years in all sorts of won­der­ful ways, mak­ing the chil­dren look at the world anew, to see and hear and breathe things they never have be­fore.”

And away in the dis­tance, I’m sure I heard a Glouces­ter cow moo in agree­ment.

The house at Wick Court

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