King George III earned himself the nickname ‘Farmer George’ because he – as a ‘gentleman farmer’ was eager to profit from his estates. The landed gentry in Britain employed huge staffs and, until the late nineteenth century, made good incomes farming their estates, but rises in taxation, falling grain prices caused by extensive farming of American prairies in the 1870s sapped profitability of estates, and Britain fell into agricultural depression from which there’d be no recovery until after WWII. Many country house estates were sold, abandoned, demolished, their contents auctioned off, and their land eventually taken by larger commercial farms. It was no longer possible for the landed gentry to sustain the costs of running their houses and estates by farming their land.
Labour wasn’t cheap, nor readily available; so many who’d left the land in the first ‘Great War’ never returned. Adding further challenges, many buildings requisitioned during the second World war, were returned to their owners in poor repair. In Cirencester the Bathurst Estate became the site of a military camp in WWI, then during WWII two large hospitals were built on the estate for American troops – Glenn Miller played there in 1944 to an audience of 7,000! Some of the estate’s woodland was cut to provide timber for aircraft construction, and out at ‘Overley Satellite Landing Ground’, near Park Corner, a runway made of metal strips was constructed, enabling huge Stirling bombers to land and be concealed at the edge of the fields in storage and be prepared for operations.
Many large estates had to adopt new activities since WWII, and the unconventional Thynne family of the Marquesses of Bath opened Longleat house and gardens to paying visitors very soon afterwards. Their first drive-in safari park outside Africa was opened in 1966. It’s not known whether people parted willingly with their cash to let monkeys tear off their wing mirrors and windscreen wipers just to be thrilled by close proximity to lions, or in the hope of spotting one of the Marquess’ seventy plus (his claim) ‘wifelets’.
Farmers spotted opportunities when the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival was held in a California fairground; Ford Farm on the Isle of Wight held the UK’s first Pop Festival the following year. Then in 1969 Woodstock was held at Yasgur’s Dairy Farm in the USA.
Arrowsmith was involved in the 1970 ‘Phun City’ festival, memorable for its series of unintended benefits, such as being free to attend, and agricultural bonuses such as the absence of portable lavatories leading to the unexpected later fertility of common land where it was held.
1970 saw the Eavis family of Glastonbury start a new form of crop rotation. It was the ‘Grow Your Own Hippy’ phenomenon. With the occasional fallow year, it’s fair to say the system has worked well over the half century since it began.
Now we have farmer-celebrities and celebrity farmers. In 1971 Joe Henson opened the Cotswold Farm Park having taken over most of Whipsnade Zoo’s rare breed animals. His son Adam is now well known, regularly appearing alongside Matt Baker on Countryfile, and credited with inspiring Jimmy Doherty, the pig farming friend of celeb-chef Jamie Oliver, who with Alex James promotes the ‘Big Feastival’ – a cheesy mix of food and music here in the Cotswolds. The sudden rise of Jeremy Clarkson to achieve the National Farmers’ Union 2021 ‘Farming Champion of the Year’ award acknowledges his contribution showing just how hard it is to break even in farming, and – in contrast – with a huge acreage of farmland in the UK, our biggest and wealthiest farmer is Sir James Dyson with land in many counties including Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. It seems creative diversification is the way forward, despite which an intensive focus on farming for so many of our essentials is vital!
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