Will’s World: The quest for Peate’s farming gold and other legends

Regular readers of this column will have gathered by now that I have a spectacularly vivid imagination. I’ve always adored any kind of fiction, especially of the adventure variety, and a 1980s childhood undoubtedly fuelled my fascination.

It was the golden decade of children’s movies, after all, with Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future and The Goonies all firm favourites then – and now.

See also: Changes to farm tenancy succession – what you need to know

About the author

Will Evans
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
Will Evans farms beef cattle and arable crops across 200ha near Wrexham in North Wales in partnership with his wife and parents.
Read more articles by Will Evans

On the rare occasions these days when I get to choose what’s on TV in the Evans household, it’s usually one of those that I go for. What can I say? I’ve always been a bit of a big kid, I suppose.

Tall tales

Of all the yarns and myths I’ve absorbed and enjoyed over the years, one stands out above all others.

I didn’t read about it in a bestselling book, though, or see it in a much-loved movie, and you definitely won’t have heard of it. 

No, like the very best stories, this one was passed down by word of mouth from the previous generation. Now I’ve passed on The Legend of Bill Peate’s Gold to my children too.

Bill Peate was a First World War veteran, and the last of several generations of his family to have farmed here. He died in 1949 and my grandparents then took on the tenancy.

In his declining years he’d ended up living in just one room of the house, and the place had gone to rack and ruin.

However, a rumour persisted that he had money. A lot of money. But no one ever found out where it went, hence the legend.

I’d like to tell you there are clues – a tattered map discovered in the attic, or a cryptic symbol on his headstone in the village churchyard (yes, I’m sad enough to have checked).

But sadly there’s nothing except the whispered story itself, and the few of us in our family who’ve spent countless childhood hours looking for a hoard, including the old man in the 1950s, my sister and I in the 1980s, and now my daughters in the 2020s.

On the hunt 

Parts of the house are more than 300 years old, and lots of changes have been made over the centuries, so there are plenty of irregularities for them to go at, too, now that I’ve passed the baton to the next generation of eager treasure hunters.

Could it be hidden behind that suspiciously hollow-sounding panel? Or buried beneath that slight dip in the garden? (They’re banned from digging in the flowerbeds now, though, after the “petunia incident”.)

There’s a gap in one of the timber beams in the living room ceiling. Why? And what’s the reason for those two tiles on the fireplace hearth sinking down slightly more than the others?

In reality, all these things are because it’s an estate farm, so everything’s been botched and done on the cheap since the day it was built, but that’s dreadfully boring and unromantic.

So, back to those hearth tiles. We’re currently decorating that room, and decided, while the room was in a state, we’d prise them up and find out once and for all.

We all gathered round and collectively held our breath as the tiles came free. Would it be gold coins? Would it be rare gems? Would it be the Holy Grail?

No, just crushed mortar, cobwebs and bitter disappointment. Looks like I’ll have to keep farming for a bit longer yet.