10 July 1998




In the first of an occasional series in which people prominent

in agriculture name their farming hero, Stephen Carr

explains why he has such respect for his grandfather

MY farming hero is my paternal grandfather. He died when I was 12 years old. To know what he looked like I have to rely on old photographs and a portrait of him that hangs on my wall. He is wearing a bowler hat, a suit with waistcoat, holds a pipe in one hand and carries a walking stick. Whenever I get out old photographs, my wife always asks how it is that Charlie Chaplin invariably seemed to turn up at family shindigs.

To know what he thought, I have to rely on a great wealth of family anecdotes and stories, some undoubtedly apocryphal.

By all accounts Harry Carr was not especially easy to live with; indeed he could be downright stubborn. He wanted a large family, and when my grandmother declared that six children was enough he sent her to Coventry for five months until she relented. They went on to have another seven.

He was also, for a farmer, rather eccentric in his list of prejudices. He was suspicious of the professional classes – "never trust doctors, lawyers or parsons". He loathed the police, never forgiving the village bobby for booking him for having no name plate on his wagon (it had fallen off during the days hay making).

So why is he so elevated in my esteem? In short, he was a farming survivor. When the farming heavens were crashing around him during the great depression of the 1920s and 30s, he dug in and somehow survived. While most of the larger tenant farmers around him were ruined, he found a way, on a 70-acre owner-occupied dairy farm, to raise 13 children and remain solvent.

He distrusted the old landlord class and their agents, never forgiving them for hounding so many of his tenant farmer friends into bankruptcy. I have preferred to try and buy land rather than hire it.

He was deeply suspicious of big business, remembering how the big dairies exploited individual dairy farmers in the 20s and 30s. I market all my grain through a local co-operative and sell all my cattle and sheep through my local livestock mart. He dismissed the pretensions of bankers to know anything about farming, describing them as "bowler hatted bookmakers". I have never allowed a banker on my farm.

Yet I have expanded my farm in recent years (he was against large farms and remembered a time when the bigger a farm was, the more money it lost), and I have hired land and entered into share-farming arrangements. He would rather farm one acre of his own land than 100 of someone elses. I am even contemplating deadweight selling in view of the supermarkets onslaught on the livestock marts. He was against deadweight selling declaring that you must have "at least two bidders around the ring". But whatever I do he is always there at my shoulder, like Banquos ghost, urging caution and dishing out criticism. Every farming decision is argued out with him. And as I scan the commodities pages of farmers weekly, I cant help but feel that I shall rely on his advice more and more.

Harry Carr – a farming survivor when all around were foundering.

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