Labor omnia vincit


Born in the suburbs of Harrow, Middlesex at the beginning of the Second world War, travel was limited, and my father was in the Royal Navy seconded to the Fleet Air-Arm. As a young child, with an elder brother and younger sister, I enjoyed imaginatively playing with toy farm animals. By the time I was at boarding school in Petersfield, surrounded by Hampshire’s countryside I was hooked on a farming career.

During my summer holidays I would find various jobs along with my pal Roger Hannington in ‘Wood’ and ‘Hall’ Farms by the ‘Spring Ponds’ at Stanmore. At the age of twelve we both joined the Pinner and Hatch End branch of the Middlesex ‘Young Farmers Club’. From there I took the decision to join the YMCA scheme for British Boys for British Farms. This required some form filling and a trip with my father to Russell Square in London for a fairly in-depth interview.

Following a happy stay, and after some enjoyable training with the YMCA, I left Wilderwick House East Grinstead, in June 1955, to be posted at White Waltham. This was at How Lane Farm by a small village near Maidenhead, Berkshire.

The farm was ancient and decrepit, something out of the 19th century. The farmer, Mr Tomlinson was very elderly, no longer very able and a man of very few words. Interestingly, his nephew was the famous film actor David Tomlinson, much in vogue as the father of the children in ‘Mary Poppins’.

There were cattle, pigs and poultry and some elderly horses. All equipment was horse-drawn (great fun) but no tractors. Contract assistance was required at haymaking and harvest. I was given free rein to deal with things pretty much as I pleased and I received little or no tuition. Unfortunately it meant working from dawn till dusk and the meals produced by the very elderly Mrs Tomlinson were not often very warm.

When my father and my elder brother David came to visit they were shocked by the conditions and my Dad got straight onto the YMCA. I was very soon after moved to a temporary position near Horsham, West Sussex. This was a small holding cum livery stable run by an unhappy couple that were in the throes of divorcing. Again I had a very free rein with little supervision and I was back working with horses and looking after a few animals and chickens.

After only a couple of months I was collected again and taken to the most wonderful farm estate you can imagine. The Furnace Farm Estate at Cowden near Edenbridge in Kent was not far from East Grinstead. This large farm estate was run in military fashion. The farm manager was Colonel Morris and the owner of the estate was Colonel Fuller who was a lovely man, friendly and forgiving. I was ‘billeted’ with an elderly Welsh (ex regimental sergeant) and his wife. In free time he took me to cattle markets and agricultural shows etc and was very informing.

On the picturesque estate there were grouped cottages for the head tractor driver and his team. Another group housed the head cowman and his team. A group of new houses near Colonel Fuller’s big house contained the team of busy gardeners. The old retired carter was in his own little cottage near the stables. He dealt with any moles and rats etc and looked after his retired horses. Colonel Fuller always made a special fuss over him and was genuinely distressed when the old man died. He was given a magnificent ‘send off’. His horses were brought out of retirement and groomed to perfection with funeral attire. The coffin-carrying wagon was draped in black and highly decorated by the gardeners. It was a very ‘moving’ event that I shall never forget.

I was so lucky and I couldn’t have asked for a better apprenticeship in farming. I spent time in all departments and activities receiving adequate instruction. Everything had to be done absolutely correctly. In the wintertime I particularly enjoyed mending machinery and sharpening equipment etc in the workshop. So much so that my father when applying for a place for me at Plumpton requested a ‘farm machinery course’. That was not to be as the course would be in ‘general agriculture’.

At first I was allocated my own tractor. The first in the pecking order, it was a metal-wheeled Fordson ‘Standard’. I later progressed to a Fordson ‘Major’. We all maintained our own equipment in military style. Although, I did receive a severe ticking off by the kindly Colonel Fuller when I ran the old Standard into the edge of a metal gate and punctured the radiator. This was soon forgiven and I quickly moved up to the Major. There were a few near death experiences when I worked around the furnace quarries and over steep slopes. But that was down to me, often working alone without supervision or any overseer. I covered all aspects of farming and have very fond memories. Particularly in summer of cold “Forest Brown” bottled beers brought along with packed lunches out to the fields during haymaking and harvest time.

During my time I purchased a motorbike that allowed me to visit my old school chum and fellow ‘young farmer’ from back home, Roger Hannington, he was farming near Westerham before entering the Kent Agricultural College (but not a BBBF boy). I especially remember one visit when we went to the local old fleapit cinema to see ‘Rock around the clock’ with Bill Haley and the Comets.

The more serious stuff really began when I left Furnace Farm to enter Plumpton. Strangely I felt a little like a ‘townie’ joining the ‘county set’. Many of the boys were of landowners or farmers sons. Having not done especially well at Plumpton, I took the opportunity along with another student, Neil Dear to go to Denmark. In my case intending to study the intensive modern farming methods much lauded in the farming journals.




My eventual plan was to cross English Large White pigs with the superb Danish long backed Landrace pig. Although I had such a great time in Denmark, I may never have left (after six months) but my holiday work visa severely ran out. Things were very tight in those days for fear of Communism. For every entry into Scandinavia it had to balance with someone who was leaving. Neil had gone off to another part and I don’t know how long he stayed or what happened to him.

Unfortunately, I could not see myself raising the necessary money for a self-employed venture. Farm workers (even though qualified) were so very poorly paid. I took an opportunity to take up a fast track technical apprenticeship, before I got too old to start retraining.

My old classmate and good pal Roger was an accomplished guitar player. He was very industrious and hardworking. He created a mushroom farm, established Buntingford Farm Supplies and over which he was proprietor. He became the overall representative of Alfa Laval Agri and was responsible for many installations of grain dryers and elaborate milking parlours in various parts of the UK. Sadly poor Roger passed away only recently.

In my new career I fortunately had some very rapid successes and quickly rose into management. New technology turned my mechanics into electronics and the new printing technology driven by computers.

I retired in 1995 from the international ‘Linotype’ Company when the German conglomerate ‘Heidelberg’ bought it up. This led me to return to rural education and redeem myself by gaining a degree in Landscape Architecture at 2:1 and a Post Graduate Diploma in Land Management from the University of Gloucestershire.

My interests in agriculture and the workings of the countryside remain as strong as ever. I still have a lot of dealings with farmers in my voluntary role on the Gloucestershire Local Access Forum as the representative of all commons and commoners in the county. I was also elected as Honorary Life Conservator of Highleadon Green in the Forest of Dean.

My wife Kathy and I have been married 48 years and together 51. We have two daughters Angela and Caroline who both graduated and are senior execs at Amazon and at Michael Page International. We live in the quiet ‘Park’ area of Cheltenham (Linotype HQ) and much of my time is spent in our gardens. I was absolutely hopeless at school and can honestly put the ‘turning point’ in my attitude down to the example given by my friend Tony Crittenden at Plumpton, to whom I am clearly indebted. Alan Shelley Feb 2015.


My old room-mates at Plumpton (Middleton Manor) had very successful careers. Paul Warden became a scientist at the Kennedy Institute and Tony Crittenden who became Chief Officer at the RSPCA. Currently, and for some years, Tony is Chairman of the Japan Animal Welfare Society.

Celebrating Id

Reunion 2015





BBBF 6th Reunion at Cotswold Farm Park 2019
BBBF 6th Reunion at Cotswold Farm Park 2019

YMCA – BBBF background

Reunion, Cheltenham 2021
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