Somerset rep says NFU rotten to the core

Tony Gosling tony at
Mon Apr 19 22:06:54 BST 2010

The NFU 'doesn't care about its membership'

Wednesday, April 14, 2010, 09:00

After seven years as the Somerset delegate for 
the National Farmers' Union, I'm afraid I have 
come to the conclusion that the NFU is there 
merely to promote itself and really doesn't care 
about the interests of its membership.

 From all I have seen and heard, I am driven to 
the conclusion that it is far more concerned 
about maintaining the supermarkets' margins and 
playing lapdog to Defra – the well-worn route by 
which retiring office-holders collect their 
non-executive directorships and knighthoods.

One of the main reasons I stood for presidency of 
the union in February was because it was my 
belief that the voting system is totally unfair.

And how can I substantiate that claim? Simple: 
the ballot papers used to elect candidates to the 
top three posts are all numbered, so officials 
can plainly see who voted for whom.

I was so disillusioned with the way the NFU is 
run I was actually going to resign last year.

But I was encouraged to stay because so many of 
my council colleagues told me I was one of the 
few people who was prepared to say what I really 
thought, and had a chance of making a difference. 
But in the end they didn't have the guts to vote for me.

Predictably, under such circumstances, I only received three votes.

One of them was mine, and the other two were 
those of Somerset NFU chairman Mark Pope and 
Charles Bourns, chairman of the poultry board. 
Charles Bourns is a man who stands up for his beliefs.

He and the board deserve to be thanked for their 
work in ensuring the Little Red Tractor actually 
means something and has the Union Jack wrapped 
around it – despite opposition from others who 
wanted to see it applied equally to any imported food that met UK standards.

I would like to thank him publicly for voting for 
me, because it caused him a lot of aggravation, 
sparking a campaign to remove him from the 
chairmanship of the poultry board – though one he managed to survive.

My old colleagues in Farmers For Action, David 
Handley and Paul Reynolds have repeatedly told me 
that I would never change the NFU and I'm sorry 
to say that I now have to agree with them.

After all, what has it achieved over the last 15 
years? We have seen the steady decline of British 
agriculture, we have lost status as an 
agricultural nation, lost the Royal Show which 
used to showcase the best of British farming, and 
lost the Smithfield in 
– and despite what may be claimed the replacement 
shows are no more than very pale imitations of a 
once-great event. We are only 50 per cent self 
sufficient in food and the proportion continues to fall.

A quarter of all farmers are below the poverty 
line and supermarket profits are still rising.

We have 62 million customers on our doorstep and 
only enough food for three days.

We are, as someone put it, three days away from 
anarchy. It is an absolute disgrace.

This all rests at the door of the NFU, its 
failures in leadership and its emerging role as 
the government's propaganda machine.

The only positive sign is that Peter Kendall has 
removed the bovine TB brief from Meurig Raymond 
and he is now dealing with it directly himself.

I have already had a couple of discussions with 
Mr Kendall, but the situation is getting worse.

While politicians have been allowed to dither we 
have seen TB spread to sheep, wild boar and deer. 
Yet to all intents and purposes Mr Kendall still 
appears to be dithering while the South West's 
livestock sector goes to the dogs.

One man I have a lot of time for is badger expert Brian Hill.

Unfortunately, we have gone down with TB 
ourselves but we have had him on the farm and he 
has shown us the logical, sensible way to tackle the problem.

Meanwhile, the government continues to waste 
millions (on top of the compensation bills) 
trialling an untried vaccine using untested 
techniques and telling farmers where they can 
send stock from closed-down farms, instead of 
tackling the disease at its root and removing the infected badgers humanely.

For all the hate mail, the vicious, snarling 
attacks by the badger-huggers and (sadly) the 
perception among some sections of the public is 
that all we farmers and countrymen really want 
are healthy badgers and healthy cattle.

If there were any justice in this situation the 
pro-badger lobbyists should be taken to court for cruelty to animals.

TB is a terrible disease and a terrible way for a 
badger to die. If you had a domestic animal or a 
farm animal suffering in a similar way, it would 
have to be put down humanely – because it is a criminal offence to leave it.

The problem is that as a result of legal 
protection there are now too many badgers in the 
countryside – and certainly more than can be 
comfortably accommodated given their territorial nature.

But we do not want to see the mass slaughter of 
badgers, as is about to happen in Pembrokeshire.

There are farmers there who are very frightened 
because some areas have never had TB and have healthy badger populations.

So why take out these and increase the risk of 
infected ones eventually moving in to take their place?

I believe there is common ground between farmers 
and badger groups and I honestly believe that the 
next move is for us to talk to them and see if we can identify it.

We may have to, as an alternative to swapping 
insults, because Hilary Benn's refusal to take an 
unpopular decision and to listen only to the 
'science' that he wants to hear has ensured that 
this has become a long-term problem which will require a long-term solution.

Property of the past

Monday, April 19, 2010, 09:00

WITH its sturdy lookout tower, thick chimney 
breasts, stone mullioned windows, nailed studded 
doors and mellow bricks, Portishead's Court House 
Farm – also known as the Manor House – looks a 
real picture in the spring sunshine.

Despite being close to the busy High Street, it 
has retained its semi-rural setting with a 
frontage that looks out over a beautiful stone 
walled garden with stables and cow sheds nearby. 
But this imposing Tudor property, right next to 
the town's ancient parish church, doesn't belong 
to a noble family or even a rich businessman, but 
City Council, who, as a former corporation, has owned it since 1616.

Now, after 400 years, it has decided to sell both 
the mansion and the adjoining Springfield Farm. 
The auctioneers are hoping that the house will 
sell for £350,000 plus and the farmland for about 
£300,000 – prices which should certainly generate a lot of interest.

Although everything is Grade II listed, which 
means that not a lot can be changed, many people 
are concerned the farmland, which abuts the High 
Street as a welcome green lung, will be developed 
as building land and lost forever.

Some have suggested a community farm use for the 
buildings while others see it as an art centre, 
but Bristol City Council seems determined to go 
ahead and get the property off its hands.

The court buildings and farm now lie empty, awaiting auction next month.

Historian Sandy Tebbutt recalls meeting the last 
tenant Miss Gertrude Gale, whose family had farmed here since the 1930s.

"The Gales, who had a family of eight children, 
moved into Court Farm in 1930," Sandy told Bristol Times.

"At that time the house was covered in ivy and trees and known to be haunted.

"The family had previously lived in Church Farm, 
a little further up Church Road South, but this 
was condemned and pulled down because it was too unhealthy to live in.

"The Gale family, who were then offered the Court 
House tenancy, farmed 300 acres of land, some of 
it on the golf course and as far up as the old wireless station on Down Road.

"Miss Gale – who described her childhood as 
extremely happy – helped her father during World War II and drove a tractor."

The well-known woman, who died in 2008 in her 
90s, now lies in the churchyard next door.

Sandy says the previous tenants, who farmed here 
in Edwardian times, kept donkeys and had an 
orchard where the front garden is today.

Before them came the Wedmore family, many of whom 
lie buried in the local Friend's Meeting House.

"John and Samuel Wedmore, who were Quakers, had a 
tea and grocery business in the High Street – it 
was probably the village's very first shop" says Sandy.

The Wedmores, she understands, became substantial 
land owners in the town before emigrating to 

Who actually built the first "Great Mansion" 
here, sheltered from the winds by the surrounding hills, is lost to history.

Before the Norman conquest the land belonged to 
the powerful Godwin family – ill-fated King 
Harold was a member – as a single manorial holding.

By the 13th century, however, it had been divided 
into two rival manors, with the area around the 
present Court House Farm belonging to a man called William Le Bret.

His ownership extended to the all important water 
powered grist mill (near where the 
Lion pub is today), the lands around the church 
and Woodhill, then bare of trees.

The other manor, a smaller property held by the 
Tilly family, was centred around the present 
Grange, at the southern end of the High Street.

In 1300 the Le Bret's sold their lands – they now 
included a one third part of two mills, four 
hides of land and three acres of meadow – to the 
De La Salles, a family from Bradford-on-Avon.

One of the perks included the right to appoint 
the church's rector, which could, should you 
wish, be a member of your own family.

In later years, and especially after the 
decimation of the Black Death of 1348, both 
manors were let out to tenants, often rich wool 
merchants or sheep masters, but also farmers.

Capenor Court and manor, a newcomer on the scene, 
became home to the Chappell family.

Across 300 years the Chappells rose from being 
lowly tenant farmers to men of power, wealth and quality.

Although parts of the building dated back to the 
16th century, the court was unfortunately demolished in the 1960s.

Four hundred years ago, in 1616, Bristol's Mayor 
and Common Council decided to buy the Manor of 
Portishead from John Hall of Bradford-on-Avon.

With it came about 200 acres of meadow and 
pasture, nine houses, woodland and a mill.

One suggestion for the purchase is that the 
council already held Admiralty Courts, along with 
their associated feasting and drinking, in Portishead.

Often held in the open air, perhaps they felt the 
need for their junketings to be held somewhere a 
little more sheltered – and give them somewhere to stay overnight.

It was certainly in the council's interest to try 
to protect the Kingroad – a stretch of water just 
off Portishead where ships would wait for wind 
and tide – and its surrounding lands.

It was also, no doubt, a good investment, easily accessible by river.

A few years later the Common Council decided to 
increase its holdings by buying The Grange and 
its lands from William Winter of Clapton-in-Gordano.

This no doubt gave them another excuse to travel 
up river for more feasting and drinking.

It was around this time that Court House Farm, 
parts of which date back to 1400, was rebuilt or updated.

George Chappell, who became Portishead's bailiff, 
took over the tenancy in 1652, which then included about 120 acres of land.

"It was George and Katherine Chappell who, in 
1664, built a fireplace in the old parlour in 
order to commemorate an important event in their lives," says Sandy.

"On one side are the initials 'GC' with 'K' 
underneath and on the other side is the date. It 
may have been to celebrate their silver wedding 
anniversary but as there is no documentation we don't really know.

"George would have been 45 years old and his wife, 42.

"Katherine, who died childless in 1700, aged 78, 
left "Pancake money" (it was distributed on 
Shrove Tuesday) to the people of Portishead."

As the name suggests, manorial courts – they 
dealt with everything from domestic disputes to 
theft – were held in an upstairs room in the building.

"But by that time they were dying out and only 
really held for prestigious reasons by the Lord of the Manor" says Sandy.

"But the courtroom, with its high ceiling, is 
still there. In 1662, George was reimbursed eight 
pounds, 13 shillings and 10 pence to cover the 
cost of entertaining the mayor and his surveyors."

An addition to the main building, and one which 
gives it the appearance of a fortified manor, is a striking hexagonal tower.

This is said to have been built – without much 
authority I hasten to add – by Edward Morgan, a 
prosperous merchant whose family came from 
Easton-in-Gordano, so that he could spot his 
ships out there in the Bristol Channel.

One thing's for sure, there's a lot of history to 
digest here – and a lot of mysteries too.

Was there, as people say, a secret tunnel between the court and the church?

Or was it, as others believe, a cellar where 
contraband, illegally bought in from the coast, could be safely stored?

Was there really a hiding place for banned Roman Catholic priests?

Both the Court House and Springfield Farm hold a 
special place in the hearts of Portishead people, 
many of who have bought their children, and 
grandchildren, here to see the horses, donkeys, geese, ducks and hens.

Let's hope the property – an integral part of the 
old village – will get a sympathetic owner who 
will value its heritage and retain the open land, 
perhaps with some animals grazing there, as in the past.

Latest news is that Portishead Town Council has 
made an offer for the farmland abutting the High Street.

+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
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