The Hannen Room
was packed at the October meeting of the Wargrave Local History Society to hear
Pam Cardy give an interesting personal history of the Sheeplands Farm and Farmshop.
Pam began with by explaining that the
family had originally been farmers at Bedfont, Staines, and also had a farm at
Pyrford, near Wisley in Surrey - her grandfather, father and his brother being
involved. The family started farming in Wargrave during the winter of 1962,
taking over Sheeplands Farm from Walter Wingrove. The family farmed as market
gardeners, growing vegetables. At that time there were lots of growers - but
there are now relatively few, making it harder to source produce locally.
Vegetable growing is labour intensive - and hence expensive.
At the turn of the century, the vegetables would be
taken by horse and cart from the farm to the market at Covent Garden, and leaving
at 9am would be back at 2pm - the horse knowing the way! Subsequently, motor
lorries took over the transport, and would be crammed into the area around the
market with not an inch to spare. The Bennett family would send 3 lorries
Sheeplands Farm - which had at one time been
called Yarrow Farm, had been owned by Henry Bond in the early 20th century. It
then passed to Fred Headington - the Headington family still farming at Paley
Street, and then to Walter and Jean Wingrove, who kept milking cows and pigs,
and also grew corn there. Hunts would take place across the farm land - Lord
Remnant leading one annually to hunt for hares (although there are none now).
Amongst the farm workers was Bill Champion, who spent all but 4 years of his
life on the farm. His wife had come to the village as a member of the Land Army
during World War 2.
then took over the farm, with his son Paul and daughter Pam. They were helped
in working the land by Italians, who lived in caravans on the land behind fences
on the site. The hedgerows were taken out to open up the views across
the farm, which stretches from the apex at the Mumbery Hill/ A4 junction to
the Wargrave, Twyford road, and beyond, around behind the Piggott School and the far
side of the branch railway line down to the River Loddon - about 400 acres in
all (which is a large farm for vegetable growing). Although some potatoes were
grown when they arrived, the fields were soon put to vegetable crops. Sometimes
the crops would stolen - as on one occasion when Robert approaching from the
A4 along Mumbery Hill came to the beetroot clamp, and saw a man helping himself.
He said to the man that 'they look nice beetroots', and had the re-sponse
that 'yes, they cook up lovely' - clearly not the first time they had been
'raided'. On another occasion, the local policeman saw people taking rhubarb - who
tried to escape by going up the farm road. The "Sun" reported this, describing the
land as a "rhubarb patch" - a large 'patch' at 40 acres!
By the 1970s vegetable growers
were struggling to make a living, and so had to diversify. Ian Simpson, manager
at Kennedy's Garden Centre, commented to Mrs Bennett that 'what we need is a
good farm shop', and so Sheeplands Farmshop opened for business on May 5th 1981.
The family had no experience of vegetable shops, but learnt quickly, and had the
support of a lovely team of staff - many being pupils from the Piggott School.
The family wanted to expand what was on offer - and, for example, found a
supplier of 100 varieties of cheeses from Crediton, who they still use. Other
additions to the 'range of produce came in response to customers inquiring 'do
you do this or that?' The shop was begun by Robert, Paul and Pam, and Pam's son
Andrew joined the business 10 years ago - with lots of ideas for change. One
idea was to offer frozen fruit and veg. They knew that Robert would not like
that - so they waited until he was on a trip abroad, and Andrew's brother, James
- a local builder - arranged to start demolishing the rear of the shop as soon
as the plane left Heathrow! An extension was built for the freezers, and proved
to be such a success that Robert could not object when he returned - telling
customers it was 'One of my better ideas'. Another of Andrew's ideas was the
famous and very life-like cows that stand outside the shop!