Meet a founder of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust and discover his life in the Cotswolds
PUBLISHED: 22:43 20 June 2012 | UPDATED: 22:03 21 February 2013
Joe Henson has spent half a century breeding rare farm animals and has opened the Cotswold Farm Park at Guiting Power which has become a major tourist attraction. Read more about his life, including his son TV Presenter, Adam Henson here...
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?I wouldnt move. I need to be withinw alking distance of the post office and the one in Bourton is still going strong;its heartbreaking the way so many others are closing. But if money were no object, then Id probably have endedup paying for that very expensive Highland bull that Adam bought in Scotland (as seen in a recent Countryfile episode). We agreed a price before he left, and he doubled it. I said to him, If youd sent me out to buy that bull and Id done that, youd have given me hell! But Adam was absolutely right; for a Highland, that bull has got amazing conformation.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?Even though I was born in London, Im a country boy so I wouldnt want to live in Gloucester, for instance.Cheltenham is nice for a shopping trip,lunch or the theatre: I love good acting.When I was a boy, I had a very badstammer, so there was never any question of me being an actor. I cured myself by discovering that girls dont go out with boys who stammer!
Wheres the best pub in the area?Im not really a pub person but Gilland I do go out for a pub lunch sometimes. We like the Fox at Broadwell and the Barn Owl at the Dormy House (Broadway).
Have you a favourite tearoom?If Im up at the farm park, I pop up fora cup of tea and a piece of cake. Do I have to pay? Certainly not!
What would you do for a special occasion?Were having a special occasion thisyear because its our 55th wedding anniversary and I will be 80. Were going to have the whole family and some very close friends over in amarquee in the garden. The last wonderful occasion was when I received my MBE: I was so delighted it was the Princess Royal who gave it to me; she breeds rare breeds so we have something in common.
Whats the best thing about the Cotswolds?The people. Weve got so many good friends who would do anything for us if we needed help, and thats what life isall about.
and the worst?Bovine TB. The two sides of the argument have got to come together and work out a scheme that will stop this terrible disease. On one particular occasion, we lost seven cows in calf, two stock bulls, and one of a pair of oxen Adam had been training to pull.It was my lifes work going down the drain. From the wider point of view, badgers die a terrible, painful, appalling death from TB. Im a lover of wildlife;its been my hobby all my life, and it really upsets me to think of badgers and how they suffer.
Which shop could you not live without?The post office. I go there every morning for my paper and I buy cards there for all the family birthdays we have now that there are seven grandchildren.Post offices should be subsidised; theyrenot only useful but theyre places where older people can meet and have a chat. Theyre social centres.
Whats the most underrated thingabout the Cotswolds?Farmers who look after the countryside, the farm animals and the wildlife.Theyre underrated because people dont really see what theyre doing.
What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?Gill does a wonderful roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. My fathers greatest friend was Stanley Holloway a lovelyman who was famous for reciting poems; he described the best Yorkshirepuddings as like fluff from the breast of a dove! Wed get the beef from Lambournes in Stow, the butcher who processes Adams meat. I like all the breeds but I have to say I particularly enjoy Belted Galloway. I cant have a starter because I always have second helpings of beef, but I would enjoy crme caramel for pudding.
Whats your favourite view in the Cotswolds?We have a water tower at the top of the farm and I always used to take the children up there for the view, which is just amazing. To the east, you can see the tower of Stow church; to the west, you look across to Guiting Wood; and to the south, on a clear day, you can see the Marlborough Downs. Louise works for a charity called the Forest Peoples Programme, championing the rights of indigenous people all over the world.She has been to all sorts of amazing places but she once said to me,Sometimes, dad, when Im on the topof a mountain, looking at what Im told is the most beautiful view in theworld, I think: I wish I was on top ofthe water tower.
Name three basic elements of the CotswoldsStone, Animals, Crops. People dont understand that thebreeds of grazing animals affect the land, which is why, in the old daysbefore they cottoned on to it, a lot of nature reserves went wrong; they would fence them off and keep the animals out, without realising those animals were vital. Nowadays many nature reserves are using rare breeds because they eat the sorts of things that modern hybrids wont.
Whats your favourite Cotswolds building and why?Chastleton House (near Moreton-in-Marsh) because that really typifies an old Cotswold dwelling. The National Trust,which owns it, hasnt done it up but kept it as it was, which is a good thing.One of my very good friends, Dr Juliet Clutton-Brock, was brought up there.Her husband was Professor Peter Jewell,one of the people who set up the Rare Breeds Survival Trust with me.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?Burn straw. I used to, for my sins, because in those days there wasnt the market for the straw that there is now;it was the best way of clearing the stubble of all the weed seeds and other rubbish. It was wrong; it was dangerous; it was against nature. In places like Australia and Florida, the plants and animals are used to big burns, but in this country they arent and Im sure we did damage.
Starter homes or executive properties?There has always been a mix of working people and wealth, and there always should be: in the old days, it was the farm-workers cottages alongside the big houses, which employed a lot of staff. Nowadays, fewer people are employed on farms and the cottage sthey once lived in are highly sought after.The answer is that we have got to look to ways of building inexpensive dwellings and that is actually happening at Bourton. There is one big estate of smaller houses being done very nicely, which proves it is possible.
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?Lechlade; Bath; Broadway; Burford.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?A lock of Cotswold wool because Iwould like to be buried with it. Traditionally, shepherds were always buried with Cotswold wool so that,when they met St Peter at the Gate, he would know that they were shepherds,which is why they couldnt get to church on Sundays.
Whats the first piece of advice youd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?Meet as many local people as you can; join groups and associations. Thereare some lovely people around here and everyone needs good friends.
And which book should they read?One of June Lewiss history books. Ive got one with lovely old pictures of Lechlade, and its great fun to go there now and see how much it has changed. A lot is very much the same.
Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?My pleasure at night, after Id closed the farm park, was walking round my animals, making sure they were all settled. I always had particular favourites. Gill bottle-fed an Exmoorfoal called May, who would always come up to me for a scratch.
Which event, or activity, best sums upthe Cotswolds?Moreton Show, of which I was honoured to be made president one year. Its kept the rural life at its heart and a lot is done by volunteers, who work their socks off on the day.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?Id love to be in class with my grandchildren who are still at school Alfie and Ella, Adams two. Im sure theyd be better behaved than I was.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?To William Garne the Elder. He keptt he Cotswold breed going when they no longer fitted the commercial world:everybody wanted small joints, so breeds like the Southdown came in and replaced them; and the particular kind of wool they produced didnt suit the factories up in the north. If it wasnt for him, there wouldnt be a Cotswold breed today.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?William Shakespeare. I would ask him, in the strictest confidence, whether hereally wrote those plays. Personally? I think he did.
The Cotswold Farm Park,near Guiting Power GL54 5UG;
Tel: 01451 850307 reopens on March 17;
Joe Henson has spent half a century breeding rare farm animals and the greatest accolade anyone could pay to his lifes work is to sit down and eat it. People dont understand the fact that the more you eat rare breeds, the more there will be,he says.
A founder member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, Joe opened the Cotswold Farm Park at Guiting Powerin 1971, which has become a showcase for at-risk breeds, and is now one of the regions major tourist attractions. Joe and his wife Gill have four children: Adam, a TV presenter, who now runs the Cotswold Farm Park and its associated farm; and daughters Rebecca, Louise, and Libby, also a rare-breed expert with her own specialist IT business.
Joe was awarded an MBE in last years Queens Birthday Honours for services to conservation.
Read a Q&A with him here....
Where do you live and why?We live in Bourton-on-the-Waterbecause its both near to the farm and ithas all the facilities Gill and I need.Some people avoid Bourton because ofall the tourists But who am I tocomplain about tourists! I was walkingthrough very early the other morningwhen a big crowd of Japanese girls camepast; I bowed and said, Konnichiwaand they all chased me. I had to runinto a shop to get away! When Gill andI ran the farm park, we were advised bya tourism specialist to print our leafletsin languages other than English. Iasked, If we could only afford to doone, which would you choose? and thelady replied, Oh, Japanese! She was theperson who taught me to say Hello Konnichiwa. At least, I think thatswhat it means; one day a kind Japaneseperson will tell me!
How long have you lived inthe Cotswolds?For 60 years: I came to Cirencesteragricultural college when I was 19. Igrew up in London, where my dad,Leslie, was an actor; we had to livewithin easy reach of the West End. Ihad a model farm that I loved, and Iused to spend my Saturday sixpence ona lead animal for it each week. We thenmoved to Northwood, at the end of thetube line, which was very rural, and mymum would walk me to a little farm upthe road, where everything except theploughing was done by horses. Theherd of cows was hand-milked; the milkwas bottled and delivered by pony andfloat; the chickens were all free range,and one of my jobs was to go roundwith a basket looking for eggs to takeback to the farmer. That was the life forme. Because Dad was away in the war,entertaining the troops all over theworld, my Grampy Bill got me a pair ofrabbits to teach me about the facts oflife! We were soon outnumbered somum and I would swap oven-readyrabbit for eggs and vegetables; you canimagine that we didnt live badly.
Whats your idea of a perfect weekendin the Cotswolds?Having friends to lunch. My wife is avery good cook and she loves to entertain.