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Obituary: Enterprising Norfolk farmer Alan Barnard, the first man to pay £100 per acre for farmland, dies aged 89

PUBLISHED: 09:21 11 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:18 11 October 2018

Alan Barnard and his wife Kate, pictured in 2011. Picture: Archant.

Alan Barnard and his wife Kate, pictured in 2011. Picture: Archant.

Archant

Norfolk farmer Alan Barnard, who has died aged 89, caused a sensation in the late 1950s by paying a record price for land.

He was the first man to pay £100 per acre for a good Norfolk farm at Michaelmas 1959 at an auction held at the Royal Hotel, Norwich.

As news spread that he had bought Carpenters Farm, Wymondham, it electrified the crowded Saturday market, then held in the heart of the city on the Hill.

When he walked through Norwich market, a hush fell and the sale at Ireland’s cattle market was briefly halted.

It was quite an achievement for a 30-year-old tenant farmer and son of a Wymondham smallholder. And it proved a sound investment as within five years, land prices tripled.

Born in 1929, Alan John Barnard was the only child of Jack and Dorothy Barnard, who had a small farm on Norwich Common near Ketts Oak, which then stood by the side of the former A11. Later, acorns from that famous oak went to Canada, where today many Ketts oaks thrive.

Mr Barnard had always wanted to farm and, shortly after his 21st birthday, he was granted a tenancy of Wong Farm, Great Melton, on the Evans-Lombe’s Marlingford estate.

READ MORE: Tributes paid to creator of Bawburgh golf course, Alan Barnard

Over the years, he expanded from the original 100 acres to about 750 as other land including Lower Grove and Beeches Farm in Downham were acquired.

He had started as so many did during and after the second world war with a few breeding sows. A dairy enterprise soon followed. Initially he milked Dairy Shorthorns, partly because his wife, Kate, was a Kidner linked to the famous Stokeholycross herd. He founded the Kettsoak herd of pedigree British Friesians.

In the early 1990s, the 140-strong milking herd was dispersed when milk quotas had become such a significant asset. This was reinvested in machinery for the arable enterprise as other land was also contract farmed at East Carlton and Ketteringham.

Some years earlier, Mr Barnard had been Norfolk branch chairman of the eastern region of British Friesian Breeders’ Club. In February 1977, he presided at the annual dinner and dance at the Norwood Rooms, Norwich, which was attended by 500 members and guests. He had been a longstanding committee member.

He grew arable crops and also dwarf beans and vining peas for Birds Eye and Brussels sprouts for Ross Foods. He was the harvest manager for the West of Norwich Harvesters vining group, which included about 16 farms from Reepham to Hethel near Wymondham.

Always mechanically minded, he would often be found in the farm’s workshop, inventing or adapting machinery.

For some years, he and Jim Alston, of Honingham, had a contract with Norwich Airport to cut the grass between the runways and taxi lanes. They would make hay in Howard big bales, which were carted back to their respective dairy units.

In 1979, he laid out a nine-hole golf course at Bawburgh, which was to become the foundation of the highly-successful club and also the Norwich Golf Centre over the following four decades.

He served as a member of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association’s Council in the mid-1970s when John Stimpson was show director.

A keen shot, he also enjoyed the role as keeper on the family’s shoot and especially the opportunity to work his beloved Labradors.

His wife, Kate, died some six weeks ago. He leaves four children, Mary, John, Robert and Sue, ten grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at Hethersett Church on Monday, October 29, 2pm.

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