Victorian age brought back to life on farm

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WERE it not for the electricity wires you could easily imagine you are on a Victorian English farm.

Myton-Grange Stud Farm, once one of the most modern farms in the region, has been fully restored and renovated back to its 1870s glory.

Owners Nigel and Nick Ramsden, the third generation of their family to farm on the estate near Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire, had been using the site in recent years mainly for storage, with the distinctive covering yard in the farm’s centre used to store cattle during the winter.

The brothers also own neighbouring Home Farm, one of five holdings on the Myton Estate alongside the stud farm, with Home Farm being their main place of business in recent years where they run a successful mixed arable and livestock business.

However, their involvement in the Natural England Higher Level Stewardship programme presented them with the opportunity to renovate the buildings on the old stud farm; an opportunity they grasped gleefully.

“We thought that if we do not do it now then it will never get done,” said Nigel Ramsden.

“It is definitely a piece of history and something which we, as owners, wanted to enjoy. We have permissive public access to the farm and it is something they can enjoy too. We think now that the sheds will be best suited for equine purposes.

“If the funding had not been there we could not have afforded it. There was no grand plan. We knew they could be used for training stables and wanted to bring them back. It just slowly evolved.”

The family came to the Myton Estate from their original home at Whitwell-on-the-Hill in the 1920s. Prior to this the farm was owned by the Stapylton family who built the stud farm in the 1870s. Little expense was spared on its construction and it boasted its own water supply (pumped from a nearby natural spring to a large water tower using a steam engine).

However, the scale of the operation soon came back to cause problems for the owners and they decided to sell up, with the Ramsden family taking over the Stud Farm and Home farm in 1928.

Today the brothers still have a pristine copy of the deeds of sale, including photographs of how the place looked when his family bought it.

Comparing it to how it appears today the resemblance is uncanny. Minute details such as steps used in the breeding of horses have been restored to their former conditions. Even the cobble paths around had Tarmac lifted off to bring them once more back into use.

It is all a far cry from how the Stud Farm looked just over a year ago, when conditions were so dilapidated that the brothers gave serious consideration to stopping anglers from walking through the yard to the banks of the River Swale due to safety concerns.

Looking at pictures before and after the renovation work it is scarcely believable the difference that has been made.

During their period of disuse one of the stables collapsed, with the pair deciding not to rebuild it and leave a gap for improved access to the river.

Rather than keep the farm as a museum piece they intend to restore it usage. The farm’s 30 plus stables have been reconditioned and the covering yard faithfully restored – with the brothers hoping to run a thriving equestrian business from the site.

The 18,000-gallon water tank too will be put to use to harvest water for the farm. And, as Nigel points out, the farm itself could provide the ideal venue for a period drama.

“It is about striking the balance. We need to be able to farm commercially but we also want to be able to do this renovation work.

“It will be looked upon as a diversification idea but really what we are doing is just going full circle. By restoring some of the old buildings we really made the right decision at the right time.”

With plenty of quiet roads and bridle ways around the farm, opportunities for business should be strong.

Opportunities for education, too, will present themselves, with school trips and visits planned for the coming months.

The farm is 370 hectares in total, home to wheat, oil seed rape, carrots, fodder beet and energy crop miscanthus, sometimes know as Elephant Grass.

Perviously, it was home to outdoor pigs and sugar beet but collapses in the market for both at the time led them to give them up. The brothers also farm cattle, mainly Friesians and Herefords, as well as a flock of sheep.

The working farm of Home Farm also dates back to 1870 and is constructed from red brick and Welsh slate.

The bricks themselves had to be floated up the River Ouse and Ure by boat from York before being passed on to a narrow gauge railway to take them to the site.

As well as the HLS scheme, the family are actively involved in other environmental schemes.

A total of 25 acres remain uncropped and Home Farm is currently the breeding ground for 25 pairs of corn buntings, as well as tree sparrows, lapwings and barn owls.

The wetland alongside the farm also enhances the breeding of birds, Nigel said, as well as meaning that around 200 acres of the site require no inputs whatsoever due to the water supply.

“We are keen to enhance the environmental side of things as we want to put something back. For many years farming has taken a lot out of the land.”

The vast array of wildlife on the farm will also be of interest to any school parties, Nigel added, offering a strong taste of rural life past and present for any students arriving on the farm.

The nature of the soil affords for relatively easy ploughing, Nigel said.