John Farrer

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JOHN Farrer, 82, was the owner of the Ingleborough Estate and squire of Clapham who turned it into one of the most thriving villages in the Dales.

He inherited the ancestral estate, which nestles at the foot of Ingleborough and has the famous potholes Gaping Ghyll and Clapham Cave within its boundaries, in 1953 from his uncle, Matthew Ronald Farrer.

When he left his home in Australia with his wife and two children for Yorkshire, he did not know too much of what to expect. In his quiet manner, he set about modernising the 10,000-acre estate with its seven farms and 35 village houses. All had outside lavatories and the rents were five shillings (25p) for a small house or 10 shillings (50p) for a large one.

From the beginning, he listened to people, which was one of his greatest assets, and then worked out the future direction for the estate. As tenants changed over the years, rents went up allowing homes to be modernised.

He also had a policy of renting homes to young families so the village was revived instead of being turned into a place of weekend and holiday homes. While schools in other villages closed because of a lack of children Clapham School expanded.

He developed the park with a children’s playground in the middle of the village. His son John said: “He would like to be remembered as keeping the village as a living entity, not a weekend village.”

His work in reviving Clapham and creating jobs won him the North Yorkshire County rural employment award for special contributions to rural England in 1988.

John Anson Farrer was born in Sydney. The youngest of three children, his father James was an engineer and the family were to live mostly in Melbourne. His sisters Ruth and Rachel predeceased him.

He was educated at Melbourne Grammar School and Geelong Grammar before studying medicine at the city’s Alfred Hospital, then working as a family doctor in Melbourne. When he left at the age of 33 he was already married to his wife Joan, a hospital theatre nurse, and they had two children John, who was five, and Annie who was three.

While Dr Farrer administered Ingleborough Estate, he also had to support his family so took part-time jobs.

He worked at Royal Lancaster Infirmary accident and emergency unit, or as a locum for local GP practices, and for some years worked in public health making school visits.

Throughout all this work, he also helped on the estate, felling trees, tracing leaks in the village water supply for which the estate was responsible, and winding the church clock.

His son John remembers being called out to join his father in the early hours of the morning to walk the village roads with a divining rod in search of leaks.

“Because the water was running during the day when people were using it, the only time when it stopped was during the night so if you heard it running there was the leak,” he said.

Winding the church clock involved winding heavy weights, a job he did for many years until he could no longer get up and down the chamber, by which time the clock mechanism had been electrified.

His son said that the clock stopped at the same time as his father in a coincidence. He had recorded the exact time and villagers later reported that the clock had stopped at the same moment.

Dr Farrer was also responsible in 1948 for Clapham becoming one of the first villages in the country to have streets lights, run by a turbine powered by the local water supply.

With the estate having the two famous potholes within its boundaries, Dr Farrer was president of the Cave Rescue Organisation which is based in the village.

He also was fascinated by the weather and for 60 years kept daily records of rainfall, all of which he would make available for research.

One of Dr Farrer’s ancestors at Ingleborough was Reginald John Hall who became regarded as one of the county’s greatest gardeners and who, in the early 1900s, scoured the world in search of rare plants.

That interest in plants has been inherited by Dr Farrer’s daughter Annie who is a botanical artist living in London attached to Kew Gardens.

His son John Peter is a GP in Canada. Dr Farrer’s wife predeceased him in 2008.

A memorial service is due to be held next month on a date to be fixed.

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