Thirsk farmer’s wife delivers goods in a café society

Jackie Marwood, pictured outside The Gavel cafe at Thirsk Livestock Centre. Pictures by James Hardisty.
Jackie Marwood, pictured outside The Gavel cafe at Thirsk Livestock Centre. Pictures by James Hardisty.
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Liver, bacon and onions is not just a favourite at The Gavel café in the livestock market at Thirsk where farmer’s wife Jackie Marwood and her team look after the nutritional needs of those buying and selling every week – it’s also very much a prerequisite for keeping the peace amongst the checked shirt brigade.

“If I don’t put liver on at least once a month I have a revolt. Farmers love liver, as well as home-made steak pie, lasagne, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, mince and dumplings, cheesecakes and crumbles. They just love home-made no matter what it is, but liver, well that’s one they really want.”

Jackie also looks after cattle at the family farm at Spennithorpe, near Leyburn. She is pictured here holding a British Blue, whilst her husband Robert, holds a Limousin heifer.

Jackie also looks after cattle at the family farm at Spennithorpe, near Leyburn. She is pictured here holding a British Blue, whilst her husband Robert, holds a Limousin heifer.

Jackie is carrying on a family tradition started by her mum who ran the mart café at Leyburn many years ago and proof of how well it is going was borne out recently with the Gavel café shortlisted for the UK’s best mart café in a national competition called Mart’s the Heart.

“We only took over here two years ago this coming Christmas,” says Jackie. “And we were the only mart café in the north of England to reach the shortlist.

“My parents George and Margaret had the King’s Head pub in Leyburn where I grew up with my brother James and sister Cynthia and I used to work at The Copper Bridge Inn in East Witton, so I’ve a catered for country people all my life.

“When this came up for rent I saw it as a new challenge for myself and my husband Robert to add another string to our bow.”

When this came up for rent I saw it as a new challenge for myself and my husband.

Robert and Jackie run their 235-acre mixed arable, beef and sheep enterprise with son Craig at Studdah Farm, Spennithorne in Wensleydale. They have around 170 acres of arable land growing wheat, barley, oats and beans, as their greening crop. Fattening cattle is the main farm business and they have a flock of 190 breeding ewes.

“Our farm runs along the A684. There won’t be many further up the dale that will grow barley. While most of the farm is in a ring fence we added 75 acres at Middlefields nearby so that we could grow enough feed for our fatteners.

“Robert’s parents, John and Margaret, moved to Studdah in 1967 having previously farmed at Patrick Brompton. When John passed away in 2009 we changed our cattle fattening from purely in winter to all year round. We now fatten around 500-600 cattle a year buying them in at three-quarters finished between 18-24 months and usually finishing within three months. At any one time we will have 100-150 mainly Limousin X out of British Blues that make for shapely butchers’ heifers. We’ve been fortunate to have reached the top price at mart several times. They are all sold to local butchers through the mart here at Thirsk. Robert buys quite a few from Leyburn mart.

“Our sheep are a mix of Beltex and Texel X with some Suffolk X. When buying replacements we usually buy hoggs with lambs at foot privately and for the last couple of years they’ve come from Northumberland. We lamb in January and February running them inside until the weather picks up and aim to sell while the price is high. This year we’ve had some really good lamb prices. The trade for beef cattle has also held up well so far.

Jackie extends a warm welcome at the Thirsk cafe.

Jackie extends a warm welcome at the Thirsk cafe.

“Robert and Craig work together and split the farm work between them with Robert responsible for the cattle and Craig running the sheep. They share much of the arable work with Robert generally handling all the drilling and Craig ploughing and baling.”

While Jackie and Robert now operate in high turnover of livestock numbers from the farm and serving meals at the Gavel café their hobby, that they started six years ago, sees them in a much lower turnover environment.

“My brother Jimmy (Wilkinson) has been showing cattle in the commercial classes for quite a few years with his wife Rachel and their two children Beth and Luke. They still have their own show team but having always gone to shows with them and having enjoyed ourselves we started buying one a year between us to show under the name Wilkinson and Marwood.”

Success wasn’t long in coming and the showing bug was soon ingrained. “The first one we bought was for the Thirsk Christmas Primestock Show and we had reserve champion, so the next year we bought another. Since then we’ve kept putting money into the pot to buy others. You don’t make money out of showing but we all have a great time.”

Jackie has been delighted with their recent successes in showing commercial cattle and in the work of her team at the Gavel café, where everyone gets involved.

“We’re making hundreds of breakfasts, lunches and teas, plus we cater for lots of special events including parties, anniversaries and weddings right up to black tie dinners.”

Jackie and Robert are taking their mart café business very seriously and also believe in giving something back. “Thirsk Rising Star Calf Show takes place on November 12 and the Gavel Café is sponsoring the first ever Interbreed competition with trophies and prize money. It’s a fantastic event with pedigree classes.”