Meet the former Tesco workers who are living The Good Life thanks to their farm shop near Hornsea

When Chris and Aileen Simpson moved north to Withernwick, five miles south of Hornsea, on the Holderness plain 21 years ago, there were locals who thought they were something like Richard Briers and Felicity Kendal on The Good Life, pursuing their country idyll.

Aileen Simpson with some of the rare breed sheep
Aileen Simpson with some of the rare breed sheep

“A lot of people likened us to them when we arrived,” said Chris, but the couple’s more recent exploits are shaped more by their commercial past than any small-scale self-sufficiency theory.

Whitedale Cottage, where they moved to after years of living in London, is now Whitedale Cottage Farm and Farm Shop and they have rare breed pigs, sheep, cattle, goats, hens, ducks and chickens.

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Whitedale has 250 laying hens providing a continuous daily supply of eggs, and has the same with ducks and duck eggs. They also rear 500 chickens for meat each year and have game, including venison, wild rabbit, partridge, pheasant and hare from Dalton Holme estate.

Chris and Aileen swapped their Tesco management roles in London for a farm on the Holderness plain

“We’ve gone through seven deer in the past two months,” said Chris. “And our venison and pork sausages are fabulous.”

The Simpsons have just under a couple of acres of land at Whitedale, but in the short time they have grown their rare breed animals for the farm shop they rent around 40 acres.

Chris said: “I was a buyer for Tesco of basically anything that came out of the ground. Aileen was a manager in the greengrocery and flower departments. I worked at the sharp end in the food industry and have seen how people can let you down.

“That’s why I believe nobody works as hard as you do yourself if you’re wanting to make things happen and that’s why Aileen and I are doing it the way we are today.

“We are high welfare. That’s our point of difference and we are proving that you can be a farmer and a retailer. I handle all of the butchering, Aileen does all the packaging and together we look after our animals that provide the quality I believe you’d have to go a long way to get better.”

The couple have been together for 44 years. Chris is from North Yorkshire. His father was a gamekeeper at Castle Howard and then at Coxwold. His early career from leaving school to his mid-twenties was spent working on farms, mainly with a livestock focus. Aileen was born in Hull, near Pearson Park off Beverley Road.

They moved south when Chris took up a role with Tesco that saw him eventually responsible for the opening of their first superstore, in Finchley in the late 70s, and then travelling the UK and Europe as a buyer. They gave it all up for a return north in 1999. They then bred prize-winning dogs for a while.

“Christopher had always wanted Great Danes,” said Aileen. “We got two at first and had fifteen at one time when we were pedigree breeders and won as best of breed at Crufts in 2005. We bred for ten years, but you need to continue breeding regularly and people who bought them and then brought them back finally got to us.”

Gloucester Old Spot pigs became the Simpsons’ first foray into marketing their own meat, but it happened inadvertently, as Chris said: “We’d had a couple of Gloucester Old Spots regularly for our deep freezer from pedigree breeder Bill Walker of Paull who we’d enjoyed visiting regularly. When he took seriously ill about ten years ago he told us he wanted us to have his herd, so we took on six sows, six maiden gilts and the latest litters. We continued to supply Fields’ butchers in Anlaby, Hull as he had, after Bill had passed.”

It was the move away from supplying Fields that brought about Whitedale Cottage Farm Shop two years ago in October 2018.

Chris said: “We now have 10-12 sows at any one time and a boar, and we are finishing around 80-plus pigs a year. Our pigs are loose housed in barns on straw and have a great life. The pork and other produce they supply is amazing and gave us the confidence to go it alone from this Yorkshire outpost. We now get great trade from Hull.”

Jacob sheep had started making their mark at Whitedale around seven years ago.

“We had a couple at first again, but now have 70 breeding ewes,” said Chris. “We lamb at the end of January until the end of March and register the best gimmers. We get great grass-fed lambs that are ready when we’ve finished with the hoggs. I like breeding good stock.

“That’s why I run more tups than really necessary for the size of flock. We have four Jacob tups, three two-horned and one four-horned; and a Suffolk for commercial lambs. We also have a secondary pay-off in the skins that we salt and dry cure before sending them to be made into rugs.”

Aileen sources Beef Shorthorn and Aberdeen Angus calves that provide veal and beef from York Auction Centre at Murton.

“We do a good trade in veal, so I buy some at six months old,” said Aileen. “I also buy steers at 15-16 months because they offer faster growth to the finishing weight.”

Goats are the up and coming meat and that’s what Chris and Aileen are finding at Whitedale.

“We have 60 goats,” said Chris. “We started with Angoras but increasingly we have moved towards Boers as they carry two good kids. Goat meat is great for curries.”

Just eleven miles out of Hull, Whitedale Cottage Farm Shop is fast becoming a go-to destination for those in the city.