Passion and tragedy that shaped a man’s farm life

Former farmer John Taylor, author of 'From Pushchair to Ploughshare' (GL100330e)
Former farmer John Taylor, author of 'From Pushchair to Ploughshare' (GL100330e)
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When Ganstead-born John Taylor decided to write his life story he knew that it would once again mean reliving the worst time in his life. His son Jonathan, 12, died after falling from the combine harvester John was driving.

“Jonathan had asked whether he could come on the combine with me. I was only going 100 yards and he sat on the platform with his feet on the steps. I was driving slowly but the steps hit a stone wrenching them off and throwing him on to the road. In my head now I hear him calling ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ And then there’s nothing. I started writing this book 10 years ago and the reason why it has taken so long to finish is that I got to that point and could not write about it.”

The memory understandably still haunts him now.

“It was as though someone had dropped a bomb into the middle of the family and we all exploded out. I wasn’t in touch with what was going on around me. Every time I think about it even now it’s as though an electric shock has gone right through me.”

John finally finished the book and next week sees the official release of ‘From Pushchair to Ploughshare’ telling of his exploits - going into dairying, pigs, poultry, milk vending machines and electronic auctioneering.

The war years saw a huge change of scene for the very young John who swapped the flatlands of rural life just two miles north-east of Hull for the hills of the old West Riding.

“I was born in 1937 and when I was just two-years-old my parents and my aunt and uncle rented a farmhouse at Middlesmoor in Nidderdale. We were there four-and-a-half years before coming back to Ganstead. Myself and Geoff, my brother six years older than me, and our cousin Mike (Bartlett) lived together. Our mums were with us but our dads stayed at home as they both worked in Hull. My dad was a manager of a seed merchant’s business and my Uncle Tom was a fireman. They came up for weekends.

“Although I was only young, looking back I think those early years in Middlesmoor probably triggered a desire in both Geoff and myself to become farmers one day.”

After starting with 65 laying hens in the back garden of their mum and dad’s house in Ganstead and selling eggs at the gate Geoff went to work on a farm in North Dalton before going to Askham Bryan College. “By then we had decided to look around for a farm to buy and the upshot was that our parents sold their house so that we could all afford to move to Hill Farm at Thirtleby in 1952.”

Cash flow being the order of the day the brothers set their minds on a dairy herd and having bought an initial four cows from Otley they quickly reached 40-50.

“Geoff ran the farm, knocking the buildings into shape and sowing the fields down to grass having been arable land previously. I studied for two years at the technical college learning about building and joinery before landing a job with a dairy herd for the Osbornes in Long Riston. Geoff and I shared my wage so that he could carry on bringing the farm up to scratch.”

John’s second job was back in Ganstead working for the Butler family on their arable/dairy farm before he teamed up with his next-door neighbour in Thirtleby, Richard Richardson who ran an agricultural contracting business. Pigs were the next phase of Hill Farm’s development, again starting off in a small way with a Landrace. Four in-pig gilts were to follow. Broiler chickens came next and a 12,000 bird unit was started. The onset of both pigs and broilers finally gave the brothers enough critical mass for John to join Geoff full-time on the farm, but not without one hiccup that very nearly saw them out of business altogether.

“We heard that the company we’d just supplied with our first crop of birds was going bust so Geoff went to their offices in Beverley, got them to write out a cheque for £3,000 and we waited for the bank to open on the Monday so we could cash it. It cleared and they went bust on the Wednesday.”

After having sold their milk from the dairy herd to Northern Dairies in Hull for a number of years John and Geoff went into the milk vending machine business with Bruce Falkingham of Wressle. The company Falkingham & Taylor Vending still operates today. “It was brilliant at first but then we realised that we were doing all the work. We took the golden handshake to come out of dairying not long afterwards.”

The Taylors’ broilers gave way to turkeys as they tried to find new markets that weren’t so over crowded. It was their move into a larger pig herd that brought about some of John’s happiest times running a 200-sow herd with all progeny taken through to pork and bacon, and with the onset of computers John found himself enthused by what could be achieved. He used a Commodore 65 to write a programme for making pig rations and he followed that up with the launch of his own electronic auction business selling pigs, called Tabrotec.

“I always loved farming and the new challenges every change brought. My favourite periods were when we had the pigs and when we first started with the dairy herd.”

John’s book is about a man who has loved much of his life in farming and who carries an emotional scar that can never fully heal.

Starting a new life

John gave up farming 11 years ago. His heart had not been in it in the same way since his son’s death and subsequent divorce from his first wife Angela, but he’s managed to come through the doom and gloom, as he documents in his book.

“I met Irene 20 years ago thanks to a friend who doesn’t like loose ends and saw us both that way.

“Everything has improved since then and we married 10 years ago. We moved to Hornsea, and honeymooned on the Orient Express.”

John’s book ‘From Pushchair To Ploughshare’ is published by ClioClio and is priced at £12.95 plus postage (UK £2.50). To order a copy email or