IT used to be a derelict building yard but decades of investment at one of the country’s first agricultural attractions sees it attract 200,000 visitors every year.
Down on the ‘model farm’ at the historic Chatsworth House estate, the dramatic transformation has been celebrated, 40 years to the day since it opened, by children and their parents at a 1970s themed day of fun. They were invited to mark the milestone by the stately home’s landowners, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
In a throwback to the decade when its gates were first opened, space hoppers and hula hoops were dusted down and games of hopscotch and giant Jenga games held to mark the special day.
The activities will be available to visitors throughout the summer.
The farmyard is in the heart of the Peak District National Park and was imagined and originally delivered in 1973 by the Dowager Duchess, Deborah Vivien Cavendish. Then known as the Farming and Forestry Exhibition, it was one of the first sites of its kind to open up as a learning resource to teach children about food, animals and agriculture.
Cattle and sheep were borrowed from farms on the Chatsworth Estate for the peak summer season and the Dowager Duchess, now aged 93 and still involved with the farmyard, set up a demonstration milking parlour where cows are milked at an angle, allowing the public to view the process.
Over the decades the attraction has evolved significantly under the stewardship of the current Duke and Duchess. It now boasts a taxing adventure playground, a climbing forest, a guinea pig ‘village’ and a cafe, as well as offering school groups and families up close encounters with pigs, sheep, cows, chickens, shire horses, goats and donkeys.
Located on a slope over five acres, within sight of Chatsworth House, it was made wheelchair accessible ten years ago. A tractor with a trailer means tours of the estate are open to all.
The history of the site is charted for the very first time in a new exhibition of archive pictures unveiled by the 12th Duke of Devonshire today.
The Duke, Peregrine Cavendish, said: “You can see from all the happy, smiling children here every day what a success the farmyard has been and it’s a real tribute to my mother, the Dowager Duchess. She believed so passionately that people should be educated about food and agriculture; she had the vision and determination to reclaim and rebuild on derelict land to create a model farm.
“It was one of the very first such places in the country and I think it has played a hugely significant role in inspiring others to do something similar and that can only be a good thing for future generations.”
Margaret Norris has been the farmyard’s manager for the last 11 years. She said: “People didn’t come and stay for the day when it first opened. They paid the equivalent of 10p and walked round a one-way system to look in at the animals and then left.
“It was popular but the farmyard manager at the time didn’t think people would come on a Sunday and it wasn’t open every day during the week.”
Now the farmyard is open every day of the year until December 23 and visitors travel from all over the country to take a look.
Mrs Norris said its educational role is as strong today as it has always been.
“Every child that comes through the gate learns something about animals, about farming and how and why we farm them and what we get from them, and it’s quite a relevation to them,” she said.