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Gaddesden Estate News February 2020

Gaddesden 500
As many of you may know, 2020 marks a milestone year for us as we celebrate 500 years of continuity. January started with a discussion in the farm office to finalise a number of plans to mark this event.

Our ‘Gaddesden 500’ events look set to include a special Thanksgiving Service in the church on Saturday 4th April - at which the Bishop of St Albans has kindly agreed to preach, and to which all members of the congregation are invited - and a family-friendly open day on Saturday 16th May. Further details will be published nearer the times. We hope we will see many of you at one or other (or both!) of these events.

Other plans include an oral history project, recording the memories of those who have lived and worked here over the years, and a commemorative tree-planting operation. We are also hoping to hold a special Park & Ride event later in the year, once again in aid of the Gaddesden Place Riding for the Disabled Association and the wonderful work that they do.

2020 looks set to be an exciting year that will provide us with a chance to assess our plans for the future as well as give thanks for the past. We will continue to publish news as things develop, and you can also visit our Facebook page ( for regular updates.

Timely visitors
Continuing the theme of past and present, we were delighted to receive a visit from Richard Fear and his partner in mid-January.  
Mr Fear’s father had been employed in the early thirties as Groom and then chauffeur for Sir Walter Halsey and ,although he had left here aged 10, Mr Fear had fond memories of the place, including receiving his first pay packet on the farm as a small boy in the 1940s.
Joyfully for us he also brought with him some photographs dating from the 1940s, including several of Marsh Farm where Sir Walter had lived after leaving Gaddesden Place, having prudently let the Golden Parsonage for a time. The 1950 village fete on the cricket pitch is shown, with a gaggle of village children in fancy dress– including the protagonist masquerading as a tin of Bird’s Custard.   

We are lucky to have a good collection of historic photographs and other memorabilia on file here, in part thanks to kind visitors such as Mr Fear over the years, and we are hoping to display some of these as part of the activities taking place on 16th May. If you have any of your own that you might like to have included, then we would love to know about them. You can either email [email protected] or call 01442 252421 to make a time to come into the office.

The new year brings the hope of spring, and we, like everyone, look forward to the end of this very wet winter.  This is usually a quiet time of year on the arable farm, with ‘winter projects’ coming to the fore, such as machinery servicing and maintenance, building repairs and planning for the year ahead.  That said, there are of course still crops in the ground and, weather permitting, we are doing what we can to nurse them through.

Gardeners and allotment holders will no doubt be able to report on the levels of slug damage this season, and it is no different in the fields.  Readers will recall that we were very pleased and relieved to be able to plant our wheat and barley in the brief spell of nice weather at the end of October.  Crops planted at that time of year (known as winter crops) generally yield better and are harvested earlier than those planted in the spring, as well as going for different markets.  Since then, however, our relief has in part turned to dismay as the constant wet has rotted seeds and turned the fields into a slugs’ paradise, with very little we can do about it.  

Slug control is typically a combination of cultural controls (such as crop rotation, cultivation and, in particular, rolling after planting), and chemical, though the use of organic slug pellets.  This year however, it was impossible to roll the ground after planting for fear of both lifting the seed out of the ground (as the rolls pick up wet soil), and capping the soil by compacting the surface and thus preventing seedlings from emerging.  Since then, the opportunities to apply slug pellets have been few and far between, with even the lightest machinery unable to travel across the fields.  The result of this is that the slugs have had a ‘field day’, and we have already written off about 40 hectares (100 acres) of barley (about half the crop), with the remainder looking less than pretty!  This area will be planted with another spring crop, possibly spring barley, but all the cost, effort and opportunity of the winter planting will be lost. 

Estate Management
It seems to be a question of keeping the weather at bay at the moment, as much as anything.  Tracks, roofs and gutters are all taking a hammering, with Storm Brendan being the latest culprit for lifting roof slates, damaging trees and creating ever more potholes!  We have even been investigating a road grader to mount behind a tractor, to enable us to repair gravel roads to a better standard – not productive work, but very necessary given the number of people who rely on our tracks to get to where they live and work. 

Work has started refurbishing the Golden Parsonage Lodge, including re-roofing the rear sections of the house.  It is excellent to see some progress being made and we hope to have the work complete in the spring.