The Ballad of John Stockley – Part 1
Walter John Stockley (John) was born on 10 October 1932 and had no family history of farming and no idea that he would ever become a farmer until the outbreak of WW2. It was then, aged 13, that he was evacuated from Swanage with the threat of invasion. As an evacuee, John found himself on a sheep farm in Catistock.
His family may have joked that it had taken Hitler’s threat of an invasion to get him onto a farm, but it would take a great deal more to get him back off again. John decided not to return home after the war, not to return to school and to make farming his life’s work, which is exactly what he did.
From his first job as a dairyman at Worth Matravers, John learned all he could from those around him. He was married to his wife Beryl by the age of twenty-one but still managed to avoid taking his driving test until he was forty-eight and, even then, it took him five attempts before passing.
John was obviously a much better farmer and tractor driver than he was a car driver, but he needed that licence so that he could travel to and from jobs just to make ends meet. And to get to his work, he had an old Zodiac, which he later upgraded to a Rover 2000.
In 1965, John secured a farm from Dorset Council and became a tenant farmer at Crockers Farm in Twyford, near Shaftesbury. He worked fifty acres with fifty dairy cows and set about improving every aspect of the farm over a thirty year period.
John could tackle any job on a farm but admitted that he wasn’t the best when it came to mechanical problems. But his good friend, Kenny, helped out in a typical ‘exchange of skills’ arrangement.
Keeping him company was his Border Collies, which seemed to take great delight in nipping at almost anything that moved, which sometimes included John himself. But he doted on his dogs and the only time anyone saw tears in his eyes was when one of his dogs died or when his cows were sent to market. When the lorry came to pick up the cows, he would be so upset that everyone knew to stay well clear of him for a day or two.
Family life was also good for John and he and his wife had two daughters, Julie and Dawn. Butlin’s in Minehead was a favourite and affordable holiday destination for children and grandchildren alike and John would play the children’s games throughout the day. He never seemed to tire and it was much later in life before he took a holiday abroad
Throughout his life, John kept a very simple schedule – he would work from first light until all the jobs on the farm for that day had been completed. He loved his farm and he loved his life as a farmer, so no one heard him complain about anything, ever.
After more than a half-century in farming, a combination of problems made John think about retirement. The first was the outbreaks of brucellosis and foot and mouth disease in the late ‘90s. The second problem was that John was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
An additional problem
Bureaucracy was a third problem. John Stockley worked as a farmer from the time he was a boy in his early teens until he was well into his sixties. In all this time, he’d seen a doctor on only two occasions. The first was when he broke his leg. This put him out of action for only a few days. He was then seen tackling his farm chores on crutches, or while sitting on a chair, until the plaster was eventually removed. The second visit to a doctor resulted in his Parkinson’s diagnosis.
The bureaucracy started as he came to terms with his Parkinson’s, though he never referred to it by name – he just called it ‘this thing’ but everyone knew what he meant.
John’s farm was under threat. His health was on the line. And his pride stopped him from admitting he had severe financial problems. It wasn’t the time to deal with the Council but he had to. It took eighteen months of heartache to transfer the farm back into Council hands. It was a difficult time and the treatment and attitudes were bad.
On one occasion, he spoke to the Council about the prospect of him losing his farm, his livelihood and his home. Their advice was simple. Move out and register as homeless.
But John and his family weren’t quite finished yet. There was more to come…
Read the second part of John’s story at the end of October.