John Goodfellow (1944-2016)

This page is dedicated to the memory of John Goodfellow Senior, the founder of Goodfellow Farming, who sadly passed away in 2016. What follows is the eulogy of his son, John Goodfellow, and a tribute from his sister, Elizabeth Bass.

Eulogy by his son, John Goodfellow

“So, it is my job to tell you about Dad’s life from the early 70’s till the present day – I hope you are comfortable – he fitted an amazing amount in!

One of my very early memories is being in bed at the Riding Farm House supposed to be sleeping but was listening to Dad whistling to himself in the shed opposite then the flash of the welder as he made or repaired another piece of equipment. His welding must not have been bad; there are still plenty homemade gates at the Riding to this day.

The early years at the Riding would be financially tricky, Dad had gained enough capital to take the farm on by initially rearing pigs then moving onto grass parks for sheep and cattle. Taking the farm was a considerable jump. Mum tells me that in the early years they lived off the rent gained from the farm cottage as any farm profits would be ploughed back in to help get where they wanted to be. Dad set about modernising the farm; he built a silage pit and cow kennel accommodation massively increasing the stocking capacity. The Kennels were built in 1975 with a 10-year life expectancy – again he must have done a canny job, they were used until 2014 and have only just been replaced with a new shed this year.

Mum and Dad threw themselves into community life in Bellingham, it sounds like they had a ball, with endless social events. There was even an annual dance at the Riding, BBQ’s in the front shed and a disco in the Granary. Access to the Granary was typically “John”, a ramp made of scaffolding tubes and some wood – this was well before the days of risk assessments!

They were members of a group called the Twisty Roads that did fundraising, I seem to remember they bought and donated a television for Bellingham First School when I was there. Notably, the group organised a visit from Santa Claus every Christmas Eve. A flat bed wagon complete with Santa on a sleigh and Rudolf flying over the cab toured Otterburn, West Woodburn, Bellingham and Wark. For twenty years the hands that were throwing the sweets to the Kids were unfeasibly large!

In 1976 Dad was invited to do the Wye Worshipful Company of Farmers, Advanced Farm Business Management course. This two-week course fundamentally changed Dad’s approach to farming and business, before it, he was driven, after, he knew he could achieve. The course members clearly became good friends and have now been having annual reunions for 40 years, several course members are here today.

Dad was also invited to be a Magistrate in 1979 which he did until 2001. Initially, this was to sit on the bench at the Bellingham court, largely fining people for speeding in West Woodburn. When the Bellingham court closed he was transferred to the Hexham Court. He put a lot of time and energy into this unpaid role. In the early years he did not have a real hobby so having time off the farm to do this public service appealed to him. I have the impression he was generally like by the solicitors at court, I’m not so sure about the felons.

Dad did struggle to find a suitable hobby. When Kielder water opened he took a half share in a little sailing boat. He proudly took Susan and me out on the new boat only to capsize within 20 minutes; we were rescued by a motorboat leaving dad to float about on the upturned boat holding onto the dagger board until someone went to help him and tell him how to right it. He referred to that as the most traumatic day in his parenting carrier. Susan thinks she went again but I’m sure I did not.

In the mid-80s Dad joined a small shooting syndicate – a much more suitable hobby. This interest developed and he ended up taking quite a lot of days shooting each year and becoming a pretty good shot – keen to get his share of the bag – and his money’s worth! He was a gun in Minsteracre shoot for about 25 years. He liked nothing better than to invite his friends to Longwitton Shoot. He even did some big game shooting in Zimbabwe with good friend Gordon Arkley. For many years the entrance of the Tower was decorated with a buffalo head and an Impala head from a shooting trip in 1995. It has been suggested that the main reason he bought the Tower was to find somewhere suitable to hang the Buffalo!

Dad was not your average farmer; he thought outside the box, he saw opportunities where others did not. A good example of this was in the early 80s when his friend Jim Mullholland was running the Rose and Crown in Bellingham, there were some financial problems and dad had the opportunity to buy the pub, it was cheap and the brewery offered an interest free loan. I remember as a 9 year old thinking he had lost his marbles but he explained it to me very well: “I could have bought a new tractor but in a few years it would be worth nothing, the pub will go up in value and Jim will keep his job”. He was right; he tripled his money when he sold it about 4 years later. However I do remember an embarrassing headline in the Hexham Courant; “JP’s pub raided for after hours drinking”

Another one of his business ventures came about in a similar manor, Scott Bushby a friend of Dads had an Artic wagon, he lead most of our grain. Scott rang Dad one night and explained he was in a predicament, could dad help? That night the business was bought. Realising that one wagon did not really work it expanded into four. For about 8 years the green wagons of Bushby Haulage ran the roads

Dad’s big break in farming came in 1981 when Longwitton Farm became available to rent. This 1200 acre mixed farm with a good steading was very appealing but initially thought to be unaffordable, the farm particulars stated that the successful applicant required £250 000 for investment; this was after you’d had to buy enough stock for the farm. He was so keen to take the farm that he looked at ways around this; this included a 3 way share farming agreement with two friends. The accountant liked the plan but the bank did not. After the meeting Dad’s bank manager rang him and told him he would back Dad to take the farm on his own; this was a huge opportunity and it would be fair to say Dad was never frightened of taking on debt! So in 1981 the family moved east to Longwitton whilst importantly keeping on the Riding. The 80’s would be busy, farm grants were generous for improvements so sheds were built and concrete was laid as well as improving the arable performance of the farm. It would also be an expensive time for mum and dad as both Susan and I were away at boarding school. Dad often referred to my school fees as his Pension Plan!

In 1990 Dad along with the now Lord Donald Curry and a few others created North Country Primestock. This farmer based cooperative initially focussed on selling lambs dead weight rather than through the Auction Mart ring. This was fairly new thinking at the time; now I’d say it is the norm. To achieve premium prices higher farm standards were required. The North Country Primestock project lead to a Farm Assurance scheme to prove the member farms had higher standards. This, in turn, has lead to the easily recognisable Red Tractor standards – now displayed on over £12 billion UK farm produce each year.  It is arguable that Dad and that group of enthusiastic Northumberland Farmers were responsible for this change in the industry (When having farm inspections I would rib him, telling him all this unnecessary red tape was his fault!)

Through the 1990’s the farming area kept increasing but that was not challenging enough for him so he would become a house builder too. Two barn conversions at Lynup Hill were done and 6 houses built in Netherwitton followed by two more barn conversions in Elsdon; it is amazing how he fitted all this in.

The mid-1990s were good to farming, I’ll never forget a phone conversation with Dad October 1996; He and Mum were on Safari in Zimbabwe and had left me in charge. I told him that that morning we had loaded two artics of potatoes that I sold at £180/t and there were wheat wagons due in sold at better prices than I can get today, he said quite excitedly – “John just remember this day, it will probably never happen again” He was right, it has not!

Those lucrative years created a whole new problem, much that Dad was public spirited he hated paying Tax. That is when Otterburn Tower appeared on the horizon. With help from the accountant, a plan was put together to buy the hotel as a pension scheme, hence saving tax. And there was also the potential to build 5 houses in the grounds which has been done.

Otterburn Tower was a massive project. The building was very dilapidated and needed a total refurbishment. Dad did an incredible job managing the transformation; in just 6 months the Hotel was ready to open. It was done well and tastefully, it now had 19 luxury ensuite bedrooms. The original plan was to let the Hotel out to a tenant, Dads only real involvement would be collecting the rent. However, the plan did not work and after the tenant left Dad decided the best way forward was to become the manager himself. Managing a hotel does not involve that many farming skills but Dad did a really good job and clearly enjoyed his time being “Front of House”

The hotel was sold in 2011; it was very unfortunate for him that the sale had not happened a few years earlier when it probably would have sold for twice as much as it did. But selling was the right thing to do. Mum and Dad could enjoy a proper retirement. For a few months they did lots of mini breaks which they enjoyed but it was not long before Dad would be back at the farm every day looking for a job! It is fair to say he hated the concept of retirement.

Dad had always been a member of the NFU and believed in the concept of strength in numbers. He was proud to serve as Northumberland County Chairman from 1998 – 2000; he enjoyed giving interviews to the press or television. His timing for being chairman was impeccable, within weeks of his term ending foot and mouth broke out; poor Malcolm Corbett had to take that hospital pass and run with it.

In later years he chaired the Wild Redesdale group that dealt with grants and promoted tourism in the Valley.

Much that today is a terribly sad day it has to be said that it is amazing we have not been here years earlier. In 2002 he was working on a ladder in the ice, this slipped and he fell off breaking his hip, during hospital treatment he was unfortunate and contracted MRSA, this episode very nearly killed him.

In 2010 he was running the Gas powered grain drier at the farm and was struggling to get it lit so he climbed inside to look at the burners, at which point it did light! A fire ball chased him out of the drier; again several days in hospital were required.

In 2011 he was again having trouble lighting the drier, fortunately, he’d learnt the lesson from the previous year so went no were near the door just as well because the explosion that occurred this time was so severe it transformed the rectangular drier into a Rugby ball shape. We now have an oil fired grain drier!

In the past few years Dad has run a clay pigeon shooting business from Longwitton, our gamekeeper Alan was particularly good at coaching beginners so a good little business developed publicised by his website Northumberland Sporting Clays. He enjoyed meeting the customers, particularly the Hen parties… But this was not without incident, one day one of the clay traps was not working properly so he put his head in the container to have a look only for it to work again, hitting his head with the trap arm.

These major incidents have been inter-dispersed with Hypo events from his Diabetes, as Betty mentioned mum has saved him on many occasions.

So Dad has finally had one accident too many. I want everyone to know that in the last few months Dad was very happy, he was the boss again. The farm at Bonas Hill has some lovely old buildings that need converting into houses, Dad worked away on the planning to get changes made so that it will be three nice houses. Selling the sites is what I wanted but Dad rightly saw a profit in doing the conversions and was desperate to have a proper project to run again. The job had only been going for a couple of weeks but was progressing very well.

Dad would have hated to grow old and being ill; he would be the worst patient. It is far more apt that he has died at a good age being active and enjoying his work and life.

Mum, Susan and I would like to thank everyone for coming today. Hopefully, you’ll find attendance cards on your seats; it would be nice to have a record of who has been. We would particularly like a record of some of your memories or some of Dad’s sayings like:

“This field is too big to walk across – let’s run!”

Or from his hotel days:

“If your meal arrives on a cold plate you know it will be rubbish”

We have been touched and rather overwhelmed by all the kind messages we have received. Words that regularly appear include: Gentleman, integrity, charming, kind, thoughtful, cheeky, inspiring,

Thanks again for coming I hope you’ll be able to join us in the Tower after.”

Tribute by his sister, Elizabeth Bass

“John first appeared on the scene in 1944, and as Dad always kept a diary, the entry for that day reads:

 Fencing.  Agnes went to Stagshaw House Maternity Hospital, left Lynup at 4.15 a.m., John Goodfellow born 6.45 pm.  Allied invasion of Normandy began.

So that was a red-letter day for many reasons, and John was very interested a few years ago in visiting the D-Day museums in Normandy with us to see what was going on the day he was born.  I was nearly 6 then, and he was a big novelty.   He was a very pretty baby, and the next year he won the Bonniest Baby competition at Matfen Church fete.

I’m sure Dad was delighted to have a son – there is a long line of John Goodfellows going back several centuries, mainly around the South Tyne valley and Haltwhistle/Newcastle area.  So he was always going to be John Goodfellow.

After 18 months we were joined by Philip, and as the boys grew they became quite a force to be reckoned with.  Mam and Dad were always busy, and it often fell to me to look after them when I got home from school – not always a welcome task I must admit.  I often took them for a walk down the front field at Lynup onto Ingoe Crag, but that did involve a few adventures climbing over a ricketty stone wall.  They loved climbing over things – any things – and John came to grief one day when he fell off the high end of a hay bogie and broke his arm.  I, of course, got the blame for that, which seemed most unfair.  I also remember John getting ringworm, which was quite common in those days.  The doctor misdiagnosed it and treated it as impetigo with potassium permanganate, a bright purple ointment which caused little John agonising pain, and my poor mother would be in tears as she listened to his piercing screams while giving him this treatment.  The mistake eventually came to light and he was cured, but it must have left a searing impression on me for it never to be forgotten!

John would be the first to admit that he did not shine at Ingoe School.  In fact, it all seemed a bit of a waste of time when he could be much better occupied on the farm.  But at 11 he was sent to Brookfield School in Cumbria, following my footsteps, although by then I was in the Sixth form and had only a year to go.  However, he held his own, and soon found new interests, especially woodwork lessons, and playing rugby, and experiments with electricity and welding.  Even if academic work didn’t interest him, he veered to practical pursuits and soon showed ability with ideas and inventions, an ability which followed him to great advantage throughout his life.  From quite an early age I remember him poking about under tractors or into engines, and he became an excellent mechanic, largely self-taught.  (This saved him a fortune over the years!

As John and Philip worked their way through school, I went off to university and only saw them at holiday times.  I always enjoyed writing letters and wrote regularly to John at school.  He said recently that he loved getting these letters – I just wish he’d kept them so that I could remember what I got up to!

In 1959 when John was nearly 15, my Dad’s cousin Thomas Harrison emigrated to Australia after working at Lynup since he was a boy.  Dad was left without any help, so it was arranged that John would leave school that summer to work on the farm.  I think John rather wished he could have stayed on a bit longer to take some exams, but the farm came first and John was a strong young lad.  There’s an entry in Dad’s 1959 diary for 21st July: ‘John and Philip came home.  John left school, very fine strong boy.’ This arrangement carried on for a number of years as John reached adulthood, and soon he was spreading his wings.  He joined Stamfordham Young Farmers’ Club and had many an adventure, including the first of a few trips to Russia.  One I remember in particular:  they had arranged an exchange visit to a club in Devon, and decided to drive back overnight – a huge journey in those mainly pre-motorway days.  This was in about 1963, and by then Graham and I had our first house in Bristol, so we invited the 2 or 3 carloads of young farmers to break their long journey and have breakfast.  They arrived one Sunday morning, starving, and I could barely keep up with the demands for bacon, eggs, more bacon, sausages, more eggs – I was in a state of collapse by the time they left!

John bought his first wheels around this time, a little pickup which was his pride and joy.  I remember him driving full pelt down from Matfen Piers, and me hitting the roof when he shot over the little bridge near Matfen Hall.

His head was bursting with ideas.  He was a huge help to Dad with anything mechanical, as well as in sheer muscle power as Dad hit his 60s.  One idea was to develop Ingoe as a tourist resort:  Charbeggars Hill would make a fine ski slope, a caravan park could easily be fitted in, Ingoe Crag could be an adventure park ——-  or maybe setting up a mink farm would be better.  The fact that he didn’t actually own any of this property was immaterial.  When Kielder came along he was tempted by the caravan park idea, but by then other things were keeping him occupied.

John led a very full life, and along the way honed his skills in cattle and sheep judging, agriculture, and all the hundred and one aspects of being a successful farmer.  My husband Graham used to enjoy our holidays at Lynup, going off with John on a variety of jobs such as demolishing the old mine manager’s house at the Tongues to use the lead, or bringing in the hay – there was never a dull moment.  His social life kept pace.  Much of it involved his Young Farmer friends, but he was always open to offers of fun.  This was how he met Elizabeth, and before long they had a strong relationship.  One evening was especially memorable:  John was a member of the Dolce Vita night club in Newcastle, and John and Elizabeth invited Graham and me to go along.  The visiting star that night was the blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield, but she was a little past her best by then.  She had also given an earlier performance in Sunderland then been rushed to Newcastle, and her slinky black dress was creased and shabby – I thought it looked like blackout material.  Part of her act was to smooch the men on the front row, and this she did, but the local Geordies were not much impressed by her charms, and a bit of heckling went on.  We felt a bit sorry for her, especially when she died in an accident not very long afterwards.

 (By this stage I was fully occupied with my own family, so didn’t see much of John.  We usually visited Lynup several times a year, and the girls well remember coming downstairs in the early morning and seeing John having his breakfast, reading the paper and scowling at them – that soon sent them scuttling back to bed). 

John and Elizabeth were married in 1969 and moved to The Riding at Bellingham.  Dad followed his own instincts by giving John and Elizabeth a horse for their wedding present, never mind the fact that John had never had the slightest interest in horses!  The shepherd at the Riding eventually got on doing his rounds on him, so Roger lived quite a useful life at the Riding.  I remember our daughter Heather enjoying a chance to canter on him in those lovely surroundings.

Having now rented his own farm, John was able to run it his way, as he had grown increasingly impatient with Dad and his old-fashioned attitudes.  So The Riding became his base and a happy home when the family started to grow.

One exchange from a bit later sticks in my mind.  In 1975 we were offered the chance of a year’s teaching exchange in Australia, but there was one major worry – at the time, the cost of living was almost double that of the UK, with a poor exchange rate, so we worried about how we could manage, living there with our daughters who were 12 and 10.  John made a very kind offer – would we like to borrow some of his overdraft?  I was amused and touched – he was fully committed on the farm, but made this offer out of kindness, which fortunately we didn’t need to use.

John has always played a big part in my life, and I have always known that I could rely on him in so many ways.  He was fun, interesting, and interested in everything, especially in family matters, and loved to hear about what was going on in all our lives.  For a number of years, we have had a big family get-together when my family have rented a house and we’ve all gathered for a BBQ.  John and Philip have been generous in providing venues, and I remember one year when the wedding marquee at the Tower came in very handy during a cloudburst!  Even though we didn’t see him for months on end, we could always rely on John being cheerful and kind whenever we needed it.

I must say one more thing.  This sad occasion could have taken place many years ago, and would certainly have done were it not for one person, Elizabeth.  John contracted diabetes in his late 30s, and wasn’t the best at looking after himself – he had many a hypo when he’d neglected himself, especially at night, when Elizabeth would realise he was unconscious and managed (sometimes with the ambulance on the other end of the phone) to bring him around.   She saved his life on many occasions, and our hearts go out to her as she faces life without him.

He leaves a massive gap in ALL our lives.”