Lancaster nostalgia: Thornbush Farm

In a collection of farming memories Wray historian DAVID KENYON takes us on a journey through the Roeburndale West Valley to Back Farm. This week he looks at Thornbush Farm.

Saturday, 10th September 2016, 2:00 pm
Updated Monday, 12th September 2016, 3:43 pm
Haymaking, High Meadow, Thornbush Farm, Roeburndale, and (inset) circa 1947, from left: Maurice Preece (father), Arthur Hargreaves (visiting helper), Lawrence Preece (son). Arthur Hargreaves demanded a prompt start after tea break and lunch stating: Theres a lot of work to be done so lets get on with it. However, after the evening meal he was exhausted and had to take to his bed, being near a state of collapse. The following morning, the weather being inclement, he decided to return home and was never seen again in the hay field.

In the 1890s three young men from the county of Shropshire came to the Lancaster hiring fair looking for work. One lad, called Charles Preece, was hired by Francis Skirrow of Lower Salter Farm.

On the journey to Roeburndale in the horse and trap, with icicles blowing down from the trees of Cold Park Wood, young Charles began to wish he had stayed in Shropshire.

However, Charles stayed in Roeburndale and by 1911 had taken a farm of his own, Gayclops, near Clapham Station. In 1914-15 he moved back to Roeburndale, taking the tenancy of Thornbush Farm from the Hornby Castle Estate, the previous tenant being Thomas Robertshaw.

In 1931 when Charles retired his sonMaurice and wife Nellie took over the running of the farm. The couple had four children – Lawrence, Dorothy, George and Tom.

I remember Maurice well. He was a kindly sort and would always stop to give us children a lift in his Austin motorcar when going up the Wray Moor Road. You stood on the running board holding on by putting your hand through the open car window.

Maurice represented Roeburndale on the Lunesdale Rural District Council for a number of years, while Nellie was the Roeburndale correspondent for the Lancaster Guardian. She had quite a wonderful way with words when describing the beauty of the dale.

The farm always had domestic help for Mrs Preece, who did not always enjoy good health. The girls who worked for the Preeces found the farm a good place to work and often remained friends for life.

The farm purchased its first tractor in 1950, a second-hand David Brown costing £181. The last farm horse was retired in 1952.

The farm started selling milk in 1945 using the British Friesian breed of cow. Things were getting better in many ways with electricity and telephones coming to the dale in the 1950s.

A new modern shippon and dairy was built in 1961. These were good times for the Roeburndale farmers with a regular income and guaranteed price for their milk.

When Maurice and Nellie retired in 1964 the farm passed to their son George and his wife Margaret. In 1989 George purchased the farm from the landlord, Mr R L Jepson, who was a mill owner from Blackburn. This gentleman had seven children and had bought each one a farm.

In 1963 George gave up selling milk, concentrating on beef cattle and the flock of Dalesbred sheep.

In 1982-83 the farm grew seed potatoes. This was probably the first ploughing in the dale since the Second World War.

The farm is now run by George and Margaret’s son Richard and his wife Hazel, the fourth generation of the Preece family to work Thornbush Farm.

Where the land to the farm joins the Hornby Road stands the large, disused concrete milk stand, where all the dale farmers who sold milk left their kits for collection by milk lorry.

Now no milk is sold from this side of the dale. The milk stands only use now is somewhere to put scarecrows during Wray Scarecrow Festival in April and May.