After the sudden and untimely death of her farmer husband, Charles, in 2009 Belinda Nash was left with some hard choices.

With three young children to raise and the loss of her much-loved spouse, she could have chosen to close Sutton Hoo Chicken - the much-admired business which they created together. 

But she decided to carry on and honour his memory by pursuing their shared dream. It was a brave decision with her young children ranging in age from Annabelle, 10, to son Christopher, 14, and daughter Josie 16.

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"I wanted to keep the stability of the house and keep income coming in - but it was more than that. Charles was so passionate about Sutton Hoo Chicken," she explains. "It was part of our life."

So, a day after Charles died - aged just 48 - of what turned out to be an enlarged heart condition, a grieving Belinda stepped back into the office on the Monday morning to sort out the chickens.

By the time of Charles' death, the couple's slow maturing chicken enterprise - based on free-draining sandy soils close to the ancient Sutton Hoo burial site - had really begun to take off.

They were making inroads by getting into top restaurants and butchers - and events such as the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival was introducing the brand to a new and appreciative public.

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In 2008, the then Prince of Wales - now King Charles - and wife Camilla stopped by at the couple's stall at Snape Maltings' farmers' market. It was a "wonderful" high point, Belinda recalls.

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Today, the business continues to attract top chefs, butchers and high-profile fans with its gentler approach to livestock rearing. It is run by Charles' godson Will Waterer, now its managing director, along with Belinda and daughter Josie who heads up sales and marketing.

Belinda - now approaching 60 - still lives on Kennel Farm, then part of a 360-acre farm at Hasketon, near Woodbridge, where Charles was born and raised.  He trained as an agronomist and they married in 1989.

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It was at the family farm in 1994 that she and her late husband started the business - originally called Kennel Farm Chicken - on a site rented from his mother. They later moved it to more suitable land at Sutton Hoo and rebranded it to reflect its new geography.

Much of the farm area at Hasketon was sold following the death of Charles' mother just three months before his own untimely death, but Belinda retained her family home and some land. The home holds many cherished memories as the starting place for the business.

Belinda - who is from South Africa - met her future husband while he was working on her family's farm during his gap year.

They fell in love and - after he was inspired by the taste of her mother's chicken - hatched a plan to create a new type of chicken business in England which prioritised quality and welfare over economy.

This followed a career in the City which he left behind to focus on his farming ambitions. Belinda admits she was "much happier" when he decided to return to his roots and set up the farm business.

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"It was his real passion and dream and we decided to carry it on with the help of Will's father actually who gave me advice and encouragement. 

"It's still been very much a Nash family-run business and we are very excited to be moving forward to the next chapter with Will - he's a shareholder and a director."

When the Nashes started out, chicken in England was a mass-produced commodity which had plummeted in price - and quality.

The pair - using a much slower-maturing hen breed imported from France - decided it was about time to turn that model on its head and focus on rearing hens as naturally as possible and in the best of conditions.

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Their chickens were bigger, took much longer to mature and were genuinely free-ranging. Charles had to build his own specially designed portable sheds for them to shelter in as there was nothing available on the market which resembled what they were seeking.

By moving the sheds from plot to plot the birds have fresh grass to graze for insects and a naturally "clean" start.

The original green sheds are still in evidence - but have since been replaced by high quality modern equivalents and the field is surrounded by an electrified fence to prevent foxes from getting in. It means the chickens are free to roam night or day so aren't cooped up.

About 15 to 20 years ago, Sutton Hoo Chickens were retailing for about three times as much as the bog-standard bird at around £9 compared to £3.

But they were bigger - capable of producing up to three family meals - and they were more flavoursome.

Today, they cost about £20 to £25 compared to about £5 for a standard chicken. But then, as Will points out, average chickens weigh in at about 1.5p to 2kg compared to 2g to 2.5kg for a Sutton Hoo bird - so per kg they are still around two or three times the price.

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As Charles and Belinda set up their stalls at farmers' markets it could be disheartening to hear negative comments about their price point but they stuck to their guns.

They believed there were customers out there seeking something better and they were determined to be the ones to fill that gap in the market.

They wanted to see the same focus on quality chicken that could be found in France - and some high-profile chefs began to see things from their point of view.

The Nashes and Will remain unashamed of the higher price point for their welfare-focused birds, arguing that they are reared to a much higher standard. 

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Will, a Cirencester graduate, is from a Suffolk farming background. His dad, Hugh Waterer, is a pig farmer at Iken, near Woodbridge, and his mother, Shauna Waterer, is a cattle farmer at Bramfield, near Halesworth.

Belinda's daughter Josie - now aged 31 and with a three-year-old daughter, Ophelia - has joined the business, and Annabelle, now 25, who studied agri-economics at Reading, is currently working elsewhere but hopes to come into the fold too.

Son Chris is 30 and pursuing his own interests but "very keen" on the business, says Belinda.

Today, Sutton Hoo Chicken - which employs a team of eight - produces about 2,500 birds a week on its 40-acre rented site. 

They are kept for 10 to 12 weeks as opposed to five or so weeks for conventional broiler chickens.

The farm produces in a year what an average indoor chicken farm might produce in five weeks, Josie points out.

The birds are fed with specialist feed made from conventionally-farmed crops and therefore don't conform to organic status, but in every other respect the regime is similar.

After Charles died, Belinda decided she must simplify operations and packing and wrapping was outsourced. Today the birds are processed at Diaper Poultry in Haughley. 

From 2004 to 2014 the business grew by 20%. In the past 10 years up to 2024 it has expanded by 220%.

Among its customers are Wimbledon - which the company has supplied for about 10 years - Parson's Nose at Selfridges in London, fine dining London restaurant Core by Clare Smyth and Jamie Oliver's new restaurant in Catherine Street, Covent Garden. It also supplies local Waitrose shops as well as local butcher's and farm shops.

Will says attitudes to food have changed radically in the past five or six years which has helped the business.

In the future, they would like to expand the brand's reach further west, he says, but adds: "Just keeping up with the demand has been the plan to date."

Josie agrees there has been a big shift with consumers being willing to spend more on higher welfare chicken in the last 10 years.

"High end chicken has risen massively over the past couple of decades and we have recently seen new free range chicken farms established which highlights there is still a growing demand," she says.

As well as selling into catering sector, Sutton Hoo Chicken is stocked by a number of butchers and farm shops.

These stockists have grown hugely from the single one in 1994 to 40 in 2004, 80 in 2014 and now up to 180 in 2014.

Belinda is keen for the next generation to continue to pursue the dreams which inspired the business in the first place. She admits the attachment to the business is "very, very emotional for all of us".

"We are very excited about the future and the plan is to be full of inspiration and grow the business to another level so both the daughters can come in - and Will."

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