‘True country gentleman’ notches up 60 years working for the same family estate
At the grand age of 76, Ron Backhouse is still busy working for the same farm estate he joined an incredible 60 years ago.
Ron – who left school at the age of 15 to join the team at the Broxtead Estate near Woodbridge – now works in the estate gardens, but he’s also been a farm labourer, a shepherd, and a storeman. He started out in July 1959 as a young teen, working with the estate horses.
Ten years ago, Ron received a Long Service Award at the Suffolk Show after completing 50 years on the estate. By chance, it was awarded by then president George Paul, a member of the Paul family which owns the estate.
MORE – Suffolk Show cancelled ‘with great sadness’ due to coronavirusThis year – had the Suffolk Show not been cancelled due to the coronavirus crisis – he was due to go one better with a 60 year award.
He still loves his work, although he acknowledges it’s approaching time to hang up his trowel and enjoy a well earned rest.
He has been with the Broxtead Estate since 1959, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. Now one of his two sons, Stuart, and two grandsons also work there, taking the Backhouse family to five generations working on estate.
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Current farm manager AJ Paul described Ron as “gentle and kind” and “a true country gentleman” who never raised his voice at anyone else on the farm.
“I have known and worked with Ron for over 25 years. I don’t recall him ever turning up for work late,” he said.
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He recalled his “attention to detail and a pride in whatever he was doing” during his many years on the farm.
“He could level a 500 tonne store of onions by eye as if he had used a spirit level. He could shovel grain for hours on end, long after much younger members of staff had to stop for a breather,” he said.
“He was incredibly fit and strong well into and beyond his 60s. If rain was forecast, off his own back, he would be out late into the evening digging culverts to prevent the sand tracks from washing out.”
He also took a keen interest in the plentiful wildlife and habitats on the estate, said AJ.
Ron grew up on the estate and has spent his life there, following in the footsteps of his father, Alfred, and grandfather, Jessie, who both worked there.
When he joined in the 1950s, there was a workforce of 40 and around 10 tractors, three combines, three binders, and a thrashing tackle. But farm practice had already changed dramatically, and there just three Suffolk Punches – previously an important part of the farm – left and these were there to pull the game cart.
After a stint working as a shepherd, Ron moved to the farm stores, ensuring that important estate crops such as wheat, onions and potatoes were kept in best condition.
He has also been an integral part of the estate shoot, and, until her death about five years ago, enjoyed working his blonde labrador Penny.
Latterly, Ron has turned his talents to maintaining the grounds of Broxtead House – and has won national awards for his dahlias. AJ estimates Ron has worked for 730 months on the estate – or 22,000 days.
“He has always been such an asset to the estate, flexible, conscientious, reliable. A quiet unassuming man, a wonderful employee. A father, husband, grandfather, and a friend,” he said.
“Ron’s son Stuart and his grandsons Gus and Warren are now very much part of the workforce on the farm, thereby carrying on this wonderful heritage.”
Ron – who recalled being taken on by then estate manager Percy Ball when he was just 15 years old – beat his father’s total of 33 years working on the estate many years ago. Stuart, his son, has already completed 30 years. He has another son, Alan, who works in Debenham, and five grandchildren in total.
“The Pauls they are a good family. I just think I was lucky to ask for a job and get it,” he said.
His hip is “going a bit now” so he doesn’t go to every Suffolk Show, but Stuart does, he said. Its cancellation was “a great disappointment”, particularly for those involved in planning for it all year, he said.