Suffolk Sheep breeder and 'true gentleman' dies

Bill James, left, of Winston Hall, and Vic Green with a Suffolk Sheep

From left, Bill James of and shepherd the late Vic Green with a prize-winning sheep in the 1970s - Credit: East Anglian Daily Times

An "old school" farmer who spent a lifetime breeding Suffolk Sheep has died at the age of 85.

Born in 1935, William (Bill) James established the Ashbocking flock in his own right in 1957 with the purchase of sheep from his uncle John Long. 

The farmer, of Winston Hall, Winston, near Debenham, spent many years involved in the Suffolk Sheep Society, serving as treasurer and chairman of the Eastern Area Branch. He also represented the region on the body's national council between 1962 and 1997.

He was made an honorary life member of the society in recognition of his years of dedication.

He was also an active member of the community, serving on the parish council and also the parochial church council for many decades until his death. He was church warden for many years and was also master of Easton Harriers.

A few years ago, around 70 of Winston's 126 residents were in attendance as he unveiled Winston's first ever village sign. He was a past parish council chairman, and the sign depicted the village's thriving agricultural and industrial past, including images of St Andrews Church and Winston's brick making and sheep breeding industry, with grapes representing its old vineyard.

His widow, Margaret, said as well as being active in the village, he also enjoyed bike riding, cycling 50 or 60 miles for charity events. He touched many lives, she added.

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"I have received so many letters and cards from people and I think every single one has put in what an absolute true gentleman he was. He seems to have touched so many people in so many ways - he was a very kind, generous, helpful person," she said.

Margaret and Bill James of Winston Hall riding with the Easton Harriers

Margaret and Bill James ready to ride out with the Easton Harriers around the late 1980s - Credit: James family

Fellow sheep breeder Chris Partridge, of Kersey Suffolk Sheep near Hadleigh described Mr James as a  “one breed man”.

"Bill always liked to attend the National sale and often bought a ram - whether he needed one or not," he said.

He  was a keen supporter of local shows and as well as judging Suffolks would often judge Norfolk Horn sheep and interbreed classes.

"Bill’s wisdom and company was enjoyed by other members of the East Anglian Suffolk Club and we were all delighted when he won the club’s annual carcase competition in 2011. Despite recent failing health, the Ashbocking flock was registered in the 2020 flock book," he said.

"I will remember Bill as one of the real Suffolk characters who would gather around the President's Ring on the first day of the Suffolk Show to  meet and chat to friends old and new and watch the judging of the Suffolk Sheep classes.

"Being an old school Suffolk breeder he did not always approve of the modern trends for head and bone which some judges liked, rather he preferred the traditional type of Suffolk with good wool and flesh  -  the type of sheep he chose to breed. 

"Bill always had time for anyone who was interested in the breed and was happy to pass on his experience. Usually at the Suffolk Show high profile judges are brought in from far away but on one occasion when the scheduled judge called off at short notice because of illness it was Bill who was asked to stand in, an honour not often bestowed upon local breeders." 

He leaves a widow, Margaret, daughter, Jennifer, stepchildren Mary and James and five grandchildren.

Bill James' funeral takes place on Monday, March 1, at St Andrew's Church, Winston. Because of lockdown restrictions it will be strictly for invited guests only.

BIll James of Winston Hall, who has died at the age of 85

Bill James at a 2011 event where he won a champion carcase prize - Credit: Chris Partridge