The major challenge that faced my father was how to set about restoring the fertility of the acres of land he had bought, bearing in mind that much of it was poor, thin,chalk soil, geologically typical of that part of Hampshire. The traditional farming solution would have been to graze the land with sheep, but the story goes that my uncle Stan (my mother’s brother) was in conversation with my father and simply said “what about pigs Reg?”. The die was cast.
At that time the Danish Bacon Corporation had a near monopoly of the market for pork and bacon for the whole of the UK. My father's vision was that this monopoly should be challenged. In 1936 he would have been the first to admit that he hardly knew the first thing about pigs, but using his proven entrepreneurial skills,immense drive and huge enthusiasm, the next five years witnessed incredible growth. In 1938 the Warnford herd of pedigree pigs (Wessex Saddleback and Large White Cross) numbered 8,000. In the following three years 33,000 pigs were produced with 20 tons of bacon (live weight) being delivered to the bacon factory at Eastleigh every week. Nor was it simply a case of mass production, for at the Royal Show of Great Britain at Cardiff in 1938, Warnford pigs collected the Supreme Champion of All Breeds, Supreme Male and Supreme Female Champion. In 1939 my father was elected president of the NPBA (National Pig Breeders Association).
The Warnford herd was the biggest in the UK, possibly even in Europe. Then came the outbreak of the 1939-1945 war and disaster struck. German U-boats were taking a terrible toll of the UK merchant shipping in the North Atlantic and as one shipload of pork and bacon was the equivalent of no less than five merchant shiploads of cereals, it became impossible to obtain the feed on which the pigs had been fed. Nothing daunted, my father managed to obtain 200 tonnes a week of kitchen waste from Portsmouth. This was boiled in large tank sat Beacon Hill Farm and fed to the pigs in lieu. However, the end came when it proved impossible to obtain the fuel to power the lorries which were bringing the swill to Warnford. Seven thousand pigs had to be slaughtered in a month. Worst of all, the litters which the sows were having on their way to the factory had to be sent back because they were not on the indent!
The picture above is of J. Baxter, Warnford's Show Herdsman in front of his trophy wall!
It came as no surprise that after the war ended my father did not have the heart to resurrect this amazing enterprise. However, there were two very different payoffs from the few years of pig farming. Firstly, so prominent were the buildings that had housed the pigs (2 for farrowing, 3 weaner houses, 5 fattening houses plus ancillaries) that the RAF came to refer to the site as “The Buckingham Palace for Pigs”and used it as a navigational landmark. Secondly, the original objective of restoring fertility to the land was achieved because as the farm's policy was switched from pig breeding to arable cultivation, wheat, barley, oats,potatoes and sugar beet the yields were such as had never been before. An interesting postscript was that at one point the early 1940’s, Warnford was one of only two farms in Hampshire supplying Portsmouth with potatoes. The picture below shows my father with his Bailiff Charles Lock in a field of Warnford wheat in the summer of 1941.
And this is a picture of my father's medal haul from The National Pigbreeders Association regional shows in 1938.
The dramatic growth of the farming venture had a considerable impact in other ways,notably in employment where the number employed rose from a mere handful to over 50,most of whom were housed on the estate. Ten new cottages were built at record speed and a programme of modernisation of the original housing stock (including bringing bathrooms indoors) was embarked upon. Finally, the water supply was modernised by the sinking of a borehole in the centre of the village, the construction of three reservoirs, and the piping of fresh water to all estate properties — a major advance from individual wells and water from the river Meon. In the space of just five years Warnford was transformed from being a rather nondescript hamlet, in which little happened of note from one year to the next, to a thriving village community based upon agriculture.
Here is a picture to finish of Brandon David 7th, the scion of his prize-winning father Brandon David 6th!