Changing face of the countryside

How often do you hear the phrase, ‘It’s in his blood’?Well, having spent some time with Henry Holden you could well believe the fact that he has farming and livestock running through his arteries and veins, instead of some less important red sticky goo that the rest of us seem to use.

The ‘Holden’ family moved to the Island in 1886 to manage the then nunnery owned farm, Little Whitcombe, just outside Carisbrooke.

His great grandfather on his mothers side was a slaughter-man for the Duchy of Cornwall in Dorchester. When Henry’s grandfather moved to the Island and married a local girl he too became a slaughter-man and butcher running a butchers shop in Pyle Street, Newport, with the slaughter house in Scarrots Lane.

Born and raised on the Isle of Wight, Henry has spent all of his life working in the countryside. During the war years Henry remembers his father ploughing fields with horses. A pair of horses would only plough an acre a day before becoming too tired and having to rest so that they could be worked the following day. Having started one particularly large field with horses, they went off and bought a Fordson Tractor to speed up the job. This was also used at harvest time when thrashing the corn.

Henry started hand milking cows at the tender age of seven and after leaving school at 14, his first job was as dairyman at Newclose Farm, Thorley. He went to Sparshot College for twelve months to learn more about agriculture returning to work back at Palmers Brook, the family farm until it was sold after his grandfather’s death in the sixties.

He then started work at ‘Bennet and Hamilton Butchers’ learning the profession through hard work and dedication, becoming a licensed slaughter-man. After buying part of Sibbicks Farm and as a farmer in his own right he bred Tamworth and Gloucester Old Spot pigs, Dexter cows and many breeds of sheep.

As the slaughtering work got busier he sold the farm to focus on this side of the business.

Now with rising costs and government regulation this means that the island does not have it’s own slaughter house. This is a great shame for all the livestock that has to make the return trip to the mainland just so as we can have locally grown meat in our independent butchers.

Henry is still just as enthusiastic about working in the countryside. He now spends his time looking after his own rare-breed flock of Dorset Horns. He is also a relief worker at Branstone Educational Farm, feeding pigs and milking cows as well as being on virtual 24 hour call out to assist in the putting down of fallen livestock for many farmers, small holders and animal owners.

The countryside is changing and with it we risk losing the expertise and understanding that people like Henry have to offer. We think that we have gone through radical change over the last few years because of the ‘computer age’ but all it has done is make us lazier. Sometimes we need to stop and take stock of how we got here and which direction we should be taking to leave the countryside as we found it. It’s not too late, but it soon will be.

Henry has many fascinating stories about farming life on the Island, if you get a chance to listen to just some of them you can count yourself very lucky. He also drives a Landrover, so he must be a good bloke…