Cotswold Character: Joe Henson

PUBLISHED: 16:21 22 March 2012 | UPDATED: 21:13 20 February 2013

Cotswold Character: Joe Henson

Cotswold Character: Joe Henson

Joe Henson is a founder member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, set up the Cotswold Farm Park and, of course, is father to Adam. Katie Jarvis finds out more about his Cotswold life

Joe Henson is a founder member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, set up the Cotswold Farm Park and, of course, is father to Adam. Katie Jarvis finds out more about his Cotswold life. Photography by Chris Fairweather

Joe Henson has spent half a century breeding rare farm animals and the greatest accolade anyone could pay to his lifes work is to sit down and eat it. People dont understand the fact that the more you eat rare breeds, the more there will be, he says.

A founder member of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, Joe opened the Cotswold Farm Park at Guiting Power in 1971, which has become a showcase for at-risk breeds, and is now one of the regions major tourist attractions.

Joe and his wife Gill have four children: Adam, a TV presenter, who now runs the Cotswold Farm Park and its associated farm; and daughters Rebecca, Louise, and Libby, also a rare-breed expert with her own specialist IT business.

Joe was awarded an MBE in last years Queens Birthday Honours for services to conservation.

Where do you live and why?

We live in Bourton-on-the-Water because its both near to the farm and it has all the facilities Gill and I need. Some people avoid Bourton because of all the tourists But who am I to complain about tourists! I was walking through very early the other morning when a big crowd of Japanese girls came past; I bowed and said, Konnichiwa and they all chased me. I had to run into a shop to get away! When Gill and I ran the farm park, we were advised by a tourism specialist to print our leaflets in languages other than English. I asked, If we could only afford to do one, which would you choose? and the lady replied, Oh, Japanese! She was the person who taught me to say Hello Konnichiwa. At least, I think thats what it means; one day a kind Japanese person will tell me!

How long have you lived inthe Cotswolds?

For 60 years: I came to Cirencester agricultural college when I was 19. I grew up in London, where my dad, Leslie, was an actor; we had to live within easy reach of the West End. I had a model farm that I loved, and I used to spend my Saturday sixpence on a lead animal for it each week. We then moved to Northwood, at the end of the tube line, which was very rural, and my mum would walk me to a little farm up the road, where everything except the ploughing was done by horses. The herd of cows was hand-milked; the milk was bottled and delivered by pony and float; the chickens were all free range, and one of my jobs was to go round with a basket looking for eggs to take back to the farmer. That was the life for me. Because Dad was away in the war, entertaining the troops all over the world, my Grampy Bill got me a pair of rabbits to teach me about the facts of life! We were soon outnumbered so mum and I would swap oven-ready rabbit for eggs and vegetables; you can imagine that we didnt live badly.

Whats your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?

Having friends to lunch. My wife is a very good cook and she loves to entertain.

If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?

I wouldnt move. I need to be within walking distance of the post office and the one in Bourton is still going strong; its heartbreaking the way so many others are closing. But if money were no object, then Id probably have ended up paying for that very expensive Highland bull that Adam bought in Scotland (as seen in a recent Countryfile episode). We agreed a price before he left, and he doubled it. I said to him, If youd sent me out to buy that bull and Id done that, youd have given me hell! But Adam was absolutely right; for a Highland, that bull has got amazing conformation.

Where are you least likely to livein the Cotswolds?

Even though I was born in London, Im a country boy so I wouldnt want to live in Gloucester, for instance. Cheltenham is nice for a shopping trip, lunch or the theatre: I love good acting. When I was a boy, I had a very bad stammer, so there was never any question of me being an actor. I cured myself by discovering that girls dont go out with boys who stammer!

Wheres the best pub in the area?

Im not really a pub person but Gill and I do go out for a pub lunch sometimes. We like the Fox at Broadwell and the Barn Owl at the Dormy House (Broadway).

Have you a favourite tearoom?

If Im up at the farm park, I pop up for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Do I have to pay? Certainly not!

What would you do for aspecial occasion?

Were having a special occasion this year because its our 55th wedding anniversary and I will be 80. Were going to have the whole family and some very close friends over in a marquee in the garden. The last wonderful occasion was when I received my MBE: I was so delighted it was the Princess Royal who gave it to me; she breeds rare breeds so we have something in common.

Whats the best thing aboutthe Cotswolds?

The people. Weve got so many good friends who would do anything for us if we needed help, and thats what life is all about.

and the worst?

Bovine TB. The two sides of the argument have got to come together and work out a scheme that will stop this terrible disease. On one particular occasion, we lost seven cows in calf, two stock bulls, and one of a pair of oxen Adam had been training to pull. It was my lifes work going down the drain. From the wider point of view, badgers die a terrible, painful, appalling death from TB. Im a lover of wildlife; its been my hobby all my life, and it really upsets me to think of badgers and how they suffer.

Which shop could you notlive without?

The post office. I go there every morning for my paper and I buy cards there for all the family birthdays we have now that there are seven grandchildren. Post offices should be subsidised; theyre not only useful but theyre places where older people can meet and have a chat. Theyre social centres.

Whats the most underrated thing about the Cotswolds?

Farmers who look after the countryside, the farm animals and the wildlife. Theyre underrated because people dont really see what theyre doing.

What would be a three-course Cotswold meal?

Gill does a wonderful roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. My fathers greatest friend was Stanley Holloway a lovely man who was famous for reciting poems; he described the best Yorkshire puddings as like fluff from the breast of a dove! Wed get the beef from Lambournes in Stow, the butcher who processes Adams meat. I like all the breeds but I have to say I particularly enjoy Belted Galloway. I cant have a starter because I always have second helpings of beef, but I would enjoy crme caramel for pudding.

Whats your favourite view inthe Cotswolds?

We have a water tower at the top of the farm and I always used to take the children up there for the view, which is just amazing. To the east, you can see the tower of Stow church; to the west, you look across to Guiting Wood; and to the south, on a clear day, you can see the Marlborough Downs. Louise works for a charity called the Forest Peoples Programme, championing the rights of indigenous people all over the world. She has been to all sorts of amazing places but she once said to me, Sometimes, dad, when Im on the top of a mountain, looking at what Im told is the most beautiful view in the world, I think: I wish I was on top of the water tower.

Name three basic elements ofthe Cotswolds




People dont understand that the breeds of grazing animals affect the land, which is why, in the old days before they cottoned on to it, a lot of nature reserves went wrong; they would fence them off and keep the animals out, without realising those animals were vital. Nowadays many nature reserves are using rare breeds because they eat the sorts of things that modern hybrids wont.

Whats your favouriteCotswolds building and why?

Chastleton House (near Moreton-in-Marsh) because that really typifies an old Cotswold dwelling. The National Trust, which owns it, hasnt done it up but kept it as it was, which is a good thing. One of my very good friends, Dr Juliet Clutton-Brock, was brought up there. Her husband was Professor Peter Jewell, one of the people who set up the Rare Breeds Survival Trust with me.

What would you neverdo in the Cotswolds?

Burn straw. I used to, for my sins, because in those days there wasnt the market for the straw that there is now; it was the best way of clearing the stubble of all the weed seeds and other rubbish. It was wrong; it was dangerous; it was against nature. In places like Australia and Florida, the plants and animals are used to big burns, but in this country they arent and Im sure we did damage.

Starter homes or executive properties?

There has always been a mix of working people and wealth, and there always should be: in the old days, it was the farm-workers cottages alongside the big houses, which employed a lot of staff. Nowadays, fewer people are employed on farms and the cottages they once lived in are highly sought-after. The answer is that we have got to look to ways of building inexpensive dwellings and that is actually happening at Bourton. There is one big estate of smaller houses being done very nicely, which proves it is possible.

What are the four cornersof the Cotswolds?

Lechlade; Bath; Broadway; Burford.

If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?

A lock of Cotswold wool because I would like to be buried with it. Traditionally, shepherds were always buried with Cotswold wool so that, when they met St Peter at the Gate, he would know that they were shepherds, which is why they couldnt get to church on Sundays.

Whats the first piece of advice youd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?

Meet as many local people as you can; join groups and associations. There are some lovely people around here and everyone needs good friends.

And which book should they read?

One of June Lewiss history books. Ive got one with lovely old pictures of Lechlade, and its great fun to go there now and see how much it has changed. A lot is very much the same.

Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?

My pleasure at night, after Id closed the farm park, was walking round my animals, making sure they were all settled. I always had particular favourites. Gill bottle-fed an Exmoor foal called May, who would always come up to me for a scratch.

Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?

Moreton Show, of which I was honoured to be made president one year. Its kept the rural life at its heart and a lot is done by volunteers, who work their socks off on the day.

If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

Id love to be in class with my grandchildren who are still at school Alfie and Ella, Adams two. Im sure theyd be better behaved than I was.

To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?

To William Garne the Elder. He kept the Cotswold breed going when they no longer fitted the commercial world: everybody wanted small joints, so breeds like the Southdown came in and replaced them; and the particular kind of wool they produced didnt suit the factories up in the north. If it wasnt for him, there wouldnt be a Cotswold breed today.

With whom would you most like to have a cider?

William Shakespeare. I would ask him, in the strictest confidence, whether he really wrote those plays. Personally? I think he did.

The Cotswold Farm Park, near Guiting Power GL54 5UG; Tel: 01451 850307 reopens on March 17;

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