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29 October 2014

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Lackham House, Wiltshire
Lackham House

Wiltshire College Lackham celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2006.

By Jill Misson
Cranking back the clock to 1946, how has life changed down on the farm?

In 1950, the BBC's Home Service broadcast five pilot episodes of a new, experimental drama series: The Archers. Well country life ambles on in Ambridge but another agricultural institution is also still going strong.

Four years previously in 1946, the school now called Wiltshire College Lackham opened its doors to its first pupils, 25 in total and all lived in and mucked in!  

Nowadays there is a wider range of full and part-time courses on offer to over 1200 students. But a 400 acre farm remains along with gardens, orchards, a museum of rural life and of course the original manor house built between 1793 and 1796.

Judith Burrage
Judith Burrage

As part of Timeline Wiltshire, I went to Lackham to enjoy a guided tour and walk down memory lane with Judith Burrage whose father was Principal from 1948 and Peter Morris who was Principal from 1978.

We started in a striking oak-panelled room with an ornate ceiling and views across the green fields of the estate.

"This was my father’s office, "Judith tells me. "It was quite a long walk from the door to my father’s desk. One or two people found it quite frightening. He was quite strict on discipline and if someone didn’t turn up for milking at 4 o’clock in the morning when they should have done, they knew about it!"

Peter Morris likes to think students weren’t quivering with fear when he took up the hotseat in the Principals’ Office. "I always used to like slipping out this door at the back to watch the rugby and the cricket without anyone knowing where you were," he recalls.

Peter Morris
Peter Morris

We stepped outside into the sunshine and looked back at the impressive immaculate façade of the grand house. With pink roses and green leaves encircling the pillars, it would be at home in a romantic period drama on the silver screen.

No wonder then that someone had the bright idea of securing a licence for civil wedding ceremonies which along with conferences are now a modern money-spinner for the estate.

But what was this far from humble house like back in its heyday? Both Judith and Peter count themselves as fortunate to have known old retainers from when it had been a private house before 1945 when Wiltshire County Council took it over.

Peter has fond memories of an old man called Percy. "He was the foreman of the glasshouses in the walled garden and when it came to summer parties he was instructed to go down to the cellars and squeeze strawberries into buckets full of muslin then put a few cushions around the rhododendron bushes."

Tractor at Lackham College
Old machinery is housed in the museum

Farming has changed dramatically over the years and the Museum of Agriculture and Rural Life on the estate bears witness with various contraptions that have come and gone.

Judith grew up at Lackham and as a young girl remembers only three tractors on site. "The students weren’t allowed cars when I lived here, they rode around on pushbikes and I had a pony."

"Anything that was new in the industry was offered to the college and my father would accept it with alacrity because it was all teaching the students about the latest developments."

So what would her late father make of Wiltshire College Lackham in 2006?

"There were certain people who thought this was a big white elephant and an utter waste of money training people to be efficient farmers when they could learn from their fathers as they had always done."

"I am sure he would be really delighted. All the early struggles he had to keep this college going have paid off."

Visitors on board lorry at Lackham Farm
Visitors tour farm on lorry at Open Day

Peter feels its more important now than ever for people to embrace the countryside and understand climate change and the environment.

"I think in farmers’ minds and landowners’ minds, we are custodians. We are only here for a short time but we must make sure that what we pass on to our successors is in better shape than what we inherited."

last updated: 24/07/06
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