15 Apr 2020
Henry Fell died peacefully at home in Thorganby, North Yorkshire on 9 April 2020 at the age of 90. He was born in 1929, the son of an engineer, albeit from a rural background in Yorkshire.
His father served with distinction in the First World War and then spent most of the rest of his life with Rolls Royce, living on the edge of Derby when war broke out again. With no family holidays for five years, the young Henry started helping out on the neighbouring farm, and from there his love of agriculture developed.
At the age of 16 he was in the first intake of students to the Royal Agricultural College, the youngest by far, sharing lectures with ex-servicemen, and leaving in 1947 having been awarded the Haygarth Medal. Inspired and mentored by Professor Bobby Boutflour, he held farm management posts in Somerset and Lincolnshire before being recalled by Boutflour in 1955 to be appointed Farms Director and Lecturer. There he certainly improved the College’s reputation for setting high standards in commercial farming, until he moved on in 1959 to take on the tenancy, in partnership with two other Lincolnshire farmers, of 1,800 acres of heavy, low lying land at Worlaby, south of the River Humber.
He drained the entire farm and established a sheep enterprise in order to improve the farm’s arable cropping potential. When he saw housed sheep in France, he realised that in-wintering was the key to higher stocking rates on his own heavy land, and so pioneered winter housing for ewes in Britain. His book “Intensive Sheep Management” published in 1979 became the authoritative work for progressive sheep farmers nationwide and beyond. When he could not obtain rams of the quality he wanted with any performance information, he decided to breed his own, establishing the Meatlinc, a composite breed of terminal sire for the production of prime lamb.
He was a founder member, and chairman for three years, of the Tenant Farmer’s Association, an involvement that had its roots in a desire to see farming and the countryside flourish. In 1988 he published his second book “On Being a Tenant Farmer – a Layman’s Guide to the Landlord and Tenant System”.
Away from the farm he was an active member of industry bodies and committees including the Advisory Council for Agriculture and Horticulture, the Meat and Livestock Commission, the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust, the Advisory Councils of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station and the Animal Breeding Research Organisation, the council of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, and non- executive director of the Agricultural and Development Advisory Service. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and was awarded the CBE for services to agriculture in 1995.
After farming at Worlaby for 30 years, he retired to live in Horkstow where he put huge energy into preserving and improving the historic church of St Maurice. He and Catherine moved to join the family on the farm at Thorganby in the Vale of York in 2016.
He is survived by his wife Catherine (nee Cooper), whom he married in 1951, and three sons.