North East agricultural workers rewarded for outstanding service

TWO long-serving members of the agricultural world had their dedication recognised in a special award ceremony.

Philip Sharman, Thomas Lee, Robert Robson and William Walton
Philip Sharman, Thomas Lee, Robert Robson and William Walton

TWO long-serving members of the agricultural world had their dedication recognised in a special award ceremony.

The men were presented with long-service awards at this year’s Northumberland County Show.

Robert Robson, award-winning Redesdale shepherd, has worked at Toft House and Stewartshields, Otterburn, for nearly 37 years, providing loyal support to his employers, William and Philip Walton.

Earlier this year, he retired to Kielder with his wife Jennifer. The father of three, and grandfather of two, is highly regarded in Northern farming circles and will be much missed by the Walton family after many years of outstanding service.

Farmer Phillip Walton said: “We all wish Robert and Jennifer a long and enjoyable retirement and hope to see them both at local shows and events. Robert will be a big miss with his lively chat and entertaining banter in the sheep pens and will be welcome back at any time – that is if he has any spare time!”

Last October Mr Robson broke a record with a Blackfaced lamb from Toft House, achieving £20,000 at Hexham and Northern Marts. Not only that, the shearling was also crowned overall sale champion on the day – a first for the Otterburn flock.

Shepherding is in Mr Robson’s blood. As a child, he spent many hours on his grandfather Adam’s farm at Close Hill and started working on the hills after leaving school.

He has seen many changes over the last three decades: “When I started out working for the Duke of Northumberland at Emblehope, I was one of a team of six.

“Now, thanks largely to quad bikes, manpower has drastically reduced. But the traditional skills still count. Theory is all very well but you can’t learn to be a shepherd in a classroom, you have to have hands-on experience.”

Thomas Lee of Haltwhistle was nominated by Carrs Billington Agriculture for his exceptional 43 years’ employment as a delivery driver. He began in 1970, when the company was known by its former name, Oliver and Snowdon.

A well-known character, Mr Lee has been delivering animal feed, machinery and pet products to customers across the region, from the Tyne Valley and Allendale, into Weardale and County Durham.

Philip Sharman, manager of the Carrs Billington Hexham branch, paid tribute, saying: “Tom is a quiet, unassuming person who has given unfailing hard work and loyalty during his whole career here.”

Mr Lee has seen many changes in the business, starting with its merger with Carrs Foods of Carlisle in the early 1980s, and 10 years ago with Billington Sugar to create the large and diverse company it is today.

And Mr Lee’s role has evolved over the years too. In the 70s, farmers would place an order with their visiting salesman, and their delivery would arrive on the wagon that came round once a month.

Mr Sharman said: “I don’t know how many boiler suits Tom went through over the years, but it was always his right shoulder that was worn out because of all the bags he lifted every day!”

Now Carrs Billington Agriculture deliver within a few days of receiving an order, with many consignments coming directly from the manufacturers. Email, mobile phones and internet orders have replaced much of the work of their travelling representatives, and the days of the monthly round are over.

Mr Lee recalled how there was barely a day missed from his route, no matter what the weather threw at him.

He did remember one anxious journey though: “I was caught in snow on the top of Longheads one night. It was completely dark and there wasn’t a soul around. I thought I’d have to sleep in the wagon, but luckily a farmer passing pulled me to safety. But nothing much stopped me doing my rounds.”

As Mr Lee looks forward to retirement, he can be satisfied with his long career, a tradition that continues with his son, who has worked for Carrs Billington for nearly 25 years himself, and is on track for his own long-service award.

The Northumberland County Show is a charitable organisation that supports local charities and promotes education in agriculture and rural matters. Over the past year the show has donated nearly £15,000 to good causes, including funding school visits for urban children to Northumbrian farms and providing bursaries worth £1,000 each for students born or living in Northumberland who wish to go into full-time further education to study agriculture.

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