Obituary: Farmer and 'backbone' of agricultural organisations dies aged 83

Church Farm, High Street, StalhamNigel Wright, the only farmer left in Stalham, with his Ingham Sa

Farmer Nigel Wright pictured in 2007 - Credit: Archant © 2007

Leading Norfolk farmer Nigel Wright, who was a long-serving secretary to the country’s oldest farmers’ club, has died peacefully at home just before his 84th birthday.

He was chairman of Norfolk National Farmers’ Union (NFU), completing his two-year term in 1996, and later elected chairman of the East Anglian NFU board.

In November 1999, as the regional chairman, he led a high-profile campaign to promote the return of British beef to France with Norfolk NFU chairman Robert Steven.

They presented a topside joint of Norfolk beef, actually from near neighbours Mary and Alan Beck of Brunstead, to the French honorary consul for East Anglia.

Stalham Farmers Club. Date: 18 Dec 1991

Stalham Farmers Club in December 1991 - Credit: Archant Library

Born into a Broadland farming family in January 1938, he was the oldest of three. His grandfather William had farmed 2,000 acres at Ludham Hall and his father, Ivan, who died in 1948, had taken over Church Farm, Stalham.

Nigel went to Town Close School, Norwich, and Gresham’s, Holt, and then studied at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, before returning to the family farm. It was then a typical mixed holding with about 18 Ayrshire and Friesian milking cows, employing 17 staff.

As Mr Wright recalled in June 2007, as part of the EDP’s The Rural Revolution series, the market town of Stalham in the early 1950s was almost self-sufficient with shops and banks. While it had a declining livestock and produce market, there was a slaughterhouse, grain merchants, Woodrow’s mill, and a regular passenger and goods train service.

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The farm was close to Stalham Staithe, where sugar beet could be loaded into wherries for processing at Cantley factory. After the long drought in 1947, when a nine-acre field of beet was lifted, it hardly filled a 40-ton wherry, he said.

During the annual beet campaign, British Rail would bring wagons into sidings at Stalham. “You would be allocated one or two trucks a week which would sit there until you’d filled them up.” It was hard work, throwing beet off a tractor and trailer into a railway wagon, holding about 13 tons, he added.

By 1956, the Suffolk horses had gone as tractors took over and the dairy herd was sold in 1964 as the farm switched to more arable crops.

There were improvements – the laying of main sewers ended the need for the “honey cart” - and there was a good train service. He remembered leaving his front door to catch the 8.20am train to Leicester for lunch with his (late) sister Wendy. Many people travelled by train to work in North Walsham or Yarmouth.

Church Farm, High Street, Stalham
Nigel Wright, the only farmer left in Stalham, with his Ingham Sa

Nigel Wright with his Ingham Salmons - a type of brick - Credit: Archant © 2007

Mr Wright was the backbone of Stalham Farmers’ Club, which had been founded in 1841. His uncle Roy had been secretary in 1930 and he took over the role in 1962 – serving for almost a quarter of a century until 1985.

He was elected chairman in 1991 and typically modest, declined nomination as president on several occasions. In 1997, his eldest son won the club’s prestigious Cantley Cup for highest overall yield for the second year running. He also won Stalham’s competition for best two-acre sugar beet crop in 2012.

In 1997, he and his great friend Roger Beck judged the Suffolk Agricultural Association’s champion farms’ competition.

Speaking at the club’s 175th anniversary celebrations in June 2016 at How Hill Farm, Ludham, he recalled that he had been fortunate enough to have attended the club’s 125th and the 150th. But, he joked, he would be 103 when the club marked its bicentenary in 2041. He recalled too that the club in 1966 had 127 members – then all farmers and had assets of £94 11s 4d (£94.57).

He was a Norfolk Rainfall Organisation recorder for more than half a century at Church Farm. Since 1972, he noted that the driest year was 1973 when 18.49in (469.89mm) was recorded – the wettest, 1987, had 920.24mm (36.22in). Average rainfall at Stalham has declined – the 32-year average was 27.4in while the 10-year average was 25.9in.

The Norfolk branch of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) is celebrating its centenary in 2019. Pictur

The Norfolk branch of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) celebrating its centenary in 2019. Pictured: Robert Steven and Nigel Wright (right) led the delegation during a campaign to lift the French ban on British beef in 1999 - Credit: Archant

A member of the Broads Authority for many years, he was also elected to North Norfolk (District) Council in the 1980s, serving at least eight years, and was a member of Stalham Town Council. A keen sailor, he also enjoyed gardening too.

Married in 1960 to Pam, they marked the diamond jubilee. He is survived by his widow, and leaves three children, Alistair, Ben and Jess, and five grandchildren.

The funeral will be held on Wednesday, January 26 at Ingham Church, 11am.