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- Report of meeting about Bolton Abbey

Friday, 9 September 2011

Bolton Abbey is a place familiar to many and those at the August general meeting of Todmorden U3A, learned much more about the estate from guest speaker John Sheard, who retired as land agent to the Duke of Devonshire in 1998. John opened by saying that a land agent presides over, manages and oversees the land and interests of the estate. He then added that he was always on duty and needed to be ready for anything.

"Anything" proved not to be an exaggeration as John listed the areas in which a comprehensive knowledge is required: property law, field sports, quarrying; rights of way; drainage systems; and office systems to name but a few. An idea of the range can be grasped from that relatively small list. In addition to those roles and responsibilities, John had to be able to relate to a diverse range of people, from royalty to rogues, prelates to poachers, models to mayors, amongst many others.

John gave some figures as well, the estate comprises 12,120 hectares of farmland, woodland and heather moorland. The farmland is divided between 52 tenanted farms. Of the 144 cottages and houses, 42 are "listed". As well as mining, woodland and sporting interests, the estate has a number of business, some of which will have been apparent to anyone who has visited. Three-quarters of the estate lies within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The estate employs more than 150 people and supports a community of over 1200, served by their own shop, post office and village hall.

The Bolton Abbey area is home to an abundance of wildlife and conservation is an important part of work of the estate. The estate has five Special Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI) the most important of these being the ancient Strid Wood.

Although access to the estate for the public dates back to the early 1800s, a large part of John's work from the 70's onwards derived from the 11th Duke's desire to open up the estate to the public and the ways in which visitors enjoy Bolton Abbey today, are largely due to the changes that the Duke and John made. These include improvements to footpaths which allow prams and wheelchairs and even access for dogs has been improved, with special openings to obviate the need for dogs to climb over stiles!

Like all of U3A's speakers who have a topic which allows for the inclusion of humour, John had some amusing stories. One concerned the time that one of the Dukes was dismayed at the performance the estate cricket team. He would use the need for new staff as an opportunity to reverse its fortunes. Thus: "Plumber wanted. Must be a good wicket-keeper."


See also

HebWeb News - May and June meeting report

HebWeb News - April meeting report

HebWeb News - March meeting report

University of Third Age, Todmorden website

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