23rd May 1938
If anybody is to be featured on a website called For the Love of Hunting England it should be Richard Wright. He is the epitome of those who are the backbone of our Countryside and what it stands for; hard work, dedication to standards of agricultural, and being prepared to uphold our rural sporting traditions in a quiet gentlemanly way.
Richard Wright was born on the 23rd of May 1938, and is probably more modest about his achievements than most people I have ever met. His father and grandfather were both born and farmed at Oxey Farm, near Tilton on the Hill in Leicestershire, so it was more than likely Richard was going to venture into the family business! This he duly did, and there are no doubts that over the years he has developed the farm into something that his forbears would have been justly proud.
First memories of a farming life are often fascinating to listen to and having been born sixteen months before war was declared Richard has many of those. Farming at that time was under huge pressure to feed the nation, having been in the doldrums for so long, so the Wright’s were determind to do their bit. It was not long before they managed to requisition some of the first Italian and German prisoners of war. One of the Germans, Fritz Berg, stayed with them for more than forty years and his son and now works for the Allerton Trust who own and run the nearby Loddington Estate.
Farm Machinery at that time was somewhat basic compared today! The tractors of the time were Fordson Standards and had wooden frames. Anything rubber went to the war effort. Harvesting was still being undertaken by a binder and a large number of people were needed to stook up the sheaves for the threshing machine which would be fired into action a week or two later. It was hands on to get everything completed before autumn came round and drilling started again. In this part of the world, like the rest of Britain, by law every farmer had to grow a certain acreage of potatoes. In the eastern counties there was a requirement for sugar beet also to be grown but in Leicestershire it was mangles that were needed for cattle or sheep feed .
Richard’s school days were spent at Oakham. In his spare time he took evening classes in agriculture and became an active member of Tilton Young Farmers which as well as providing a good social life, helped teach those participating how to judge livestock. Annual competitions were held and Richard took an active part in them, further enhancing a knowledge, which as time progressed was going to be incredibly useful to him. Tilton Young Farmers was rather good at promoting its sporting activities with cricket and hockey very much on the agenda. However as Richard recalls for many, including him and his wife Di, it will probably be most remembered for being the best marriage bureau in the county!
Oxey Farm at this time was 500 acres and was producing a hundred acres of wheat and a hundred acres which would have been split between winter and spring barley, or oats. All of which was milled on the place. There were 10 acres of potatoes. The rest being pasture which supported a milking herd of Ayrshires and Friesian x Lincoln Reds as well as some beef cattle which had been reared on a bucket by Fritz Berg. They were taken right through to killing weight before ending up at Leicester Market. Also buying in some store cattle would be bought in to be finished at Oxey Farm and sold in Leicester. The sheep enterprise consisted of anywhere between 300 to 400 ewes with lambs being sold as fat in Melton. It was in 1970 when bulk tanks came in that cost of replacing the old milking system, sadly the cows went, and later the sheep followed suit. All this helped Richard considerably in concentrating on something that has become a key part of farming at Oxey since 1986 and that was the formation of a Beef herd of South Devons.
Starting with fifteen pure bred cows, Richard found the South Devon breeders extremely helpful and thus the herd started to grow rather quicker than perhaps they first imagined! They were soon up to sixty and thought that was going to be enough. However with some extra extensification payments in the late nineties, they increased the numbers further up to two hundred spring calving cows, where it remains today. Richard’s ambition is to end up with a polled herd without losing the size of their animals. There is no doubt he has certainly gone a long way towards achieving this, in what in cattle breeding terms is a relatively short time. They have become a vitally important part of what makes Oxey Farm tick and have undoubtedly been one of the main reasons why the Wright family are now responsible for farming two thousand acres of Leicestershire.
It is through their great interest in these wonderful traditional English cattle that both Richard and Di have made many good friends and through the South Devon Convention have travelled as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. It has been on these visits that they have been able to cast their expert eyes over a breed which is now equally well respected over there as it is here.
It looks extremely likely that farming at Oxey Farm is in the safest of hands with the next two generations of Wright’s showing a real interest in Richard and Di’s achievements. In Richard’s typically modest way he say in is only because of having such a good team. All this is true, however without a good boss who has a deep and meaningful knowledge of what he wants to achieve, then it all can so easily fall to pieces. There is no danger of that here. Son Geoffrey, who at present is working in the financial sector, is there in the background with the grandchildren, Arthur, Harriet, William and Philip already owning their own different forms of livestock. Richard and Di’s daughters, Rachel and Susan whilst not involved on a daily basis are never far away.
Whilst Richard is not a hunting man, over the years he has done more than many in the support he has given the Cottesmore Hunt, serving on the Hunt Committee as well as having been Chairman and now President of the Hedgelaying competition. Their good covert Loddington Reddish from where many a good hunt has started, was also the place which supplied a constant source of ash rails. This has been invaluable in the repair work that is needed after the hounds have achieved a busy day in the hard riding Tuesday country. As well as all this, Di found time to be District Commissioner of the Pony Club for ten years and they both helped to run the tote at the Point to Point.
Richard is first and foremost a shooting man and it is with his family and local farming friends that they have put together a proper sporting shoot. Numbers here are not the essential requirement but quality birds. Enough are reared to be out once a week throughout the season and with the terrain of the land lending itself to producing high and testing birds, good days are regular occurrences in this sporting part of the world. With Di picking up, and Richard and Geoffrey being out together along with their friends, makes it exactly what shooting is all about. It therefore gave tremendous pleasure to everybody out on a day last season to see father, son and grandson all shoot a pheasant on the same drive. Particular pleasure came from the fact that on this very occasion, his grandson also shot his first pheasant. This was quite something for the family and will no doubt be remembered by them for many years to come.
Richard never went to agricultural college and he would openly admit that this is one of his life’s regrets. However this is a man who has not let it hold him back. With Di at his side their achievements at Oxey Farm have been outstanding by anybody’s standards. Richard’s instincts are that of a true agriculturalist as well as being the epitome of a proper sporting farmer. He is someone who manages to find the important balances that are needed in keeping the equilibrium exactly where it should be.
Agriculture, Field Sports as well as your many friends and acquaintances from all over the world owe you, Richard, a great debt of gratitude for being a truly wonderful example of what being a good Countryman is all about. There could be no more apt day for this piece to be finished and put in front of you than today, your 75th birthday. Many congratulations and thank you. It has been a privilege to write about you.