3rd June 1924
The True Hunting Farmer
Tom Clifford, was born at Oddington in the Heythrop Country on the 3rd of June 1924 and is one of the finest examples of hunting farmers still left today. Over the years he has combined the hard physical work of livestock farming with the pleasures that hunting brings. The famous Jack Lawrence was hunting the Heythrop Hounds at the time of Tom’s birth, with Colonel Brassey becoming Master the following season. Although through a lot of hard work and dedication the Heythrop is still a four day a week country, it was in many ways very much easier then for those at the sharp end to show good sport. Even with no alternative means of transportation for either horses or hounds, long hacks at the beginning and end of each day certainly did nothing to put the young Tom Clifford off this pastime.
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Tom’s early days of education were spent at Chipping Campden Grammar School, however his father died when he was thirteen and so most unfortunately it resulted in the family leaving Oddington to go and live in Cheltenham. This was where he was to finish his studying, at the Technical College. When he was fifteen his Uncle offered him a job back at Oddington, for five shillings a week which he duly took and found himself milking twenty cows by hand, twice a day as well as taking on all the other duties that were required of a dairyman. Tom was too young to serve when war was declared on the 3rd September 1939 but he was not only fit for hard physical work but for a spot of hunting when time allowed! By a stroke of luck the legendary Percy Durno who was hunting the Heythrop at the time offered Tom his first horse, which he kept for the duration of the War. After a while his uncle sold up and Tom went to work for Mr Bowsley at Sarsden Lodge for £1 a week before joining the Army in February 1943. During the next four years he spent a considerable amount of time out in India with his Regiment before returning back to farming at Sarsden Lodge. In August 1953, Tom married Barbara and in 1954 they decided to make a go of farming themselves so put in for the tenancy of an Oxfordshire County Council small holding at Shilton. It was a farm which had originally been for ex Servicemen returning from the Great War and was described by one well known farmer as the worst farm in Oxfordshire! Tom remembers it well, for a large part of it was covered in bushes and yellow daisies, otherwise known as ragwort! After six years and a considerable amount of hard work in improving the farm, Tom decided take on a considerable amount more land at Chadlington, which was right in the heart of the Heythrop Country. Just at the very time of accepting this, his former boss Mr Boseley from Sarsden Lodge died suddenly and within two hours of his death, Tom was given the opportunity of taking on his farm. This he declined having already committed himself to the Chadlington land and it was here the family were to stay for the next fifteen years. However in 1975, Sarsden Lodge came up again and after beating off considerable amount of opposition, this time Tom secured the tenancy, thus returning to the place where he had learnt so much and was where they were to spend the next thirty years.
Whilst all this was going on, hunting with the Heythrop was still very much on the agenda. Tom broke in and hunted three and four year olds, paying a farmers cap of two shillings and sixpence! Riding long distances to the meets was still very much on the cards as there was little transport with rationing very much in place. In 1952 Percy Durno relinquished his duties of hunting the hounds to Captain Wallace who arrived from the Cotswold. The delightful way Percy handed over is still talked about today. It was the Captain who soon recognised the value of Tom Clifford, not only being around on the hunting day but all the other bits and pieces that he was doing for the Hunt and it wasn’t long before he was rewarded by asking him to wear the Hunt buttons. This was a real honour and is something he still remembers with great pride. The Captain, as we know, became well known for his organisational skills and his ability to hunt hounds most successfully in his own distinctive style. Once he was overheard saying that he was going to move off on time, if not, preferably a little early! This particular day the hounds had met at Kingham Hill and it wasn’t long before they found in Kingham Hill Cover. At 1.30pm the hounds were at Hinchwick, having scored an eight mile point and twelve miles as they ran and Tom Clifford had been with them all the way! Another highlight of his life that is still as clear in his mind today as it was all those years ago.
Tom set about farming at Sarsden Lodge in a way which only the true hunting farmer knows. A livestock man through and through, he developed beef, dairy cattle and sheep enterprises and there was also a considerable number of pigs on the place. I first met Tom thirty four years ago, when he was the same age as I am now and the whole farm stood out for being extremely tidy and was managed to perfection. I can still today see in my mind’s eye why it was the farm of a proper hunting man. The coverts were expertly looked after and the hedges either laid or cut to exactly the right height for the Heythrop field to tackle when in full pursuit of the Captain and his flying bitches. More importantly there was always a healthy and strong fox population. It was therefore fitting that, not only once but on many occasions, Tom won the competition for the best fenced farm in the Heythrop Country.
Tom and Barbara finally retired from farming in 2005 and now live on the outskirts of the beautiful village of Bledington, mid way between Stow on the Wold and Chipping Norton. As he approaches his ninetieth year, Tom is still out with hounds every week accompanied by his good friend Peter Pauling and believe me they are never far from the action! It is easy for those who have experienced so much of the pleasures that hunting can give, to criticise the ones who are now in the hot seat. Not him, he is full of admiration for the Masters, Staff etc who now have that responsibility and to support them to the hilt is the only way he knows. What a tremendous example he has been to very many people throughout the Heythrop Country and beyond. It is a real boost to find someone who has set himself a very high standard in life and Tom you are certainly one of those.
Tom Clifford, may we wish you well and thank you for all you have given to the world of farming and foxhunting.