PERCY VAYRO, A GENTLE SON OF THE SOIL
Original Reporter Mike Keeble, Photograph Mike Cowling
PERCY VAYRO, aged 96, and perhaps the oldest member of the Vayro Ancestry
Original Articles appeared in the in THE NORTHERN FARMER on 24 September 2010 and the YORKSHIRE POST on Monday 4 July 2011
My thanks to the editors for their permission to use some of their original text in a composite version, that also includes some of my own dates and information.
In the summer of 2011 a Lifetime Award was presented to Percy Vayro (aged 96) at the Great Yorkshire Show, by its president Sir Ken Morrison, in recognition of three generations of the Vayro Family who were born and worked on Clifton Castle Estates near Masham.
The Marquis of Downshire, present owner of the Estate, took Percy around the Estate farms and when Percy arrived back at the Castle he said, "It doesn't seem that long ago - 90 years though - that I used to come down to do 'osses with me dad. Castle's not changed, trees on't drive have grown and you're the fifth family to live there. But, by gum, the farms are different and I think they've never looked as well. Congratulations, sir.
"Tommy Vayro, Percy's Grandfather (born 1835) was the first of the Vayro line, and is thought to have arrived at Clifton Estates in the late 1830s perhaps with his parents Richard and Mary from East Witton. Tommy had married Sarah Todd and they eventually had thirteen children. "Tommy's Hut" remains on the Clifton Castle Estate as a relic of the days when as head horseman he was allowed an acre for his house cow and the hut provided for her shelter and for the hay the family made for her winter provision.
Tommy's son, Robert was born in 1867. Bob as he was known married Mary Jane Sturdy and they had eight children. Their last son was Percy and he was born during the Great War. Percy's elder brother, Billy, was already approaching school leaving age and work on the estate. From the hard times of the Great Depression, through mechanisation and pioneering new cattle breeds, farmer Percy Vayro has seen it all.
In 1914 the Great War was into its first year and "it would all be over by Christmas". In 1921, Percy used to walk across the fields to Thornton Watlass village school where he received an excellent eight-year education until he was 14 that might have changed his life.
However in 1929, the country fell deeper into recession and rural poverty was rife. Lady Cowell, the chatelaine of Clifton Castle, Lady Cowell, the incumbent of Clifton during that time, instructed her agent to provide estate staff a couple of acres of land to provide food for their families, as it was possible that wages could not be paid as the crisis worsened. Bob told his youngest son Percy not to go out to work, but instead, he was to grow food for the family and, as Percy recounts, this helped them thrive at a time when others were starving. So it was that from an early age Percy dug, sowed and harvested for the family while his elders took what work that was available.
In the early 1930s, Mr Petch, a tenant farmer of Clifton Grange, offered Percy his first job at a wage of £1.50 a month. By then, Percy knew how to work hard, for he had helped his father, head horseman, and he knew how to feed working horses, harness up and hitch up the plough and sow.
The Second World War was brewing and the countryside roads were still unmade, cars and tractors were a rarity and cattle were still walked from Clifton to Northallerton, some 15 miles away, by a boy like Percy.
He well remembers the doctor bringing his father home with a broken leg, carrying him over his shoulder, from his car into the house. Bob had been bringing two new farm horses back from Northallerton when he fell in front of them trying to cross the hard tarmac of the A1.
Just before the war Percy started to work for the Curzon family who had inherited the Clifton Estate. The first tractors were appearing, and Percy learnt about spark plugs, magnetos and radiators. He regarded his first Standard Fordson as no more than a team of horses which didn't need feeding, shoeing or resting.
He worked long cold hours ploughing the Clifton Banks facing the west looking right up Wensleydale to far-off Pen Hill. Those were the days when social life was restricted to a small area, public transport was rare and the bike the main option.
Photograph coyright THE NORTHERN FARMER
At the start of World War Two Percy's family moved to Masham where he went weekly to hand over part of his meagre wage and call at the pub to join friends in singsongs. He got word that the Thirn chapel congregation in Rookwith had a higher than usual number of young girls, and there he met Muriel Hudson who was to become his wife in 1946.
With the war came better wages as the country dug for victory. Percy became farm foreman and later moved to the Grange Farm house with Muriel.
Mr Petch's death in 1959 started another chapter in the story, when Percy was invited to take over the running of Clifton Home Farm. He had to pass his driving test and take over a farm without horses. When the father of Clifton Castle Estate's present owner bought the estate in 1963, he enlarged the farm and modernised the system. Percy took to it like a duck to water, confirming that his life could have been very different had he had the benefit of modern education.
He worked happily with the estate's advisers and Percy became manager of Clifton Home Farm on the estate to which the very first herd of French Limousin cattle came in 1971. American ranchers wanted UK-born calves; the French still played their part in helping UK/US transactions, and Percy learned how to cope with what was a unique situation on a farm where cowboys in boots and Stetsons met with French bankers in suits who were financing the ranching revolution in Montana and Colorado.
Over the years, Percy had a lot of "farm pupils" through his hands. One of these, David Anderson, the founder of Andersons Farm Business Consultants, has kept in touch with the old master, ever mindful of the basic and vital understanding of things natural that are essential to food production, even in the high-tech industry it now is. David remembers Percy as "the true country gentleman and his indestructible friend."
Percy and Muriel never had a family of their own but on his 90th birthday, he hosted a party at Northallerton Golf Club. He concluded by singing "The Village Blacksmith", a song learned at school 80 or more years previously.He still goes to Sunday services at the Methodist Chapel where, if there is no accompanist, one nod to Percy and he strikes up, always hitting the right note.
Percy has put in more than most into his life, his community and the farming industry he entered just as times and technology were changing. He adapted to that while sticking to old-fashioned human values which are often forgotten in today's society.
During 2011 he was in a care home having just left hospital after a hip operation, and his comments were "Good, I can go home now. The garden needs hoeing and I'm not happy with all these old folks."
His buggy gets him into Bedale, to chapel and to visit the old folks' home where the residents are mostly younger than him.
The many who know Percy hope he goes on singing and digging to meet his maker.
In arranging the pictures for the original article in the Yorkshire Post he said to the photographer, "You'll be back in four years to see my letter from Her Majesty."
He'll make it, I'm sure.
Diagram Showing Ancestral Links JRV to PERCY VAYRO