I was a man of 31 years,
who had made a small amount of money in business,
and wanted to share it with others.
What is the point of success if you do not share it?
My family own a small country estate of 200 acres at Ivybridge, Devon,
but due to government policies over the past 50 years,
the benefit to society has been steadily reducing.
So many wonderful social things are no longer economic
due to the greed and over-regulation by city people.
Accountants, solicitors and bureaucrats rule -
and the country is less happy for it,
running around like blue-arsed flies to pay for it.
There was a time when most farms were a thriving small community,
but due to government and "market forces",
many are now social deserts.
Although the estate has been in the family since 1850,
and I was the eldest son,
my mother - the owner of the estate - had no bond with me.
When 12 I asked to see the deeds to the estate -
At 13 I was fifth in the class at maths,
and I asked her to show me how she did accounts -
and I dropped to bottom of the class.
I left school at 16 with minimal qualifications,
and began trading in antiques and junk,
firstly, from a barn on the farm,
and then from a floor in an old mill.
My mother was in the process of divorcing my father
( who had been discovered carrying on an affair ),
and I was bought a shop in Ashburton, Devon, to get me 20 miles away.
My mother was a very successful business-woman,
not only running the estate ( for which my father was effectively farm manager ),
but also stocks and shares, flats and cottages, and so on.
The shop cost £18,500,
for which my mother and father transfered £12,000 to me,
and my mother loaned me £6,000.
Seventeen months later I decided to sell
( as I had found a better property closer to home ),
and the estate agent said it was worth £24,000.
I said it was worth £30,000 -
he did a double-take - but he sold it at my price,
and my mother was fully repaid.
This was the first property transaction that I had handled on my own.
I then bought two run down shops
with flats above totalling eleven rooms,
and a huge old wesleyan chapel attached behind
on a lovely south-facing site with a huge garden in Yealmpton, Devon.
I paid £30,000 for the new property,
and negotiated my first bank loan
to cover the £6,00 repaid to my mother,
and the cost of moving, and beginning a new business.
Three years later I sold one shop for £25,000,
together with part of one of the flats above.
Five years after that, in 1986,
I negotiated a sale at £125,000 for the remainder,
subject to planning permission being acquired by the builder-developer involved.
This took about nine months,
during which I negotiated a substantial bank loan,
first, £25,000 to buy a small agricultural property,
and second, £25,000 to cover all of my business expenses in moving.
The second at £25,000 may seem a lot,
but I had acquired a lot of posessions in my business,
and I would need specialist vehicles to move it all
( which would be required for the farm anyway ).
I found a four acre site in a hamlet called Maders, near Callington, Cornwall,
on which were six one hundred foot long buildings totalling 12,000 square feet.
The buildings had first been used as a rabbit farm,
for which four timbers buildings were re-erected
from former barracks at Torpoint naval camp.
Most of the rabbits were sent live to france,
and they realised it would be more profitable to kill and freeze here.
Then it snowballed into a Queen's Award for Industry enterprise employing 35 people,
and brought rabbits from as far afield as Cumbria for slaughter.
A concrete block building 100 x 20 was built for all of the killing and processing,
and millions of rabbits passed through.
Then they went bust,
and the place lay empty for seven years.
I made an offer of £13,500, which was accepted,
but I was gazumped.
I have never heard of it before or since,
but I suggested to the agent that we have a private auction -
and I bought the property for £23,000 on 23 NOV 86
before I had signed the contract for the sale of my shop.
So I was in debt,
was nervous of spending too much in case my sale fell through,
and in retrospect did not spend money on things I should have done.
As the timber buildings were used for rabbits,
they did not have concrete floors from end to end -
just two concrete walkways,
with bare earth to allow rabbit urine to soak into the ground.
So I moved into the sheds in a rather disordered manner.
The whole focus of my life immediately moved to the farm,
and having taken possession within days of purchase,
I installed a multifuel ( wood and coal ) cooker
( complete with water boiler )
and cut a hole through the roof for a stainless steel chimney.
I did this because I was frequently sleeping at The Burrows,
and needed to be warm, to eat, and to wash.
With reconnection of the electrics,
the installation of a telephone,
and the Post Office delivering my mail,
it became my primary home within weeks.
It took another nine months to complete the sale in late 1987.
During this time I was thinking very deeply,
and becoming more interested in alternative ways of life.
Before I sold the shop, I advertised in the window
for anyone interested in that kind of life.
The replies I received showed me that people were interested,
and I began thinking about how I could create rural employment.
I was very much influenced by books written by John Seymour -
particularly The Complete Guide to Self-Sufficiency.
In 1988 a mining company that had been formed in case mineral prices rose enough,
decided that it would not,
and put up for sale three plots of land.
One of these plots was twelve acres of land
beside the same road I traveled to Callington from my farm.
Seven acres of the land were a closed council rubbish dump called Target.
The land was level,
and the road was dead straight alongside,
and I realised it was an ideal garden centre site -
something Callington lacked.
So that was me - a single, young man aged 31
with enough money to buy some properties,
but no professional experience or assistance.
I had shown myself a capable negotiator and strategist,
but was weak on administration and accounts.
I was in a state of change,
re-evaluating what life is.
These thoughts developed into the English Earth Project.
The project leaflet was published in 1989
AFTER the garden centre application,
but it sets out clearly how my mind was working. -====================================================-Link - Return to top of this webpage -====================================================-Link - English Earth Project - sequential -====================================================-Link - Return to Start Menu to Introductory section
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