The Next Ten Years
A Brief History of Dunshiel
Dunshiel was first recorded in 1568. The current farmhouse was built in the early 1800s and first inhabited by Edward Charlton from 1826. By the mid-1800s the farm was occupied by the Patterson family who were farming 630 acres. It was then farmed by two generations of the Faill family, who by the late 1800s were farming over 1000 acres. During this time the farm was owned by the Haggerston family of Ellingham Hall.
The farm was eventually sold to the neighbouring Hall family of Elsdon Mill in the early 20th century. They never occupied the farmhouse and for much of the time the farm was in their ownership it was under the control of the War Office. Much of the land around Dunshiel is still used by the Ministry of Defence today.
Following the death of Matthew Howard Hall in 1957 the farm was purchased by my great grandfather William Storey. It was then let to my parents, who eventually inherited the farm. My family lived on the farm until 1971, up until 1999 the house was occupied by the farm manager.
I inherited the farm in 1982 and purchased ‘Checkgate’ in 1986 and much of ‘Soppit’ in 1999, thus making Dunshiel a much bigger farm. On this land lies the remains of a post medieval lime kiln, a roman cemetery and a prehistoric clearance cairn, as well as the remains of Low Carrick, what was once a substantial farmstead and in the late 1800s a school for the children of Dunshiel and the neighbouring farms. Between 1999 and 2019 the farm was tenanted and I have now taken the farm back in hand.
As things used to be
I last farmed Dunshiel in 1999 when agricultural policy was driven by the Common Agricultural Policy complete with ‘headage’ payments and a broad focus on encouraging food production.
By the time I withdrew from farming Dunshiel, I was running 150 spring calving Limousin cross or Aberdeen Angus-cross suckler cows with the offspring sired by Limousin or Charolais being taken to another farm each autumn. Likewise, with sheep there were some 900 Swale ewes, including replacement ‘hogs’ for breeding Swale ewe lambs with a hint of Scotch Blackface and North of England Mule ewe lambs.
Dunshiel was managed as part of a group of three farms so the calves and lambs were finished or sold from another farm leaving the autumn grass to provide for the cows and ewes. Winter fodder amounted to hay and silage, supplemented by mineralised barley as required.
The benefits of ‘economies of scale’ were also reflected through having a machinery pool and access to six tractors.
Although output of beef and lamb was the business priority, I developed woodlands on the farm, planting approximately 20 acres of deciduous trees.
A New Vista
After a break of some twenty years, I have taken Dunshiel back in hand. The policy for agriculture has completely changed and not just because of Brexit. The move from ‘production’ incentives to measures to protect the environment was already underway so my interests in woodlands and protecting birds – I was the Skylark Champion in Parliament – have been boosted.
More new woodlands are planned, further measures to support wildlife will be introduced and plans for encouraging water-based life are being shaped.
Most of the land is let out to neighbouring farmers on an annual basis for grazing and grass crops but managed within the confines of agreed prescriptions. The land around the farmhouse and building is earmarked for a small herd of Highland or Aberdeen Angus cattle.
All of this is augmented by a growing collection of ‘classic’ farm machinery.
Updates from Dunshiel
Painting the Sheds
As part of the ongoing restoration of the farm, the sheds have been painted.
Dunshiel has acquired a new ‘classic’ 1970s three tonne tipping trailer for general purpose work on the farm.
Low Carrick School
New research has provided evidence that Low Carrick, the abandoned farmhouse on Dunshiel’s land, was a school in the late 19th century. The School Register for Elsdon C of E School shows the children of Dunshiel and the surrounding farms being enrolled there in 1883, their last school is listed as Low Carrick. Census records show the school opened in the 1860s, whilst this record indicates that it closed in 1883.
Excellent craftsmanship from David Scott at Dunshiel, a new wall will enclose the wood and back garden.
Restoring Low Carrick
Plans to recreate the school at Low Carrick are being explored. One idea is to create a small museum to highlight the history of education and society in rural Northumberland during the reign of Queen Victoria.
In Search of the Roman Cemetery
There is said to be a roman cemetery underneath this unusually flat piece of land on Dunshiel Farm.
Neil has been ploughing the land at Dunshiel using his vintage Massey Ferguson tractor with newly installed roll cage.
Prehistoric Clearance Cairn
The remains of a prehistoric clearance cairn have been located on land at the edge of Dunshiel Farm.
New Transport Box
Dunshiel has acquired a new Fleming Heavy Duty Hydraulic Transport Box which is ideal for clearing rubble and working with soil.
Sheep Stell Cross
At the highest part of Dunshiel Farm a sheep stell has been located. Stells are found across the border region, but are usually circular or square dry stone wall enclosures. This cross would have provided shelter for sheep whichever way the wind was blowing, but this type of stell is more commonly found in Ireland. We hope to restore the stell to its original state using traditional methods.