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"We all learnt a great deal about Farming - it helped the children to understand the idea of Farming more. A real hands on experience!"

By Reading School Year 4 teacher

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9 Dec 2016

William Cumber 1948-2016

Lindsay and I first met William Cumber as we stood waiting to register for our degrees in the Great Hall at Reading University.  A farmer’s son, he had just come back from the States where he had been operating a combine harvester for the summer.  He was tanned with long wavy hair, had a slight “other side of the pond” accent, his pipe, then and always, completing the picture. A few years later we were invited to come and work with him and manage the land at Bradfield. When he showed us around, spade in hand, he dismissed the variable soils with their clay, gravels and flints as hard and unyielding. We instead were captivated by the autumn colours glistening in the sun and moving in a gentle breeze, all nestled in an enticing landscape, so didn’t listen to his agricultural wisdom.

William was based near Abingdon on well drained alluvial land, with large open fields and grain stores to cope with his naturally abundant harvests. The Bradfield land had only just been bought.  His grandfather had been a tenant since 1914 and there had been no capital investment, so the Manor site including the farmhouse was largely derelict.  The new site in Scratchface Lane was quickly established and became the centre of the farming operations, to include land at Theale. In 1984 work started on the restoration of the Rushall Manor area with the setting up of the John Simonds Trust. The farming changed over the years from 150 ewes and a few cattle to 800 ewes and a 50 cow suckler herd, with arable land making up over 1000 acres. The farm converted to organic and over the years 100 acres of ancient woodland was restored, trees and hedges planted with a strong concern for wildlife.

William always boasted his knowledge of sheep could be written on a postage stamp but he was fiercely loyal to those who worked with him, and knew how to enable us. He rarely made a fuss of saying thank you but his actions spoke those words far more loudly to all around. From what had become a privileged background he did not chose to ignore acts of kindness and generosity. So we, with many others, mourn the loss of this man who was a friend, boss and colleague and in that process “long that things should be different”.

John Bishop