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A valley rich in memories Few people know these woods and hills better than Colin Matheson, who has been land agent for 42 years. We asked him to look back at his working life in the valley he loves


N 28 OCTOBER 1953 the James Knott Trust, chaired by the 10th Duke of Northumberland, purchased the College Valley at an auction held in the County Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne. The 12,600-acre upland estate comprised 8,000 acres of inhand land, two let farms extending to 4,500 acres, a mansion house, 17 cottages and 24 acres of woodland. The price: just £75,000. The sellers were the Executors of Sir Arthur Sutherland, a prominent Northumbrian ship owner who had improved the estate considerably in the 35 years since acquiring it for £17,000 from the Trustees of Earl Grey at the end of the First World War. The new Board of Directors represented a formidable quartet of landowning, farming, forestry, sporting and military expertise: Hugh 10th Duke of Northumberland, the 4th Viscount Ridley, Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and Sir Alfred Goodson Bt. It was this Board in January 1973 who invited my firm, John Sale & Partners of Wooler, to manage their estate. My first task as a young land agent of 27 was to organise the takeover of one of the let farms, Hethpool, then tenanted by the Honourable Claude Lambton. The ingoing valuation on 13 May was a very social occasion and a great gathering of neighbouring shepherds helping to gather the sheep flock from the surrounding hills. Andrew Oliver & Sons, Auctioneers from Hawick, acted for the estate in the valuation and my records show that the Cheviot sheep page


stock was taken over at a fixed price of £6 per ewe. I recall much whisky being consumed until well into the night. In those days the estate employed a sizeable workforce that consisted of an agent (me), a farm manager, 12 shepherds, a head forester, three woodmen and an estate man with a total weekly wage bill of £350. Today the same work is done by a workforce one quarter of the size. My direct boss was the Farming Director Sir Alfred Goodson, a benign but sometimes crusty gentleman who was a brilliant breeder of just about anything: pedigree Aberdeen

“When I started, there was an agent, a farm manager, 12 shepherds, a head forester, three woodmen and an estate man on a total weekly wage of £350” Angus cattle, sheep, fowls, hounds. He was also a legendary huntsman of foxhounds. He and Lady Goodson lived in a stately pile in a fold of the Cheviot Hills near Morebattle. It was here that I reported somewhat nervously each Friday afternoon to keep Sir Alfred appraised of goings-on in the valley. We would sit for tea at a long dining room table, Sir Alfred at one end, Lady Goodson at the other and me in the middle. They were

Colin Matheson, hard at work doing some heather burning, and relaxing with his dogs

both very hard of hearing and would shout at each other down the table, usually on totally different subjects. One board meeting each year was held at Alnwick Castle, always on a Sunday, that being the only day that His Grace was not in London engaged in Royal duties, attending to his extensive estates or pursuing various sporting interests. It took me one meeting only to recognise that the Duke was an exceptionally astute man; it was better to admit that I did not know the answer to a question about the estate than to pretend that I did. I made this mistake only once. Back in the Valley, the directors had embarked on an ambitious afforestation programme to plant 1,600 acres of woodlands on the estate. A tree nursery was created at Hethpool and over a period of eight years nearly 1.5 million mainly coniferous trees were raised for planting out. I remember replanting failed young trees at Goldscleugh a plantation now mature that we are clear felling this year. The Farm Manager Gilbert Elliot, father of today’s farming tenant at Hethpool, Bill Elliot, was a great character loved by everyone. An exceptional stockman, he was able to manage his boss, Sir Alfred, where others failed. One day the shepherd at the southern extremity of the valley sold his old house cow at Wooler Market, the sale went well and

The Valley summer 2015  
The Valley summer 2015  

News from the College Valley Estate in Northumberland.