David Harper

David Frederick Harper was born in 1941, the son of Fred and Kathleen Harper.

David Harper
David Harper

David’s great grandfather, Samuel was a Shropshire farmer. Samuel’s son, David’s grandfather, Joe Harper, was born at Wolverley Lodge Farm in Wem, Shropshire in 1876. In 1909 Joe married Mabel Louisa Stinchcombe. Joe and Mabel had four children: Frederick Joseph (born 1910), Samuel Eric (born 1912), Harold Ernest (born 1913) and Phyllis Mabel (born 1916).

In 1917 Joe bought Steel Grange Farm, near Wolverley in Shropshire. In 1928, he and Mabel made the decision to move to Worcestershire. They sold Steele Grange, bought White House Farm, Little Witley and moved there with their sons. Their daughter, Phyllis, stayed in Wem so she could look after her grandmother, Catherine Ratcliff, until Phyllis left school in 1931 aged 15.

Joe and Mabel farmed in Little Witley until his retirement in 1941. The farm was taken over by their son-in-law, Richard Colwill and their daughter, Phyllis. Joe died in 1968, aged 92. Mabel died in 1973 aged 90. Phyllis died in 2012 aged 96.

Another of David’s great grandfathers, Richard Colwill, born in 1840 in Hartland, Devon, was also a farmer. He married Frances Bloye Barribal in 1875. Their son, Richard, David’s grandfather, was born in Lifton, Devon in 1879. He moved in 1910 to Worcestershire and, in 1913, married Edith Bessie Smith, the daughter, and one of the 10 children of, Walter and Hannah Smith of Church Farm, Astley.

Richard and Edith set up home at The Dingle farm, Hillhampton. Their daughter, Kathleen, David’s mother, was born in 1914. Richard died, aged 63, in 1942. Edith Colwill died in 1975.

Fred Harper (David’s father) married Kathleen Colwill (David’s mother) in 1935. Phyllis, Fred’s sister, married Kath’s brother, Richard in 1940.

Fred and Kath Harper moved to The Lodge, Worcester Road, Great Witley in 1941 – the year of David’s birth and, in 1947, moved with their family to Holt Castle, which they then owned for 40 years. Fred and Kathleen Harper both died in 2001.

David Harper trained in agriculture at Harper Adams Agricultural College in Shropshire and then went to Uganda where he managed an experimental farm from 1962 to 1964. On returning to the UK, he built up Top Barn Farm at Holt Heath and since 1990 has pioneered diversification there.

The Harper Family
The Harper Family

In 1967, he married Diana Stuart and they had a daughter, Clare, and three sons Richard, John and Michael. The extended family is now involved in the enterprise with a business centre, farm shop, camping facilities, fishing and an activity centre as well as several hundred acres of arable farming.

Top Barn Farm also plays host to two centres involved in different aspects of care farming to help people to develop their potential and to improve their lifestyle. These projects are run by The Good Soil Company, a Social Enterprise Company guaranteed by Top Barn Trust and David and Diana are actively involved with a number of charitable enterprises both in the UK and overseas.

In 1997 David Harper was awarded an OBE for services to agricultural development work in Africa. He received a fellowship from the University of Worcester in 2008 in recognition of his business innovation in the region.

Davids Recording: Harper_David_20161214_1_2_A.mp3  (47 mins 43 secs)

Start Topic Period
00:30 Arrival of grandfathers (Colwill and Harper) in the area 1920s
01:43 Break up of large estates such as Witley Court 1920s
03:13 Tenant famers on the Witley Court estate 1920s
03:30 Acquisition of land by grandfathers in the area 1930s/40s
04:20 Rental of farmland at Holt by Fred Harper 1940s
04:40 Development of agricultural colleges 1930s
04:58 Acquisition of farm land at Stanford Bridge 1940s
05:45 Fred Harper serving in Home Guard 1940s
06:13 Purchase of farm at Holt 1947
06:40 Former owner of Holt Castle – Mrs Pepys Cockerill 1940s
08:10 Conversion of Holt Castle into flats to fund purchase by Fred Harper 1947
08:43 Links between Holt Church and the Witleys 1940s
09:02 Witley Court Estate in late 19th Century 1990s
09:34 Food production post First World War 1920s
09:50 Diversification by farmers Post 1940s
010:20 Extraction of gravel in local farms 1960s/1980s
11:18 Working with gravel companies 1960s
12:19 Top Barn Farm 1960s
12:55 Fruit and hop farming in the area 1960s
13:10 Employing casual agricultural workers from Birmingham area 1960s
14:00 Sending fruit and manure by train 1960s
14:12 Ending of hop farming at Top Barn 1960s
15:17 David and Diana Harper’s children in farming 1980s – to date
17:11 Recruiting and employing workers from Eastern Europe 1980s – to date
19:24 Employment of local people 1970s
20:00 Views on Brexit 2010s
20:50 Harper family start diversifying 1990s
23:30 Beginning of farm shop at Top Barn 1998
23:43 Development of Woodbury Growers (local farmers’ mutual marketing initiative) 1990s
25:17 Former large estates – mining of raw materials 1890s
27:24 Relations between Abberley Estate and Witley Court Estate 1890s
27:57 Industrialisation in Shrawley 19th century
28:53 Fred Harper witnesses fire at Witley Court 1937
29:54 Fred Harper in Home Guard 1940s
30:25 Mixed farming in the area pre-war 1930s
31:30 First “golden age” of farming 1830-1875
32:58 Farming recession 1875-914
33:27 Agriculture between the wars 1918-1939
33:46 Second “golden age” of farming 1945
34:24 Food shortages in Second World War 1940s
34:45 Role of David Harper’s grandfathers in war effort / War Agriculture Executive Committee formed (War-Ag) 1915
36:01 Post war agriculture reforms – Agriculture Act 1947 1945-55
37:25 Grandfathers involvement in initiative to start BBC’s “The Archers”/ David Harper at first ever recording 195
38:06 Current agricultural policy 2000-to date
38:40 Food storage 2000 – to date
39:01 Potential impact of Chernobyl nuclear plant accident on agriculture in the UK 1986
40:05 Renewed emphasis on “local” food 2000s
41:00 Former farming practices 1950s
42:27 Extended Harper/Colwill families farming abroad 1980s-todate
44:37 Farming being passed down family line 2000s
44:56 Younger family members coming back to farming 2000s
45:40 Importance of involving general public in agriculture / new blood 2000s-to date


  1. says

    Mr David and Diana Harper are very hard working family. I had a chance to live with them on farm, they could wake up as early as 5:30 morning to start working on farm. David living a very busy life operating tractors, having his break fast on tractor, in garden. Mr David is God fearing could read his daily scripture on tractor and running a Bible fellowship at home once a week. David is full of God’s love and very generous man. Mr David is very humble and walks in light. When he sees anything wrong he speaks it out to you and corrects you. God bless this family abundantly for being a good example to us all.

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