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