Ploughing a new furrow
PUBLISHED: 10:26 03 March 2015 | UPDATED: 10:26 03 March 2015
It's not just arable crops that are growing at Baythorne Hall these days. The next generation of an established Essex farming family are growing some exciting new attractions for visitors to their farm, reports Nicky Adams
Farming is in the blood of George and Matt Unwin. Since their great-great-grandfather George Jarvis Unwin took up residence in the 1870s, Baythorne Hall near Halstead has been run as a thriving arable farm. A recent joint venture with two other similar size local farms, coupled with improved farm machinery and a shared, highly-skilled workforce has allowed the farm to run more efficiently, while the family’s efforts have been focused on reviving the redundant farm buildings on the farm.
‘My brother Matt and I both learnt skills in careers outside of the family business,’ explains George Unwin, whose father Peter still lives and works at Baythorne Hall. ‘It was absolutely essential because the farm alone could not support us both. As a result we can both still enjoy a considerable involvement in the farming operation, but do not rely on it solely. There are clear business advantages to having Matt — a farm accountant — on site, and there are some enjoyable social benefits to having me — a wine merchant and event manager — here as well.’
Capitalising on their knowledge and experience, Matt and George have brought a new excitement to life at Baythorne Hall. ‘The farm and house are central to our future plans,’ the brothers agree. ‘We have both been drawn back to the family business by our love of the land and we are proud to be the latest stewards of a farm that has been successfully run by our family for close to 140 years.’
The first foray into diversification at Baythorne Hall was inspired by the estate itself. ‘There were eight disused farm buildings and grain trading offices next to the Hall, which could have become something of a concern, as they were no longer needed for farming or grain trading purposes,’ explains George. ‘But as they are integral to the site as a whole, we were determined to bring them back to life.’
And so they have. The family took on the project of renovating the former Unwin Grain offices to create a five-star holiday cottage, The Grain House, which opened in 2010. It has proved extremely popular with tourists from across the UK and further afield, for its beautiful rural location and the opportunities for a pleasant drive to the nearby towns of Cambridge, Bury St Edmunds, Saffron Walden and Long Melford.
The second development was Matt’s new business. Matt trained as an accountant, and with over a decade’s experience under his belt, he refurbished one of the redundant barns and set up a new branch of his company, Evolve Tax and Accountancy, at the farm.
‘Given my farming heritage, it is hardly surprising that I chose to focus on farm and estate accountancy,’ says Matt. ‘I’m still very much involved in the family farming business, so I am fully appreciative of the needs of farms and estates today and it makes a lot of sense to be based at Baythorne Hall, where I can keep an eye on the other developments.’
Next it was George’s turn to make the most of his talents in the interests of the family firm. Having gained a considerable knowledge of wines of the world through eight years in the wine trade (for Wheeler Cellars in Colchester and subsequently The Wine Company), George dreamed of establishing his own wine business and cookery school. A disused former granary, right next door to the Hall, presented itself as the perfect venue and, after considerable renovation work, the wine shop has already opened, stocking more than 150 wines from around the world, with never fewer than 10 open for visitors to taste a tipple of.
With kitchens now installed and ready for use, this spring sees the launch of the first cookery courses at Baythorne Hall and, at other times, carefully selected guest chefs will whip up food for wine matching dinners and pop-up restaurant evenings.
The next step in the gourmet plan will be to introduce both a kitchenware shop and a fine cheese shop to the line-up, but with another four barns ripe for development at the farm, Matt and George are unlikely to stop there.
‘We are always discussing new initiatives,’ confesses George. ‘A project we are particularly pleased to be going ahead with is the building of a new farm workshop, which will allow our exceptionally skilled farm team to carry out more equipment repairs and services on site, further reducing the farm’s costs.’
Given their family’s long history and their links to the land, Matt and George are mindful of their responsibility to make sure Baythorne Hall continues as an efficient arable farm, first and foremost, but one which is able to diversify to suit the modern age. Each project at Baythorne Hall is meticulously planned and any new business or partnerships the brothers enter into must be viable.
‘Matt and I will do all we can to make sure Baythorne Hall remains at the heart of the local rural community, as it has been for many centuries,’ says George. ‘Our hope is that our hard work will ensure that members of our family will continue to live and work at Baythorne Hall for another 140 years, at least.’