Wylds Farm was originally part of the larger 200-acre Wylds Estate purchased in 1885 by the Rev. George Cardew. We believe the great Red Oaks that stand on the hill, were planted around this time.
After the war, in 1950, Wylds was owned by Mr & Mrs Holland who reclaimed the farmland from scrub and bracken and eventually featured in an article in The Field magazine entitled “Victory at Wylds!” in 1956.
The farmland was however “blighted” by a pre-war plan to run a by-pass for Petersfield right through the valley. Mr & Mrs Holland sold the farm to a local farmer who found the land to be of such poor quality and difficult topography that he quickly sold it to the Ministry of Transport under a “blight order”. The bypass was due to be built in 1970, and until that time, they needed a tenant! This proved difficult, and as the agent said to my father:
“I can’t find a ‘proper’ farmer remotely interested. If you are interested, you can have a go – the rent is £500 a year.”
At 24 years old, with little money and less experience, he grabbed the chance, moving into the largely derelict cottage and 85 acres of the poorest land in Hampshire, upon which he set about establishing a dairy herd. This grew over the years to 140 cows and 60 youngstock, running on local bits of land from seven different landlords and which finally totalled 240 acres.
My father eventually bought the farm as a sitting tenant from The Ministry of Transport, after they had decided to put the bypass where it is today, instead of running alongside the London to Portsmouth railway.
When my father retired in 2003, I returned to the family farm and set up “Organick”, growing organic vegetables which my wife, Sophia and I sold through the farmers markets, a small farm shop and a home delivery box scheme. Some might remember me peddling through Petersfield on a converted ice cream sellers’ bike to sell my veg in the market square.
Peddling vegetables to Petersfield was hard enough – but growing vegetables on our poor-quality soil proved all the more difficult. Waterlogged in the winter and desert dry in the summer, we were forced to look at alternative crops and Christmas trees seemed to thrive. They had the added advantage of not escaping onto the railway as the cattle had been known to do and furthermore, where we struggled to sell a bunch of carrots for £1, people seemed happy to pay for trees that they could cut themselves, and so the Christmas experience started.
When Covid struck we realised just how vulnerable our business model was. We are growing a single crop with a very short harvest and sales window.
In 2020 the nation was closed down and our ability to sell our crop was taken from us, as we only sell direct to the public. Only garden centres were allowed to trade and it was at the eleventh hour, after much pressure from the Christmas tree grower’s association, that the government relaxed the rules and allowed tree farms to open.
In 2021 Covid almost closed the nation down for a second Christmas and it was clear that an alternative revenue stream had to come into play to safeguard the farm. This was compounded in 2022 when we suffered a terrible drought and lost many trees, further highlighting our vulnerability.
It was in 2021 that I met Chris Hollis and took pity on the poor out of work actor as his profession had also been closed down. I didn’t realise at the time that actors were pretty used to being out of work but nonetheless I took him up the hill to show him where I thought would be a great place to put on a play.
As luck would have it, The Petersfield Shakespeare Festival were looking for a new home and our first foray into alternative uses of the farm began.
After a very long and difficult planning process (Clarkson has nothing on us!) we finally managed to get ‘change of use’ on our barns in the main yard to hold up to 30 events a year. These can range from Wim Hof ice bath classes to dinner clubs, weddings, Shakespeare and more. This year we are holding our first summer Wyldsfest on July 29th. On September 2nd we are hosting a ‘Home Start Butser’ charity event and in November is our Wyldfest fundraiser for Parkinsons UK.
Thank you for joining us today and we hope you will come to many of our future events.
Nick and Sophia Rook-Blackstone