500 Years Young

Widdrington Farm, home to the Country Barn Farm Shop and Coffee Shop, has passed through the same family for an incredible 500 years, Rosie McGlade discovers.
Five centuries ago, during the reign of Henry VIII, a Monsieur Annett boarded a boat and sailed from France to Northumberland. Arriving here, he settled on land close to the sea, and raised his family.

His descendent Hugh Annett and his wife Sarah are still farming that land overlooking beautiful Druridge Bay today, and this year they celebrate an extraordinary 500-year anniversary with Widdrington Farm, which has from one generation of Annetts to the next.

Perhaps just as extraordinarily, the farm has consistently passed through the male line: every Annett here has had a son.  Hugh and Sarah’s own, Geoffrey, 29, and Harry, 25, have two daughters between them, though there’s another baby on the way. Not that an Annett female couldn’t run the farm. Sarah, born to a very urban family in Newcastle half an hour away, has more than proved her business prowess in bringing the Country Barn into being, as we shall see.

“I actually started out working as cabin crew for Gill Air and Air France,” she smiles. “I’ve gone full circle from serving tea and coffee in the air to doing the same on land.”

The next generation is covered, Geoffrey and Harry having taken an interest in cattle and sheep respectively.

Hugh himself grew up hearing stories of what life was like for the previous generation, as must have all the Widdrington farmers before him. “My father used to tell me that my grandfather would open a window every morning and shout out orders to the people he employed here, then go back to bed,” he says.

Farming being what it is, there have been many peaks and troughs along the way. In 2001, it was foot and mouth disease.

“It was awful. We had a pedigree herd and a pedigree flock and they all had to go,” Hugh recalls. This massive blow forced a decision to diversify and The Country Barn farm shop, butchers and café was born, growing today into a thriving business employing 25 full-time staff.

It came at the right time. “We’d already realised that as a pure farming unit, the business couldn’t support what would be three families when the boys were grown up,” Sarah says.  But what to do? The answer came from some basic maths. The farm was selling its animals through Ashington Mart. Sarah was buying meat from a butchers in Morpeth stocked by the mart. “It was ours. We calculated the difference, and decided to open a butchers.”

It was the farm’s only suitable buildings – too big for just a butchers – that dictated the scale of things to come. “They were huge. One little idea mushroomed into a whole big operation, and we opened in 2006.”

Today, the coffee shop in the old grain store, with its original beams and grinding wheels still visible, has 80 covers, with all the gorgeous-looking pies, pasties and sausage rolls, all the cakes and hot food cooked in kitchens upstairs, while the farm provides the meat for delicious  Sunday lunches.  It’s clearly hard work being an Annett, but it’s not a bad life if you can get it right like they have. Here’s to the next 500 years.
Widdrington Farm
Widdrington Village, Morpeth
Northumberland, NE61 5EA
tel 01670 760 181

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