End of an era for family farm after 130 years

Farmer Ken Retter with his beloved tractor. Ref sho 11-16TI 7584. Picture: Terry Ife

Farmer Ken Retter with his beloved tractor. Ref sho 11-16TI 7584. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

The sale of an Ottery farmhouse marks the end of a family tradition dating back 130 years and five generations.

Farmer Ken Retter reflected this week on a lifetime spent working the land as he made final preparations for the auction of the fields and property that passed on to him and his siblings.

With younger generations moved away, he said he always knew this day would come, but admits his biggest disappointment is the fact he will now have to bid for the one field at Four Elms Farm, near Alfington, he wants to keep his legacy alive.

The house was built by Ken’s great-great-grandfather, Samuel Retter, in 1878 and the original plans are still kept by the family who have lived there ever since.

The eldest of four children, Ken said he always helped out in the business, before he left education at the age of 15 to work alongside his father, Raymond, who died two years ago.


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“I can do everything and anything but I’m not qualified to do anything,” said Ken, 69. “I never took on the farm, I just worked here. Before I left school, I used to do the milking before school. Farming has changed a lot – we used to milk by hand. When I was turning out the other day I found a contract to supply Fern’s Dairy in Ottery with milk from not more than eight cows – this was in 1939. They used to make a living from eight cows. When I left school, we had a shippen (cowshed) for 20.”

Although the days of working with a horse and cart are long past, Ken said the family farm has always remained a small, traditional operation. He added: “I’m hoping to keep a field just to keep a bit of space and to keep hold of something I have always known. It’s something to play about on and drive the tractor. I always worked outdoors and lived in the country. We have known this day would always come but that’s not the point.”

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A former chairman of Honiton Young Farmers’ Club, Ken said his family have always been involved with the association , where they learnt their trade, and it is where he met his wife, Amanda. His mother, Eileen - who was from a farming family in Tipton St John – died last year.

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