Last surviving member of Westmorland farming family

Date: Monday 22nd January 2018

CHRISTOPHER Robert Dobson, who has died at the age of 82, was the youngest and last surviving member of a large Westmorland farming family.

He was the third son of Arthur and Zillah Dobson, of The Birks, Mansergh, near Kirkby Lonsdale. Although Chris, like his father, enjoyed woodworking and was good at maths, his first love was always farming.

Tragedy struck the family when Chris was 17 years old with the death of his father, and his mother died just 10 months later. Chris also lost his home, since the farm was tenanted.

An uncle, not wishing to see the family go out of farming, bought a run down hill farm above Ullswater, which Chris and his eldest brother George set out to to revive.

They were met by an enormous midden not emptied for years and a scarred landscape, as a timber merchant had bought the farm for its timber and then sold it on. The house was let to the family of a famous actress, so they could not even move in there.

They were subsequently joined by middle brother Tony and his new wife, and later by sisters Mary and Muriel, with the latter keeping house for George and Chris.

Their father had kept Hereford cattle, but in the 1960s the brothers moved into the Charolais breed and went on to build up a pedigree herd.

It was in 1965 that Chris met his future wife, Alison Rice, at a dance in Carlisle. A year later they were married and the following year their first son Duncan was born. At first the family rented in the area, with Chris still working at the farm and Alison as a nurse.

However, although Mellfell House was a large hill farm for the time it could not support two growing families. Additionally, Ullswater had also been discovered by the tourism industry, so local property was rocketing in price.

Eventually, Chris moved to North Wales where the family entered the hotel trade. However, Chris could not help but keep working outside and so started a small horticultural hire business.

The couple’s second son David was born in 1972, and shortly afterwards Chris took up a job as farm manager on a small estate. This job did not pan out as hoped, and Chris found himself carrying out all sorts of roles. He continued to hire out horticultural machines and started a smallholding with some rather wild Welsh sheep, while Alison returned to nursing.

In the 1980s the family started a caravan site, but the lure of Cumbria was always present, and they returned to the county in 1987, at first helping out at Mellfell with hedge laying and walling with brother Tony and son Duncan.

Chris went on to set up a new horticultural business with Alison, with the boys also helping out. This grew into a thriving concern, maintaining the grounds at many housing association sites.

Chris “retired” in 2000, but carried on slowly running the business down for the next four or five years. He and Alison enjoyed cruises in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, and two with Duncan and his young family.

They moved to a cottage in Burgh-by-Sands, with Chris keeping busy growing vegetables, maintaining the house or fettling things in his beloved garage. He was a great lover of sport, notably football and cricket. In his later years Chris suffered from vascular dementia, but was able to stay at home — by then in Langwathby — cared for by Alison until only a few months before his death.

Chris lived in and loved the countryside all his life, never being happier than in working to maintain it. He was saddened by the decline of family farms and, if he had a regret, it probably was that he never got back into farming.

He is survived by his wife Alison, sons Duncan and David and four grandchildren.