Chessell Farm

Chessell is known today for its thriving Pottery Cafe. It is perhaps a coincidence that in early history it was a Jutish settlement, where instead of weapons, archaeologists found jewellery and cooking pots. From the late 1930s Chessell Farm was a renowned stud farm for prize-winning Suffolk Punch heavy horses.

Tony Pettitt was born at Chessell in 1937 and remembers the farm in those days:
Summer holidays were spent interesting then. Chessell Farm was owned by Sir Hanson Rowbothom who lived in Brook Hill House. His estate took in Afton, Wellow and Ningwood farms and also some land at Newtown. They were mixed farms with sheep, dairy and beef cattle. He also had a Suffolk Punch horse stud, not just a hobby, but as working horses on the farm. As kids, we would watch Alec Ballard and Hilt Brett making hurdles for sheep pens and spars for thatching hay and straw stacks. They did this in a shed down the cinder track at Little Chessell.

In 2009 David Stephens spoke about how he left school to work for Sir Hanson Rowbotham in 1945. Sir Hanson was a successful business man and High Sheriff in Birmingham, before moving to the Island in 1934 where he lived at Brook Hill House until 1946 when he died suddenly. David worked at Afton with the Suffolk Punch horses bred at Chessell stud. One of these show horses, Beyton Duchess, won the title of National Suffolk champion twice. David’s duties ranged from grooming to feeding, mucking out and cleaning harnesses. He often had to lead the great horses along the road between Afton and Chessell. There were 52 horses at Chessell; they worked on various farms sowing, harrowing, carting, rolling and hay-turning. The local farms were also well known for Red Poll cattle which could be seen in many fields in the area. David remembers how: As youngsters on Friday afternoons we had to sweep from the Causeway to Afton Manor Farm as Sir Hanson was coming back from Birmingham. He doffed his hat as he passed us. After Sir Hanson’s death, David and fellow workers accompanied the horses on their sad journey to a sale in Suffolk: A special ferry and train were put on to take the horses from Yarmouth to Ipswich. They travelled two to an especially prepared box designed to minimise stress. It was a long journey - on the ferry at 10am and not arriving until 2am the next day. The men bedded down on straw, with the horses in stalls.’Even now there’s a lump in David’s throat as he recalls the horses’ pet names - Polly, Valiant, Sandy, Scamp (with a bump on her forehead), Jewel, Lucille... David’s son took him up to a show in Suffolk recently where he met a gentleman who was able, many years after the event, to send him a copy of the sale catalogue of the Chessell horses. David of course had been there, and remembered it well, but he hadn’t been able to face seeing his old friends go...