Class of 1951/52 is reunited at Easton and Otley College

21 June 2018

A lifetime after leaving school, former classmates swapped vivid memories of their teenage studies as the founding class of 1951/52 was reunited at Norfolk’s farming college.

Reunion of the the class of 1951/52 at Easton and Otley College. From left: Tim Gammon, Paul Rackham, Mike Blazey, Will Garnett, John McCarthy. Picture: Chris Hill

The reunion at the Easton and Otley College campus outside Norwich brought together four of the original intake of 20 students at what was then known as the Norfolk School of Agriculture.

Paul Rackham, John McCarthy, Tim Gammon and Mike Blazey – all now aged in their 80s – were joined by Will Garnett, son of the founding principal Bill Garnett.

They recalled their field work at the new Norfolk institution, the first term of lessons in the White House which is now the college’s main office building, the camaraderie of the bus journey from their accommodation at Wymondham College, and the tutors who gave them the grounding for their varied careers.

Mr Rackham established a number of successful companies including Waste Recycling Group which grew into the UK’s largest waste management company before it was sold in 2003 for £531m. He also spent 20 years amassing one of the world’s foremost collections of vintage tractors – which he auctioned for £1.5m in 2015.

The 81-year-old, who now has a mixed farm at Bridgham, near Thetford, said the reunion was “very special”. He said: “I spent the happiest hours of my education career here. I was never a very good scholar at school, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it here.

“The first job we did, I remember it well, was muck-spreading on the field. I also remember spending a night with a shepherd. He either had a girlfriend locally or he wanted a tipple, so he slipped off at nine o’clock and he left me as a 16-year-old in there alone all night.

“It was wonderful really because I managed to deliver a couple of lambs, so I felt like a real shepherd. He came back at 6am. These are wonderful moments – terrifying, I might add, in case you did something wrong, but wonderful moments.”

Mr Blazey, 81, from Attleborough, went on to manage a couple of farms and run his own duck business: He recalled: “Paul and I used to go in the cow house before we caught the bus at night we used to milk two cows, by hand.”

Mr McCarthy, 83, from Clippesby, near Acle, spent two years in the RAF before joining the McCarthy’s fruit and vegetable wholesaler in Norwich, the family business of which he is now chairman.

Recalling his college days, he said: “It was quite hard work when we started. The garden out here had a lot of rubble in it, and we had to do the muck-spreading and the sugar beet – they said that when we had finished a couple of rows we could go home, but you couldn’t even see the end of the rows.

“It is nice to see everyone still looking so well and smiling.”

Mr Gammon, 82, from Tharston, near Long Stratton, spent a five-year spell in the RAF and worked in farming and vehicle distribution businesses, during his career. He said: “I think it is excellent. The place has changed so much, it is almost unrecognisable.”

Mr Garnett, 70, who travelled from the Lake District, worked as a teacher for most of his life, and is now writing a biography of his father, who was the college’s first principal from 1951 until the 1970s.

“Seeing these people today is just wonderful,” he said. “I lived in this house in 1951. The room we are in now (currently the principal’s office) was my living room.

“The most striking thing for me, coming back here, is to see how it has developed. From the days when I was here and my father was the principal, there are now so many different aspects of agriculture and the rural community which have been brought together. The place has improved so much.”

The college’s deputy principal, Ray Goodman, said: “It was an honour to welcome back the class of 51/52 and a real treat to hear their stories from the good old days.

“They spoke fondly of their time with us and this helps inspires us to continue their fine legacy. They helped create the great foundations on which this great college has been built and we feel proud of our past and incredibly excited by our future.” 

The first intake of students at the Norfolk School of Agriculture in 1951/52 (now Easton and Otley College).