Obituary: Chris Leyland MBE

Chris Leyland
Chris Leyland

Christopher Leyland MBE, who has died aged 62, was a farmer, inventor and entrepreneur who will also be remembered as a progressive park manager for the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, as well as for his charitable work for the older people of Belford.

Chris was born on June 4, 1954, and was the great-grandson of Christopher John Leyland (1849-1926), the famous Naval officer and silviculturalist who owned the extensive Haggerston Castle Estate.

The Haggerston Estate was sold in 1931, but the Leyland family retained a tenancy of one farm, Greymare, near Belford, and it was there that Chris’s parents were living when he was born.

Neither Chris nor his sister or brother knew their father, Michael Leyland M.C, who died when Chris was only two. However, his mother Teresa re-married in 1958 to farmer Basil Smalley, and the resulting combined family was brought up, first at Greymare and then at nearby West Kyloe farm.

Later, Chris was to return to farm as a tenant at Greymare, and later still, in 2007, he and his wife Georgina managed to buy the farm from their landlord.

Educated at Stowe School, Chris was something of a reluctant pupil as far as mainstream academic studies were concerned, but he developed a fascination for many aspects of the natural world as well as basic engineering principles. He spent much of his life exploring novel ways of solving practical problems.

On leaving school, he undertook an adventurous overland journey from the UK to the Far East in 1973.

From Singapore, he travelled onwards by ship to Perth, Western Australia, where he recalled arriving so broke that he had to sell his wallet to pay for a meal.

On returning home, he completed an agricultural course at Cirencester, and gained experience working on farms in the south of England, in preparation for his own farming career back in Northumberland.

He pioneered several alternative business ventures, including the extraction of peat for burning and horticultural purposes, the production of Haymax, and later, with his half-brother Tim, Bedmax, an equestrian bedding product.

He will be particularly remembered by his local community as the leader of a campaign that led to the creation of Bell View, a visionary approach to the housing and care needs of older people in his nearby town of Belford.

Supported by a small army of volunteers, Chris managed to raise £1.4million.

Chris was appointed chairman of the newly-formed Bell View Trust and in 2006 was awarded the MBE for his tireless charitable work.

In 2005, he also became the first park manager for the Chillingham Wild Cattle Association and immediately set to work making changes and improvements which greatly enhanced both the Park itself and the unique herd of Wild Cattle.

Chris’s infectious humour, energy and inventiveness won him the affection and admiration of north Northumberland’s farming and wider communities, where he will be greatly missed by his many friends. He faced even the darkest days of his long illness with great courage and humour.

Chris leaves behind his wife Georgina, their daughter Emma Rose and son Ben.