In 2022, the Berkswell herd of Tamworth pigs celebrated its centenary, an event marked by recognition from the BPA as a Conservation Centurion and the presentation of a copper beech tree from the Tamworth Pig Breeders’ Club.

The herd’s story began in the Midlands, where the breed originated, at Berkswell Hall in Warwickshire, home of Joshua Hurst Wheatley who registered his first Tamworth, Jemima, in 1922. Pride amongst breeders was strong and the need to keep pedigree herds to maintain the purity of the breed was already recognised. In 1924, Joshua bought the boar Knowle Brooklyn and an in-gilt pig, Knowle Red Queen, from the dispersal sale of the nearby Knowle herd. It was a Knowle pig that gave Joshua his first success in the showring, taking second at the Royal in 1925.

When Joshua died, his son Charles Wheatley took over the herd and continued breeding and improving it and, in fact, has been credited, together with Major Morrison of Basildon, of re-establishing the breed after the demise of the Knowle herd. Charles showed his pigs all over the country and even travelled as far as the Milan Show in 1931.

It was during this era that export and import began, particularly to Canada and Australia, which was to prove invaluable in post-war years, as many genes which had died out in the UK were re-imported, effectively importing new pure Tamworth blood.

When Charles died suddenly in 1943, his daughter Ann was just 19 and working in the wartime Foreign Office. As the only child, she returned home to run the Warwickshire estate. She undoubtedly had farming in her blood and her no-nonsense attitude led her to make a huge success of her farming career, recognised by being awarded an OBE for her contributions to agriculture, particularly for her work with the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE).

In the early 60s the family and animals - Dairy Shorthorns, Clun sheep and the Large White and Tamworth pigs - moved from Berkswell to Boyton in Wiltshire. Always supporting the Tamworths, despite their lack of profit, Ann worked hard at exporting and importing and an article in the Farmers Weekly in 1950s pointed out that she was importing the genes that her father had exported during the war.

As the years wore on it became apparent that many of the old breeds of domestic animals were being lost with the rise of the fast growing, productive and relatively fat-free commercial breeds. Ann was one of a group of people, together with Joe Henson, Lawrence Alderson, Christopher Dadd and others who came together to address the issue of lost breeds and ultimately formed RBST. In his book Saving the Breeds Lawrence Alderson wrote that ‘she became one of the most effective people in the rare breed movement and would be one of the Trust’s most efficient chairmen’.

Ann retired in 1986 and her daughter-in-law Caroline Wheatley-Hubbard took on responsibility for the pig herd. She says: “When I took over, it seemed to involve little more than breeding and showing. Attempting to find a market for what seemed much better, tastier pork than that available in the shops, was not a priority but I made it one!”

Selling from the back door led to the creati of Boyton’s ‘Simple Simon’ sausages, which won Gold in the early Great Taste Awards. Marketing progressed to farmers markets a later a farm shop. When the farm shop shut and Caroline’s son Christopher started to take over running the farm, she began sellin carcases to butchers, initially in London and then more locally. She says: “I have always believed in ‘living conservation’. Improving the market for Tamworth meat is the best way to improve the size of the national herd, thereby preserving the genes and ensuring a future for the breed.”

During her stewardship of the herd, highlights for Caroline have included a study at Bristol University into the flavour of different pork breeds in which the Tamworth was judged top for taste and texture. She was also instrumental, with Nick Hunkin, in forming the Tamworth Breeders’ Club. Caroline adds: “Supplying pigs to films was interesting – to Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, which included a day of filming at Shepperton, and the BBC’s Tale of the Tamworth Two, when the pigs’ pictures were on billboards all over the country and on the cover of the Radio Times. However, winning Supreme Champion at the Royal Bath and West Show in 2019 probably ranks highest of all of the experiences – not something one ever dreams of!”

Photo: Berkswell Rose 86th (1945)