Shropshire Star

Respect and affection as founder of Acton Scott Working Farm dies aged 95

The founder of the prestigious Acton Scott Historic Working Farm has died.

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Tom Acton, right, with presenter Ben Fogle during the filming of Escape in Time

Tom Acton passed away aged 95 at the home where he was born near Church Stretton.

A former magistrate and music enthusiast, he was instrumental in creating the popular farming attraction in 1975, which has since welcomed more than a million visitors and featured on TV multiple times.

Keen to preserve the 18th Century brick-built home farm and developing a passion for traditional farming methods, Tom approached Shropshire Council and negotiated an agreement for them to run the farm museum.

Tom also had a starring role in the BBC series Victorian Farm, where commentators noted that his portrayal of a Victorian landowner was no act.

Born in Acton Scott in 1925, Tom went to boarding school in Berkshire and later to Rugby School, after which he was offered a place at Oxford to study classics.

However, the war intervened and he gained a commission in the Royal Navy, serving as a gun control officer on HMS Fernie – a hunt class destroyer – for the last two years of the war and a further two years post war.

Tom Acton working alongside Trooper the horse

After returning to Oxford University in 1947, Tom changed to the School of Agriculture and graduated in 1949 before returning to the Navy, gaining a post in New Zealand.

On leaving full time service he farmed one of the Acton Scott Estate farms almost single-handedly until he married Lucy Staveley from Church Stretton in 1966. Tom and Lucy were happily married and worked together in a farming partnership throughout their working lives. Lucy died in March 2019.

Tom was a lover of classical music and will be remembered by many in Shropshire for organising large groups to attend live concert performances. He was also the chairman of the Church Stretton and South Shropshire Arts Festival in its early days and got involved with the Ludlow Music Society. An active performer himself, Tom sang for nearly 40 years in the Church Stretton Choral Society, serving as its president until his death.

When Acton Scott Church found itself without an organist in 1969 Tom stepped in to play, serving continuously until his last service in March before the church was closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Tom also served as a magistrate on the Ludlow bench for 34 years, including as chairman of the bench from 1987 to 1991.

Francis Acton, Tom's son, said: "To most, Tom will be best known for his passion for small scale sustainable farming, and his encyclopaedic knowledge of horse-drawn machinery and hand tools as well as his library of books on the subject.

Tom Acton with a team of volunteers working at the grounds of Acton Scott Village Hall. From left John Phillips, Tom Acton, Mary Phillips, Marian Talbot, Francesca Philips and Richard Wilson

"At various times he was responsible for many of the Acton Scott Museum demonstrations, working a full day in the fields with a pitchfork to get the hay crop in, at other times he had his own cart horse and operated a small holding adjacent to the museum.

"He will particularly be remembered, along with Lucy, for organising the annual cider-making demonstration at the museum – the product of which supplied them with a glass of cider at lunch everyday for all of their married lives.

"He was held in respect, but also great affection, by the community of Acton Scott to which he gave so much of his time to support and help. He was for over 50 years chairman of the Parish Meeting and Village Hall Committee, and treasurer of the Parochial Church Council."

Tom died peacefully in the house he was born in over 95 years ago. He leaves behind his sons Francis and Rupert, daughters-in-law Alison and Hortense, and grandchildren Edward, Sophie and Florence.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a close family burial service was held at Acton Scott Church on June 5.

Francis added: "Tom made his final journey to the churchyard on a farm dray pulled by Alfie the shire horse – a fitting tribute to a true gentleman who loved working horses. It is the family’s intention to hold a memorial service to celebrate Tom’s life and achievements later in the year."