The following is a full version of the ‘This is Your Life’ column which appeared in the September edition of the Southover Church Magazine.
John and Barbara Cornwell are about to celebrate their diamond anniversary, having married at Southover on 12th September 60 years ago. This year also marks the 40th anniversary of our friendship, so it was with real pleasure that I talked with them about life and love, faith and farming.
60 years is a long time together. What is your secret?
B: Appreciating one another whilst acknowledging we have different interests. Being fully occupied in our pursuits so each day never seemed long enough – even now!
J: Supporting each other in family matters as well as outside interests.
Having six children is a joy and a challenge! Tell us about them. What parenting tips would you pass on to younger couples today?
B: I have never considered it a challenge. The older children would involve the younger ones in their activities and even discipline them. We lived in an ideal situation; I could pack a paper bag of lunch for each one and let them be out until tea-time. I would advise young parents not to organise their children too much; let them use their imagination, allow them to take risks and explore their surroundings. Let them know you admire what they achieve. Praise goes a long way.
J: We like to keep communication frequent; this is a challenge now some of them live far away. They are excellent at arranging when to visit and always help out in practical ways when they come. Two sons still live in the village.
Farming life has been your focus all that time. What were some of your highlights for each of you?
J: I loved having the opportunity to start and build up a pedigree herd of Charolais cattle from 1969, soon after they were introduced to this country. I loved all my work with animals. I was also so pleased we were able to keep up to date with rapid change in methods and mechanisation. We hosted an annual harvest service in a marquee for many years to which anyone with the slightest link to farming was invited – a most rewarding occasion.
B: The fact we lived two fields from the lane made us feel right in the midst of it all. When the children were small is was lovely to take them to see John in the milking parlour, or out to the hay-making or corn harvesting. The annual Ploughing Match still is a highlight, as well as the S of E agricultural show – both are valued occasions when farmers meet up and chat.
You have seen major changes in the farming world. What has proved to be the biggest challenge on your farm?
J: It has been adapting to a change of emphasis from maximum food production in the early years to accommodate environmental precedents. When I began we had 14 men milking 200 cows. When I finished, we had only one man milking 220. It was a sad day when after nearly 120 years supplying milk we had to sell our dairy herd; the cost of production was way above the price we were paid per litre.
B: We were devastated when our 20 years of blackcurrant growing came to a sudden halt when our main buyers switched to cheaper options from Eastern Europe. 66 acres of prime crop had to be pulled up and burnt. I regretted too the increasing isolation of mechanisation. When a tractor driver is out on the fields with headphones on he has no social contact; in the old days teams could chat as they worked together. It was hard work but happy work then.
Agriculture was not the only thing Cornwells were known for locally. Public service has always characterised the family. In what ways?
J: I must have inherited a commitment to service! Both grandfathers were district councillors; my father served as parish, district and county councillor. I found it complemented my daily work well; I was a parish councillor for 53 years and a district councillor for 26 years.
Barbara, you have had long-term involvement in several organisations which has meant a full diary inside and outside the home. Tell us what these have meant to you?
Principally I have worked in Girl Guides and WI; I’ve been part of the Lewes exhibition fund for 30 years. I started guides when Jenny reached 10; first in our garden and then in every available space around the village. Later I became District Commissioner then Division Commissioner. One bonus was a number of trips to a guiding centre in Switzerland with daily walks in the mountains – wonderful memories.
WI has given me a lifetime of friendships; it got me involved in committee work and gave me confidence in public speaking. As an Adviser I went to every group in East Sussex and as Chairman I visited other counties. Yes, I was there for Blair! The WI college, Denman, gave me fantastic opportunities to explore courses on a range of subjects and I served as college chairman lots of times. I have given talks about farming and rural life accompanied by slides – when going through my records I counted 272 venues at which I have done such events. In the process I have met many interesting people.
I remember your supper time habit of reading the Bible and a booklet of notes on the passage. I also saw you take on a second term as church warden, John. Your consistent service and reliance on God’s word – where did all that come from?
From my upbringing; I simply continued what I was taught to do. With my father it was at 6.30am before work. I have really enjoyed what I have been able to do at Southover. I am not one to be able to speak or lead a group, so I have felt fulfilled in doing what I can. It was good to work alongside Janet, Rob and Ron together with the leadership. From Peter Markby through to the present day we have been privileged to hear God’s word preached every week.
I first visited Southover as a small boy. My great-aunt was a member and lived at 12/13 Southover High Street where they ran a dairy delivering to Lewes homes. The church roof timbers had just been treated and the chemical smell was overpowering!
Can you tell us a favourite hymn or scripture verse – and why?
I love the hymn ‘I vow to thee my country’. It speaks of our citizenship and allegiance to our homeland and then points to the heavenly kingdom to come.
I was given 2 Timothy 1 v 12 on the day I made a commitment to the Lord aged 15 at a summer camp. ‘I know whom I have believed…..’ It has meant a lot in all the years since then. I have always supported youth camps as they provide such a good time to hear and respond to God’s word. One summer we hosted 700 campers on various sites around the farm. One song I use more as a prayer is: Father I place into your hands the things I cannot do.’
If you could pass on one piece of advice to your grandchildren, what would it be?
Always remember that relationships are more important than possessions, including relationship with our Creator. Make the most of every welcome opportunity; don’t hold back, go for it. Listen a lot as you will learn more that way. Travel when you have the chance and achieve as much as possible before the age of 70!
Our warm congratulations to this diamond couple whose love and hospitality has impacted so many – may God continue to bless them both and extend their interests and influence in the years to come.
Hazel Gaydon has taught in a variety of contexts, from primary schools through to common interest groups. Most recently she spent many years in a national team, training and inspiring women to make a difference in their communities.