Farmer who did wonders with Suffolks and Aberdeen-Angus

Leading Borders farmer and a former president of the Suffolk Sheep Society, William (Willum) Stewart, of Bartlehill, Kelso, has died at the age of 92.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 18th April 2022, 11:17 am
Borders farmer Willum Stewart, who died on March 9.
Borders farmer Willum Stewart, who died on March 9.

Mr Stewart, a keen supporter of the Buccleuch Hunt, was a much-loved figure in the Borders farming community for his jovial personality and keen sense of humour, and as a prominent breeder of both Suffolk sheep and Aberdeen-Angus cattle.

Born at Tinnis in the Yarrow Valley on January 16, 1930, the third of Archie and Margaret Stewart’s six children, the family moved to Grahamslaw Farm, Kelso, in 1941.

At the age of 16, he went to work and learn from one of the leading Aberdeen-Angus cattlemen of the time, Gavin Ogg, who by that time was farming on his own account at Carroch, Kirriemuir. This experience kindled his interest in the Aberdeen-Angus breed and led to the establishment of a pedigree herd at Grahamslaw in 1950.

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Following his marriage in 1954 to Jennie Todd, whose family bred Aberdeen-Angus at Greenend, St Boswells, he moved to Bartlehill, taking the cattle with him but retaining the Grahamslaw herd prefix, and in partnership with his father and two brothers, Archie and Charlie, trading as A Stewart and Sons, building up a highly productive farm.

The Suffolk flock was founded in 1954 with purchases from Hugh Fraser, of Linton Burnfoot, Kelso, and sold rams at the Kelso ram sales for 60 years.

The breed record price at the time for ram lambs was held on three occasions with prices of £2,400, £2,900 and £4,600, the latter for Bartlehill Balsteros, which was sold to the Mair family’s Muiresk flock in Aberdeenshire, and went on to become breed sire of the year based on the average price of progeny sold.

Perhaps the most noted ram bred in the flock was Bartlehill Cannon which took the sire of the year title twice for Jimmy Wilson’s Bridgestone flock, also in Aberdeenshire, while Bartlehill Revenge sold for a flock top price of 7000gns to Michael Walton’s Roseden flock in Northumberland.

The Bridgestone flock won the breed championship at seven summer shows in one season, including the Highland and the Royal, with different progeny of Cannon.

The male championship was won twice by Bartlehill at the breed’s annual show and sale in Edinburgh and a further championship success was recorded at the annual breed sale at Malton in Yorkshire.

The flock was also twice runner-up for the Bristol Gold Cup for the Suffolk flock of the year and won the Brooks Cup for the best large flock on three occasions.

Mr Stewart’s services as a judge were much in demand and he officiated at all the major shows throughout the country, including the Royal Highland, Royal, Great Yorkshire and Royal Ulster as well as at all the major breed sales.

He was also a past president of the Suffolk Sheep Society and a founder member of both the Borders Suffolk Club and the Borders Aberdeen-Angus Club.

The Grahamslaw Aberdeen-Angus herd was noted for the breeding of solid commercial cattle for use in suckler herds but also won a junior championship and award for the best group of three bulls at a Perth autumn bull sale in the 1970s.

The herd found success at the Royal Highland Show and the Border Union Show.

Mr Stewart was part of an Aberdeen-Angus delegation from the UK which visited Argentina in 1970 to attend the famous Palermo show and sale in Buenos Aires and visit many of the top Aberdeen-Angus herds, an experience which he never forgot and frequently talked about over the years.

He was a late recruit to the hunting scene, but became a keen supporter of the Buccleuch after winning a bet with his friend, the late Jock Mitchell of Birgham Haugh, Coldstream, that he couldn’t manage a day’s hunting.

He did, and raised £500 for Eccles Church.

Shortly afterwards, he even bought a horse and eventually became joint hunt secretary for a number of years, enjoying many great hunting days over the years with Jennie.

Mr Stewart farmed at Bartlehill until 2001 and at Springhall, Kelso, from 1964 to date and East Buccleuch from 1976 to 1986, as well as managing Eccles Mains for Joyce Wilson in the 1960s.

He maintained his partnership in A Stewart and Sons farming at Grahamslaw, Towford, Under Chatto, Over Dalgleish and Gordon East Mains.

According to his family, he remained as “argumentative and full of life as ever” right to the end with an electric scooter allowing him to get around the farms to see what was going on.

Paying tribute to his close friend and fellow Suffolk breeder, Jimmy Wilson, said: “He was a real character who will be sorely missed.

"I always looked forward to meeting up with him at the breed sales where we would invariably adjourn to his trailer to enjoy a refreshment. Willum and Jennie were always very hospitable.”

Mr Wilson also recalls the show of 40-60 shearling rams from Bartlehill at the Kelso ram sales each year which were always a great attraction and were always amongst the highest averages.

Mr Stewart survived a cancer operation only six weeks before his death, but died on March 9, after collapsing in his garden at home.

He is survived by his wife, Jennie, four children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.