by Meyrick Brown

Cardigan farmer Mervyn Smith, who passed away recently, aged 80 years, was one of three siblings growing up in Mattishall, Norfolk – his father worked on a farm and Mervyn decided to follow in his footsteps as he had been brought up to believe farming was the backbone of Britain and if you worked hard you would be provided with a reasonably good life and one day he might fulfil his ambition to become a farmer himself.

On leaving school, in 1952, he would have dearly wished to have been able to attend an agricultural college but however, there being no “silver spoon” it was necessary for him to begin earning and his working life commenced at the local Hall Farm – it was here that his love of shire horses and vintage machinery began and continued throughout his life.

In 1960 he married Fernleigh and, needing a home, changed his job to foreman – with a tied farmhouse – on a 200 acre Norfolk farm growing, cereals, vegetables and various fruit varieties.

They had chosen to put their names down for a county council smallholding but nothing came of this, seemingly because anyone under 30 was considered to be too young.

As a young girl, Mervyn’s mother had worked as a maid for a successful business family named Bartlett in London and a lifelong friendship had developed.

After Mervyn and Fernleigh were married, his mother asked if they would take her to visit the younger remaining members of the London family.

A warm welcome awaited them and Mervyn remembered being closely questioned about his job and ambitions, not least by Mr Bartlett, junior – little did they then realise how this social occasion would eventually change their whole lives.

In the spring of 1967, quite unexpectedly, a letter arrived from Mr Bartlett with an offer of a job in west Wales. It stated that he had purchased Penlan Farm and Brynbedw at Plwmp, near the Cardiganshire coast, with a view to using one of the houses as a holiday home.

The job was over 300 miles from where they were then living but, after much soul searching and a first brief visit to the area, they decided to go for it.

In following autumn Mervyn, as farm manager, and Fernleigh moved to Penlan Fawr, Plwmp. A new herringbone milking parlour and bulk tank were installed after the Smiths arrived, heifers were purchased from Norfolk and the milking herd soon increased to 90 plus.

A few years later Mervyn considered that it might be prudent to buy land of their own, discussed the possibility with Mr Bartlett and were truly taken aback when he offered the couple the tenancy of Penlan Fawr.

In 1982 the opportunity arose to purchase Penlan Fawr with a mortgage and interest rates of up to 18 per cent. By then there were around 100 cows and a greater number of followers. A number of beef cattle and a flock of sheep were also being kept and barley grown.

More land was added and they were now farming 350 acres. Mervyn was a great believer in homebred stock, after the initial purchases, and when his ambition to own a shire horse came about, the same policy prevailed.

Mobility was becoming an increasing problem and the cows, together with the milk quota, were disposed of in 1997 and the farming business continued with beef cattle, sheep and cereals till 2002 when he reluctantly ‘semi-retired’.

Their son, Nigel (born 1968) who had worked fulltime in the business after graduating from Gelli Aur Agricultural College then worked off farm but continued to help his father with seasonal farm work.

Daughter Helen arrived in 1976 by which time all the family had become a vital part of the local community and made lots of new friends.

Helen shared her father’s love of Shire horses and has shown horses and supported all the local shows with him from an early age. The best memory was probably when his horse, Penlan Gem Rose, won the supreme championship at the Cardigan Show on Mervyn’s 60th birthday. Only recently that horse died aged 22. Helen, her husband, Jason and grand-daughter, Cerys, plan to retain the Penlan Prefix.

Mervyn and Fernleigh became well known to a variety of organisations where they gave their full support time and effort building their lives and sharing their love for farming.

After arriving in Ceredigion, Mervyn became an active member of the NFU, was involved with various commodity committees and was elected chairman of the county branch in 1996. He was also treasurer for many years, helped establish a continuing NFU Ceredigion Trust Fund and assisted many young students studying agriculture or related industries.

He also found the time to undertake various other roles (including chairman) within the Cardigan Grassland Society and Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (Ceredigion Branch) and was founder member of Adran Dyffryn Teifi Vintage Preservation Society, the South Wales Shire Horse Society and West Wales Shire Horse Society.

He also became a life member of the National Shire Horse Society and received his ‘35 Year Long Service Award’ in 2007 for continuing support. The family are rightly proud of his many achievements within these organisations and the funds they raised for local charities.

Mervyn’s last journey was to St Michael’s Church in Penbryn – the journey commenced from Penlan Fawr with Mervyn’s restored MF135 tractor leading the hearse and the final part of the journey was led by a shire horse, bred by Mervyn, plaited in green/yellow as he had supported Norwich City Football Club since childhood. Family and numerous friends attended to pay tribute to a true gentleman who was loyal to all his family, two sisters who now live in Wiltshire and Suffolk, and to his lifelong interests to the end.

The funeral service was conducted by Rev Dr Matthew Baynham and Canon Eileen Davies, organist Delyth Griffiths and eulogy by Bethan and Gwilym Williams. The Bearers were Barri Davies, Phil Howells, Gerwyn Jenkins, Cecil Jones, Chris Nicholson and Dai Thomas. Leaflets were distributed by Steve Hunt, Keith Whitehead and Hywel Owens. Friends and family gathered at the New Inn, Brynhoffnant for refreshments. The funeral was arranged by Alun M Esau, funeral director.

Fernleigh and family have been overwhelmed by the support and friendship received from relatives, neighbours and friends and sincerely thank all involved including John Fletcher and ‘Jac’ the Shire Horse and Martin Evans for driving Mervyn’s MF135.