Adam Henson opens Denby Pottery’s new farm shop
- Credit: Archant
Derbyshire Life visits Denby Pottery Village to discover the firm’s latest retail venture and speaks to TV presenter Adam Henson as well as some of the 300 people who attended the launch
Denby Pottery Village is a well-known retail paradise for stoneware and tableware collectors. Thousands of visitors flock to the attraction every year to discover the firm’s proud 200-year background of producing iconic British-made pottery. Over the past 25 years it has grown into something of a shopping destination, selling not just pottery, but also homeware, glassware, cookware, garden pots, gifts and cards.
Arriving at the palace of pottery on a bright April Fools’ Day morning there is a noticeable buzz of excitement in the air. Over 300 people have formed a very British-style orderly queue hoping to experience the tableware giant’s latest curiosity – a stylish new farm shop opened in partnership with renowned craft butchers and farmers Walter Smith.
The length of the line of locals may have more to do with the news that a national television personality is about to open officially the new enterprise, but those in the queue seem genuinely excited to discover what is hidden behind the doors of the exquisitely restored barn, which is now home to what promises to be an emporium of food gorgeousness.
At the stroke of 11am the doors swing open and a familiar-faced, carroty-flecked-haired man, wearing a smart tweed suit walks towards the assembled crowd, prompting spontaneous applause – the kind of involuntary and uncontrolled reaction when a person is faced with a star from one of the nation’s favourite television programmes standing bang in front of them.
It is Adam Henson, the well-liked farmer and television presenter from the BBC Countryfile series. His presence prompts a blaze of mobile phone and camera clicks and flashes from the gathered queue, which has reformed to resemble a horse-shoe of bodies all pressing to get closer.
It is not difficult to appreciate why Adam’s star is rising so high – Countryfile is now the most watched BBC television programme, pulling in nine million viewers on a Sunday evening – leaving other popular dramas some way behind.
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‘It is a great pleasure to be here today to open the new farm shop,’ proclaims Adam. ‘It is wonderful to be back in Derbyshire, a place I have a great affinity with – somewhere I was so welcomed when I last worked here as a young man.’ Before going to agricultural college, Adam spent a year working on the Chatsworth Estate. He was even offered a job but turned it down to return to his family’s farm in the Cotswolds.
‘When Denby Pottery was thinking about opening a new farm shop in partnership with Walter Smith, they knew I had an affinity with Derbyshire, with pottery and with the conservation of high quality rare breeds – so they asked me to come here and open it for them,’ he explains. ‘As a young student at school I really enjoyed working with clay and thought very seriously about becoming a potter – but at the time I wasn’t sure that it could be financially viable, so I concentrated all my efforts on farming.’
Early visitors to the first farm shops that started to appear in the countryside over 20 years ago often regarded them as the province of the wealthy. But things are changing – and people are beginning to place a value on the importance of where their food is produced, sourced and reared. ‘Farm shops are never going to feed the world but it gives people a choice; of buying local and talking to the butcher and the baker – it is a very special part of British agriculture,’ he explains. ‘I am passionate about local food and supporting British farmers. Farm shops, farmers’ markets and selling from the farm gate is so important because it engages the producer with the general public.
‘My grandparents understood the value of local food – they lived with post-war rationing. The education and importance of preparing food got lost somewhere along the line from this time – and anything, such as this new farm shop, that helps to make people think where their food comes from has to be a good thing,’ smiles Adam. ‘It is also pleasing that Denby Pottery is diversifying its business into new areas. After all, 55 per cent of all farmers have second jobs, so it makes sense for this wonderful pottery firm to expand into new markets.’
Adam is tickled pink when he is reminded by one of Denby’s marketing team that customers can now buy their food in the new farm shop, cook it in a Denby cookware pot and then eat it off a Denby plate. ‘Isn’t that wonderful,’ he laughs. ‘The food chain is huge – and Denby Pottery is now part of it! I truly believe in what they are doing here – it is a real benefit to visitors and employees because it helps business to keep going and get stronger.’
The beautifully restored farm shop barn was used as a garage for the cars of the pottery’s owner Mrs Bourne Wheeler at one point in its history. Resembling a collection of high-end delicatessen counters it is immaculate and filled with a spectacular array of fruits, vegetables, cakes, scones, meats and pies. There is almost too much to take in, so we attempt to retreat to find a quiet corner to finish the interview.
Adam is greeted at almost every twist and turn by delighted visitors. ‘Hello Adam, it is great to see you here at Denby!’ rejoices a man who has travelled from Belper to see his favourite Sunday-evening television companion. ‘Thanks for coming Adam, we really love hearing about your Cotswold Farm Park on Countryfile,’ roars another customer who has a copy of the presenter’s book Adam’s Farm: My Life on the Land for him to sign.
Sitting down for a delicious cup of tea, it is hard not to reflect that a lot has happened in the eight months since Derbyshire Life spoke to Adam on his appointment as President of Chatsworth Country Fair. ‘Time has gone really quickly. We lost my father, Joe. He has left an amazing legacy for us all. I am determined to look after what he created – especially his work with the rare breeds,’ he says proudly.
Joe Henson, who died aged 82, was constantly promoting the importance of rare breeds at his farm in Kineton, near Cheltenham – and he was famous for establishing a sanctuary for unusual breeds of sheep, horses, poultry and pigs. It is thought he helped save many varieties of farm breeds that may have otherwise disappeared. Joe also presented a farming and countryside television programme with the late Phil Drabble, a former writer for Derbyshire Life, and Adam has many happy memories from this time. ‘I met Phil on a number of occasions and he was a great guy. People like Phil and my Dad had great lives and have left huge legacies and have made a significant mark on our land.’
‘Dad has left a huge gap in my life – I turned to him all the time,’ explains Adam. ‘Working with him every day and growing up in the house where I was born was special – he is everywhere and I think about him every day.’ Adam is positive about the future and is quietly confident his children may one day take roles on his farm. ‘My daughter, Ella, is hoping to go to university to do English or drama – so perhaps a career in drama or presenting for her! And my son, Alfie, who is 13, just loves to be outside in the great outdoors. He loves the farm and really enjoys getting involved.’
For Adam, and his business partner Duncan, running the Cotswold Farm Park is like running a medium-sized business, offering lots of career opportunities for his family and local people to get involved with. ‘It is a real business environment – like Denby, there are opportunities to work in retail, in our café, in marketing, accounts and even human resources; there is a bit of something for everyone on our farm!’ he reflects.
In 2001, Adam was delighted to join the Countryfile cast, having won a competition for a job as a presenter from a field of over 3,500 applicants. ‘There’s nothing better than to relax and watch a beautiful television programme like Countryfile. The photography is first-class and makes the show. The storylines can be informative, hard-hitting, as well as educational – it has got amazing stories about farming and agriculture. There’s something for everyone in it,’ he smiles.
At this point Adam is called away to start signing copies of his book. For the next hour the queue remains long and Adam patiently speaks and chats to everyone. As people leave the studio they are quick to comment on their experience. ‘It was really good to meet him. I watch Countryfile every Sunday and always enjoy Adam’s feature. I think the farm shop is a great addition to Denby Pottery,’ says Andrew from Derby. While Annette from Belper who attended the launch with her mother adds: ‘It was really exciting to meet Adam. I think the farm shop is beautiful – we’re really enjoying the day.’
Local producers who have their products for sale in the farm shop are also keen to share their experiences of the day. Carol Sellors, of Windy Ridge Products, provides homemade jellies and sauces for the farm shop. She says: ‘I am very proud to have my produce on sale here. My sauce is based on elderberry and goes very well with venison. I also like making jellies, which is a clear jam, from spiced apples picked from my garden!’
On site to welcome all of the new arrivals is Robert Jones, retail managing director of Walter Smith. Robert, who is a founding member of the Staffordshire Lamb Society, is proud of his firm’s new partnership with Denby Pottery. ‘Someone said to me when you can find a job that is also your hobby, you truly don’t feel like you are going to work everyday. I love coming here. It is a pleasure to see the farm shop’s amazing collection of artisan breads, olives, wines, cheeses, steaks and pies – all sourced from trusted suppliers and producers.’
‘We’ve taken on 12 local people from Derbyshire to work in the farm shop and they are already proving to be great assets to our business. We are award-winning butchers and farmers – all of our sausages are made on site, as well as our cottage and shepherd’s pies. Our new staff are already helping to make traditional marmalades and our famous Scotch eggs. We’re also really proud to be supporting local producers and it’s great to have some of their goods in store for people to enjoy. We’ve got eggs from Field Farm in Burton-on-Trent; meat delivered free range from Packington in Lichfield; bread from a bakery in South Normanton; fresh produce from John Palin in Matlock; and sauces from Carol Sellors who only lives across the fields from where we are standing today,’ explains Robert.
It is difficult not to appreciate the effort and energy that has gone into it. It really is a showcase for the benefits of buying locally produced food. It’s only a shame for the 300 visitors that Adam had to leave to go back to his beloved Costwold Farm Park!
For more information about the new farm shop visit www.denby.co.uk or telephone 01773 740 700.