Obituary: John Hamilton, farmer and Blackface sheep breeder who never lost his enthusiasm for the land

Farmer John Hamilton has died at the age of 57
Farmer John Hamilton has died at the age of 57
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John Gordon Hamilton, farmer and Blackface sheep breeder. Born: 25 June, 1961 in Woolfords, Lanarkshire. Died: 24 March, 2019 in Aikengall, Dunbar, aged 57.

John Hamilton, known to his many friends as Joffy, farmed at Aikengall, near Dunbar, East Lothian, but it was on the family farm at Woolfords, Lanark, where he was born, that it became evident farming was in his life blood. It was here that he developed his great passion and dedication to breed stock to the best of his ability.

Throughout his life he ­never shied away from investing in the best of livestock and he linked this with working as hard as he could to improve his farms.

The net result of his endeavours was he received many accolades, awards and ­recognition for the quality of his stock and his farming ­ability; rewards which gave him great pride.

More than 100 years ago, the Hamilton family based at Woolfords were renowned in the sheep world, with their Blackface sheep picking up the top awards at agricultural events including the Highland show.

It was a mark of John’s ­ability and focus that he continued the family’s pre-eminence both in the breed and in the farming industry when he became president of the Blackface Sheep Breeders Association and also a director and chief sheep steward of the Royal Highland Show.

His start in life was not easy as his father, Matthew Hamilton, died when John was only 13. With great determination and enthusiasm, he made it clear he would join the ­family partnership at Woolfords as soon as he finished school at Merchiston and agricultural college at Edinburgh. That resolve remained with him for the rest of his life as he created a large scale, successful ­farming business.

It was widely known that if John set his eye on a potential replacement ram or bull in the market place, he was hard to stop and was always prepared to pay for the quality he was looking for. He always enjoyed those days out, whether it was at Kelso Tup sales, Lanark Blackface sheep sales or ­Stirling bull sales.

In 1988, with his wife Vanessa, he started to farm in his own right at Cobbinshaw and Dykefoot. It was at ­Cobbinshaw that their four sons, James, Charles, Harry and Hamish came into the world. Sadly Hamish died in 1996 in childhood.

In encouraging his sons in their farming ambitions, he would often advise the boys “never let your farm know you are poor”. He also told them time and again to remember one of the great guiding ­mottos in farming was to, “live as if you will die tomorrow, and farm and breed stock as if you will live forever” – advice that he took as his own.

In 1998, John achieved one of his lifetime goals when he bought a farm in the east of Scotland with the purchase of Aikengall, followed by Thurston Mains around 10 years later

He was always thinking and planning how to maximise the return from the land he was farming and how he could take his business to the next level. To that end, he and his great friend and mentor, ­Willie Mitchell, travelled down to Wales in 1993 to see for themselves the very first wind turbines that had been installed in the UK.

From that moment on, he was convinced that windfarms would play a huge part in the rural economy of Scotland and a major part in his future business. After a lot of planning, hard work and ­persistence, he was successful in getting his first windfarm generating renewable electricity installed at Aikengall in 2008 with further expansion since.

As his farming business grew, he handed over the management of the cattle and sheep enterprises to his three sons, James, Charles and Harry. In doing so, John knew the business was in good and capable hands as he had installed a strict work ethic in the next generation and was proud as he watched them become successful farmers in their own right. His schoolboy friends and others he worked and socialised with knew him simply as Joffy – a ­nickname going back to a primary school nativity play when John, appropriately cast as a shepherd, could not ­pronounce Joseph instead ­settling for Joffy.

Much to his annoyance, his boys started using it as his nickname. “Only my friends can call me that,” he protested. As James pointed out at his father’s funeral, “It is a great honour and privilege for all three of us to say that he was not just our father – he was our friend as well.”

In life, he was a very sociable man, who loved people and company and any excuse for a day out, party or trip away was readily embraced and seized upon.

Watching rugby and shooting were his two main ­hobbies. He recently enjoyed a trip to the south of France with a group of good friends to watch the Edinburgh v Toulon game and managed to fit in quite a few vineyard tours as well. Shooting would not only take him the length and breadth of the UK but also as far afield as Argentina.

He made numerous friends while following his hobbies. He always claimed he learned something new every time he was away from the farm and he would come home ­bounding with new ideas and enthusiasm.

He loved nothing more than getting a new joke or funny story and regaling his friends with it with much animation and hilarity at a dinner table or any other occasion where he had the ability to captivate any audience or individual in his company.

Whether at home or away from it, he would often remark how much Vanessa meant to him and how he couldn’t have achieved half the success ­without her love, strength and guidance by his side.

His social occasions were concluded with John saying to his friends, “Thanks for the friendship and thanks for the fun” leaving everyone in good humour.

ANDREW ARBUCKLE