Scotsman Obituaries: Andrew Henderson, farmer and adventurer

James Andrew Henderson, farmer, skier, free spirit. Born: 30 October 1938 in Haddington, East Lothian. Died: 16 June 2021 in Haddington, aged 82

Andrew Henderson (centre) with associates and the globe-spanning Austin Healey Sprite

Displaying a sense of adventure which marked his ‘free spirit’ approach to life, Andrew Henderson who died recently was a mere twenty years old when he and a friend decided to drive around the world in a little sports car.

This escapade saw the pair of them set off in 1959 in a bug eyed Austin Healey Sprite aiming to circumnavigate the globe. They made Calcutta in record time after going through Europe, Turkey, Persia, Pakistan before crossing the border to India. Then, minus his companion, Andrew travelled to Australia where, in order to augment, his funds, he worked on some of their large sheep stations. The globe-trotting trip continued via New Zealand and Hawaii and on to the United States where he and his new co-driver worked their way across the vast country by helping out on cattle ranches.

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Although the trip broke no speed records coming home two years after starting, it was claimed to be the first time a sports car had been driven round the World. At least that was the claim made at a party held in Scott’s bar (now the Kenilworth) in Rose street in Edinburgh to celebrate the event.

This was but one episode in Andrew’s life filled with sporting ventures and business innovation.

He was a pioneer in skiing in Glenshee. This was at a time when there was only one ski lift and no catering facilities and to add to the hurdles, he faced getting to the ski slopes in these early days, the trip from East Lothian required crossing the Firth of Forth by ferry. Nothing daunted this determined skier as his Glenshee trips were followed by regular visits to Aviemore at a time when that area was being developed as a ski centre.

Later in life, Andrew and friends would enjoy skiing at Verbier in Switzerland with its more challenging slopes.

He also tried his hand at motor racing at Charterhall in a Lotus V1, the first production car from that noted company, and then at Ingliston in a Mini Cooper S.

But his zest for a full sporting life was possibly best shown after he developed a keen interest in sailing. Initially he shared a Dragon ‘Huldra’ based with the Royal Forth Yacht Club while he also raced larger yachts on the West coast of Scotland.

After changing to sailing Etchells - a three man keel boat which replaced the Dragon as an Olympic class boat - he expanded his yacht racing ambitions to include successful raids down to Cowes.

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Andrew quickly grasped the first rule for clever and successful skippers; that of choosing his crew carefully. Having done so, He had an amazing success rate winning seven races out of seven at Cowes against the creme de la creme of Europe.

He then went onto Ocean Racing skippering a larger boat, mainly in the West Indies. He became a member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. In 1979, he, and his crew, took part in the Fastnet race which ended in disaster for many boats, but Andrew and his crew survived the experience.

From all his pursuits and aided by his gregarious nature, Andrew gathered a host of friends including many going back to his “round the world tour” decades earlier.

In another development in Andrew’s social calendar, in the mid Seventies, he made an impromptu trip to play, with six colleagues, two rounds at Carnoustie a fortnight before the Open Championship.

The Henderson Open as it has become known continues to this day with twenty four contestants playing the Open Course with 2 or 3 qualifying courses and the occasional international excursion. The main ingredient for membership, required by Andrew who was renowned for his own boisterous enthusiasm was that you had to be a “character”.

All this ignores his innovative and successful approach to his business life where, recognising the farming life known by his father would no longer be sustainable in the future, Andrew started up a new business using redundant buildings on the family farm at Spittalrig, Haddington.

As the oldest of seven children born to Mac and Janet, he had learned many practical skills and knowledge from a German prisoner of war who had stayed on the farm long after the hostilities ended.

In the post war era, there were a large number of workers and families on the farm and Andrew enjoyed the community spirit there was in those days, but he also saw the transition from working Clydesdale horses to tractors and mechanical harvesters cutting swathes out of the workforce.

Andrew’s own education started at the Rudolf Steiner, Colinton. The philosophy at this school allowed him to develop later in life very much as a free spirit.

Prior to heading off to Edinburgh Agricultural College, he did a year’s practical farming with Tommy Dale at Scoughall near North Berwick. Apart from a grounding in agriculture, this training ground sparked his lifelong interest in cars and their workings after he received a 1920’s Morris Cowley as a sweetener to help seal a deal on some pigs.

Arriving back on the home farm, it was not long before he started bringing in new ideas. It may not seem to be significant but after seeing potatoes popping out the narrow ridges and becoming green and unsaleable, Andrew persuaded his father to grow his crop in much wider ridges; a practice now commonplace in the industry.

After seeing farm machinery grow in size and in cost, he brought in a contractor to work the farm and cut and store the crops. This left the farm sheds empty. This was not a problem for Andrew as his innovative thinking saw him set up Boxit, an archive storage business which was soon used by many Edinburgh based businesses. Boxit expanded and more storage buildings were built before it was recently sold.

With so much going on in his life, Andrew did not get round to marriage until he was fifty or, as his friends pointed out, until he met Annette who had come over from Ireland to Edinburgh to train as a health visitor.

Together they built a new farmhouse with views over the Lammermuirs where they brought up their two children James and Marina and where they entertained their many many friends. Andrew’s wife and children survive him.

With his full-on approach to life, Andrew always filled the proverbial “unforgiving minute”.

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