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Pentecost’s Respect, Polling Reds & Touring Bulls – Memories of a Stockman

We’re most grateful to Phil Needham of Boston. After seeing our magnificent Lincoln Reds on BBC Countryfile, he shared some fascinating family memories with us.

Eric Pentecost of Cropwell Butler near Nottingham is generally credited with polling the Lincoln Red between the late 1930s and the mid-1950s. What is less well known is the part played by Phil Needham’s dad and uncle in this historic process.

Phil’s dad, John Needham, was an experienced stockman when he went to work for Eric Pentecost in the early 1940s. John worked alongside Roland Tinkler, a close family-friend always known to Phil as ‘Uncle’.

Eric Pentecost was a prominent Nottingham businessman who made his money in lace before buying a farm near Cropwell Butler and turning his attention to agriculture.  Eric bred and showed the Aberdeen Angus for some years, claiming 42 champions. He became interested in the Lincoln Red, particularly in the possibility of polling. At the time, the breed was formally known as the ‘Lincoln Red Shorthorn’.

John Needham & South Ormsby's Lincoln Reds

In Phil’s family, Eric Pentecost was seen as a rude and arrogant man who called everyone by their surname. Eric and John had a stormy relationship which came to a head when Eric wanted to introduce an Angus bull to a Red heifer. John insisted that the calf’s shoulders would be too broad for the heifer to safely manage and threatened to resign. Words were exchanged and Eric walked away. Ten minutes later he returned and said, “Needham, I admire you…not many people will stand up and argue with me.”

From then on, Eric Pentecost addressed John by his Christian name and often drew on his expertise. Between them, John, Roland and Eric spent 17 years crossing and back-crossing five generations of Aberdeen Angus and Lincoln Red Shorthorn cattle until they arrived at the polled Lincoln Red.

Phil still has vivid memories of how much of a stickler Eric Pentecost was for tidiness. His mum, Evelyn, and his Auntie Joyce spent a lot of time cleaning mangers and white-tiled troughs, particularly when foreign buyers visited. Evelyn also recalled some tricks of the trade for showing off cattle, including bathing the bulls and wiping their feet with linseed oil for a fine shine. A diet of rolled oats, barley and beans with a splash of cod liver oil not only helped maintain a good weight but also gave the coat a healthy sheen.

Lincoln Red & Aberdeen Angus bulls

John’s time as a stockman involved some hard, challenging work. He recalled taking two bulls out for exercise simultaneously. There would usually be a gentleman’s agreement and one would walk towards the Fosse Way while the other made for Cropwell Butler. Occasionally, however, the bulls came together for a heated debate and John would have to use the tractor to separate them. There could also be some travel and absence. On one occasion, Phil and his mum were left at home while John spent seven weeks travelling by train between Perth and other far-flung towns to show bulls.

John Needham had a farming background, but his dad’s death had obliged his mum to go into service and John to travel the country in search of work. When he left Eric Pentecost’s farm, John moved his family to Burgh le Marsh and had a variety of jobs ranging from erecting new farm buildings to running kennels. For a time, Phil worked with his dad, exporting British Alpine and British Toggenburg goats.

Phil has inherited a love for cattle and shire horses from his dad, and a fair bit of country knowledge. His dad once explained why Lincolnshire’s coastal roads are so twisty. Long before cars, when cattle went out to graze the marshes, they found routes that were dry and solid under-hoof. Later, these well-worn trails were a natural, well-drained choice for road-builders. The cockle-men who shared the marshes also learned to trust the instincts of cattle. The herd instinctively knew when the tide was coming in, and the wiser cockle-man would follow them home.


* Image of Angus bull courtesy of Robert Scarth via Flickr CC.


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