A positive mental attitude, standing up for yourself and not buying anything you can't afford are among the philosophies that have served lecturer turned farmer Hans Pörksen well. Karen Dent finds out what brought him to Britain from his birthplace in Germany - and why Northumberland has kept him here.
HANS Pörksen may never have made it to the North East if he had taken up a once in a lifetime offer made to him when he was just 20.
Already living and working in England, the German-born clergyman’s son was about to start his agricultural studies at Harper Adams college in Shropshire when his former employers made him the sort of offer that it’s hard to resist.
“I worked for two brothers, who were German Jews, and when I left to go to Harper Adams, I called on them to say cheerio, because I’d worked there two years before,” he remembers.
“They said it was a miracle that I’d gone to visit them because they’d been trying to get hold of me. They said ‘We want you to run our dairy farm – we’re starting a dairy farm’. When I was with them, they had 2,000 acres of corn and 2,000 beef cattle indoors. Massive. It was one of the biggest beef fattening units in Britain.
“But they wanted to change and have a Nocton-style dairy [the controversial giant dairy planned for Lincolnshire], which in those days was 500 cows, which would’ve been the biggest herd in Britain. And they wanted me to manage it.
“And I said: ‘Don’t be silly, I’m only 20 years old, I haven’t got enough experience. And I want to go to college’.
“And they tried to bribe me by selling me a farm they’d just bought. They said ‘We’ll sell you this farm, interest-free, and you pay £10-a-week out of your wages. And in 10 years, it’ll be yours, paid off’; it was only £4,000.
“And they were offering three times agricultural wages if I worked for them, free board and lodgings, and I said ‘No, I’m going to college’. And they said, ‘you’re mad because you’ll never ever get that opportunity again’.”
Pörksen, who is now 65, laughs loudly. “And they were right!”
Today, he is the tenant farmer at Gallows Hill Farm near Cambo in Northumberland. The National Trust-owned farm, where Pörksen produces some of the best genetically-rated Suffolk and Texel sheep in the country, is managed by Ian Fenwick – one of his former students at Kirkley Hall College.
It was his own studies in Shropshire that introduced him to former Scotsman agriculture correspondent and contributor to The Journal, Fordyce Maxwell – and to Northumberland.
“We were students together at Harper Adams in the mid-60s and in 1965, he invited me to come up to Northumberland at half-term, which was Guy Fawkes and we had a big fire, a nice party,” says Pörksen.
“He came from a large family – I’m from a large family as well – and we had a lovely weekend, and that was my first time in Northumberland.
“Why I’m here now is that after college, I then became a farm manager in Surrey. After three years of that, I reached my earning capacity as a farm manager and would never ever get another pay rise, so I decided to go into education and I trained as a teacher.
“There was a vacancy at Kirkley Hall in Northumberland and I came here in 1971. I was married then, I had a young family, two girls, and we came to Northumberland.”
Pörksen, who is now a grandfather-of- four, arrived in Britain as a teenager to learn the language.
“I was bored at school in Germany and I wanted to get away from my family,” he laughs. “I come from a very large family, there were 14 of us. I’m at the bottom end – all the others were academics – I didn’t really fit in very well.
“I was the worst at English in my school, which brought me to Wales to learn English in 1960. That was on a farm, and I quite enjoyed that.
“I wanted to get away from it all; I wanted to farm and I wanted to learn English – but I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life.”
Meeting and marrying Audrey, who is from Sheffield, put paid to any idea of returning to Germany to live but Pörksen is philosophical.
“Home is where your mind is,” he says. “I’m from a very international family; I’ve got French, Danish sister-in-laws, and the next generation, we’ve got just about every colour under the sun in the family.
“We meet every two years as a family in Germany and we speak mainly German, some Spanish, some Danish, some French, Norwegian, Arabic – all the same family, which is lovely.”