Flatt, Hugh (b.1917)

Hugh Flatt speaks of his life in farming which began when, as a pacifist during World War II, he managed a Quaker training centre for conscientious objectors.  He then went on to farm in partnership with another family in Devon.


Later the farm was divided into two and he farmed co-operatively with other farmers in the area, sharing machinery and labour.

In 1946 he started to farm organically and in 1950 moved to Somerset where he continued to farm according to his principles to which he is firmly committed.


After retirement from farming he practised as a homeopathist for several years.  His daughter and other members of the family have carried on the farming tradition.


Here Hugh talks about his experiences as a conscientious objector during the war, and collective farming in Somerset during the 1950s.

Hugh Flatt, 2005. Hugh Flatt, 2005.
Sound File
Listen to Hugh Flatt - 2.52MB Duration 5:30 min.

HF: At the outbreak of war I was a pacifist.  I felt that I should not be reserved in farming because I didn’t want to be reserved, I wanted to make my witness, and so I registered as a conscientious objector, and I offered my services to Quakers, to the Society of Friends. First of all to go overseas on relief work, but that couldn’t come off because we were going to Poland and that was overrun before we got there. And friends wanted me to do something to do with farming because they needed a farmer for basically for a training centre where conscientious objectors and other pacifists could come for brief practical training for several months to learn things about the land, things about building construction, things about coping with feeding people in difficult conditions, cooking and so on, including outdoor cooking because it was expected for relief work.


And eventually I was in charge of a small farm in, on the Blackdown Hills, and that we ran as a small farm.  We had a few cattle, we had poultry, we had some ploughed-up land, and grew potatoes and some corn, and this went on for three years. And I left somebody else on the farm who was, the farm was only part of the whole training set-up.  That is where I met my wife.


AH: Hugh, can you tell me when you moved from Devon to Somerset?


HF: Yes.  We moved in 1950.  We had become organic in our farming in 1946, and this was a significant move, becoming organic. When we took on our small farm in Devon, in the first two years nearly all our cows aborted their calves.  The farm that we had taken on was rather poor land and it had been chemically fertilised. And I came to the conclusion, having some friends who were also this of thought and approach, that our farming was unsatisfactory, and that the way to deal with abortion was not just to give cows, give your cows a shot of an immunisation but to improve their whole health.


The abortion nearly made us bankrupt because we hardly had any money anyway.  We had borrowed nearly all the money for buying the farm and buying the stock, and we nearly became bankrupt but we got through, and we met a friend who was running a school farm.  He was the manager of a school farm in Devon and he wanted to do something more personal than manage a school farm, and he and us, went with us, two families, we went into partnership for a time.  We had not enough capital to buy a farm so we formed an industrial and provident friendly society, into which people invested money or loaned money at relatively small interest, and the society bought a farm in Somerset which was largely the partners doing it.  But we bought a farm in Somerset and we rented the farm from the society.  But one of the conditions of the tenancy was that we farmed organically which we both wanted to do.


It was a 200-acre farm. First of all with a large farmhouse, we cleared the farmhouse with our partners’ family and our own and we worked the farm as a whole.  It was on the Brendon hills, it was fairly hilly land.  We had some level water meadows at the bottom and some level fields at the top, but it had quite a lot of difficult hills in between.  We stayed in partnership for six years when we decided that we would separate and farm co-operatively rather than in direct partnership.


And we built another bungalow, or a bungalow for our partner at the top of the farm, and a set of farm buildings, and we then divided the farm roughly into a hundred acres each.  But we could still share machinery.  We found farming in partnership, we got on all right, but it was difficult.  We had different approaches to some extent and you woke up thinking you were going to do something different in the day, and we amenably separated and ceased to be a full partnership.

Copyright Information
Copyright. This recording was made by Ann Heeley in March 2005. Photograph ©SRLM. For access to full interview please contact the Somerset Heritage Centre.