Fate and fortune brought Giles Walton to the NFU and Cheshire – and he’s loved every moment of the career he never planned, but set him off on a journey which would give him great friends and a special place in an industry he loves.
Sadly the NFU will be saying goodbye to another of its long serving group secretaries this month as West Cheshire’s Giles Walton retires at the age of 60 on 31 October.
Fate and circumstance has played a huge role in Giles becoming a trusted and respected part of the Cheshire farming industry. Although from farming stock, Giles wasn’t lucky enough to actually grow up on a farm as his grandfather was forced into seeking other forms of work after the Second World War made the family holding financially unviable. With no farm to work on Giles’ father instead joined the merchant navy and had successful careers working for Players cigarettes in Nottingham and the Courage Brewery in Bristol.
Aged 12 Giles attended boarding school in Cambridge where he met his lifelong best mate John Griffiths. It was a friendship which would endure the years but also unintentionally set the blueprint for the rest of Giles’ life. For John Griffiths’ father and uncle were neighbouring group secretaries at the NFU Huntington and St Ives office and the BIggleswade office, and after finishing his degree at Oxford Polytechnic John inevitably joined his father as an assistant group secretary.
Two academic years behind his best buddy was Giles, who after completing a three year long degree in psychology at Oxford Polytechnic, again John’s suggestion, was fairly clueless about what future career path he’d embark upon. He’d met the love of his life and future wife Mary while studying and was ready for the next chapter of his life, and after attempting to sell brushes door to door for a short while, wanted a career which would fulfil him.
Cue best mate John again who strongly urged him to apply for the position of trainee county secretary in the old NFU Bedfordshire office. Giles’ application was successful and his journey with the NFU began.
“Being a trainee county secretary really meant I was an errand boy for the county secretary and put out the chairs and ashtrays in the smoke filled meeting rooms of the time,” explained Giles.
“While doing the job I kept applying for group secretary roles and was eventually interviewed in Nantwich by a panel of 12 farmers for the job at Chester and Wirral.”
Giles officially joined Mike Case at Frodsham Street as a group secretary at Chester and Wirral in January 1983. Giddy after exploring his new patch with Mary, Giles then popped the biggest question of all in a way he’s still ridiculed by his family for today.
Giles said: “Mary and I were travelling back from the Wirral in our car to Bedford and I suddenly blurted out that seeing as I’d got the job now, we might as well get married.”
Not the famed surprise proposal up the Eiffel Tower or on an exotic beach in the Maldives, but thankfully effective enough as Mary said yes and the pair were wed five months later in the March of 1983.
Mary and Giles have really made the area home. They’ve lived in the same terraced house in Tarvin for the last 35 years, raised two sons in the area and both had careers in sectors integral to the community – agriculture and education.
While Giles was off representing his farming members and his boys (Joe and Leo) were ensconced at school, Mary got a job as a teacher at Hartford Manor County Primary School – a job she’d lovingly do for 25 years. Giles jokes that she still gets dressed up to go into Chester, just in case she bumps into a parent.
Talking specifically about his NFU career, Giles said: “At the start my parish was the Wirral including looking after the horticultural branch and the market gardeners. I used to also like representing our dairy members who unfortunately dwindled over time. On the Wirral around Ledsham there were some 26 dairy farms. Only one of them is still milking now.
"Life in the office has also changed hugely as manual ledgers, calculators and handwritten accounts have been replaced with computers and modern technology. Mike Case and I were the first group secretaries to trial a computer based accounting system called Micro Agent. It would certainly look very primitive now.”
Looking forward to retirement, Giles has many plans for how he’s going to spend his newly found free time. Although somewhat restricted in what he can do due to arthritis, Giles is still determined to return to his hobby of ceramics and will start throwing clay and making pots again at night school.
He also intends to help one of his NFU member friends, John Jones, man his stall at the farmers market in Conway.
Also on the list of activities is returning to his love of music, playing the clarinet and auto harp, metal detecting, gardening and spending more time with grandchildren Charlie (5) and Lucy (2).
Giles added: “It’s been a privilege to work for my farmers. I’ve been welcomed into their homes like a member of their family. I shall miss them all very much indeed.”
* A party is being held to celebrate Giles' many years of dedicated service to the NFU, and everyone is invited!
It’s being held at Eaton Golf Club, Chester (CH3 7PH) on Saturday 3 November at 7pm for 7.30pm. Tickets are £15 which includes a two course meal and disco. Contact the NFU West Cheshire office on 01829 771 133 to book a place.