Farmer, contractor and specialist book publisher John Nickalls has died aged 75 after a long illness at his central Norfolk home.

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Brought up on his father’s smallholding at Suton, near Wymondham, he started hand-milking the small dairy herd aged nine.

He went to Spooner Row School and then won a place at Thetford Grammar School, where his main interest was sport. Over five years, he won every trophy at cricket and football and set a record, which stands today, for winning an athletics cup every year.

When his father, who had got the tenancy on the 70-acre holding in 1936, was injured, the 15-year-old took over the farm.

In 1958, with an £80 inheritance, he started the first of many ventures, Wymondham Boar Service, and was eventually running about 20 boars.

When the herd was dispersed in 1964, he had milked the cows every day for 11 years within a day off. But he realised there was potential as an agricultural contractor, so he pioneered the use of a 10-row sugar beet drill alongside his spraying and baling operations.

His beef enterprise expanded by the mid 1980s but it failed, largely caused by financial problems of other businesses. A decade later, he took and developed a publishing business, specialising in local history. Over the years, he published more than two dozen books, which sold well.

But his real love was still farming. When he had the chance to move back to the family farm in Suton, he started finishing cattle again. With two grandsons, Tom and Nick, daughter Rachel and her husband Bernie, they had many successes at shows. He was enormously proud when Tom Seaman won the 2011 Blake’s Christmas Show.

He enjoyed singing and was involved with several choirs including Allegro and also D’Capo and also Wymondham Choral Society and the South Norfolk Operatic Society.

He was a steward at Wymondham Methodist Chapel for many years and also served on the property committee. Despite his lack of formal academic success, it also gave him great pleasure to serve as president of the Old Thetfordians Association.

A keen sportsman, he played for Spooner Row, and also a trial for Norfolk Colts in 1952 when John Edrich and Peter Parfitt, later selected for England, and Henry Blofeld, also played at Lakenham. At football, he played for Wymondham Minors in the national FA Youth Cup but were 4-0 losers to a top north London side in 1952 – then he had to return that evening to milk the cows.

He was a member of Wymondham Young Farmers’ Club, and chairman in 1960.

He leaves a companion, Addie. He had four children, Mark, Judith, Rachel and David, and six grandchildren.

A family funeral service was held at Wymondham Methodist Chapel and then a service of thanksgiving at Wymondham Abbey on Friday, June 22.

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