David Maufe: Norfolk farmer’s passion for sailing

An enthusiast for 'new-fangled' mechanical farming, David Maufe, who has died aged 92, took over a tenancy on the Holkham estate in the 1930s agricultural depression.

As a farm pupil near Fakenham, he met and was inspired by Bill Newcombe Baker, of Sedgeford, who was a pioneer of mechanised arable farming. They formed a partnership and in autumn 1938 were given a choice of five tenanted farms by the Earl of Leicester.

In hindsight, their timing to take Branthill Farm, near Wells, just as seven decades of farming's depression ended, was brilliant. They also installed one of the county's first modern grain silos and in the days when the carthorse was still king showed that tractors could pay. After the outbreak of war, they ordered a combine harvester but it was lost in a mid-Atlantic U-boat attack.

David Maufe, who was born in Ilkley, west Yorkshire, was the middle of three sons. His family ran a leading department store, Brown & Muff in Bradford, but the sea and farming always had greater appeal.

He went to Uppingham, as did his younger brother, Gary, who died two years ago aged 86. Then he went to the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, before becoming a farm pupil on a traditional Norfolk holding at Creake.


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At Branthill, he developed a simple farming system based on malting barley and sugar beet. Always willing to try new ideas, in 1952 he even chartered a 400-ton coaster, the Assiduity, to take 150 tons of surplus wheat straw to Cornwall. The charter cost, which included bringing in the vessel to Wells, worked out at 57/9d (�2.88 ton) or a third of the rail freight.

He discovered a great love for sailing, initially with a 12 square metre Sharpie at Brancaster. His third, named after visiting a remote island off the Spanish coast, was named Dragonera, and was built by Mr R Woodwock, who had been the farm's rabbit and vermin controller.

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He took up big boat sailing and was a highly regarded member of the Royal Ocean Racing Club. Always one for a challenge, he even bought the Griffin, which had a 6ft 6in draft and fixed keel into Wells. He tied her to the quay's lamp posts, which kept her upright at low tide.

With his first wife, Ann, who died in 1966, they had four children, Miranda, Gina, Tessa and Teddy. He was married to Eadie, which ended in divorce, before he married Jane and they had two children, Conrad and Jessica.

On his retirement they moved to Burnham Market and even in his later years was never happier than when in a boat with a fair breeze.

He leaves a widow, Jane, and five children.

A funeral will take place at Mintlyn Crematorium, King's Lynn, on Monday, August 15 at 1pm.

Michael Pollitt

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