Obituary: Owner of huge collection of vintage tractors dies aged 75

Wenhaston Farmer Roger Desborough with his collection of vintage tractors.Some of the machiens will

Roger Desborough has been described as a "larger than life" character - Credit: Archant © 2012

A "larger-than-life" vintage tractor and car enthusiast who owned more than a hundred vehicles, from Edwardian cars to pre-First World War tractors, has died aged 75.  

Roger Desborough was involved in a number of circles, including the agricultural and construction sector, but it was his love of vintage vehicles that saw him make friends across the UK. 

He was also widely known for being one of the founders of The Eastern Counties Vintage Show, held annually at the Norfolk Showground on the outskirts of Norwich. 

Show organiser, Roger Desborough’s mighty 1913 Twin City 40-65 – the largest prairie tractor in the

Roger Desborough’s mighty 1913 Twin City 40-65 – the largest prairie tractor in the UK and the only one of its type outside of North America. - Credit: Submitted

Wenhaston Farmer Roger Desborough with his collection of vintage tractors.Some of the machiens will

Part of Roger Desborough's collection of vintage tractors was displayed at The Eastern Counties Vintage Tractor and Heritage Spectacular in 2012. A Lanz Bulldog tractor. - Credit: Archant © 2012

Roger Edward Desborough was born on April 8, 1946, at his home Church Farm in Wenhaston, north Suffolk. He was the middle sibling of three, which included his sister Anne, and John, who died in 2001 at the age of 52. 

Their father, who originally came from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, bought the farm prior to the Second World War. At the time, mixed farms were popular and the entire family mucked in to look after cows, pigs, and chickens, and later fruit, wheat, barley, and sugar beet.  The Desborough's were one of the first to grow pick-your-own fruit in the area and a young Mr Desborough was given the job of spraying the strawberries, blackberries, and plums ahead of them being sold to the public. 

Mr Desborough attended the village school before moving up to the secondary school in Halesworth. He finished his high school education at the now demolished Briar Clyffe private school based in Lowestoft and then went on to college at Chadacre Agricultural Institute, near Bury St Edmunds. Following his education, he embarked on what would become a varied career which saw him branching out from farm life with something of an entrepreneurial spirit. 

Roger Desborough, vintage car Magnificent 1913 Wolseley 25/30 is among several cars already entered

Roger Desborough's, vintage car Magnificent 1913 Wolseley 25/30, a pre-1930 vehicle - Credit: Submitted

Part of Roger Desborough's collection of vintage tractors

Part of Roger Desborough's collection of vintage tractors was displayed at The Eastern Counties Vintage Tractor and Heritage Spectacular in 2012. A Doe Triple D Dual drive tractor. - Credit: Archant © 2012

At the age of 17, he hired out a tractor and trailer to the contractors working on the installation of a sewer in the village. His wife, Fran Desborough, recalled him telling her that it was important he went and received his weekly payment of £5 on a Friday afternoon before the contractors headed out to the pub and forgot to pay him.  

Soon after, he bought “an old dog of a lorry” to undertake sugar beet haulage. Over the years, this expanded to an entire haulage company that transported a variety of things, including stone and grain. 

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Outside of his work, he became one of the first members of Suffolk Farm Machinery Club, later spending a year as its chair. And during the 1970s, he met his future wife Fran at Halesworth Young Farmers. The couple married in 1974 in Hardwick, near Long Stratton, and in the following years had two children, Thomas and Louise. 

Wenhaston Farmer Roger Desborough with his collection of vintage tractors.Some of the machiens will

Part of Roger Desborough's collection of vintage tractors was displayed at The Eastern Counties Vintage Tractor and Heritage Spectacular in 2012. - Credit: Archant © 2012

Wenhaston Farmer Roger Desborough with his collection of vintage tractors.Some of the machiens will

Roger Desborough was known for his collection of vintage tractors - Credit: Archant © 2012

Always keeping a keen eye in the farming world, and with dreams of diversifying, Mr Desborough joined forces with his brother to take on beet harvesting. The pair eventually owned three six-row beet harvesters, bought from Holland, and were one of the first in the county to do so. 

Following this, Mr Desborough discovered there was a market for recycling old unused concrete from demolition sites. He invested in a crushing plant which expanded to a loading shovel, digger, and excavator. Alongside the haulage arm of the business, he made a successful company with himself, his wife, and son at the helm, employing around 15 people. This was later closed down following the sudden death of Thomas in 2011. 

Mr Desborough had a lifelong passion for collecting old vehicles, as evident by his huge array of vintage tractors. At one point he owned well over 100 but sold many a few years ago. Some makes include rare models of which only one or two remain in existence in the country.

Wenhaston Farmer Roger Desborough with his collection of vintage tractors.Some of the machiens will

Part of Roger Desborough's collection of vintage tractors was displayed at The Eastern Counties Vintage Tractor and Heritage Spectacular in 2012. A Lanz Bulldog tractor. - Credit: Archant © 2012

Wenhaston Farmer Roger Desborough with his collection of vintage tractors.Some of the machiens will

Part of Roger Desborough's collection of vintage tractors was displayed at The Eastern Counties Vintage Tractor and Heritage Spectacular in 2012. A Lanz Bulldog tractor.

Mr and Mrs Desborough took part in many tractor shows and car rallies across the UK. Mr Desborough was an avid member of The Veteran Car Club and the couple would take part in the London to Brighton rally in their veteran car each year in November. It was because of his involvement in the car and tractor world that they made many valued friendships. 

Describing her husband, Mrs Desborough said: “He was a larger-than-life character. He was a man that said what he thought and didn’t beat around the bush. He was very forthright and was really upfront with everyone. 

“Deep down, he had a heart of gold, was a generous man, and would be happy to lend a hand to anyone who needed it.” 

Wenhaston Farmer Roger Desborough with his collection of vintage tractors.Some of the machiens will

Part of Roger Desborough's vintage tractor collection was displayed at The Eastern Counties Vintage Tractor and Heritage Spectacular in 2012. A Doe Triple D Dual drive tractor. - Credit: Archant © 2012

Mr Desborough died on November 3. As well as his wife and daughter, he leaves behind his sister Anne, and two grandchildren, Noa and Max. The funeral will be held at Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh, on November 29 at 1.30pm. Donations to The Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution and Halesworth to Southwold Narrow Gauge Railway Society sent via Rosedale Funeral Home, Arcadia House, 19 Market Place, Halesworth, IP19 8BB. 

  • To pay tribute to a loved one, email norfolktributes@archant.co.uk 
  • To read all obituaries and tributes join the Facebook group Norfolk's Loved & Lost

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