Tributes paid to English Whisky Co founder, James Nelstrop

James Nelstrop: Submitted picture

James Nelstrop: Submitted picture - Credit: Archant

Tributes have been paid to the founder and chairman of a trailblazing Norfolk whisky distillery, which was the first in England for more than a century, who died at his home on September 6, aged 69.

James Nelstrop, chairman of the English Whisky Company, celebrating his 65th birthday with the sale

James Nelstrop, chairman of the English Whisky Company, celebrating his 65th birthday with the sale of the first ever peated english malt whisky, Chapter 9, at St George's Distillery at Roudham. Photo: Denise Bradley - Credit: ©Archant Photographic 2010

James Nelstrop, who lived in East Harling, set up the English Whisky Company, based at St George's Distillery in Roudham, near Thetford, in 2006.

It was England's first registered whisky distilling company for over a century and the first 29 barrels of English whisky were made in December 2006. The distillery opened to the public in August 2007 and now exports English whisky around the world.

The family said in a statement that Mr Nelstrop, who died after a short fight with cancer, had a lifelong dream to own a whisky distillery.

The family said: 'And in 2006 he made this dream a reality by building St George's Distillery, home of English Whisky Co.

'But what pleased him even more was the opening of several other English whisky distilleries, which gave him a sense of achievement in being the founder of an entire national industry.'

Mr Nelstrop's son Andrew, managing director of English Whisky Co, said his father was a 'larger than life character'.

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'On the odd occasion he was not working, he enjoyed skiing, classic cars and his grandchildren,' he added.

Mr Nelstrop was a well-known figure in the agricultural world and one of the region's most forward-thinking businessman.

Born in Lincoln, he grew up the younger son on a Lincolnshire farm, and went on to farm in the UK, Australia and Russia. Alongside the farming he was the first to bring centre pivot irrigation - a method of crop irrigation in which equipment rotates around a pivot and crops are watered with sprinklers - to the infertile sandy arid soils of the Breckland area, turning it into what is now considered some of the finest root crop land.

He was also a Nuffield Scholar - one of the more than 800 people in agriculture, associated industries and the rural community - the Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust has given the chance in the last 60 years to travel to expand knowledge and understanding.

He was also one of the first western farmers to start a business in what was then the USSR, by founding the Nuffield Russia Trust, which dedicated itself to the training and betterment of Russian agriculture.

In later life he was the first farmer to convert a worn-out vegetable farm at Lakenheath to organic production.

However, after all of these achievements, it will be his swansong - his English Whisky Co - that will be noted as his most memorable.

Mr Nelstrop married in 1967 and he is survived by his wife Barbara, daughter Lizzie, son Andrew, and four grandchildren

The funeral will be private, but there will be a memorial service at East Harling Church at 2pm on October 16.

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