Centurion's Lifelong Commitment To Farming Organisations

Sept 1, 2022  •  General

Having celebrated her 100th birthday, centurion Olive Clarke, OBE,JP,DL, Frags tells all about her life in the rural community.

When meeting someone who has been alive for a century, curiosity gets the better of you. What is their secret? What is their advice? The need to know how to live a long and full life is the question that lingers.

But for Olive Clarke, it is surprisingly simple: Time. Always remember that time is precious, she says.

Every day is, it seems, a blessing and not just because she recently turned 100 years old – standing in the doorway to her home at Preston Patrick, near Milnthorpe, Cumbria, Olive is dressed impeccably from head to toe, ready and raring to go.

She is also incredibly enthusiastic, which is, when hearing about her life from her farming upbringing to her achievements in later life, an attribute which has propelled her through the years.

Passion for Young Farmers Clubs

There are many accolades to rhyme off, but her main passion is public speaking, a pursuit which began in her early years and was only encouraged by her time in her beloved Young Farmers’ Club.

Growing up at Audlands farm in Cumbria she was an only child, brought up, she recalls, against the ‘backdrop of a dreadful depression in this country’.

But aged 11, the pieces of her life began to fall into place when she secured a scholarship to Kendal Girls High School – a ‘fee paying school’, says Olive.

Women’s Equality

The headmistress ‘was ahead of her time’ – a disciple of the Pankhurst family, the most well-known, of course, being Emmeline, the infamous suffragette who led the women’s rights movement in the early 20th century.

“She had public speaking on the curriculum, and it was a compulsory class. As a shy, country child I owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude which I have seriously tried to pay throughout my life,” says Olive.

“I got a good education and motivation to work. I am a workaholic – I believe that work is a gift from God. That, along with the fact that time is our most precious possession, has been my lifelong principle.

“Fourteen was the usual age to leave school, but I left at 16, and went home to work on the farm – they were times of high and dire unemployment.”

The Young Farmers movement was in its infancy at this time and, in 1938, when three local boys decided to create a club at Old Hutton, Olive wanted to participate.

She says: “The president initiated a public speaking contest for the club, because there was such a dire need for agriculture to be vocal and able to speak for itself. The certificate I won still has pride of place here in my home.

“And thanks to my former headmistress, I did have an unfair advantage over my contemporaries.

“I feel the greatest contribution Young Farmers’ Clubs have made to the industry is through encouraging public speaking. This was, in retrospect, vital to an industry that was going through hard times.”

The great parallel in the countryside is, says Olive, the Women’s Institute (WI) – of which, of course, she is part of too.   

At the same time as joining YFC, Olive enrolled in Old Hutton WI too.

“In my lifetime, the WI has never failed to meet the needs of the times. Creating resolutions that have been recommended to the Government and then become laws - that has been one of the satisfactions of my life, the power of the WI.”

Olive can ream off many tales – to be frank, during her century of life there is a lot – but one of her most memorable anecdotes is ‘the turning of the skirt’.

“By this I do not mean twirling,” says Olive.

“It was during the war and it was one of the most popular demonstrations at the WI. It was the unpicking of the seams, press studs and all, and turning it inside out and wearing it as new.

“These were the days of true economy through necessity.”

Olive went on to meet Arthur, one of five well-known farming brothers, and arrived newly married at Kaker Mill Farm in April 1947, to the sound, she recalls, of Princess Elizabeth’s speech dedicating her life to the nation at just 21 years old.

“It made a great impression on both of us, as we too were starting out in life,” says Olive.

Although Olive did not work directly on the farm, she has been steadfast in her role within the community. Her commitment to some of farming’s most valued organisations has never wavered, as shown by her position as the first woman president of the CLA and of the Westmorland County Show.

“I have a deep love of the land,” she says.

“But I would like to think I have made my contribution to agriculture, in publicising its problems and the need to feed the people of this country - in all the changes that I have seen happen in agriculture, we must never lose sight of the fact that people need to be fed.”

Where to begin with Olive’s other achievements is another question – she has been awarded an MBE, then an OBE, was appointed a magistrate and is a Deputy Lieutenant of Cumbria. The chairmanship of the Settle Carlisle enquiry in the North West was a huge responsibility.

Not long ago she was also made a YFC’s Life vice-president, to honour her lifelong passion for NFYFC.

The federation holds Olive in high regard.

NFYFC chair Ed Dungait says: “Her experience and knowledge is valued deeply and she is so well respected.

She entertained us all with her witty speech and stressed how often she still promotes the work of YFC to all she knows. Her enthusiasm for YFC at the age of 100 was truly remarkable. We are very grateful for the support of our presidents, life vice-presidents and all other alumni who give so much continued support to our federation.”

During her speech, Olive said: “Young Farmers never change, they just grow older. Fulfil your lives with interests and do not miss any opportunity you come by in Young Farmers because you know the one thing in life you can never recall is the lost opportunity.”

And that is Olive’s outlook – work hard, stay true to yourself and enjoy life. Family is also of great importance – her two daughters, Gwen and Alison, along with her four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren are certainly her most precious possessions, given the array of pictures of them and of Arthur that appear in every nook and cranny of her home.

But she is not one to simply sit back. Olive has always put her best foot forward and being 100 years old will certainly not stop her.

She says: “I realise now I ought to have sat back more and enjoyed what I had done the day before – but I was busy doing something else.”

Centurion's Lifelong Commitment To Farming Organisations