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Sutton St James sugar beet farmer Fred, 92, has no plans to retire





He may be 92, but sugar beet farmer Fred Campling has absolutely no intention of retiring.

He still works full-time in Sutton St James, where he’s lived all his life, rising at 6am daily and working into the evening, overseeing his farm and running contracting and haulage businesses alongside his three children Mark, Philip and Catherine.

“I still feel the same as I did 20 years ago,” says Fred, who also has six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. “I cannot quite do everything I used to be able to, but I can still do what I want to do, things like driving. It’s names that I struggle to remember now.

Fred Campling pictured with one of his beloved restored David Brown tractors - copyright Kate Chapman (2)
Fred Campling pictured with one of his beloved restored David Brown tractors - copyright Kate Chapman (2)

“You’ve got to have something to get up for in the morning - and something you like doing.

“If you like doing it, you’ll do it properly - you also need a bit of good luck and good health.”

Fred was born to parents Fred (known as Bob) and Mary Campling in 1931 and had a brother Pat, who emigrated to Canada where he started his own successful aviation business, and a sister Ruth, now 91, who lives nearby in Cambridgeshire.

Fred Campling's first foray into haulage came at a young age. He's pictured giving his sister Ruth a ride in a wheelbarrow
Fred Campling's first foray into haulage came at a young age. He's pictured giving his sister Ruth a ride in a wheelbarrow

Fred’s father was a farmer and worked for his father, taking over on his death. Fred followed in the family tradition, looking after arable crops and keeping livestock.

“I didn’t really get an education, I went to work, you had to, to make a living. I always helped at home when I was younger, working on Saturdays and Sundays feeding the cattle,” he recalls.

“Father only had 17 acres. I started work when I left school at 14 and he paid me £1 per week. He never had a car or anything. My first push bike cost £7 new. It took seven weeks to earn that!

Fred Campling, pictured driving a combine harverster
Fred Campling, pictured driving a combine harverster

“My father died at 48, so I was only about 20 when I started farming on my own.

“It was a different world back then; we had no mains electricity in the house and had to go outside to use the toilet.”

Fred married Ruth in 1956. She was a schoolteacher in the village who he had known while growing up. They bought an acre of land in Fishergate for £100 and built a bungalow, which cost them £2,800.

Harvesting in the field - Fred Campling has shared this picture
Harvesting in the field - Fred Campling has shared this picture

Ruth left her job to raise their family and worked alongside Fred on the farm initially growing and picking strawberries. Fred worked the land too, growing potatoes and sugar beet, and drove a lorry at night.

“We worked hard, my wife has been a big help to me,” he adds. “I’ve grown sugar beet all my life and am still going strong, although we only have about 15 acres now.

“The thing I like about sugar beet is if you do a good job you can see you’ve done a good job.

Fred Campling pictured on his wedding day to wife Ruth in 1956
Fred Campling pictured on his wedding day to wife Ruth in 1956

“You’ve got something to look back on. If you don’t do a good job, you’ve got to put it right.

“I’ve worked with all different sugar beet harvesters over the years, and I contract lift for other farmers, mainly in Norfolk. I’ve been doing it over 40 years, with the same farmers.

“They all know me, I worked for their fathers, I’ve watched them grow up!’”

Fred Campling (92) has no desire to stop working yet - copyright Kate Chapman
Fred Campling (92) has no desire to stop working yet - copyright Kate Chapman

As well as farming, Fred has also been involved in other ventures. He sold David Brown tractors – at one point owning more than 50 himself - although he only has four now. He spent many years lorry driving across Europe and continued to look after his business while was overseas, before the advent of the mobile phone.

He’s also owned a launderette and a fruit and veg shop, both in Long Sutton, and started the Sutton St James Indoor Bowling Centre, which he still looks after.

Ruth passed away in 2022 but Fred is still surrounded by family, most of whom live nearby in the village. The haulage business is now looked after by his son Philip, while Mark oversees the yard and Catherine runs the office. Fred still enjoys travelling and has recently been to Ireland and is hoping to visit his extended family in Canada again too.

Farmer Fred Campling says he loves his work and has no plans to stop - even though he's 92! copyright Kate Chapman
Farmer Fred Campling says he loves his work and has no plans to stop - even though he's 92! copyright Kate Chapman

“I just enjoy working; I like working for the people I work for – they mostly leave me to it,” he says. “Some of my workers have been with me since I started; Ian is 78 and still driving a lorry – he can do anything.

“It’s a different world now, everything is so expensive – machinery and repairs have gone through the roof.

“You’ve just got to keep doing something – that’s what keeps you going. I’ve said this many times before – when I pack up they will dig the hole for me.”

Do you know of another person who is working well past retirement age? Drop us a line…



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