Matthew Culley is the son and nephew of great agriculturalists of their day. His father was George Culley who with his brother also called Matthew and James, transformed the agricultural practice both rotation cropping and stock breeding in North Northumberland. Their work affected farming much further afield and their letters, papers and journals improved agricultural production at a time when the population of the country was increasing at a great rate. In 1700 the population was 6 million and by 1801 it had risen to 10.5 million and by 1851 to over 20 million. The Culleys lived and farmed from 1731 to the early 1800’s and many of the farms that they farmed will be known to Northumbrians and include Grindon, Felkington, Fenton, Crookham Westfield, Crookham Eastfield, Redhouse, Wark, Thornington, Longknow, Akeld and Shotton to name a few. They farmed in partnership between 3000 and 4000 acres with up to 4400 sheep and 500 cattle. Eventually they bought Coupland Castle and Fowberry Tower to live in. Coupland was eventually sold in 1923 and Fowberry in 1920.
Their rotation was oats, turnips, wheat or barley and two years grass. This was so that they could feed their growing numbers of stock and sell grain and seed to other farmers from Dorset into Scotland and a seed merchant in London. They were the first farmers in Northumberland to irrigate meadows in winter to encourage early growth of grass, a practice that did not catch on among Culley’s neighbours for many years.
They are best known however for their breeding and management of sheep, where they made a local and national reputation for themselves most particularly for the sheep known as the “Culley Breed”. This is better known as the Border Leicester which was crossed with the Teeswater ewe which they knew from their father’s farm near Darlington. More recently the Border Leicester tup (ram) was crossed with the Cheviot ewe to produce the Halfbred lamb. This was then crossed with a lowland tup to produce fat lambs. George Culley wrote about different breeds of cattle, sheep pigs and smaller animals which no one else had done before him, which he saw in his many trips around the country from the north of Scotland to Norfolk to the south coast of England.
George’s son Matthew learnt a huge amount from the Culley brothers and accompanied them on some of their journeys and around their farms. He never married but his siblings lived on at Fowberry Tower until it was eventually sold in 1920. However he completed the design to the front of the house where there is incorporated a dated medallion stone which reads 1809.
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