For close on 150 yearsthe name Cole Ambrose has been closely associated with Stuntney and for the most part of the 20th Century the family owned the majority of the land and property in the village.
Cole Ambrose (picture left) came to Stuntney in 1857/8 when, as a young man farming at Landbeach, he moved to Stuntney Old Hall Farm. In 1865 he married Anne Seaber.
An astute and progressive farmer Cole Ambrose acquired much land and by 1881 he was farming 1,500 acres and employing 40 men and 20 boys. He was advertised as 'the largest breeder of Shire Horses in England' and in 1901 was offering up to 300 Horses on the Farm for sale. By the time of his death in 1921 he owned 4,000 acres in various parts of the Fens, 1,600 of them in Stuntney. He was one of the largest wheat farmers in the Country and was widely respected as an agriculturist. Practically the whole of the male population of Stuntney worked on the estate, which had its own blacksmith's and carpenter's shops.
In 1871 he built Stuntney Hall, as the Old Hall was falling into disrepair. In his will he requested that his two sons build a Village Institute Hall, for the benefit of the people of Stuntney. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1934, but was rebuilt and is now the home of the Stuntney Social Club, the building and land on which it stands is still owned by Cole Ambrose Estates.
Cole Ambrose had seven sons and three daughters, perhaps the best remembered sons being William Cole and Owen Seaber. The former went on to become a surgeon in London but Owen (picture right) followed his father into farming and inherited the major part of the Stuntney lands.
Owen also proved to be a good farmer who guided the estate through the very difficult depression years of the nineteen twenties and thirties. Like his father he was a great lover of Shire horses and at their peak about 200 of them were working on the estate. Even at the time of his death in 1967, when agriculture had largely become mechanised, there were still 100 working horses. Owen never married so when he died he was succeeded by his great nephew, David Morbey, who had been working on the farm and shown an aptitude and love for agriculture.
As Chairman of Cole Ambrose Ltd., David was very much aware of the need for change and by 1971 tractors and combines had taken over most of the work on the 2,300 acre farms, but even at that late date 41 horses and 50 employees remained. Under David Morbey's leadership the estate continued to prosper and like his forebears he earned a good reputation and respect from the agricultural community and his employees. The last of the working horses retired during the nineteen eighties. When David retired his son Anthony was appointed Managing Director of Cole Ambrose Estates. David died in September 2002 aged 82, leaving his widow Patricia Morbey who died in November 2012.
Anthony has had to cope with more challenging changes in agriculture, particularly the effects of the C.A.P. (Common Agriculture Policy of the E.E.C). In common with other farms, mechanisation has replaced men, and today only a handful of key workers are employed. Anthony has inherited a strong sense of tradition and since 1991 he and his wife Alison have been restoring historic Stuntney Old Hall, which had become derelict. It is now emerging as an impressive building set in its commanding position on the other side of the bypass from the village. The estate still retains a breeding stock of Shire horses although they have a life of leisure, unlike their hard working forebears.
Today the Stuntney village sign, which was erected in 1985, depicts a Shire horse, with Ely Cathedral in the background, a recognition of the part that Cole Ambrose and working horses have played in the village's history.
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