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Downham Market farmer devoted himself to family and his community

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A well-known Downham farmer, who was a stalwart of the town, was laid to rest last week.

Alan Hartley who was born and lived in Downham nearly all of his life was a respected figure in associations and societies throughout the town and surrounding area.

Mr Hartley died peacefully at his home on June 26 at the age of 88 with his family by his side. His funeral was held at Lynn’s Mintlyn Crematorium last Tuesday.

Alan Hartley
Alan Hartley

Education and National Service aside, Mr Hartley lived in Downham throughout his life, moving five times to homes all within half a mile of each other.

Having been a chorister at Winchester College and Repton School, his love of music continued throughout his life and he became a long-standing member of Downham Market Choral Society, Denver Church choir and King’s Lynn Festival Chorus.

At the age of 18 years, he was called up for his National Service where he joined the 73rd Heavy Artillery Anti-Aircraft Regiment and spent most of his two years in Egpyt alongside the Suez Canal.

After leaving the army, Mr Hartley attended Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge, where he read Agriculture for three years. This put him in good stead to join the family business of fruit and vegetable merchants and he later took on stewardship of farms in Hilgay, Southery, Lakenheath and Islington alongside his now deceased brother, Richard.

His sense of community saw him become a leading member of a wide variety of West Norfolk organisations, including chairing the Hilgay Drainage Board for several decades as well as being chairman of the governors of Downham Market Clackclose Junior School.

Mr Hartley was also a devoted member of Downham Market Methodist Church as well as an active member of the South West Norfolk Conservative Association.

He was married to his Irish-born wife Virginia, 77, who he met on a skiing holiday in Austria and wed eight months later in a whirlwind romance. They had three children: Christopher, Joanna and Jonathan, and six grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister Norma to whom he was very close.

Jonathan said: “Dad loved Downham and the surrounding area.

“Dad was such a kind and gentle person who loved to have fun and was always quick to burst into a broad smile.

“His three great passions were family, singing and farming and that never left him.

“He absolutely adored my mum and spoke about how lucky and privileged a life he had lived. His last breath was to say goodbye to my mum.

“Dad was an intelligent and well-educated man but he never imposed his views on his family or friends. One condolence letter perfectly described how he “wore his learning and education lightly.

“All of the tributes have told of what a true gentleman he was and we’re proud to have had him as our father.”

The funeral service, where numbers were restricted by Covid regulations, was taken by family friend, Methodist minister Rev Christopher Bishop.

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