Peter Huntsman’s story

Posted on: 4 January, 2019

In early September 1958, I climbed the steps leading up to the College of Estate Management in St Albans Grove in Kensington. These were the first steps in my association on the College which has now lasted 60 years.

My main memories of my time at the college relate to sporting activities. I was fortunate to play in the college rugby team, one year reaching the final of the London University cup. This was a considerable achievement, as the college had only 350 students compared with the 6,000 students of our opponents, Imperial College.

We were fortunate to have two English internationals in the side; Mike Weston at Fly Half who was capped whilst at the College and Andy Hancock on the Wing, who was capped 2 or 3 years after leaving. In a very close game we went down 11-6.

I also played cricket and squash for the college and our hockey team won the university cup in 1961. The hockey was captained by John Young who eventually became vice-principal of the Royal Agricultural college and I still maintain contact with him.

I was part of the college debating team which reached the semi-final of the London University cup competition. Although the college had very few overseas students, two of them were in the team; John Umeh and Prem Shahani, who both became widely known on their return to Nigeria and Pakistan.

John went into the academic world and eventually became Professor and Dean of the university of Nigeria. He is the author of the highly regarded text book ‘Feasibility and Viability Appraisal’ and I have a copy of it on my bookshelves. I last saw him twenty years ago when we bumped into each other on the steps of the National Gallery.

Prem on his return to Pakistan, set up his own valuation practice and then went into politics. For a short time, he was a Minister of Agriculture.

I kept in contact with him for many years as he made regular visits to London where his children were at university. We would meet up for lunch and enjoy in-depth discussions on world affairs. Sadly, he died some ten years ago…a truly remarkable man.

My other main memory of the college is the quality of the academic staff. I took the ‘rural’ option, so had the good fortune to be taught by Derek Chapman and John Clayton. They prepared their lectures very thoroughly, often with great good humour. Derek, once gave a full lecture on Landlord and Tenant by reference to the characters in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ which was at the time going through the courts.

I also remember visiting law lecturers, Robb and Brookes who had a fund of amusing anecdotes which made the subjects of Contract and Tort very amusing. I still have a copy of their book, sensibly titled ‘Contract and Tort’.

After 3 years of very hard study, I received a degree on a glorious sunny day in June 1961.

My Career with The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food

I Joined the Ministry in August 1961 and was posted to Dorset with the splendid title of Assistant Land Commissioner. I then spent 20 very happy years with the M.A.F.F. working in such beautiful counties of Dorset, Northumberland and Sussex. At least 50 percent of my time was spent on farms and estates.

1969, I was awarded a Kellogg Research Fellowship at Cornell University USA which lasted for one year. On my return to England, I was appointed as Head of Land Economics and Valuation at M.A.F.F. This mainly was very much a desk job, but I had many interesting tasks.

During the debate in the House of Commons on the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions Act), I spent several hours sitting in the House of Commons on the small bench behind the Speaker. When breaks took place, I could be asked by the Ministers for additional briefings.

The highlight of my time in London was the preparation of a report on the likely effect of a Wealth Tax on the English rural estate. This took some time to prepare and once completed I was called to appear before the Select Committee in the House. This was chaired by Douglas Jay and other members included Maurice Macmillan, Ian Gow, Timothy Sainsbury and Nigel Lawson who gave me a particularly hard time. Fortunately, Douglas Jay was very kind and gave me some protection from the more provocative questions. The session took two hours… the only time of my life that I could swear that the clock behind the Chairman went backwards!

The proceedings of the discussions are fully recorded in Hansard.

During my time with the Ministry, I continued to have contact with the college. About 3 years after graduation, I was asked to produce study papers for agricultural valuations and farm buildings. I was then asked to become a tutor for students on correspondence courses. This was followed by lecturing students who attended the college for spells or face to face teaching. I was also an examiner for many years in various subjects for rural students.

For many years I sat on the Rural Research Committee and I was chairman for some years.

My Time As Principal – 1981-1992

Another change in direction came about when I was appointed Principal of the College at the University of Reading. This was a very challenging job as the college was going through difficult times financially.
Fortunately, the property market witnessed an up-turn in demand and this encouraged more students to enrol.

New courses were developed, and staff numbers increased and most significantly the academic staff rose from two to sixteen. The number of overseas students increased quickly with over 100 students enrolling from Hong Kong. This was followed by newcomers introduced in China in association with the University of Shanghai.

Famous People I met While Principal of the College

I had the honour of meeting on separate occasions, HRH Queen Elizabeth, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles who is now the President of the College. I was also privileged to meet government ministers including, Michael Heseltine, Kenneth Clarke, Edwina Currie, Gavin Strang, John Redwood and James Prior.

Personal Achievements

Member of the Chartered Surveyors Livery Company
Freeman of the City of London
Author of a chapter in ‘Walmsley’s Rural Estate Management’
Television appearances on Farming Today, and also in South Africa after a lecture I gave there.
Several interviews on local radio
Received ‘Property Man of the Year’ award in 1992
Elected Honorary Fellow CEM 1992