After a career spanning five decades and mirroring that of his late grandfather, Hadlow Estate Foreman Mick Cheesman is hanging up his tools for the final time.
Mick, who is 66, is retiring following a long career that began thanks to a chance meeting in the local pub in 1970, between his father and the Estate’s carpenter. The discussion led to 15-year-old Mick, a carpentry apprentice, starting work there.
Mick recalls: “When I began working on what was then the Somerhill Estate, I used a push bike to ride to work from Tudeley, to the carpenter’s yard about two and a half miles away. We then used our bikes to ride all over the Estate to our different jobs.”
“We carried out general maintenance, made windows and doors and pitched roofs. Although I was there as a carpenter we were taught all sorts so if you weren’t busy you would go out with the plumber or whoever needed an extra pair of hands. I enjoy the variety of the job – you don’t know what you are going to be doing from one day to the next. One minute you could be making a window and the next you’ll be unblocking a drain.”
Mick has worked for three generations of the family, starting during Sir Harry and Lady d’Avigdor–Goldsmid’s tenure, then for Chloe and James Teacher, and for Harry and Kate Teacher today. He already had a particularly special connection with the Estate as his grandfather Ernest Catt worked there as a woodman for 60 years. “It was for that reason that I always wanted to do my full 50 years,” Mick says.
As Estate Foreman, Mick’s role has been to oversee all of the work taking place, liaising with different contractors and workers. Mick and his team are responsible for all the tenant properties on the Estate and he says one of the highlights of the job has been getting to know the residents who live there.
He says: “I will miss the people and the variety of the work as well as meeting different people and traders. I think I know virtually every tenant and tenant farmer.”
There have been many memorable moments for Mick, including the Great Storm of 1987. Mick says: “There was lots of damage. I went to work at 6am and it was non-stop – we spent the Thursday through to the midday on the Sunday fixing damaged buildings and leaking roofs. One house even had a Lime tree come in through the back of it.”
After many busy years, Mick is looking forward to taking a step back from things. He says: “The time has come to retire and spend more time with the grandkids and of course my wife Vicky. Over the last couple of weeks the reality has hit to be honest – it’s the end of an era.”
Gaven Thomas, the Estate’s current Assistant Foreman, will be the man taking over from Mick. He said: “I am really looking forward to the challenge. Effectively I’ve been shadowing Mick for two and a half years since I joined. There is not a lot he doesn’t know across multiple trades and he has imparted some of that knowledge over time, particularly when it comes to more traditional ways of working and ensuring we preserve the Estate’s buildings with integrity and character. They are big shoes to fill!”
Kate Teacher, of the Hadlow Estate, said: “Mick’s depth of knowledge of the Estate and how it works has been invaluable. He has worked on all of the Estate’s houses, barns, oasts and buildings, as well as knowing its woodland and farmland over three generations. He’s always been generous in sharing his knowledge but does so in a way that’s kind and unassuming – which is a rare quality. He’s also got some brilliant anecdotes and memories of local events and characters, which have really enriched my experience of the Estate – we’ve had some laughs about his reminiscences.
“We wish him well for his retirement. I’ve learnt so much from him and we’ll miss him. But we look forward to him coming back to help out on certain projects. He’s an amazing carpenter and can turn his hand to anything – and he’s already said he’d like to come back to work now and then.”
Chloe Teacher of the Hadlow Estate, added: “On a personal level I shall miss him greatly. He has an extraordinary knowledge of the Estate and knows everyone. There is nothing and nobody that Mick doesn’t know! Many people have been keen to buy him a leaving gift and I think it’s the measure of the man, that he really will be so missed.”