The Foxearth and District Local History Society
Tom Hastie 1929 – 2012

This is the account of the funeral service for Tome Hastie, whose work as a local historian founded this website. Tom was very much a local man, despite having been born into a farming family in Scotland. He spent his working life working as a ploughman on a local farm, and when he retired he resolved to spend his retirement finding out all he could about the history of ordinary life in the locality he knew so well. To this end, he became a familiar figure at the local records office in Bury St Edmunds poring through a screen at microfiche copies of old local papers and transcribing the stories that interested him.

 Tom had a remarkable talent for picking out all the things that seemed interesting. He was the perfect filter for a newspaper. He enjoyed reading about local crimes, accidents, cricket matches, local events, house sales, auctions and all the routine of life. He transcribed everything that caught his eye.

When you read his transcriptions for a while, it becomes like a sort of time travel. You join in weeping aloud when hearing of the awful details of some of the melancholy accidents, almost hearing the creak of the wagons passing along the town streets, and the cheers, celebrations and rivalry of the local horticultural shows. The accounts that appealed to Tom the most were written in the vivid journalistic style of the past, when the local journalist was a figure of considerable power in the community, working hard to interest his readership, sometimes with a frankness that offend the modern reader, whilst railing against aspects of society, such as the treatment and conditions of the farm labourers, the infant mortality, and the dreadful condition of much of the housing.

Tom was, as a local man, the perfect local historian. His encyclopediac local knowledge led him unerringly to ferret out the important details in the newspapers he searched through.


Foxearth Church was full, with a number of people standing, on 8th March 2012 for the funeral of a well-known Foxearth man, Gordon Allen Hastie – known to all as “Tom” – who died on 23rd February aged 82. The service was conducted by the Rector, Rev Eoin Buchanan assisted by Rev Val Gagen. Afterwards Tom was taken to Bury crematorium.

In a moving eulogy, Tom Hastie’s life and achievements were described by Ashley Cooper, who – as President of the Local History Society - spoke firstly of the Society’s very considerable indebtedness to Tom for his long years of painstaking research into the past and the many pieces of historical worth he had contributed to the Society’s web site . Between now and the end of the Olympic Games some 50 to 100 thousand people from all around the world will visit the facility: the popularity and value of the site is due in large measure to Tom’s efforts .

Tom was born into a farming family in Castle Douglas, Scotland but at the age of seven the family moved down to Suffolk. In 1943 Tom began work at Brook Hall farm in Foxearth remaining there until his retirement. Just as he was known never to have an unkind word to say about anyone, Tom was equally reticent about himself. It was therefore a cause for great joy when a few days after his death his brother John found a 20-page autobiography that Tom had written about 15 years ago. Ashley described this as a wonderful document in which Tom writes fully about his early life with his four brothers and two sisters, his impressions on first seeing apples growing when he moved south, his wartime memories of aircraft, the exploits of the local Home Guard platoons, his early days of work in the “horse era”, recollections of Foxearth Cricket Club and the memorable occasion when the team were all out for 9 against Little Waldingfield. When he was 19 Tom joined the Foxearth Working Mens’ Club – which then had almost 100 members. He enjoyed playing snooker, darts, dominoes and card games. Tom was proud to take farmer Brand’s prize-winning cattle to the various shows.

Outside his occupation Tom’s abiding interests were his family as a devoted brother and uncle to his nieces and nephews. He took pleasure in walking around the meadows and farmyards with them making sure they could tell the difference between a Red Poll and a Hereford. He was keenly interested in local sport being a familiar figure at the home games of Cavendish Football team for many years. In his cricketing days he played for Foxearth and Long Melford acquiring a reputation as a slowish bowler of some distinction and he continued to support and watch local games until ill health intervened.

Another of Tom’s passions was photography having his own dark room in his cottage. He was an early owner of a video camera with which he began his great work of recording the reminiscences of the older inhabitants of the area. Many of his films have been deposited in the archive of the Essex Records Office including those of notable events such as the 50th anniversary of VE day celebrations. In his retirement Tom visited the Bury Record Office week by week to study old newspapers where he would write down fascinating snippets of reported events giving incredible glimpses of life as it was over the last 300 years. From this sprang his monthly article “Pages Past” in the four villages Parish News which entertained us for so many years and which we shall greatly miss.

Tom Hastie will be long remembered with affection and thanks for his friendship and for his inspiring work in documenting for future generations facts and memories which would otherwise remain hidden. At his funeral a rousing rendition of “We plough the fields and scatter” was a most apt tribute to him. We shall all miss his company and to his family we express our sincere condolences.

Ken Nice