Andrew Sheppy whose sudden death at the age of just 68 has stunned many, was a well recognised figure around the village. The archetypal rustic, in his well-worn boiler suit, dirty green wellies, shapeless hat and bushy beard, his educated tones when he spoke came as a shock.
But Andrew was a man of many talents, devoted not only to his rare breed Dexter cattle and poultry, but also a musician of some renown, organist, choir conductor, and possessor of a fine bass voice.
He was also a talented taxidermist and many will remember his tiny shop window on the High Street where children were fascinated in a variety of stuffed animals and birds. He was for many years a chorister of Hartford College Oxford and on a number of occasions brought the Choir to sing in St Andrews Church.
Andrew, scion of a farming family who had farmed at Cobthorn Farm since 1820, lived in the centre of Congresbury with his parents. He attended Nailsea Grammar School where he was often to be found in the library widening his knowledge of animals and wildlife. He was a proud Somerset Man and hated the thought of living in somewhere called Avon. North Somerset was an unforgivable compromise.
His interest in music and rare breeds grew in equal measure. In 1976 he established his organically managed conservation breeding unit. This is now home to the National Poultry Collection and he was an internationally recognised judge of poultry, travelling far and wide to shows. His Dexter herd is one of the very few surviving pure breeds in the country.
For many years he conducted the Congresbury Singers and cut a fine figure in evening dress leading villagers singing carols round the Christmas tree in the Precinct. He was a Methodist and played the organ at Cleeve Parish Church. The difficult birth of a stillborn calf at Easter was distressing for him, not just for the loss of a valuable animal, but also because he couldn’t play for the Easter service.
Andrew did not suffer fools gladly and could be irascible with authority, but he was also a very community-minded man, and took part regularly in The Plough pub quiz for various charities including the Cobthorn Trust. He also served for many years as a parish councillor where his passionate knowledge of the village was invaluable. He also supported the veterinary students at Langford, not only sharing his knowledge in lectures but also attending their social events. Several of his protégés have gone on to distinguished careers.
He loved Congresbury and supported the local History Group with talks and providing old photographs for its publications.
Sadly, Andrew had recently been very worried about the effect of the Gladman development on his farm. He attended the planning inquiry and gave the fascinated inspector an insight into the use of artificial insemination in the breeding of Dexters! His dream had been to complete 200 years of farming the same land but that is no longer possible. We can only hope his life’s work will live on somewhere.
Part of the old village is gone, but memories of Andrew will survive.
Mary Short and Michael Greaves