The History of Foal Farm
It was a dog named Rex that was responsible for the birth of Foal Farm …
Rex was an outsize German Shepherd, chained to an old van in a yard. With a broken and bleeding ear, fur coated with oil and grease and his pads raw, he was a pitiful sight. His owner occasionally threw him scraps of food but nobody ever went near or touched him, until Carl Anthony Baker spotted him one day in the 1950’s.
Carl Baker was a company director of a toy firm and for him the thought that this wonderful creature, who turned out to be so full of love and goodness, intelligence and fun, had been condemned to a life of chained misery and starvation, sowed the seed of what was to come. With some difficulty Carl persuaded the owner to let him take Rex home. Rex snarled once as he walked towards him but soon seemed to realise that Carl was there to help and he allowed himself to be taken off the chain and put in the car without a murmur.
Rex went to live with Carl Baker and his wife Penny on a sailing barge moored at Sunbury on Thames alongside Rivermead Island. Not long after they took in another neglected dog, Bess, and the Bakers began to spend more and more time combating cruelty and distress that many animals were suffering.
Carl worked with many animal charities and the first Foal cat arrived via the Cats Protection League, as many still do today. He had volunteered to deliver a litter of their kittens to their new homes but one family had changed their minds and no longer wanted one. They had not thought it necessary to notify anybody, so there was one small black and white kitten surplus to requirements! He had nowhere to go, so joined Rex at the Baker’s home, being called Bing as he proved to be very relaxed and sang a lot!
On the 1 August 1960, 20 people met in a disused kitchen and agreed to form a rescue centre, called Friends of Animals League (FOAL), with the simple aim of saving as many animals as possible, to care for them until fit and well and then place them in good permanent homes.
Initially, the unwanted animals that were brought in were “shared” around the member’s homes but when 10 ponies, rescued from Waltham Marshes, needed urgent accommodation, it was obvious that premises were needed. Fortunately, a kind hearted farmer in Westerham came to the rescue in this instance, lending 40 acres and a Dutch Barn, but the search was on for Foal Farm.
The location of the new premises was critical if enthusiastic volunteers were to be available to assist in the conversion work, but this meant limiting the search to the home counties where property prices were at their highest. Eventually on 23rd May,1962 the Bakers took possession of Foal Farm in Biggin Hill, after selling everything they had. This included their home on the Thames, where they moored their barge, in order to raise the £36,000 needed. It was described as ‘an ugly, god forsaken place, well away from main roads and bus services and with no railway station’, but it did have a cottage, 20 acres of grazing and 3 acres of woodland!
The animals began arriving at Foal Farm faster than the Bakers could build kennels, faster than they could raise money for food and faster than they could rehome them. Because of this need to appeal for money FOAL decided to apply for charity status and on 22nd September 1962 became registered charity number 201654.
Working at Foal Farm was a tough and dirty job. The Bakers and their volunteers frequently worked 7 days a week and from early morning until midnight. When Carl Baker’s health meant that he had to retire in 1967, he and Penny sold Foal Farm to the Friends of Animals League for £12,000.
When they arrived at Foal Farm they had 6 rescued animals and by the time they sold it they had 150 rescued animals.
In the years since Carl and Penny Baker Foal Farm has continued to expand and now accommodates around 400 animals any one time. Mostly known as Foal Farm Animal Rescue Centre we have hundreds of visitors each year and hold a special place in the hearts of many people that taken home and loved a Foal animal.
The last few words of Penny’s book end with the story of a rescued animal Mo that they had brought back to health, and she writes “..Mo had come to mean every creature that is looking for a place to belong, and someone to love…It didn’t wipe out the mud and the muddle, the hard work and disappointment, the worry and tiredness. But it made us stop and think that if we had to – heaven forbid! – we’d do it all again”
Working at Foal Farm still involves hard work, worry and quite often mud, but everyone involved – staff, trustees and volunteers – agree with Penny Baker in that when we see the results of our labours we would do it all again …