A fond farewell to Peter Gott of Sillfield Farm
Words: Mark Riddaway
Markets are in Peter Gott’s blood. From an early age, he was sent out to work on the Gott family stalls in Barrow-in-Furness and Kendal, and since the age of 17, when he took over the business following the passing of his father, he has devoted his life to producing exceptional farm produce and selling it directly to the public.
His first appearance at Borough Market came in November 1998, as one of the 50 or so producers who gathered for the now legendary Food Lovers’ Fair, a three-day celebration of British food. Peter, who instantly recognised the vast potential of the place, then became one of the handful of traders who began returning on an increasingly regular basis as the retail market slowly took root.
Peter’s commitment to the cause was absolute—he even set up a bed in one of the fridges to stay here overnight. His vision, hard work and persuasive powers (Les Salisbury of Furness Fish & Game, for example, was pestered by Peter into joining the ranks) did much to set the tone of the place, and he has been a huge presence here since, loved and respected by colleagues and customers alike.
Peter’s charisma and energy have been felt far beyond Southwark. The profile afforded to him by the burgeoning reputation of the Market allowed him to spread the word about provenance, quality, seasonality and husbandry to a national audience through regular appearances on radio, TV and in print. It also gave him the ear of chefs, policy makers and educationalists.
“We are respected within the food industry and the government,” he once told Market Life, “so when we shout, people take notice.” This influence extended globally and he was instrumental in forming what has become a strong and lasting relationship with La Boqueria Market in Barcelona, resulting in the first of many exchange visits between traders in 2008.
The things he has shouted about are many: the importance of food education, the appeal of markets, the wonders of Cumbrian regional foods. One of his great passions, which he has done much to promote, is wild boar. He first began breeding these once sadly underappreciated beasts in 1993, and has since been instrumental in their renaissance.
Ever the pioneer, Peter was one of the first Borough Market traders to become involved with Slow Food. In 2000, he started a convivium (a regional chapter) for the northwest of England, and a few years later he led the Market’s first mission to the movement’s famous Salone Del Gusto festival in Turin. Slow Food and Borough Market are now intimately connected, thanks in no small part to Peter.
His efforts have brought him considerable acclaim. One of his proudest moments came in 2014 when he was announced as the inaugural winner of the Clarissa Dickson Wright Award, presented by the Countryside Alliance in recognition of his traditional, sustainable approach to farming.
Dickson Wright was a close friend and vocal supporter of Peter. At her memorial service earlier this year, the oration even touched upon her apparent admiration for his “well-turned calves”—his legs, not his livestock.
The wider food world
To say that Peter’s values mirror those of Borough Market would be an understatement. The truth is that without Peter’s values, and those of the other early traders, Borough Market simply wouldn’t be the place it is today—and neither by extension would the wider food world.
“It’s a great compliment to what happened in the early 2000s, to those early pioneers who came here and changed everything, that the model they introduced is now being replicated all over Britain and beyond,” said Donald Hyslop, the chair of Borough Market’s trustees.
Although he will be greatly missed here and within the Southwark community which he considered an essential part of the Market family that he cared so deeply about, Peter has clearly earned a more restful life in Cumbria.
And for as long as customers continue to be drawn here to buy food created with love and attention by farmers, fishermen and artisans who care about the environmental impact and regional heritage of the work they do, his legacy at Borough Market will live on.