A THANKSGIVING Service for the life of Michael Francis Thorne (Mike), was held at St Matthew's Church, Coldridge on Wednesday, November 22.

The parish church was full for the service, which was conducted by Rev Preb Matthew Tregenza from the Crediton Benefice.

Mike passed away on September 19, 2023 and many tributes were made by many of his friends during the service.

Preb Tregenza said that Michael Francis Thorne was born on May 18, 1938 to Ivy and Alan Thorne.

He explained that the young Mike was three weeks premature... one assumes that he really couldn't wait to get started on this adventure known as life. He was joined some while later by a sister, Margaret.

A 1957 Massey Ferguson tractor was parked outside Coldridge Parish Church for Michael Thorne’s Thanskgiving Service.  AQ 0619
A 1957 Massey Ferguson tractor was parked outside Coldridge Parish Church for Michael Thorne’s Thanskgiving Service. AQ 0619 (Alan Quick, Crediton Courier)

Mr Tregenza continued: "Mike began his school career at Holy Trinity Primary School in East Finchley. These were the days of the later part of World War Two and Mike nearly didn't escape unscathed as a Doodlebug flying bomb landed only 60 yards from his home.

"It was during these childhood years that Michael first became involved in construction as he and some schoolboy pals built a 'house' on a plot of land owned by his father. The enterprising boys used anything they could find and the only thing they had to purchase was cement. 

"Mike also got involved in those other schoolboy rites of passage... building a crystal radio-set at the age of nine and immersing himself in the world of Meccano.

"His secondary education took him to Clark's College in Wood Green, a small fee-paying school. Many of you will know of Michael's lovely, distinct, handwriting. Well, he was a bit of a handwriting expert because he forged his father's signature on the receipt for his school report. One can only conclude that Mike's father had no knowledge of his son's academic progress. Sometimes, no news is good news.

"He also assumed a new identity at this time as one Michael Denchfield! This was so he could use Michael Denchfield's birth certificate to prove he was a year older than he was in order to attend evening classes to gain some extra O-levels.

"At 16, we see Michael starting work on the 1,000 acre Little Stoke Manor farm in Oxfordshire for a year prior to going to Oaklands College of Agriculture in Hertfordshire.

"It was here that Mike had his first introduction to horse ploughing as well as helping to rebuild a David Brown Cropmaster Diesel tractor. He left Oaklands in July 1956 and by this time, his family had relocated to Redbourn, Hertfordshire.

"He returned to work at Little Stoke Manor and then moved to Organ Hall Farm near Borehamwood. He then decided to train as an artificial inseminator with the Milk Marketing Board... alongside this he also did small 'unofficial' welding jobs on the farms he visited."


Mr Tregenza continued: "Michael had a frustrated yearning to try his hand at farming and so with Ian McMillan, a former colleague at the Milk Marketing Board, they bought 120 acres at Lower Whitsleigh near Torrington in 1964. They then added the 57-acre Lower Park Farm, here in Coldridge, to their holding. 

"Ian and Mike went their separate ways and while waiting for Lower Park Farm to be sold, Mike hit a bit of a financial low point. He eked out a meagre living by turning his hand to small jobs such as servicing a few cars and salvaging scrap metal and refurbishing household appliances. At one point during this period, he existed on packets of biscuits and instant coffee. The people of Coldridge were good to him - trying to put bits of work his way. 

"Fortunately, he found employment with AE Watson at Marsh Barton, where he worked for nine months prior to deciding to go it alone doing various metalwork jobs for people. 

"Mike then established a workshop base in a World War II Nissen hut adjacent to Lower Park Farm. He eventually moved back to Lower Park Farm and built up a steel fabrication business. A look around the local area will see many buildings with the Michael Thorne Construction nameplate attached to them."

Having painted a brief picture of Michael’s life, friends and colleagues put other pieces into the jigsaw for those present.

They shared anecdotes, reminiscences and memories of Mike's life.


Rev Tregenza continued: "What a life it was... a life well and truly lived.

"I first met Michael nearly five years ago when one of my parishioners in Crediton took me, a Ferguson TED20 owning vicar, to meet the founder of the Coldridge Collection.

"I was mesmerised, and Mike was so welcoming, he was generous and he was passionate about Ferguson and Massey Ferguson tractors and their associated implements. You know, I can't help thinking that if Harry Ferguson were still around, he might say 'Go and ask Mike Thorne he knows more about Ferguson tractors than I do'. 

"Mike also had a wonderfully dry sense of humour. I remember saying to him that I intended to get my Little Grey Fergie into Holy Cross Church in Crediton. I've never yet managed it, but today is the first time I've ever got a tractor into church."

Mr Tregenza then held up a small model of a Grey Fergie to much amusement.

He continued: "We have heard a lot about Michael's eye for design.

"He built the Boniface Centre at Holy Cross Church in Crediton. He told me that it was designed to reflect, in a contemporary way, the lines and arches of Holy Cross which is next door.

"The Boniface Centre is testimony to his skills and visionary design and today is used as much by community groups as church groups.  It is a real community hub... something which Michael would have been delighted by.

"He took delight in the achievement of others too. I remember spending an afternoon with him at the house of another friend and he marvelled at Henry's faithful reconstruction of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway.

"We immersed ourselves back in the early 60s as the Pines Express overtook a slow goods train near to Midford and we whiled away three happy hours.

"The last time I saw Mike was in early August on Crediton High Street. I had just had a tooth out and was feeling rather sorry for myself. I looked down the street and coming towards me was a lime green Morris Minor pickup. The A-series engine was purring away happily and a cheery wave and smile from the driver lifted my spirits."

Continuing, he added: "If we return to our scripture reading form a little earlier: All these trust to their hands: and every one is wise in his work.  How much that verse says something of Michael. He used his God given skills and he used them wisely.  He also used them generously.  Each one of us here today is called to do that too.  

"Michael was quietly proud of all that he'd achieved, but he was also very generous in sharing his knowledge and expertise with others.

"He appreciated good engineering, he loved making things work again... quite literally bringing them back to life, whether it was a set of kitchen scales or a Ferguson tractor. He had an eye for design and that dates back to childhood as his latest book testifies.

"And Alison there was your partnership with Michael... you made a wonderful team. Whenever I saw him, he would always mention you and it was plain to see just how important you were to him. 

"There is so much to give thanks for in Michael's life. Treasure those memories which you have of him. Give thanks for his life. Give thanks for his love for you, for his friendship and his kindness and his generosity. 

"Allow yourselves time and space to remember Mike. Care for each other. And allow God himself to comfort you.

"We give thanks to God for giving to us Michael Francis Thorne. 

"May he rest in peace and rise in glory."

Michael created The Coldridge Collection of Ferguson and Massey Ferguson tractors and other equipment and was a prolific writer of books and specialist articles on Ferguson and Massey Ferguson.

His legacy lives on in so many ways.

Donations in memory of Michael will go to North Devon Hospice.

Please send cheques payable to North Devon Hospice to: S J Carne Funeral Directors, Summerhayes, Ingleigh Green, Winkleigh, EX19 8AT.