The end of an era is reached with the death of Peter Smith - of Smiths of Bloxham - after an extraordinary life in business and farming - Obituary

The end of an era has been reached with the death of Peter Smith – of Smiths of Bloxham – after an extraordinary life in business and farming.

By Roseanne Edwards
Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 3:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th April 2022, 6:05 pm
Peter Smith and his wife Kathy, who died in 2017
Peter Smith and his wife Kathy, who died in 2017

Mr Smith’s decades in the worlds of scrap metal, farming and livestock-breeding ensured his reputation extended around the globe.

While his pedigree Limousin cattle were exported abroad, Mr Smith’s Bloxham scrapyard has seen countless relics of some remarkable historical moments, from Vulcan bomber engines to Formula 1 cars, rocket shells and nuclear power station commissions.

Mr Smith died on April 14 following a period of illness.

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Peter Smith, whose scrap metal empire and farming businesses are continued by his sons

Peter Smith was the second of Thomas and Isabel Smith’s ten children, born at Newlands Farm outside Bloxham, now Smiths Of Bloxham’s main site.

Peter went to Bloxham primary school and on Thursdays, his father would take him and brother Thomas to Banbury Cattle Market, keen for the boys to learn about buying and selling livestock.

The children enjoyed country life which had its challenges. Son Tom said: “Once, he just escaped with his life. When clearing a grass bank he put his shovel through a massive bees’ nest. He was stung dozens of times, running away with the swarm following.

"On another occasion he and our grandfather suffered burns trying to save a pilot who crashed his plane into fields in Milcombe but they were pushed back by the heat. They were unable to save the pilot. This greatly affected our father and he never spoke of it again.”

Peter Smith is pictured with a prize Limousin at Banbury's Midland Marts. His trophy was presented by British boxing champion (Sir) Henry Cooper

In 1969, the boys’ livestock education was proven when father and sons won the top prize at Banbury's Midland Marts. The trophy was presented by British boxing champion Henry Cooper.

Soon after Peter met the love of his life, Kathleen, and the two married. They lived in a caravan on the farm where their first two children were born.

After Thomas passed away in 1976 his sons worked tirelessly to keep their father’s empire going. Peter and Kathy moved into their permanent home and over the years completed their family of eight sons.

Mr Smith negotiated many contracts with the US military at Upper Heyford. His children remember amazing American cars he would drive home. Work was undertaken at various bases where he dismantled large antennae aerial systems. Mr Smith took down WW2 aircraft hangers at Barford St John, re-erecting them on his farm where they are still used as cattle sheds.

Peter Smith with the 50,000gns Bailea Umandy which produced a number of influential progeny for his Ironstone Limousin herd

Mr Smith also worked with UK forces; his sons recall mountains of metal helmets from the two world wars, gas masks and old uniforms they took delight in dressing up in.

He made headlines when the Vulcan bombers from the Falklands war were dismantled and he and one of his sons were pictured astride the enormous engines. The remains of an F1-11 jet were another special consignment.

He took on secure deconstruction jobs for official sources and MOD facilities from where truckloads of items such as spent rocket casings and cars used for grenade testing were collected.

Deliveries were made from a UK nuclear facility of 20ft high steel and lead-cased ‘plugs’ used in case of a nuclear melt down.

Peter Smith with brother Tommy behind him. The boys were taken out of primary school classes for education at Banbury cattle market

“The workers were too scared to go near in case of radiation. Dad confidently walked past them saying ‘Out of the way, what's the matter with you’, picking up a gas-cutting torch and taking the giant plugs apart,” said Tom.

Peter Smith had good relationships with Banbury's major businesses and he welcomed a wide range of international customers from countries including Africa, Afghanistan, China, Korea and Poland.

He was the main contact for F1 race and rally teams. His sons recall watching big crashes on TV, then seeing the cars appear in their father’s yard.

When the XJ220 Jaguar was built at Wykham Mill, Mr Smith recovered all scrap. His sons enjoyed a ride in the coveted cars.

For 35 years Mr Smith allowed Banbury Steam Society to hold it's rally on his farmland, attracting huge crowds.

He was renowned for his generosity to local causes and was a silent supporter of many charities. He supported the church and invited riding clubs to hold events on his land.

When his nephew James was seriously injured he offered to buy the hospital equipment needed to save the young man, who made a full recovery.

He was one of the first owners of a Sinclair C5, but donated it to a village boy who had become an amputee through cancer.

In 2011 Peter was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease but continued his work with the cattle and scrapyard. He lost his brother and business partner, Thomas, in 2011 and his business partner and sister, Pauline in 2015. In 2017 his beloved wife Kathy passed away.

In 2018 Mr Smith made the difficult decision to sell his prized Ironstone herd. At a packed sales room at Newark Cattle Market he received a standing ovation from the crowd in recognition of 41 years of achievement. Mr Smith watched his cattle make record prices via video link.

In late 2021 Peter stopped attending the office to protect himself from Covid but would survey things from his vehicle and lend words of advice on business.

Mr Smith died the day before his 78th birthday. He leaves behind his sister Christine, his eight sons, 15 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

Mr Smith’s funeral takes place at Bloxham Church at 12pm on Friday and afterwards in a marquee next to Smiths of Bloxham yard.