High Sheriff of Kent Michael Bax 'fell off chair' when offered role
It was not as though Michael Bax, a busy Kent doyen among
land agents, needed another job. But when the successful
businessman and chartered surveyor was invited to become High
Sheriff of Kent, it was not something he felt he should turn
“I felt I needed the job like a hole in the head but at the same
time, I knew I would do it because I knew I would regret it forever
if I didn’t do it,” he says.
He admits he “fell off my chair” when the phone call came from
Richard Oldfield, a former High Sheriff and now Vice-Lord
Lieutenant of Kent.
This year, Mr Bax was installed as the Queen’s
judicial representative in the county. “Your principal
responsibility is to the criminal justice system and the people who
work in maintaining law and order, to the High Court judges when
they come to Kent on circuit.” One is held in Maidstone every year,
with four or five elsewhere.
The office dates back to the reign of King Canute in about 1000.
The High Sheriff collected revenue for the king, mainly from
farmers. High Sheriffs were unpopular yet extremely wealthy. Now
the role does not cost the taxpayer, so, as Mr Bax admits, the
candidate needs “reasonable resources.”
The Bax family cannot trace their line quite as far back as the
High Sheriff’s but they are no johnny-come-latelys, with records
showing the Bax name – possibly Norman or Flemish – around from the
late 1300s as yeoman farmers and blacksmiths.
Entrepreneur Alexander Bax was a brewer in Faversham in the
1680s and his daughter married into the Shepherd family, later
Michael Bax attended Kings School, Canterbury, and had been
expected to go into the Royal Navy as many of his forebears had
done. His father Christopher Bax commanded a destroyer, and his
grandfather was Admiral Robert Bax.
Michael preferred the land to the sea and decided to become a
farmer. But advised there was more money in land agency because he
could manage dozens of farms rather than just one, he changed tack.
“If you’re any good, you will be boss of your own business and in a
far better job than farming,” he was told. “That was good advice,”
he says now.
He trained as a surveyor and went on to join Prall Champion and
Prall, a Dartford-based agent. He set up the Sevenoaks branch at
the age of 25 and was later involved in the merger with Porter
Land agents manage estates, deal with tenants, farm buildings,
act for tenant farmers, and negotiate rents that reflect the
fortunes of their businesses.
After a number of business ventures, Mr Bax was joined by
Richard Thomas and Tom French to form the BTF Partnership that now
operates from a converted barn in Challock.
“I felt I needed the job like a hole in the head but at the same time, I knew I would do it because I knew I would regret it forever if I didn’t do it…” – Michael Bax
He has seen farming go through many phases. He recalls many more
people employed in the sector when he was starting his career.
Many jobs have gone, along with small farmers who have given way
to larger enterprises. Prices have fluctuated but Mr Bax says now
is good time to be in farming. Higher prices – except perhaps in
dairy – and the move towards local sourcing and food security have
improved the outlook for farmers.
“Farming is good business to be in but it will suffer from
volatility. It will continue to have its bad years and because
farming is now so capital intensive, there will be more of those
bad years than historically.”
Mr Bax is a fierce critic of restrictive planning laws and
bureaucratic council planning departments. He says Nimbys are “a
frightful nuisance but you can’t blame anyone for being a Nimby. He
fears “localism” will make the situation even more difficult for
rural business. “A big issue is accessibility of rural
“There are problems with access and over-use of country lanes by
big commercial vehicles.”
He has seen a trend towards hiring foreign workers and regrets
that “we haven’t got a way of involving our youngsters in working
on the land.”
Michael Bax played a key role in setting up the concept of Kent
Rural Plc and will present its latest annual report at the County
Show next month.
“We hope it will be the best in-depth study of value ad money
invested and going through Kent.”
He believes more people should invest in farming businesses. “If
we were a FTSE-100 company, it would be way into the top 100. Kent
Rural Plc is right up there with the top companies in Europe.”