The following is the derived from the text of a talk given by Robert James to the Hungerford Historical Association on 28th February 2001.
James & Co (Hungerford) Ltd, Agriculural Millers and Merchants, 1910 to 1986:
First, I have to say that I am most privileged to have been invited twice within two years to speak to your association, thank you for that honour.
The subject of James & Co could be looked at in several different ways so much so that there is more than enough material for as many as four or five lectures such as this.
Originally, I decided to confine this lecture to historical facts only but I found that so much of the history revolved round:
1) People of James & Co
2) Agricultural science
3) Technical achievements
4) The effect of James & Co within Hungerford
5) The effect of James & Co within Local Agriculture and UK
So, I will be talking of:
1) The background
2) The development of business
3) Building the New Mill
4) The Fire
5) The building of the second new mill
6) Life with Cerebos
7) The beginning of the end with RHM
8) The end with Dalgety
- James & Co wagon outside Chilton Mill, c1924.
- James & Co wagon outside Chilton Mill, c1925.
- The hunt, meeting at Chilton Mill, c1925
- James & Co wagons in the Brewery Yard c1925
- James & Co summer outing c1925
- James & Co summer outing c1925
- James & Co Leyland lorry No 4, c1955. 8-ton lorry with 5-ton trailer, built 1938. 2-speed rear axle, diesel engine, ideal for transport to and from the docks. Maximum speed 18mph.
- Arthur Tarry at the wheel of a James & Co lorry in the 1950s. (Photo kindly sent by Colleen Kent, May 2012, who added "I thought you would like this photograph of my Grandfather, Arthur Tarry. We think it was taken in the 1950s. He worked for James & Co, Hungerford for many years, as did my Father, Peter Tarry, my Uncle, Ron Tarry, and my Uncle John Marchant.)
- The new Bedford 2 tonner. Wally Hamblin was the driver. (Thanks to Robert James). (Photo sent by Roy Young, Feb 2021)
- A Crossley lorry. (Photo sent by Roy Young, Feb 2021)
- James & Co Lorry, 1960
- James & Co lorry No 47, c1965.
- James & Co lorries offloading at the docks (Moya Dixon collection)
- In the New Great Western Mill (Moya Dixon collection)
- In the New Great Western Mill (Moya Dixon collection)
- Inspecting the mill after the fire, Jun 1960 (Moya Dixon collection)
- Lorry 42 after the fire at Great Western Mill, Jun 1960 (Moya Dixon collection)
- A James & Co lorry (18 - EBL 653) (Moya Dixon collection)
- The James & Co lorry fleet on the Common (Moya Dixon collection)
- Group of James & Co employees (Moya Dixon collection)
- Offloading at the docks (Moya Dixon collection)
- After the fire at Great Western Mill, Jun 1960 (Moya Dixon collection)
- Stores in Great Western Mill (Moya Dixon collection)
- Offloading at the docks (Moya Dixon collection)
- Offloading at the docks (Moya Dixon collection)
- Offloading at the docks (Moya Dixon collection)
- The New Great Western Mill, Smitham Bridge, 1981
- The Great Western Mill during demolition, Nov 1985
- The offices being used by Trencherwoods prior to new housing development, Nov 1985
The business before 1910 was an unprofitable country watermill in Chilton Foliat, then known as Bungay and Chamberlain. James & Co became nationally known and respected for it's:
1) Game and Dog foods, for it's Calf and Beef feedingstuffs and rearing techniques.
2) Internationally known for the supply of high quality malting barley to the Continent, Denmark, Netherlands and Germany, in particular.
3) For a massive fire.
4) The building of the most modern mill of its time in Europe.
Finally, the business lost its identity through mergers and finally by 1986 it was lost with only its name in the history books.
At Chilton Foliat:
It all began in 1910 when Ernest Frank James took a job as manager of the Country Flour Mill in Chilton Foliat. Ernest came from Lower Box Hill Farm in Dorking. His father, George was a farmer and he was the youngest but one of a family of twelve. Two had died in infancy and there were five boys and five girls. By the time Ernest was born, the eldest son had already left school and was working on the farm, so when Ernest left school at 14, his three elder brothers were well established on the farm and did not need a much younger and smaller brother on the farm.
1889 - Ernest had to get a job and he became a Junior Clerk with a firm of Auctioneers and Agricultural Valuers in Croydon, some twelve miles away from his home. He walked two miles to the station to catch a train at 8.15 a.m. and returned at 6.00 p.m. in the evening to then walk home. His salary started at 5/- per week, rising to 15/- after five years. When he asked his boss for a rise he was sacked the very next day.
1894 - He found a new job in London at a horse repository where Canadian, American, Argentine horses and Russian ponies were sold. He continued his job as assistant to the General Manager for two years but the job was strenuous and very long days travelling into London and this effected his health.
Ernest resigned and got a job with Atlee's of Dorking, millers and agricultural merchants, where he stayed for twelve years as assistant and representative salesman. He would have liked to farm but he saw no prospects in farming as prices for corn and livestock were at rock bottom.
1910 - In the Corn Trade Circular, he saw an advertisement for a manager of two country mills as the manager was going abroad. This was Mr Ralph Bungay, son of a wealthy merchanting family, who were well known as international merchants. His mother lived at Denford.
The other partner, Mr Sidney Chamberlain, a founder of the Ramsbury Building Society, offered him the job, which Ernest accepted in October 1910. With his wife, Florence and family, Norman and Isobel, he moved from Dorking in January 1911 to Chilton Foliat, where he lived in the Mill.
The business had suffered from bad management and the trade consisted of small retail customers who could not pay. There were many bad debts that had to be collected through the courts. The output of grist and flour from Chilton and Denford Mills was poor due to a small and inadequate plant.
In the early years of the 20th century, continuing depression caused small country mills to be taken over by Millers Mutual Co-ops and Port Millers. Competition was forcing the small miller out of business. Small bakers were reliant on farm workers, who were poorly paid. Ernest found that he continued to have difficulty in collecting money from the bakers.
Ernest decided after just two years to specialise. As the old Stone Mill was out of date, he stopped flour production. Large estates were buying in quantities of Game foods to rear large numbers of pheasants for Sporting Shoots.
During the 1914/18 war, they had made money. In 1921 the repeal of the Corn Laws and the slump caused "the Governor" to seriously re-plan his business. Denford and Chilton Mills were not efficient and compound feeding stuffs could be purchased form the Port Mills at less money than he could produce them.
The cuber, which he bought in the war from Simon's Engineering in Hull at the time of the first ever German Air Raid, was sold at a profit to Spillers.
In 1922, Sidney Chamberlain could see no future in milling and offered the Governor his share of the business. Again money was needed. Eventually he was able to borrow £800.00 from his elder brother, George, who farmed Urchester Grange at Wellingborough. Norman, now 17 had just started work and drove the Governor to Wellingborough to collect the money.
I digress at the mention of a car. The Governor always had a car; there were three in the district; Dr Starkey, Dr James and Ernest. His first car was a De Dion; he was a keen motorist and travelled extensively with his family. By the mid-thirties, he had two cars, one of, which was a splendid Daimler, chauffeur driven by Alf Chapman. After the 1939/45 war he had two big Humber's and then another Daimler and at this time his chauffeur was John Campbell. A smaller car, which he drove himself, was an Austin 8, BPN 175. Later he had a Sunbeam Talbot and lastly, a Wolsley 1500, which by the time he was 85, got the better of him and was a shade too fast.
He was married to Florence Weller, a milliner from Dorking for nearly sixty years. Norman was born in 1905 and Isobel in 1908; she is here tonight and Dudley was born at Chilton Mill in 1912.
In his lifetime, Ernest succeeded in every way. He was a successful family man, where he had a happy home and he educated his three children in private schools. He was an excellent shot a marksman with .303 and .22 rifles and shot for the Dorking Club and at Bisley, where he and won many national trophies. He was an excellent game shot as well and unusual for a marksman to succeed in game shooting.
He was a champion bowler; playing for Hungerford, and as captain, he also played for the County for many years and was President of the Club. He had a good eye so understandably he played a good game of snooker.
He was a Tuttiman (with Major Harvey) in 1938, served as a Trustee of the Town and Manor of Hungerford for 18 years (c1940-c1952), and was Secretary of the Fishery for six years. He served on the Hungerford Rural District Council for a short term and was on the War Agricultural Committee through the 1939/45 War.
His brother, John was a Champion Croquet player and played for the Hurlingham Club and England. They shared good co-ordination of a keen eye and a steady hand.
Ernest was moderate in everything he did, he had a modest appetite, he smoked one Churchman cigarette a day and a Manikin cigar and drank an occasional glass of sherry.
He was a kind man, tough and persuasive in business but approachable and friendly.
So, back to 1920 and Denford Mill. Sir Philip Dunn would not repair the Water Wheel at Denford and there was not always a good enough supply of water to drive the mill. Ernest gave up the tenancy and handed it back to the landlord.
The Old Brewery Yard, Hungerford:
Production of feeding stuffs and seeds in the Old Brewery Yard was going well but after the 1914/18 war; the Government had removed controls. The free market went into a slump due to imports of cheap grain and meat from abroad. Farmers were going broke in hundreds.
Fortunately, Ernest was able to go back into Game food manufacture and the sale of keepers' appliances. The only problem with the plant was that it was driven by a gas engine and where the mixers, grinders and seed cleaning machinery were working at full capacity, the engine's gas requirement was so great that the rest of the town went without gas. To overcome the problem, Ernest purchased a Suction Gas Plant and became self-sufficient.
Most of the staff from Chilton had now moved into the Old Brewery Yard:
1) Fred Wellman - Foreman
2) Dick Smith
3) David North
4) Jack Simms - ex Denford Miller
The drivers were:
1) Jack Luker
2) Teddy Grant
3) Jack Evans
4) Ernie Little
5) Joe Hale
They drove the horses, collecting raw materials from Hungerford Station and delivering to the farms and estates.
In 1926 he gave up the tenancy of Chilton Mill and moved into Mr John Wooldridge's house (next to the tennis court) in The Croft, as a tenant.
Towards the end of the 1920's it was obvious that more plant and storage was urgently needed to meet the demand. The Governor, with Norman now in the business, began to look for new premises.
Great Western Mill, Church Street:
Dr Barker was retiring, his home and surgery at Kennet House (19 High Street) was put up for sale. The economy was in slump conditions and few had any money. Ernest put in an offer for the property and was surprised to have this offer accepted. The property had a large garden and orchard. The local courthouse and county surveyor's office were tenants of the property.
Somehow he persuaded the court and surveyor to leave and set about building a brand new mill of the latest design of steel structure, clad in corrugated asbestos, known as a "portal frame building". Condors of Winchester erected the building; we will hear more of them later. Machinery was installed and the whole mill was driven by the latest Fielding and Platt 2-stroke diesel engine, which ran the mill for 20-years before being replaced by electric motors. A seed cleaning plant and mixing equipment for scientifically balanced livestock rations in new paper bags was the name of the game. Great Western Mills were born and opened in 1932.
Horses and carts were being replaced by lorries as the Governor found that one 2-tonne lorry could do the work of 3 horses and carts, even though they were inclined to breakdown.
The need to haul his own raw materials into the mill became essential to keep the plant running and most of these supplies were at the main ports of London, Bristol and Southampton. A heavy haulage vehicle was essential. In 1934 he considered 2 possibilities, a 7-tonne Foden Steam lorry, which was fast, cheap to run and cheaper to buy or a Leyland with a diesel engine. He decided that the Leyland Beaver was the best, he thought it should be able to tow a trailer, making it a 12-tonner. It actually became a 13-tonner a year or two later when he bought a 2-speed rear axle for £37.00. Soon there was a fleet of 5 lorries with new drivers, "Car Men", the first were Wally Hamblin, Bill Razey (later Razey's TV & Radio shop),
Jim Walters (retired c.1960), Crosbie Bull and Bill Stacey. The drivers of the horses and when the horses were sold carts preferred their horses and either went to work in the mill or stayed with the horses. Like Teddy Grant, who took his horses to Manor Farm, Froxfield in the early 1940's and would drive neither a lorry nor a tractor.
The Depression began to fade for farmers after the establishment of the Milk Marketing Board in 1932. The Game and Dog food trade expanded tremendously all over the country. Agencies were agreed for the supply of fertiliser and chemicals as farmers began to test out new research. Likewise farmers began to see the real benefits of balanced livestock feedingstuffs.
In 1936 the new mill was extended for the first time to accommodate the growing business. It was to be expanded almost continually during its lifetime.
A feature of this successful business was the Governor paid for an outing by char-a-banc once a year.
1941/42 - Corn Drier on the back and bins holding 90 tonnes of 3 tonnes per hour capacity
1947 - Maintenance Garage/Garage Services
1949/50 - Extension on the front of the mill
1953/55 - Single storey store and lorry garage
1956/57 - Four storey production plant, storage, dispatch and lorry garage.
1958 - New drier in Smitham Bridge Road and Laboratory for Seed Testing
1959/60 - The two buildings joined to increase storage and convenience. Fire safety wall built!
1960 - The Fire - 22 June
Following the First World War, the family completed their education.
Norman had been at Ardingly School from 1918/22.He left school as a champion in athletics, holding the Victor Ludorum Cup as a sprinter and joined his father in the business as an assistant and outrider. By bike and motorbike he called to see farmers to book their orders and collect the money.
Isobel had been to Mayfield School in Marlborough and then to Newbury Girls School. She was interested in catering and became a cook at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford before going on to live and work in London.
Dudley went to Miss Richen's Preparatory School at 32 High Street and then to Wycliffe College from 1923/31 and did not leave until he was over 19 as the Governor had said, "stay at school until you can decide what you want to do."
Dudley left school in 1931, then spent a year on Charlie Blackman's farm at Chilton Foliat before joining the Auctioneers, Estate and Land Agents, Simmons and Sons in Reading. Here he met and did business for many farmers and estates in land and property sales and the livestock market and valuations. This proved to be an excellent grounding for later years in the family business, where he became responsible for finance, accounts, property and the farms.
The Governor had always thought it necessary to have a farm of his own to show his customers the real value of his feedingstuffs and seeds.
Dudley joined the business in 1936 and soon after they took over their first farm, Folly Farm at Shalbourne Newtown. It was 200 acres of derelict land and William Roots, the car manufacturer was the new owner. Three men were taken on Tom Luker, Jack Stallard and Stan Heath, who still lives in Froxfield.
In 1941 they took over Manor Farm, Froxfield as tenants from the Littlecote Estate, by now owned by Sir Ernest Wills, a much bigger farm of 620 acres. Almost at the same moment, Foot and Mouth disease struck Folly Farm and a few days later the cattle at Froxfield had succumbed. A Disaster as both herds had to be slaughtered by Government Order of Notifiable Diseases.
Folly Farm was now ploughed and producing good crops but Williams Roots wanted a big increase in rent but they thought this was not good economics and decided to make do with Froxfield and gave up the tenancy.
In 1942 Mr Killick retired and his shop at 17 High Street was taken over and renamed "Seeds and Cereals" and was managed by Charlie Averil and his wife. Roz Fox, Don Wishcombe and June Blind worked there as assistants through those early years.
The next year another business in Andover, which included a number of small terraced houses, was taken over called "Bunny's of Andover". Like "Seeds and Cereals" in many ways it supplied small holders with small quantities of feeds, corn and seed and operated a weekly delivery round. Tom Reid was the lorry driver who came with the business and later he became a driver and worked in Hungerford.
World War II - 1939/45:
To begin there was little change then reduced supplies of imported human and animal foodstuffs created a new home demand for cereals and meat products. No beef and mutton from the Argentine or wheat, maize and Soya from USA or Canada.
Demand for cereal seeds and any human food offals were prizes for animal food. Waste potato, glume meal, bran and weatings were sought after for animal feed and many other unusual products were used.
The Mill was obvious from the air and was painted, on government instruction "terrain camouflage". The local air raid shelter was built in the orchard.
The Governor took his big Daimler off the road and Dudley garaged his new Vauxhall until the end of the war. Then petrol was so scarce that neither car was used again. The Governor used his Austin 8 and Dudley drove an awful Ford Prefect to save petrol.
Norman and Dudley were exempted from call up as the Mill and farms were essential to the war aid. Norman became a part time policeman and Dudley an ambulance driver and private in the Home Guard. He was armed with a .303 rifle and 6 practice hand grenades, which I threw into the canal in 1952 that were dredged out in 1973/74 and the bomb squad, were called to make them safe! Not many people knew that!
Business was only as good as the harvest and home produced raw material supplies. They thought to improve the quality of local grown cereals was essential and a new drier was built.
Feedingstuffs were rationed and allocated only to those with coupons.
Dick Smith was the keyman from early 1940 until rationing was abolished in about 1949/50. His job was to put up Pig and Poultry meals in 7, 14 and 21lb bags for delivery each week by Alfie Rolfe in his 3 tonne Bedford with a "tilt" fixed on to the lorry to keep the paper bags dry.
Most cubes and pellets were purchased from John Robinson and BOCM for resale.
Again there was no Game Foods until rationing was lifted.
Dick Smith was known as "Reuter" after the world famous news-company. Dick was always whistling and biting on a matchstick and at the same time was first with all the news and gossip. If Dick had missed the news, his friend and work mate, Polly Cummings did know.
Post 2nd World War:
Bunny's of Andover was sold to SCATS in 1947 as it was too far away and the money was needed for the purchase of a small estate of 7 houses and land in Church Street and Smitham Bridge Road from Monte Hine from Moordown, where they wanted to build a lorry maintenance garage. John Rumble was the first manager with Bill Clements, Ted Bradley and Bert Howe. Those four men could repair, build and deal with absolutely anything. If it was broken, they fixed it. More important breakdowns could be dealt with quickly and under our own supervision.
In 1947, Walter Alexander decided to retire, so Norman and Dudley purchased the property and Grocer's business, T W Alexander and Son.
Soon after, Reg and Les Whiscombe's Carpenters Shop in Church Street was taken over. Together with Rupert Richens, a wonder carpenter, they had been almost permanently employed in the mill, it seemed sense to buy it out. Later Tom Grant and Reg Reeves took on the work.
The Gas Works ceased making gas in 1950 and the property was taken on as a tenancy for a general store, particularly for fertilisers.
During these years, the plant and buildings in the Old Brewery were of less and less use and were finally cleared out in 1956 and the tenancy given up. The rent had only been £50.00 per year for all those years.
In 1954 a farm was purchased, Scarlett's Farm, Plastow Green, Headley. A derelict farm, which cost £10,000. A dairy was planned for this "grass only" farm of 132 acres. Gordon Watts from Aldbourne was employed as the manager and a large herd of 120 Friesians was established. It was a very profitable grass and dairy farm.
In 1956 Dod's Nursery in Priory Road was purchased from the Dod's family and was managed for five years before being sold to Colin Edwards' father for building the Polyhomes. The land was bounded by Priory Avenue, Tarrant's Hill, Bulpit Lane and Priory Road.
We have digressed away again from the Mill and James & Co but this was the family business, diverse and complicated.
By the middle 1950's the business was growing strongly, the war was passed and farmers were encouraged by Government to produce more to save the balance of payments. Business was good and more and more men were required to meet the requirements of the mill and drivers for the fleet of lorries and sales staff. There were no houses to let locally so cottages were purchased; houses were built in Sarum Way, Froxfield and Scarlett's Farm, which were let to staff.
At the beginning of the 1960's there were 46 residential properties on the books.
In the late 1950's, major feedingstuffs and animal husbandry management trials were being run at Froxfield in cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep, cereal growing and grassland and promoted nationally.
Many new techniques started at Froxfield under the guidance of John Foll, the Nutritional Director. Alfred Schmidt managed the trials with Derek Smalley at that time and were very successful in boosting sales of feedingstuffs by farmers visits and the publication of results.
These successful developments and particularly the calf rearing, led the new business being contracted nationwide in James & Co Feedingstuffs to Somerset, Kent, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, where the feedingstuffs were manufactured under license.
On the 22nd June 1960, when business prospects for the future were excellent, a devastating fire brought the mill and business to its knees. Reported at 4.00 am, but by 8.00 am the inferno had burned everything except a steam boiler, a small office block and the fleet of lorries, which were saved.
Robert James added (Aug 2018): "Those who were part of the lorry rescue team as I am told (I was at college at the time - it was the day my final results were published, 22 Jun 1960):
Norman James, Bill Clements, Ted Bradley, Dr Max Wallis, Doug Brown, Sid Valence and Ted Hill. There were others. All the lorries were saved although one Bedford 5 tonner was badly scorched. (This was a remarkable feet of bravery and must have been much apreciated at the time - HLP).
Other drivers included:
"Peter Cullum, who lived in an Avon Villa flat. Latterly he drove the Atkinson lorry 12 tonner and trailer 6 tonner combination flat truck. This vehicle was used to bring in raw materials from the docks and to deliver large consignments of malting barley to the midlands and north east.
Here are some of the names who were Peter’s colleagues:
Fred Cleverly and Denis Martin (Leyland Beaver & trailer)
Jim Walters (7 tonne Bedford)
Sid Valance (Leyland Comet)
Len Higgins and Ernie Little (Albion & trailer)
Nutty Rolfe (Bedford 6 tonner)
Morley Rolfe (Bedford 7 tonner; he went on to lorry and trailer)
Curly Cook (Bedford 7 tonner)
Bert Whatley (Leyland 12 tonner)
Bill Michener (Bedford 7 tonner; he went on to 14 tonne bulk grain);
Bill Swain (7 Bedford 7 tonner)
Robin Barnes (Bedford 3 tonner Reg CBL 25)
Peter Tarry (Bedford 6 tonner)
Joe Lewington (Leyland Comet 10 tonner)
Arthur Fox (Bedford 7 tonner; later Leyland bulker 10 tonnes)
Chips Hayes (Bedford 7 tonner)
Tony Grooby (AEC 14 tonner) and
Ronnie Regan (Bedford 7 tonner)
At the time that Peter Cullum emigrated to NZ Bert Howe,( Garage Services) Ginger Powell ( Mill) Paddy Jameson ) all joined the £10.00 emigration scheme Ginger and Paddy were ex Paras.
Incidentally, the only emloyees still alive (Aug 2018) are Ron Tarry, David Watts ( Somerset) and some of the ladies in admin - Elaine Martin, Audine and Maureen Regan and Wendy Nash.
Ten fire tenders raced into Church Street, supported later by 20 others to pump water and 3 turntable ladder engines. Fireman, Jack Williams was first on the scene with his father to set about the fire.
With the exception of Norman, all the other directors and several mill staff and drivers were away on annual leave before the commencement of the new harvest. Despite the fire still raging, calls of contact were made and within the day everyone was back to work to deal with the emergency. Despite the setback, temporary accommodation and storage was taken and production was restored within a few weeks.
The fire burned for a further eight weeks producing choking smoke, the smell of rotting feedingstuffs and swarms of flies.
In the meantime, James & Co feedingstuffs were being manufactured by licensees, who were already making James & Co feeds. Thanks to their co-operation, within a week 80% of the feedingsruff requirements of James & Go's formula was being sold again. Within 5 weeks our own manufacture had started from a new cuber and a few days later calf milk meal was being made. Twenty-four hours shifts were the name of the game from then on.
We must now go back to the first few days after the fire. It was the most devastating thing for the town, the people who worked for James & Co, for the suppliers and customers and not least the family, their worries were money, the bank, insurance, employees and what of the future.
The fire effected people in very diverse ways.
The Governor, whose life, skills and efforts had built the business and made "Great Western Mills", was more concerned for Norman and Dudley and his employees and wrote to both Norman and Dudley from his holiday hotel in Worthing:-
"I am sure that you will get around the problems as serious as they are but now is the time to plan to build bigger and better to serve our customers' needs."
Now well in his eighties, he was a tremendous inspiration and good council to all the directors and staff at this time. He lived just long enough to see the New Mill into production and the closure of the temporary manufacturing and storage sites.
The family firms before the fire:
James & Co
- Garage Services
- Seeds and Cereals
- Old Brewery (Carpenters Shop, and Maintenance)
- Great Western Mills
- Nobes Store(Membury)
- Gas Works
N & D James
- Manor Farm, Froxfield (630 acres) and Scarletts Farm, Plastow Green (132 acres)
- 46 Residential and Commercial properties
- TW Alexander & Sons, Grocers and Licensed Merchants
- Dod's Nursery
Rebuilding a New Mill:
The complex planning of such a plant, which would normally take a year or more was crammed into a few short months. Such was the urgency that the outline plans for the New Mill were submitted and passed by the Hungerford Rural District Council in early September and the first loads of hardcore were tipped in January 1961. Work on the foundations commenced a few weeks later.
The directors sought tenders for the most modem, efficient and cost saving manufacturing mill and the contract was signed at Christmas just six months after the fire.
It was to be a year to the day that production commenced in January 1962.
After the fire, production commenced within a few weeks of cubes and pellets and milk meals at Nobes Store at Membury.
A large aircraft hangar was taken at Membury Airfield for storage of finished feedingstuffs after Dudley had enlisted the help of an important game food customer, none other than Harold Macmillan, whom at the time was Prime Minister, who persuaded the Ministry of Defence to let a short tenancy to James & Co.
Then work began to seriously hold the trade and to build a New Mill.
Everyone worked so hard to keep the business going, 24 hour shifts, double and treble handling of raw materials and products, very difficult quality control. Then right in the middle of that autumn the feedingstuffs were implicated in high mortality of young calves, pigs and poultry over many farms.
John Foll, as Technical Director, found his department very threatened and it was he who led the whole industry in identifying the causal agent and preparing controls. It was moulds called AFLATOXINS in Brazilian Ground Nut and Soya Beans. Norman and John Foll had purchased consignments of the raw materials of the highest specifications, which had been contaminated with toxic moulds. It took some years for the whole story to unfold and for tests to be perfected to identify the toxins and contaminates. In the meantime, the insurers were to settle some large claims from effected farmers.
In the middle of 1961 the new building was progressing well but things were not so good in other ways, the stress and strain began to tell on everyone. At this time out of a total staff of 130, 13 had spent time in hospital with stress related illnesses including heart attacks, stomach ulcers and the like, Norman and Dudley included.
1961 was a good barley harvest and the export of Malting Barley was going well and continental buyers were bidding for more and more cargoes. It was new and profitable business and our farmer customers were well pleased. By 1964 our grain trade was selling over thirty cargoes each year.
In January 1962 the first cuber in the New Mill was commissioned. For the next three months, more and more plant was put into production and by the summer, the mill was complete.
The office block on the old mill site was closed in 1963 when a new block of offices was opened adjacent to the New Mill and the old site was sold to Hungerford Rural District Council where the Fire Station, library and car park were to be established.
Now sales, production and profits were important and business activity increased a pace and by 1964 production of finished feedingstuffs had risen to 30,000 tonnes and seed production to 4,000 tonnes per year.
The Governor had died in 1962 after a short illness and Norman and Dudley had to plan and decide the future of the business. There were only two choices:
1) To further consolidate the profitable businesses
2) To continue expansion
Neither could see a future in consolidation in a fast moving and competitive market of slim margins.
Both had been unwell and the fire and subsequent stress had severely dented their courage and confidence. The old Governor had gone but he had always said that if the opportunity arose the business should be sold.
In fact the company had survived well over the fire and rebuilding. Insurers had paid up in full, including consequential loss. Barclays Bank in Newbury had lent them all the money needed for the critical years.
The decision to sell the company:
Norman and Dudley decided that the company had to be sold while it was successful, held a high profile and was profitable. The greater part of the family business was put up for sale.
Cerebos famed for table salt, Bisto, Sharwoods and Scotts Porridge Oats took over the company and combined James & Co with other milling businesses in England and Scotland. The sale included the New Mill, fleet of vehicles, Garage Services, Seeds and Cereals and the maintenance department.
Cerebos had new ideas and pressure was levied to expand the business even more. What they wanted was to obtain optimum production for the mill.
Poultry farms were purchased in Teekay Farm, Weston, Bradley's Turkeys, Middle Wallop and Gooderham's Turkeys in Essex, where large quantities of feedingstuffs were required for this fast growing industry.
The companies in Scotland were to use James & Co.'s formulations for their feedingstuffs.
Everything seemed to be going well for Cerebos with the introduction of splendid new ERF heavy lorries, new pension scheme for employees, the launch of Chelated Minerals for Livestock and Poultry Bank was born and many other changes.
Norman and Dudley retired in 1968 and took their pensions. Norman had worked for 46 years in the company, a few less than the Governor had.
Employees with notable service records:
There were several employees who had notable service records, like:
Dick Smith - 50 years
Mervyn Brown - 46 years
Ron Tarry - 41 years
Wally Hamblin - 36 years
Doug Brown - 35 years
Fred Cleverley - 35 years (and he had driven over 1.5 million miles without an accident)
Norman and Dudley:
Norman and Dudley were a formidable pair in business and best of friends at play.
As a team in business, they had the beating of all their competitors and as the team was dispersed over the years, their skills were to set the standards for others in the Agricultural Supply industry.
Rawlinsm James & Phillips:
Rank Hovis MacDougal bid for Cerebos in May 1969 and by September we were all RHM.
In 1970, James & Co combined with archrivals Rawlings and Phillips of Calne to form "Rawlings, James and Phillips". Fellow arch rivals, Goodenoughs of Reading were swallowed by "RJP" and Longman's of Sparkford joined the party a year or two later.
At first the effect of the RJP merger put back the progress of the James & Co business by some years. Joining two hostile, competitor companies together and with the Calne management in control, we found them light years away in modern sales management, accounting and raw material purchasing. With little understanding of the modern production of feedingstuffs, times were to be difficult for a year or more.
In time, RJP became a leading RHM company in sales, product, quality and services and profitability. The company suffered by trading in an area from London to Bristol in a long narrow corridor across the country.
By the early 1980's, farm sizes had grown, competition in feedingstuffs was alarming and profitability was being squeezed
More amalgamations had to happen and the "Big Six" feedingstuff manufacturers had been knocked down to four and three was forecast.
Dalgety bid a knock out price for RHM Agriculture and got the business. RHM was no longer interested in agriculture it wasn't profitable enough.
Dalgety plans to boost efficiency and profits did not include The New Mill in Hungerford. It was closed in June 1984. The site was sold to Trencherwood reputedly for £300,000.00 and was cleared away only 22-years after the start of the second New Mill, where houses were built commencing in 1986.
More on N & D James:
Manor Farm, Froxfield progressed well until 1972. There was less and less commitment to trials and more emphasis placed on general farming. There now was no longer the need for the farm and it was sold to Sir Seton Wills. His family had sold it to Norman and Dudley in 1958 to help pay death duties on the estate of his grandfather, Sir Ernest Wills, which they had purchased at a favourable price.
Scarletts Farm was sold in 1983 to Lord Sieff and Tim Sainsbury after Gordon Watts had been tragically killed in the car accident.
T W Alexander & Son closed in 1972 and was sold to The Arcade Company when competition and prices from supermarkets made in roads into profitability and High Street business in Hungerford was at a low ebb with 13 retailers up for sale.
It was now the turn of the future of the residential properties. It was decided that they were to be sold with vacant possession as and when past employees had no further use of them or when and the tenants were given the opportunity to purchase their houses at favourable terms.
There are now just two properties left after 37 years.
What happened to some ex-employees of the firm?
Those who grew up with the firm over 70 years many took happy retirement. Many went away to new positions and succeeded:
- John Foll - Managing Director, RHM Agricultural
- Richard Goodenough - Kenneth Wilson, Director
- Derek Smalley - Farm Manager, Wasing Estate
- Alfred Schmidt - Farm Manager, Ireland; Stud Manager, Virginia, USA
- David Watts - Started his own Agri-chemicals business
- Jo Teegan - Mill Manager, Nairobi
- Michael Hobbs - Returned to family merchants, Atlees of Dorking, where he still is.
- Reg Reeves - Started his own cabinet making business
- Elaine Rumble - Book Keeper and Accountant at Charles Lucas and Marshall
- Tony Corcoran - Went to Australia, married a local and joined ICI before farming on his own account and now owns a Post Office and Stores.
- John Richardson - Was moved to Essex by RHM as a Regional Arable Manager and subsequent move to Paul's and White's.
28 Feb 2001
The Lancashire connection:
Robert James added (in Dec 2018) a further piece about his family history:
My mother's grandfather James Gore left the family home in Standish, Lancashire in 1902 to make their fortune around Hungerford - as you know at Radley, Winding Wood, Elgars and Clapton Farms.
The near family lived in Shevington and Crook. They were coal miners, farmers and merchants.
Walmsley was a Lancastrian who had a successful career as a professional soldier and in retirement settled here. However at the end of the 19th century farming was in a slump and farms lost their tenants. Walmsley was no exception as he had two farms without tenants. The farms offered to James were Radley and Winding Wood.
James presumably agrees a deal taking the farms for three years rent free and never looked back as he set up 4 of 5 sons in farms before he died in 1916.
He also got his brother-in-law James Seddon down from Lancashire to manage Oakes Bros the Agricultural Engineers. That was James and Bessie Seddon, and they were the first owners of our house 29 The Croft before moving to Salisbury Road.
James Seddon, having agreed to take the tenancies, sold up in Standish chartered a train from Wigan loaded up his livestock, implements, horses, maids, and the family 3 boys and 4 girls and the train arrived same day at Kintbury station, they then walked to Radley! The other 2 boys - my Grandpa Tom and Uncle Willie - drove the pony and trap from Standish to Radley which took less than a week.
James Seddon was part of the lorry manufactures Seddon and other Seddons were big in salt mining. Two brothers became directors of Cerebos a blue chip before take over by RHM.
- "James & Co (Hungerford) Ltd., 1910-1986" – Robert James [HHA Archives, N91]
- James & Co - Price List, 1937. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- James & Co - Order Form, 8 Mar 1937. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- James & Co - Cartridges, 1937. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- James & Co - Vitaliser dry foods, 1937. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- James & Co - Letter from Norman James re the fire, Jun 1960. (from Stewart Hofgartner)
- James & Co - Brochure about the fire. (from Stewart Hofgartner)