Brandsby Dairy Society

Hugh’s friends and colleagues had been urging him for some time to try to apply cooperation to agriculture and early in 1895 he decided to start a cooperative dairy. This was a difficult venture because grazing cattle were more the norm in Brandsby.

Hugh send round McGuire, one of his London lads, to recruit shareholders and they eventually secured subscribers for shares up to about £200, plus £50 from a friend of Hugh’s. A dairy man was recruited and between them, Hugh, his estate staff and the dairyman, they fitted up a dairy in part of the coach house in Brandsby Hall yard.

They started with butter making and cream cheese, but were hampered by the fact that they had to pay an exorbitant price to get people to send them any milk (7d) a gallon. Finding a market was also hard. They sold small quantities to some shops in York and Scarborough and the rest through “one of the biggest huxters”. This rapidly resulted in an enormous loss; then the dairyman left, at the same time as new belt for the separating machine proved difficult to fit. Hugh and his assistants with help from another dairy worked from 7pm till midnight and finally got it fixed and separated the milk.

By August the accounts showed a loss of £90 over the first three months of operation’; half a year later this had increased by £20. The dairy was also heavily subsidised by Hugh; he charged no rent for the dairy, had fitted it out at his own expense and he provided the carting of goods to and from the station and all clerical assistance. He concealed his help in the early years, in order to persuade people it was working. He also lent the saw mill engine when the dairy engine broke down or was under repair. But as years passed he was able to reveal more of the costs in the cooperative accounts.

It was through his efforts with the Dairy that Hugh got involved in forming an organisation for organising agricultural cooperation throughout Britain, modelled on the highly successful Irish Agricultural Organisation (IAOS). A cousin, W.L. Charleston approached him. They and some other interested parties formed the British Agricultural Organisation Society (BAOS).

This eventually amalgamated with another organisation the National Agricultural Union (NAU) and became the Agricultural Organisation Society Ltd, under the presidency of R. A. Yerburgh, MP for Chester. The political negotiations took Hugh away from Brandsby a lot and he was obliged to give up his life of going around Mill Hill in flannel shirts, and instead spending much time in London lobbying, cajoling, negotiating and in many meetings.

However, the start of this organisation gave a real lift to the Brandsby Dairy Society. Charleton’s initial address to the members, telling them of the great success of cooperation in Ireland and elsewhere, heartened them greatly. Losses in the accounts had reduced from £150 to the £90 lost in the first three months of operation and otherwise it was paying its way. The engagement of a dairy manager from Ireland, by the name of Brown, at £100 a year was a bold step. Though not a good dairyman, he was a good manager and succeeded in wiping off the deficit and began a reserve fund.

With Brown the cooperative began trading in odds and ends and opened a small grocery story in Brandsby village. Hugh built a wooden store on the site of the old pinfold, which started with trade of £7 per week, which soon rose to £20. Profit from the store and the dairy together enabled the Society to pay Brown’s salary and a small dividend of from 6d to 1/- in the pound.

First Brandsby Coop store (photo HCFC)

Cakes and Fertilisers

Around 1894 Hugh made a great effort to develop the agriculture branch of the Brandsby Society, by purchasing cakes. He struck a deal with Richardson & Co in York to become their agents and to get half of the 2 ½% profit they were supposed to get on sales. The use of the name of the AOS was very useful here, as Hugh was able to say that the growth of societies under the AOS banner would increase their trade and secure a monopoly.

Richardson’s were the only cake merchants, in the Yorkshire region, trying to spread knowledge of how to value and test cakes and manures, in an effort to get farmers to use the best. They were interested in the Societies efforts to educate farmers. Hugh, by dint of diplomacy and bluff, discovered a great idea about the cake trade, which ports cake arrived and from where and the different merits of cake from Egypt, India, Russian or America and what percentages of oil and albuminoids should be found in the best of these cakes. He also learned about the composition of fertilisers.

At that time cake was sold in Easingwold market on the strength of the reputation of the firms. A year or two later, after the Society’s agitation, this started to change. No-one in the AOS knew anything about cakes, so Hugh wrote a leaflet on the cake trade promoting the method of comparing values by the amount of oil and albuminoids it contained. The leaflet was widely distributed.

The next project for the society was improvement of the transport of goods.

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