In 1894, in response to continued urging by his associates to try cooperation in an agricultural context, Hugh decided to start a cooperative dairy society. Prior to this he had tried to run a weekly agricultural club for farmers, in order to try and make progress by fresh farming enterprises. To start he sent round his estate lad, McGuire (probably one of the East London boys) to collect names of those willing to be shareholders and eventually £200 worth of shares were secured.
A dairyman was engaged and part of the coach house at Brandsby Hall was partitioned off and fitted out as a dairy by a team of Hugh, his brother Willie, the dairyman and his estate lads. The dairy opened for business on 1st January 1885, making butter and cheese. There were many difficulties, the price they had to pay for milk was too high to be economic and at the end of the first six months, the dairy had made a loss of £90, despite not having pay any rent and relying, apart from the dairyman on the labour of Hugh and his brother and workers employed by Hugh on the Brandsby estate. On one occasion, Hugh and company spent five hours from 7pm to midnight, trying to get the dairy engine to work with a new belt, which they did achieve in the end.
At the end of the first year the loss had increased by another £20. Hugh paid for fitting out the dairy, which cost approximately £150, plus labour supplied and he paid the cost of carting the milk backwards and forwards and the goods, which he estimated was about £100 per year. However, he continued to hide these costs to keep up morale and because he believed in the eventual success of the dairy.
Still in the 1890s, Hugh made a great effort to develop the agriculture branch of the Brandsby Society, by purchasing cakes. He had interviews with Richardson & Co.’s representatives, they being the best cake merchants in York. He suggested to Richardsons that BATA should become their agents and that they divide the 2 ½% which Richardson’s were getting on cake. BATA supplied cake from then on.
“It was more or less self-supporting in the early 1900s, but even after Maxted [General Manager from 1905 – 1913] came I passed £25 into the accounts one half year to avoid showing a loss at the critical moment. I also gave other assistance at times such as not charging rents for certain properties for some time after they were taken over. I also lent the saw mill engine several times when the dairy engine broke down or was under repair.”
From 1899, development of the, by then, Brandsby Dairy & Trading Association, was greatly aided by the parallel formation of the British Agriculture Organisation Society. Hugh was approached by a cousin, W.L. Charlton to get his support, and from the beginning, this wider development greatly heartened the Brandsby Members. Charlton first came to speak about what was being achieved by cooperative associations elsewhere, particularly in Ireland and he was followed by other visitors and speakers. The Agricultural Organisation Society (AOS) became the national champion for rural cooperatives. BATA benefited from its association with AOS and in return was of great benefit to the AOS as an example and pioneer of many schemes. It often featured in the annual reports of the society. [See separate page on AOS]
By 1899, the loss of the Brandsby society had been reduced from about £150 to the £90 lost in the first three months of its existence and was apparently paying its way. So announced at the end of a meeting if the farmers would elect a working committee with a president to take his place he would take up £90 in shares. He also stipulated that they engage a practical dairy manager from Ireland at £100 a year. Agreeing to this last took some courage among the members, but a man named Brown was engaged who proved to be a good manager, succeeding in wiping off the deficit and beginning a reserve fund. With Brown the society also began trading in odds and ends.
Hugh built a small grocery store in the village, on the site of the old pinfold. Trade began at £7 per week. This soon rose to £20 per week and enough profit was made by working the store and dairy together to pay Brown’s salary and a small dividend of from 6d to 1/- in the £1.
In 1901, the half year balance sheet on 31st July showed a turnover of £1,531, of which £1,116 was dairy sales and £415 other sales. Profit for the six months was £70.
In 1902, the Society had a membership of 81, with sales at £4,249 for the year, net profit, £132 and a reserve fund of £159.
BATA continued to attract many visitors, particularly around the time of the inauguration of the freight transport service to the North Eastern Railway line.
In 1904, under Hugh’s guidance BATA undertook to operate a goods depot at Brandsby, and to act as agents for North Eastern Railways in supplying goods for transport. The NER would have rented the depots themselves and fitted them out with sheds, weigh bridges, etc.,
“ but I would not let him because I wanted to keep the control in the hands of farmers cooperative societies. I therefore built sheds at Brandsby costing about £160, or rather less perhaps, erected coal cells of railway sleepers and put down a weigh bridge, for which the society paid £60. I let the sheds to the society and also built a depot and cells with weigh bridge, cottage and corrugated iron shop at Stillington. The Stillington Depot and buildings, including the cost of the land, came to a good £600, for which the society pays a rent of £30 yearly. This was a very precarious investment, but it was necessary in order to carry through the motor scheme.”
Without the traffic from Stillington, Hugh thought there would not be a big enough quantity of goods to keep the scheme going.
The NER supplied storage sheds at the railway end, first at Tollerton station and later this was moved to Easingwold. The NER also provided a steam lorry to transport goods.
There was a full report on the Brandsby Motor Service in the AOS annual report.
In 1905, Hugh started to build a small shop and a manager’s cottage next to the depot;
“Yerburgh (Robert Yerburgh MP, President of the AOS) most good-naturedly came to lay the foundation stone for me. We had a big luncheon in one of the depot sheds, which was supplemented at the open end with a tent. Burtt came from the NER and my solicitor Edwin Grey also kindly supported me and helped me in other ways for which I must always be grateful. The tenants showed up well and representatives of other societies came too, so Yerburgh and I had a very enthusiastic welcome.”
After the goods traffic was diverted to run from Easingwold to Stillington and Brandsby, the increase in rail traffic resulted in a 1% increase in dividend for the NER.
“The motor service brought a fresh lot of visitors to Brandsby to see what was being done. Coetmore Jones, Lord Scarborough’s agent came over by himself and later with 20 farmer tenants. Diggle and Winfrey [two noted campaigners and activists in the development of cooperative small holding associations] … The Times writer of agricultural articles came to investigate,…” and several other politicians, thinkers and writers and a diplomat (he mentions H. Levy, Noel Buxton and de Bunsen. – see associates)
Also in 1905, Hugh thought the agricultural side of BATA’s business needed a manager, and to this end he negotiated with the society to engage the services of H. Maxted one of AOS staff. This required considerable diplomacy; Maxted was appointed as Secretary and the General Store Manager gradually took a secondary position.
“After the store was completed I came to the conclusion we could not make anything of the dairy till it was removed from the Hall to the neighbourhood of the other buildings of the society, and accordingly somewhere in the years between 1901 and 1907 I built the dairy at a cost of about £210 and let it to the society for £10 per annum. The society had already bought the shop and cottage for £600 and taken a lease of the site for 99 years with the right of renewal.”
“After this the society erected at its own cost, a large wooden shed connecting the dairy and depot sheds. This shed cost about £70 or only about £1¼ per cubic foot. I had obtained the knowledge of how to build these cheap sheds by sending Wood [his agent] to Rosshire to one John Ross, a farmer who was noted for having devised extraordinarily cheap sheds for sheep and cattle on his farm.”
“The new wooden shed at the depot alluded to above was built for the purpose of mixing and storing manures. We invited a Mr. Kent, formerly a partner in Kent & Brydon, seedsmen of Darlington, to stay at Brandsby and discussed with him the best recipe for a compound manure for our farms. The mixture was decided on after careful consideration of the local soils and the question of profit to the farmer. Consequent on this we were able to mix a compound that we could sell at about 20/- per ton less than its price in the ordinary market. As Kent’s business area was well outside ours, he did not mind assisting us, and we bought a certain amount of cake and manures under his advice, allowing him a very small commission.”
The Cooperative Society was by this time confident and how much initiatives came from within and how much Hugh Fairfax-Cholmeley input ideas is not documented, but it continued to be an object of interest to the AOS, and all its original schemes appeared in AOS reports and or leaflets. By this time BATA also rented the Brandsby Mill from Hugh as part of its operations.
1910 was a particularly innovative year for the society. Piggeries were built at Brandsby and 100 pigs bought in the latter half of 1910 and by the end of the year 66 had been disposed of at a good profit. The pigs were to help dispose of the separated milk. Sties for a further 60 pigs were erected in 1923, but the schemed ended by the end of the 1920s.
1910 also saw the erection of a sheep dip on a piece of land rented from the estate, near the Dalby cross-road. 5000 sheep were dipped during the first year. In 1910 a slag-drill was purchased to rent out to members and, in addition, a cheese press was purchased to enable the society to make large cheeses.
Remains of the BATA sheep dip, near Dalby crossroads, 2015.
Other developments followed and in 1913 a new scheme for marketing members wool was introduced and developed, with wool properly classified and graded. BATA reported to the AOS that considerable saving had been made in the cost of handling wool, the cost to the society had been 1/2d a pound. The total sold in 1914 had been 93,071 lbs, realising £4,7521. 7s 2d. In 1913 this had been 67,456 lbs of wool realising £3.458. 13s.
In 1913 Mr. Maxted died and it was necessary to engage a new General Manager. The new manager selected required an annual salary of £300, £100 more than the committee had agreed to pay. Hugh Fairfax-Cholmeley and the Chairman, Clive Behrens, undertook to guarantee the extra £100 between them, should the society funds not be able to support this salary. In the event the society finances were able to cover this cost.
In 1914 it was decided by the committee that the Society’s offices should be moved to Malton. However, implementation of this was deferred until war-time conditions were over. Hugh’s advice on how the society was to approach business during the War was sought.
In 1915, Mr Tadadsu Ishiguro, Secretary to the Imperial Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce in Japan, was on a visit to the UK studying cooperative methods. Sent by the AOS, he visited BATA at Brandsby and was particularly interested in the wool scheme. Though the immediate influence British examples had to Japan is unknown, following the second World War, agricultural cooperative associations were set up by government policy as a price regulatory mechanism and still dominate the sector.
The early 1920s were hard years for cooperative societies, there were huge drops in prices and BATA had its problems during these years. The much lauded wool scheme ended after a disastrous year in 1920. However, the AOS noted in its 1923 report hat the Brandsby BATA had survived when other societies, particularly dairy ones, had gone to the wall during the hard years of 1920-21. From 1925, however, to 1928 trade improved and careful management meant the society recovered and from then on grew larger and more complex, however, the Dairy business which had started the whole thing was closed in 1927.
Papers of Hugh Fairfax-Cholmeley
Annual Reports of the Agricultural Organisation Society
BATA 100th Anniversary Booklet