The History of E. Oldroyd & Sons and Where it is Now

What is E. Oldroyd & Sons?

E Oldroyd & Sons are known for their famous forced rhubarb. People visit from all over the world just to see how this incredible plant is grown.

Find out how a fruit farmer from the county of Cambridgeshire came to produce a Yorkshire food that’s protected by the European Commission.

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The Beginning of E. Oldroyd & Sons

John Richard Oldroyd was the son of a fruit farmer. This farm was located in the Wisbech area of the Cambridgeshire Fens.

As John was growing up, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, this changed when he became an adult.

After much thought, John branched out from his father to become a successful farmer and market gardener. The quality of his fruit and pigs were both produced to a very high standard.

During the depression, John lost everything. This prompted him to move to Yorkshire where his daughter lived.

John’s daughter was called Martha Neal. She owned a greengrocer which was based on Northgate in the city centre of Wakefield.

Martha didn’t like the quality of the local produce and thought it could be better. She encouraged her father to use his well established skills and expertise to grow again.

In order to do this, John rented Pymont Farm in Lofthouse located between Wakefield and Leeds. Soon John began growing quality fruit and vegetables.

The demand for his produce was high because the quality was so good. To keep on top of the work, John had to send for his son Ernest.

In 1933, Ernest came to work for his father. He brought along his wife and their son called John Kenneth (Ken).

John soon became good friends with another local farmer who taught him how to grow strawberries. In return, the farmer showed John his secrets to growing rhubarb.

In order to successfully grow rhubarb, John needed a forcing shed. He converted an old barn where he then grew rhubarb on the ground floor.

Not only did John grow rhubarb, he also reared chickens on the upper floor of the barn. John found that he enjoyed growing rhubarb and proudly taught his secrets to Ken.

Ernest went a different route to his father. While John was interested in rhubarb, Ernest would rather focus on strawberries and vegetables.

He decided to set up his own greengrocer delivery service. Ernest supplied both trade and the public from his pony and cart.

John eventually moved back to his hometown of Wisbech. Ernest on the other hand decided to stay in Yorkshire and named his business E. Oldroyd.

In 1942, Ernest decided the time had come to make his son Ken a business partner. After he agreed, together they renamed the company E. Oldroyd & Son.

The following year, the father and son duo had saved enough money to buy Pymont Farm. John died in 1949 and Ken took over the business.

How E. Oldroyd & Sons became what it is today

Soon after John’s death, Ken decided to form a new partnership. His brother in law, Jack Proud, joined the business.

They both decided that it would be best if Jack took control of the marketing. Ken on the other hand would concentrate on growing the produce.

Slowly but surely, the rhubarb industry was declining. Ken wasn’t deterred and looked at this as an opportunity which resulted in a bold expansion of the business.

Part of E. Oldroyd & Son’s expansion was to take over other growers. These were based in Rothwell and Carlton where the company remains today.

The partnership became a company in 1965 called E. Oldroyd & Sons Lofthouse Ltd. In 1966, Ken’s eldest son John Graham joined the company and Neil Hulme soon followed in 1969.

E. Oldroyd & sons were determined to keep the rhubarb industry together. This led to Ken along with other growers in the area forming a co-operative called ‘Yorkshire Rhubarb Growers Ltd’.

In 1996, the co-operative disbanded. This was due to several of its members who went out of business.

Despite this, the company still operated within the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ along with a handful of other growers. Villages included Kirkhamgate, East Ardsley, Stanley, Lofthouse, and Carlton.

The Rhubarb Triangle was originally much bigger than it is today. It used to include Leeds, Wakefield, and Bradford.

Siberia is home to a native rhubarb plant. This thrives in the cold and wet Yorkshire winters.

The forced variety of this plant grows in the fields for two years before being transferred to heated huts for their 3rd winter. It’s then grown in complete darkness.

It’s important that the rhubarb plants are kept in the dark. This helps them to produce glucose which gives rhubarb its distinctive flavour.

Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was originally used as a fertiliser. It was often thought of as a waste product similar to shoddy and mungo which are waste products from the woollen industry.

In February 2010, twelve farmers started a campaign to protect the plant. After this, the campaign was passed on to the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn who also campaigned.

In the end, the campaign won. Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was granted Protected Designation of Origin by the European Commission.

This made rhubarb geographically protected. Other items that are also protected include Champagne, Stilton cheese, and Parma ham.

Where E. Oldroyd & Sons are Now

The farm that is located in Carlton is now a popular tourist attraction. It has many visitors who come from around the world just to see how Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb is grown.

Throughout January to March, a guided tour is available and can be pre-booked. The most popular time for the tour is during Wakefield’s annual Rhubarb Festival which takes place every February.

Many celebrity chefs have visited Oldroyd’s farm. This is often to gain inspiration for their dishes.

Rhubarb is a true Yorkshire crop. It helps to keep the county on the culinary map through Oldroyd & Sons which is now one of the largest producers of rhubarb in the UK.