What is E. Oldroyd & Sons?
Find out how a fruit farmer from the county of Cambridgeshire came to produce food protected by the European Commission.
A man named John Richard Oldroyd was the son of a fruit farmer. The farm was located in the Wisbech area of the Cambridgeshire Fens.
After much though, 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 unfortunately lost everything. This prompted him to move to Yorkshire where his daughter lived.
John’s daughter Martha Neal had a greengrocer’s shop. This was based on Northgate in the city centre of Wakefield.
Marth 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.
There was a high demand of his produce because the quality was so good. To keep on top of the work, John had to send for his son Ernest.
Ernest came to work for his father in 1933. He brought along his wife and son – John Kenneth (Ken).
John became good friends with another local farmer and 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 he grow rhubarb, John also reared chickens on the upper floor of the barn. He found that he enjoyed growing rhubarb and proudly taught his secrets to Ken.
Ernest took an interest in growing strawberries and vegetables rather than rhubarb. He set up his own greengrocery delivery service where he supplied both trade and the public from his pony and cart.
John eventually moved back to his hometown of Wisbech. Ernest stayed in Yorkshire and named his business E. Oldroyd.
In 1942, Ernest decided the time had come to make Ken a business partner. Together they renamed the company E. Oldroyd & Son.
The following year, the father and son duo had earned enough money to buy Pymont Farm. John died in 1949 and Ken took over the business.
Becoming what it is today
Soon after John’s death, Ken formed a partnership with his brother in law called Jack Proud. They both decided it would be best if Jack took control of the marketing and Ken concentrated on growing the produce.
Slowly but surely, the rhubarb industry was declining. Ken looked at this as an opportunity and made the bold of expanding the business.
Part of E Oldroyd & Son’s expansion was taking over other growers. These were based in Rothwell and Carlton where the company remains today.
The partnership became a company in 1965 now called E. Oldroyd & Sons [Lofthouse Ltd. In 1966, Ken’s eldest son John Graham joined the company. 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 unfortunately went out of business.
The company still operated within the ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ along with a handful of other growers. Villages included are Kirkhamgate, East Ardsley, Stanley, Lofthouse and Carlton.
The ‘Rhubarb Triangle’ was originally much bigger than it is today. It included Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford.
In Siberia, there is a native rhubarb plant. This thrives in the cold and wet Yorkshire winters.
The forced variety grows in the fields for two years before they transfer it to heated huts for their third winter. It is then grown in complete darkness.
Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was used as a fertiliser. It was often thought as a waste product similar to shoddy and mungo (waste products from the woollen industry).
In February 2010, twelve farmers campaigned. After this, the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn also campaigned.
Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb was granted Protected Designation of Origin by the European Commission. This made the rhubarb geographically protected in the same line with Champagne, Stilton cheese, and Parma ham.
The farm in Carlton is now a popular tourist attraction. It has many visitors from across the world to see how Yorkshire Forced Rhubarb is grown.
A guided tour can be pre-booked which is available throughout January to March. You can do this during Wakefield’s annual Rhubarb Festival which takes place each February.
Many celebrity chefs have visited Oldroyd’s farm. This is 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.