Arthur Hollins took over the tenancy at Fordhall back in 1929 at the tender age of 14, after his father passed away. Following the intensive food production of the war effort, the land left to Arthur amounted to no more than a fallow malnourished soil, but the new farmer was soon struck by the big difference in the rich growth in the woodlands.
Arthur grew to understand that “Mother Earth” would correct man-made errors if left to heal herself. Shortly after the Second World War he vowed never to put chemical fertilisers on the land at Fordhall again, relying solely on natural animal muck as fertiliser. He let the grassland fields return to nature, and built up a herd of dairy cows to supply milk to the yoghurt enterprise set up alongside his first wife, May. Being among the first in the country to make LIVE yoghurt they were soon supplying many famous London and Edinburgh stores and markets.
Even while business was booming, Arthur always found energy for his research. He was adamant that farming could work in harmony with nature and he spent his whole life reinforcing this idea. Even when many were saying he was a crackpot, he knew that this was the only style of farming that was sustainable. It is this importance of sustainability that has been easily absorbed into the Fordhall Community Land Initiative today.
A Country Club was later introduced to help fund Arthur’s pioneering research into soil fertility and organics. This new venture invited thousands of visitors over the years from families, to groups such as university students, WIs or school trips. Arthur made it a priority to ensure that everyone left having learnt something about nature. The enthusiasm he held for farming and biodiversity was evident and he never tired from making people feel like they had stumbled upon a magical world.
The Dairy and Country Club ceased after the tragic death of Arthur’s first wife in the mid 1970s. The farm went over to produce organic meats and the restaurant continued in the farmhouse. Many people still recount their visits to this unique and mouth watering eatery. The room was warm and the atmosphere was high spirited. Joints of meat were placed on the table and the ‘visitors’ were handed the carving knife: every meal was like a traditional Sunday roast.
The restaurant closed in the mid nineties when the family began their fight to stay at Fordhall due to development pressures from neighbours Muller Dairy UK. The landowners wanted to sell the land which meant the Hollins family would have to leave.
Eviction notices followed and more finance was withdrawn from the farm to pay legal expenses; stock levels declined and the farm began to deteriorate. After the Foot and Mouth crisis in 2001, very little meat produce was leaving Fordhall Farm.
In October 2003, with the help of two dear friends Mike and Dagmar Kay, the fight began. Arthur’s youngest children, Charlotte and Ben Hollins, were inspired by the vision and enthusiasm of the couple, who believed Fordhall could overcome the odds and survive. They decided they would continue the fight to save Fordhall and firstly began to fight through a local public enquiry.
Arthur’s second generation of children, Charlotte and Ben, at only 21 and 19 years of age, took on the project in 2004, after securing a new 18 month tenancy only 24 hours before the family’s eviction notice was due to expire. They continue to promote their father’s philosophies here at Fordhall as their father would have wished.
Arthur sadly passed away in January 2005, at the commendable age of 89. His life research on the relationship between farming and nature, and his passion to integrate people within this, has formed the ethos for the Fordhall Community Land Initiative, and his memory lives on in Charlotte and Ben.
The full story is available in Arthur’s book ‘The Farmer, The Plough, and The Devil’ for sale in the Farm Shop or Online Shop.
For archive material and more information on yoghurt production at Fordhall delve deeper into our Heritage pages.