Heritage project gathers steam

It was difficult deciding how to record Arthur Hollins’ journey from 13 year old farmer in 1928, who, with his mother produced cream cheese from their herd of commercial Dairy Shorthorns, on a farm where the fertility of the soil had been badly depleted, to a very successful organic farmer. In 1975 he was selling plain and fruit flavoured yoghurts, clotted cream, many flavours of cream cheese, Smetana, Yogice, Yogtails, salads, coleslaw, Yorkshire curds, cheesecakes, gateaux, double cream, cottage cheese and many more products. All of these were made at Fordhall Farm and were sold all over Great Britain and even in Paris, France. May was also running a vegetarian, wholefood guest house.

Obviously all the evidence needed in the form of photographs, newspaper cuttings, advertising leaflets etc. had to be preserved electronically. It took many hours to scan the archive material, but fleeting glances at old photographs and yellowing newspaper cuttings gave exciting clues to the enormous tasks ahead as well as a peep into the past.

May Hollins leading the way in the Fordhall Farm Dairy in 1957

Like a private detective from 1950s novels and radio programs, I knew I had to sort through hundreds of photographs and pieces of paper to find those essential clues which would eventually lead up to the true story of the life and times of two inventive and enterprising people, Arthur and May Hollins.
The computer screen displayed thousands of documents which had to be sorted and classified. Each document had to be opened on the screen, cross-checked with the original, named and dated.

Following this they had to be separated into document and photo file folders dating from the pre-1950s up to the present day. It took a few attempts and discarded ideas before I decided how to sort through all the documents picking out relevant facts. Eventually I decided to type out each and every newspaper article, letter and even menu. This is all done in chronological order and takes many hours. The task however is far from tedious because Arthur’s story is fascinating and finding little clues to how his ideas were formed and put into action is almost as exciting as it must have been actually being there many years ago.

One fascinating fact was how Arthur and May went on holiday to Cornwall in the early 1950s visiting his farmer friends. He took the opportunity to study the various methods of making clotted cream which at the time could only be bought in Cornwall and Devon. Arthur went home and experimented until he could produce clotted cream which he and May made and sold in 1956 at local markets. The milk he used was from his own pedigree herd of TT Jerseys.

When did Arthur start making and selling yoghurt? This is one of the exciting questions that I found the answer to. In fact the answer surprised all at the farm because it was earlier than anyone expected. There are many more documents to read and type out, and I can’t wait to find out many more exciting clues to the story of Arthur Hollins and dairy farming at Fordhall Farm.

Gary Kanes, Volunteer

This project is kindly funded through the Heritage Lottery Programme.