Mr. Thomas Oxley, F.R.H.S.
or "Jammy Oxley"
and the English Fruit Preserving Company
Thomas Oxley of Hillsborough and Stocksbridge, fruit grower and entrepreneur.
1852 - 1926
Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society
Founder of the English Fruit Preserving Company of Hillsborough.
Thomas Oxley was born in Sheffield in 1852, and lived at Hillsborough and Stocksbridge. He was the son of George, a razor grinder, and for a while he followed his father's trade of grinding, before branching out in a completely different direction sometime after his marriage to Catherine Yeardley at Attercliffe parish church in 1872. In 1881 they were living at 260 Infirmary Road, Sheffield, and Thomas's occupation was recorded as 'fruit and potato merchant'. In 1889 he founded the 'English Fruit Preserving Company' at Hillsborough. He seems to have rented workshops at the Balaclava Works (on Balaclava Road, which was between Penistone Road and Infirmary Road), before moving production to Owlerton Green (Bradfield Road) in 1890. By 1891 he had moved to Owlerton Road, and his occupation was 'fruit preserver'. He lived on Bradfield Road to be close to the factory, almost 'next door' in fact, at Laurel Villas and Eagle House, until about 1910 when he moved to Moorland Rest, a bungalow he had built on his fruit farm at Stocksbridge.
Business did well, and he began to look at growing most of the fruit himself. In 1894* he bought the Hoyle House estate at Stocksbridge from Mr. Grayson Lowood, which was about eight miles away. This land was situated on the south side of the Little Don valley, and was considered a favourable position because it was away from Samuel Fox’s steelworks in the valley bottom and was mostly shielded from the dust, smoke and heat from the works. After many years of successful fruit production, Oxley eventually sold the land to Samuel Fox and Company, and the Garden Village Estate was built there. Work commenced on the houses in 1917. Each of the houses on the new estate had at least one fruit tree in their garden; a gift, it is said, from Mr. Oxley. For an article about the houses from 1918, see the Newspaper Articles page HERE
* This information comes from Jack Branston's book the History of Stocksbridge. I haven't found any evidence of a sale notice in this year, although almost 75 acres was sold in 1891 [Oxley farmed 75 acres].
Local farmers scoffed when they heard his plans for a fruit farm, the land not having yielded much in the past. Sitting right on the edge of the moors, 700 feet above sea level, things did not look favourable for productive fruit crops. Mr. Oxley, however, had vision and determination. A fruit dealer in Sheffield had told him that he used to buy fruit from the farmers’ wives who went to Sheffield from Stocksbridge and surrounding areas to sell blackcurrants and gooseberries, which were of excellent flavour and quality. Wild raspberries and strawberries had flourished in this area at one time too.
Oxley began experimenting with different varieties of fruit, different manures, growing conditions, etc., and he soon showed the doubters that it was indeed possible to grow fruit on such land. He grew raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, plums and damsons. The land proved especially good for blackcurrants. As well as growing fruit, the land also provided pleasant picnic opportunities, which the locals made use of, sometimes in great numbers. There were even trout in the stream.
Oxley built a house on the estate called Moorland Rest, which was a kind of retreat for him. His wife Catherine went to stay with her daughter and her family at their house on Wynyard Road, Hillsborough. In 1901 his eldest son Leonard was working for his father as a commercial traveller (salesman), his daughter Ada also worked for her father as a clerk, and his son Edgar, who was 16, was learning the business of fruit preserving.
Click on a photograph to enlarge it and read the comments
In July 1906, a representative from the Sheffield Independent newspaper was invited by Mr. Oxley to visit the farm. He visited the day before the fruit picking commenced.
The reporter wrote, “…the drive to Stocksbridge from Hillsbro’ […] is one of the prettiest short drives near Sheffield, passing as it does through charmingly wooded country at Wadsley and Oughtibridge. The farm itself at first does not give one an impression of size, because the approaching road only discloses a view of one or two of the fields.”
Mr. Oxley thought it ‘a great pity’ that fruit was imported from as far away as Tasmania, when it could be grown here. The reporter remarked how much fruit was on the bushes, and how healthy it looked; and that Mr. Oxley’s blackcurrants were flourishing when all over the country, the crops were failing. “Mr. Oxley takes a natural pride in the success of his farm, which is indeed marvellous when all the conditions are taken into consideration." He had just experimented with grafting fruit-bearing cuttings onto other trees, which had failed, but he was eager to try again. He had also enticed crows to a portion of his gooseberry acreage which was threatened by the grub of the green caterpillar; the crows had cleared every grub, a result unattainable by syringing. He employed schoolboys to do an hour or an hour and a half’s weeding after school, and he employed both girls and boys during the holidays to pick the fruit. The reporter said that they earnt, “a goodly sum under most healthy conditions.” He also thought the fruit was too good for jam-making.
“Some I.L.P. [Independent Labour Party, established 1893] people are coming on Saturday,” Mr. Oxley told the reporter. “I shall be pleased to see them, although I don’t agree with their views. Some of my friends suggest that they may want to claim the farm on Socialistic principles, but (laughing) I don’t feel afraid. I shall have pleasure in showing them how the land, with capital and brains, and a definite object before one, can be made to produce more food of more value, more employment for labour, and more profit for the private capitalist, whose existence they don’t seem to favour.”
To see a full transcript of this article, and an earlier one written in 1900, please see the Newspaper Articles page HERE:
Local historian Joseph Kenworthy wrote of Oxley, "To see and converse with Mr. Oxley is to come in contact with one of those breezy, optimistic men, before whose enterprise all obstacles flee away. His rejoicing over the successful solution of the problem he had set himself to solve, is as genuine as that of any bright, intelligent, unselfish schoolboy, and in picking up the rewards of industry, he feels and knows that every penny has been well earned.” He concluded that, “The estate is well worth a visit, and the courteous owner who resides on the farm in a beautifully-furnished bungalow, which he regards as a “Moorland Rest,” is always willing to help in giving all possible encouragement to those, who are anxious to assist in making the land of dear Old England more productive, and more enjoyable to her children."
Click on a photograph to enlarge it.
Top Left: Oxley employed schoolgirls and boys to pick his fruit
Centre: Thomas Oxley, on the left, with some of his fruit pickers
Right: girls picking raspberries, August 1904
Bottom Left: the picked fruit loaded and ready to go to his factory at Hillsborough. It was said that those people living by the roadside at Old Haywoods could smell the fruit long before they saw the horse and dray.
Bottom Right: the All Souls Mission at Garden Village, which was formerly a stable, later used by Thomas Oxley to store his fruit overnight before sending it on to his jam factory at Hillsborough.
Oxley had moved away from Hillsborough by the time the 1911 census was taken - he was recorded at Moorland Rest along with his housekeeper Sarah Edith Ingham, a widow. His occupation was given as 'fruit grower'. His wife Catherine was recorded at 22 Wynyard Road, Hillsborough, with their daughter Ada, her husband Charles Henry Jennett, and their family. Charles was an insurance agent. When he wrote The History of Stocksbridge, Jack Branston said that Mrs. Oxley never went to live at Moorland Rest, and was content to remain in Lincolnshire, where Thomas had come from. He was wrong in this, because both Thomas and his wife were born in Sheffield, and I can find no evidence of them ever living in Lincolnshire. Eagle House was now in the occupation of one of the factory's sales reps. or commercial travellers, one John Bell.
In June 1912, members of the Stocksbridge Primrose League held a picnic at the farm. Mr. Oxley kindly allowed them to visit the Fruit Farm, where they had 'a most happy time'. Miss Lindsay, of the Women’s Unionist Association, who was well-known in the Sheffield district, gave a speech on the importance of Imperial Preference as one of the great questions of the future. The Hon. Secretary was Mrs. W. H. Robinson, whose untiring work had brought the membership up to 400, with 100 members in the Juvenile Branch. The Primrose League was founded in 1883, to promote Conservative principles.
Thomas's wife Catherine died at the house on Wynyard Road, and was buried at Wadsley church on the 30th May 1917. She was 67 years old.
Thomas sold some of his land to Fox's on the 31st July 1917, and work commenced building the Garden Village housing estate (work stalled because of WWI, and was recommenced in 1918 after the end of the War). In 1918 he sold Hoyle House, his bungalow, and just over 7 acres of land, to Nellie Scott, spinster, of 8 Totley Brook Road, for £850. I am told that Nellie Scott sold the land on in June 1919 to Douglas Bingham of 68 Bannerdale Road, and it was then sold again sometime to D. B. Taylor who then sold it in 1925 (for £1,500) to David Alan Truman, grocer, of Station Road, Deepcar. There is a paragraph in the deeds of 1919 which appears to indicate that Mr. Oxley was going to rent the property, bungalow and farm buildings. The electoral register records him at Moorland Rest until 1920. He moved to the Lancashire coast in about 1918/20, and then on to Blackpool in about 1923. He died on the 11th August 1926 after suffering a seizure in the street. He was 74 years old.
The Sheffield Independent said that he was a remarkable man, "stern and unbending and liked his own way in all things", but that he had a strong sympathy for deserving institutions. Their obituary said that he was a man of national reputation for his advocacy of the sugar-beet industry. He was a self-made man who started out as a fruiterer on a small but successful scale, before branching out into jam making, founding the English Fruit Preserving Company of Hillsborough. This he did for many years, successfully adding new lines to the business, before buying the land at Stocksbridge and establishing a fruit farm. He was fond of experimenting with the crops, and gained recognition for growing sugar beet. In conjunction with Sigmund Stein, the international sugar expert of Liverpool, and Lord Denbigh, he proved that even on this very unpromising piece of land it was possible to grow sugar beet under normal cultivation, giving much better average results than the German or French-grown beet. In like manner he proved that the land condemned by the local farmers could produce prolific crops of fruit. When he retired, he moved to the Lancashire coast with his housekeeper Susannah Dyson, and had lived at Blackpool for about 4 years before his death. He left two sons (Leonard and Edgar), one of whom (Leonard) carried on the jam business, and two daughters. He left just over £32,000 (almost £25,500 net) - £32,000 is equivalent to almost £2 million today, according to the Bank of England's inflation calculator.
There were several charitable bequests in his will, which included: £1,000 to the Young Men’s Christian Association, Sheffield; £1,000 War Stock* to the National Institute for the Blind, Great Portland Street, to be used to care for soldiers and sailors blinded in the Great War; £1,000 Stock to the Sheffield Cripples’ Aid Association; the income from £3,000 Stock and the use of his house and furniture to his housekeeper, Susannah Dyson, if still in his employ (she was), and any residue to the Sheffield Royal Infirmary. In addition, he gave the income from £1,000 War Stock to each of his four children and his two grandchildren, Thomas Jennett and Ada Jennett, for life, £500 War Stock to each of the executors of his will, and four freehold houses at Stocksbridge to Herbert Booker.
* "War stock" were bonds issued by the Government to help fund wartime efforts and pay for reparations after the war. They paid different levels of income, depending on the bond you bought. The original 5pc 1929-47 loan was issued in 1917 as part of the financing of the First World War. People bought the bonds, which were advertised with the slogan “Unlike the soldier , the investor runs no risk”. The bonds paid an income twice a year into the holder's bank account
For obituary transcripts, see the Newspaper Transcripts page HERE.
Oxley was also a property investor. When the Trust was closed in 1926, houses and land at Hillsborough and Stocksbridge were sold. The rents from these houses would have generated quite an income. The Stocksbridge properties included ten houses on Smith Road, two on Arthur Road, two on Alpine Road ("Alpine Villas"), and four on Coronation Road.
A monument to his memory was erected at Oxley Park in 1933. It was made of Wharncliffe stone. There is a plaque on the monument which reads, "These 34 ½ acres of land were presented by Mr. Thomas Oxley to the inhabitants of Stocksbridge for the purpose of a public park or recreation ground. The cost of laying out and the maintenance thereof being borne by Messrs. Samuel Fox & C0. Ltd."
According to Stocksbridge Town Council, Oxley Park was acquired by the then Stocksbridge Urban District Council in two separate conveyances dated 1921 and 1925. There is an Indenture of Conveyance dated 10 June 1921, in which 30 acres and 8 perches of land was conveyed by Thomas Oxley late of Moorland Rest to the Stocksbridge Council “for ever for perpetual use by the inhabitants of Stocksbridge as a Park or Recreation Ground.” By the same deed, Messrs. Samuel Fox and Co. Ltd. covenanted to bear the cost of laying out the lands, and when laid out, of supporting, maintaining and improving them to an extent not exceeding £250 in any one year. The deed provided for the vesting of the care and management of the land in a Committee of Management consisting of:
1. The Chairman of the Local Council
2. The Medical Officer of Health or some other official of the Council
3. A nominee of Fox’s
4. The donor or some other person nominated by him, and after his death, some other person living within five miles of the Stocksbridge Post Office, to be nominated by the other three members.
Photographs of Garden Village
Click HERE for transcripts of newspaper articles
Sources: Jack Branston's History of Stocksbridge; Sheffield newspapers; the works of Joseph Kenworthy; census returns; parish registers; Pawson & Brailsford's Illustrated Guide to Sheffield; trade directories; electoral rolls; Stocksbridge Town Council minutes of April 2013.