Mr. Thomas Oxley, F.R.H.S.
Sheffield Independent, Saturday 8 December 1900
FRUIT FARMING AT STOCKSBRIDGE. A NEW DEPARTURE.
Fruit farms, and the cultivation of fruit on a large scale, scarcely seems to be a subject calculated to win the attention of the sons of Vulcan in the great Cutlery Metropolis. Amidst its grime and smoke the dream of green fields and orchards rich with Nature’s golden stores seem as if for ever banished; the belching of the furnaces with their forked tongues of flame, the thud, the hum, and the whirl of its mammoth machinery seem to reign supreme. But scarcely so, as Sheffield, or rather its immediate neighbourhood, presents fields of enterprise widely apart from the manufacture of a pocket-knife, a gin, or an armour-plate, and the latest venture – to some, no doubt, a strange one – is the establishing of a fruit farm by the “English Fruit Preserving Co.,” at Stocksbridge, with the sole object of supplying their factory at Hillsbro’ with the finest fruits procurable for preserving.
Such a departure will, in the minds of most people, create much astonishment, not unmingled with amusement, as the northerly point at which it is situated, and the wild and hilly nature of the country around Stocksbridge, coupled with its nearness to the industrial centres, and the consequent high price of labour, all tend, in the eyes of the uninitiated, to cast considerable doubt on the wisdom of the enterprise. however, it may be well to note that some years ago England’s greatest statesman evoked much criticism for his advice given to the British farmer in setting forth as a salvation for his declining fortunes that prosperity might be attained by the cultivation of fruit for preserve-making purposes, and although at the time Mr. Gladstone’s suggestion was by no means cordially welcomed, subsequent experience must have convinced the agricultural community that a new field of profitable industry was available in this direction, if pursued on practical lines. Whatever may have resulted from this counsel, the fact remains that within the last few years the utilisation of English fruits for preserving purposes has assumed proportions hardly anticipated by the veteran politician who elected himself its advocate.
An instance of this is furnished by the “English Fruit Preserving Co.,” and the business, which was established in 1889, by its rapid development practically justifies the most sanguine expectations. The reason is not far to seek, and it is scarcely necessary to add that this enormous development is attributable to the act that the firm manufactures jams, marmalades, and pickles, only of the finest quality. “Quality” is the watchword of the firm, and its chief is firmly convinced that only by manufacturing a high-class article can a successful business be maintained. It is this reason alone that has pregnated the desire to cultivate a large portion of their own fruit – mainly the more perishable kinds – and with this end in view the freehold of the Hole House estate, at Stocksbridge, comprising 75 acres, has been purchased from Mr. J. G. Lowood.
As we have remarked, some people may be inclined to laugh at the idea, as the natural surroundings can scarcely be said to compare favourably with the genial plains of Kent or Devon. Nevertheless, this is no hair-brained scheme, and in making the selection the head of the firm brings 25 years’ practical experience to bear on the subject. Mr. Gladstone’s theory had always a charm for him, and in the light of recent developments he philosophically reasons out his case. Fruit, especially strawberries, raspberries, currants, and plums have been grown with astonishing success in the North of Scotland, and quite reasonable is the contention that if fruit could be profitable and successfully grown in the north, success in such a departure was practically assured in this more southern clime; while the fact that in the woods which border the sides of the farm wild raspberries grow in healthy abundance lent a new impulse to the theory. But more: As a further test, raspberry canes and strawberries were planted carelessly in a plot of rough moorland grass, and so very satisfactory were the results that, in cultivation, there is scarcely room for doubt but that the crops will be unrivalled.
The Hole House Fruit Farm, as before stated, covers an area of 75 acres in extent, and is situated high on the hill side, at an elevation of from 700 to 800 feet, to the left of the main road from Sheffield to Langsett, immediately overlooking Stockbridge village. It is skirted on either side with miniature mountain glens, well wooded, while the panorama which opens itself to the observation is almost Scotch-like in its aspect. To the west stretches a rugged landscape with Langsett moors as a back ground; while to the east, the historic crags of Wharncliffe lift their sombre crest. Water is abundant everywhere, and the boundary is skirted by two healthy-looking brooks, which, as in other cases, rise at the highest level, and sparkling and rippling, they rush on to pay tribute to the Don in the valley below – indeed, in summer, the Hole House Farm will be an ideal spot.
Although a certain advantage will arise in the saving of freight this is by no means the object the company have in view, but that of maintaining the high-class qualities of the products of the “English Fruit Preserving Company’s” Jam Factory. The classes of fruit which are more or less perishable will be grown, and the cultivation of strawberries, raspberries, currants, American brambles (blackberries), and plums will be made a speciality, and already a large area of the farm has been planted with the two former varieties ready for the next season, while the plantation of the other portions is being proceeded with. An enormous advantage will accrue from this venture – an advantage which will be greatly shared by the consumer. Those in the least familiar with jam-making will readily recognise that the essential to the production of fine jam is that the fresh fruit should be preserved as soon as possible after being picked. This will be easily accomplished; the fruit will be picked in the early morning and by noon the day’s consignment will be despatched to the factory of Hillsbro’, and a few hours later it will have passed through the boiling pans. In all the innovation will be a decided advantage to the consumer, and will tend more than ever to retain the high standard of excellence hitherto attained by the “English Fruit Preserving Company.” Another side of the equation is that a field for labour will be provided, more especially in the picking season, when the fruit is ripe.
This venture will, no doubt, be followed with keen interest by neighbouring farmers, and one can only hope that the success which has already crowned the efforts of this enterprising firm may be increased, and their anticipations in this most important branch of the fruit industry even more than realised.
Sheffield Independent 21 July 1906
FRUIT CULTURE NEAR SHEFFIELD. AN INTERESTING FARM AT STOCKSBRIDGE.
A little time ago some reference was made in the “Sheffield Daily Independent” to what was then regarded as an experimental efford in fruit culture at Stocksbridge. Mr. Oxley, of the English Fruit Preserving Company, Hillsbro’, put to the test of experience a theory which he had developed. He purchased a considerable acreage from the late Mr. Grayson Lowood, on the hillside above the steel works of Samuel Fox and Company, Stocksbridge. Mr. Oxley’s theory was the possibility of growing successfully various kinds of fruit in an exposed position. It would be difficult to find a stretch of land more open and, in the winter period, more bleak than that selected by Mr. Oxley for his fruit farm. Practical experience has shown that it is not only possible to grow raspberries, black currants, gooseberries, and plums on the hillside above Stocksbridge, but that with proper attention and cultivation the crops and the quality of the fruit equal, if not surpass, those grown under conditions regarded as more favoured and on the very best soil in the Eastern and Southern Counties. Mr. Oxley’s idea was that much of the south-grown fruit is spoiled or depreciated by the frosts which come after the first blossoming of the fruit trees. In a more exposed and more northerly position the fruit trees bloom later, therefore avoiding the late frists, and the result is a more hardy plant, fruit of better flavour, and better development, which comes, perhaps, a month later than the south-grown fruit, but which pays the grower by a much greater percentage.
A representative of the “Sheffield Daily Independent” was invited by Mr. Oxley to visit his fruit farm on Thursday in this week, a day before the picking of the fruit was appointed to commence. The drive to Stocksbridge from Hillsbro’ (our representative writes) 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.” In the first of those fields rows of raspberry canes had been planted two years ago. There was no fruit whatever upon them, because raspberries, like asparagus, require three years to attain maturity so far as bearing is concerned. Amongst the raspberry canes were a large number of damson plum trees. Without exception, the raspberries and damsons are in fine, healthy condition, free from any indication of grubs or blight. The field beyond disclosed a remarkable view of raspberry canes full of beautiful fruit which those canes were bearing. Although the present season is the first upon which the fruit has shown itself – that is they are three-year-old plants – many of the branches were so laden that their extreme end, for additional support, rested upon the ground. Mr. Oxley does not use sticks or supports for his raspberry plants, as is usual in ordinary fruit growing. To do so would largely increase the labour on his farm, and the result in fruit production would not be materially increased. He also allows each plant to grow as much wood as it will in a natural state without pruning or cutting, except when he wishes to obtain new plants. The result of this method of cultivation is that although the raspberries are arranged in rows, each field gives one the impression of an almost solid growth of healthy leaves, being heavily splashed with brightly-coloured ripe fruit.
Other fields on the farm furnish examples of different varieties of raspberries, and of plants of older growth than those already referred to. In this one the weight of fruit was even greater than that yielded by the younger trees. Asked with reference to the yield in the aggregate Mr. Oxley said that he regarded two tons of raspberries to each acre of plants as an average result. Probably the actual yield would be nearly three, counting the berries which were not of first quality. As a ton of raspberries is worth something over £20 each acre of raspberry plants yields produce worth £40 or more. Mr. Oxley had something over twenty acres planted with raspberry canes.
Part of the theory of the proprietor of this interesting farm is that a great deal of the land in that neighbourhood as well as in other parts of England, where conditions are not so bleak, could be made to produce valuable fruit to a similar, or even more profitable, extent. It needs scarcely be said that an acre of ground planted with raspberries employs much more labour than an acre upon which horses or sheep are being grazed, or which is cultivated for the production of ordinary cereal crops. It is therefore in a double sense profitable to the community on the greater employment it gives, and the more valuable food it produces, besides the very much larger return the landowner and farmer receive for their invested capital and for managerial skill.
It is the custom of this country to import the great bulk of the raspberries consumed, both for jam making and for table use. These come from lands as far distant as Tasmania. They come backed in 14lb tins. Going back to the place of origin, labour must be employed in the picking, the carting to the nearest railway, the transhipment with similar service at the port of entry. Mr. Oxley thinks it a very great pity that we should buy under these conditions an immense monetary value of fruit such as raspberries, which could be grown at home if the English farmer was sufficiently enterprising to wait three years for results from a new crop such as raspberries.
The fruit farm at Stocksbridge produces not only raspberries. There is a large acreage under black currant cultivation. This season all over the country black currants are acknowledged to be a failure. (They are worth £37 per ton.) In the gardens and nurseries further south the fruit may be seen having fallen from the trees before it has obtained that dark lustrous colour which indicates ripeness. Not so Mr. Oxley’s black currants. In the course of a long walk in different parts of the farm devoted to this kind of fruit culture I looked carefully for fallen currants and saw extremely few. Numbers of young plants were covered with fruit, the bulk of which was already ripe enough for gathering. In one part of the farm raspberries had been planted on some land rather heavier than the loam which makes up the soil I had first observed. Here the raspberries were not doing as well as on the lighter land. The black currants on some similar land, where there is a good deal of natural moisture, were in the very best condition. Light and fairly dry soil for raspberries; strong and moist for black currants seems to be the result of observation. Another example of successful fruit growing at Stocksbridge was furnished by several fields of gooseberry bushes. Two varieties were noticeable, these known as Crown Bobs being n the best condition. Here again the remarkable weight of the crop as well as the quality was apparent. I asked for an estimate of the wright of one or two bushes, and the proprietor, who generally errs on the safe side in reply to such a query, said that on the bush I pointed out there was at least 10lbs. weight of gooseberries. I should have guessed the weight nearer 14lbs.
Before arriving at the farm I suggested to Mr. Oxley that the stiff breeze we encountered on our way was probably the worst enemy he had to contend with at his farm. He replied that at one time he held the same opinion, but he had found that the wind in the fruit season was not quite as much an enemy as would be generally supposed. He found that the wind bent the gooseberry bushes which are heavily leafed in one direction, but that the result was the leaves invariably shaded the fruit from the keenest action of the wind and yet left it exposed to the ripening rays of the sun in a more effective way than if the trees could be made to grow exactly upright.
Mr. Oxley takes a natural pride in the success of his farm, which is indeed marvellous when all the conditions are taken into consideration. The fact that he is anxious that the possibility of growing fruit in bleak positions amongst the Yorkshire hills should be generally known shows that he has no [desire?] to be selfish in what may be almost described as his discovery. On the contrary, he is frequently showing gardeners and progressive farmers what he has done and is doing. His chief desire is to convince his neighbours and those agriculturists who come from a distance that it is possible to make their land, by growing fruit, more profitable in the employment of labour, more profitable in the financial results to themselves.
Although a great portion of the farm is devoted to fruit growing, it has other interesting features. There are twenty acres of pretty wooded land where the ferns and bracken make a delightful undergrowth, the pine, the larch, the poplar a pleasant shade, and a trout stream runs along the glen. Here Mr. Oxley pointed to an experiment which had failed, but to which he intends again to return. Some year or two ago he attempted to graft fruit-bearing cuttings upon a number of other trees. He is of opinion that the grafting experiment failed because of a frost which came inopportunely, which ruined the graft. But he intends when he has made some further study of the process to again try to adapt some of the already grown trees on his woodland to the production of apples and other fruit
I saw (writes our representative) much more of interest that I would like to tell about. How Mr. Oxley enticed the crows to a portion of his gooseberry acreage threatened by the grub of the green caterpillar, and how the crows cleared every grub - a result unattainable by syringing. How the schoolboys from Stocksbridge come up for an hour or an hour and a half’s weeding after school, and do their work in a friendly competitive spirit. How the gathering of the fruit is done by the boys and girls in the holiday period, who thus earn a goodly sum under most healthy conditions.
My impression of the fruit (which I tasted freely) was that it is too good for jam-making; the raspberries and the black currants were finer dessert fruit than one usually sees in a good hotel; and the gooseberries were large enough and perfect enough to take a prize at a show.
“Some I.L.P. [Independent Labour Party, established 1893] people are coming on Saturday,” said Mr. Oxley. “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.” J.C.
The Garden Village estate
Sheffield Daily Telegraph 11 October 1918
WORKMEN’S DWELLINGS. GARDEN VILLAGE AND PARK AT STOCKSBRIDGE.
The problem of housing the working classes is one which the war has intensified, alike in its urgency and difficulty. The great extensions of works which have been carried out, especially in munition districts, and the increases in population which they have stimulated have produced conditions of house-shortage amounting in many cases to famine. For an example of this, of course, there is no need to go further than Sheffield itself. But as the demand for houses has grown with the war, the difficulty of obtaining labour and materials with which to build them has grown equally, so that while the gravity of the problem is recognised, it still remains unsolved. We live in a time of much house-scheming, but of little house-building. Many places are in the air, but few in brick and mortar.
There are some instances, however, in which it has been found possible to make progress, even in the midst of the war, and one of these is at Stocksbridge, where the great firm of Samuel Fox and C0., Ltd., have made considerable headway with a model colony for their employees. Nearly two years ago, they undertook the development of an estate of 23 acres, on which they are building 284 houses of three types. Dr. Percy Longmuir, the works manager, who is actively interested in everything pertaining to the welfare of the workers, has played a leading part in the development of the scheme; the design is that of Mr. W. H. Robinson, the firm’s chief engineer; and the building and laying-out of the estate is under the supervision of Mr. J. Hattersley, clerk of works.
Owing to war-time conditions, progress has been very slow, but it is hoped that some of the houses will be ready for occupation in the near future.
Most of them are now built, and sufficient of the village is visible to make a visit, such as our representative paid the other day, very interesting, and to show how well the firm are succeeding in their desire to provide adequate housing accommodation, at a reasonable rent, amid surroundings of the pleasantest description.
The first thing that strikes one about the village, in fact, is its delightful situation. Standing back from the Penistone Road, at a level of 750 feet above the sea, it is approached by a drive some 300 yards long, which will in due time be guarded by an avenue of trees. In front, on the opposite side on the main road, rises the long, lofty ridge of Hunshelf Bank; behind, you are only a few minutes’ walk from the famous Broomhead grouse moor, and the Langsett reservoirs are within a short distance. It is a fine, breezy position, with a grand view of the surrounding country.
A Village of Fruit-growers.
There is a unique thing about this Stocksbridge village. It is built on the site of a fruit farm. Mr. T. Oxley, from whom the land was purchased, has been a well-known fruit grower for many years, and the residents are to have the benefit of his long cultivation. There is not a house but will have some of his plum and other fruit trees in both its back and front gardens. Some of the trees are already there, standing in the rows which they have occupied in the past, and the rest are to be brought from other parts of the estate and transplanted in the house plots. Every householder will recline under his own fruit tree, and there will be rejoicing in the jam season.
Mr. Oxley not only sold the land for the village, but grew so enthusiastic over the idea of model and ideal dwellings for steel-workers that he gave a further 40 acres, adjoining the site, to be used in perpetuity as a public park and recreation ground. This will considerably enhance the attractiveness of the model village. It will be maintained by Samuel Fox and Co. as a public park for the whole district. It is hoped that, besides the ordinary recreative features of a park, it will be provided with an open-air swimming bath for mixed bathing, which will enable the company’s activities in the direction of girls’ welfare to be extended by the formation of a girls’ swimming club.
With all these initial advantages, the model village ought to be one of the best in existence, and this it promises to be. Here are some details of the accommodation provided by the different classes of houses:-
Type 1. – 94 houses. Living room, kitchen, bathroom and w.c., and larder downstairs; three bedrooms. Rent, 5s. 6d. per week.
Type 2. – 174 houses. Entrance hall, sitting room, dining room, scullery, bathroom and w.c., and larder; three bedrooms. Rent, 7s. 6d. per week.
Type 3. – 16 houses. Entrance hall, dining room, sitting room, kitchen, larder; four bedrooms, bathroom and w.c. Rent, 10s. per week.
The rents are all free of rates. All the houses have outside coal sheds.
The average number of houses to the acre is only 12, from which it is obvious that air space is plentiful. The streets are 36 feet wide (24ft. carriage way and 6ft. footpath on either side): the houses are set back at least 15 feet from the footpath, and in many cases 20 feet, and they have an equal or greater amount of ground at the back.
It is not a brick-row village. Far from it. The houses are all semi-detached, and they do not stand in straight lines, but are set back with designed irregularity on purpose to avoid any appearance of uniformity. Neither is similarity of design observable. There are many little differences of detail about the frontages, and houses of different types are to be found in the same street. The houses of Type 3 stand in groups at street corners. Every house is fenced off separately, back and front, and there are no two doors close together. The inside bathroom and w.c. is universal. Great attention has been paid to the essential light, and in nearly every house there is a window on the stairs. All the houses are of two storys [sic], and no more. There is not an attic in the village.
Messrs. Samuel Fox and Co. have in contemplation the erection of another village, in a different part of Stocksbridge, but it is not intended to begin this until after the war is over.
Sheffield Independent 16 August 1926
PRIME MOVER IN SUGAR BEET INDUSTRY
THE SUCCESSFUL VENTURES OF MR. T. OXLEY
The death has occurred at Blackpool, after a seizure in the street, of Mr. Thomas Oxley, at the age of 74 , a well-known former resident of Stocksbridge, Sheffield.
Mr. Oxley was a man of national reputation for his advocacy of the sugar-beet industry. When he urged its claims about 1900, his ideas seemed to be in the nature of a dream, but since then the country has established beet growing and sugar beet making.
Mr. Oxley was a remarkable example of the self-made man. Originally he was a fruiterer on a small scale, but he secured a very successful trade, and then launched out into the business of a jam manufacturer and founded the English Fruit Preserving Company of Hillsborough.
FRUIT FARMING VENTURE
For many years he carried this on very successfully, adding new lines to the business.
One of his most notable ventures was to buy land between Stocksbridge village and Langsett, where he established a fruit farm and carried on a number of agricultural experiments, notable among them being the growing of sugar beet.
He long contended that many things that came from abroad could be successfully grown in this country, among them being sugar beet.
SUGAR BEET GROWING
Therefore he set to work to prove his faith on his estate at Stocksbridge, which was situated on the hillside in open windswept country, largely growing cotton grass and other foul vegetation.
Many of the local farmers laughed at his ideas; but, in conjunction with Sigmund Stein, the international sugar expert, of Liverpool, and the late 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.
GIFT OF PARK
Eventually he sold the land for the building of the model village, and gave a park – known as Oxley Park – to Stocksbridge. He retired from business a few years ago, and went to live on the Lancashire coast.
About four years ago he went to live at Blackpool.
He leaves two sons, one of whom carries on the jam business, and two daughters.
The funeral took place at Bispham Parish Church, on Saturday.
Sheffield Independent 18 November 1926
MR. THOMAS OXLEY
Mr. Thomas Oxley, formerly of Hillsborough and later of Stocksbridge, whose will is now announced, was in many ways a remarkable man. He was stern and unbending and liked his own way in all things. Behind all that, however, he had, as his will reflects, a strong sympathy for deserving institutions.
Along with the Earl of Denbigh, he was one of the first to exploit the possibilities of sugar beet. His experiments were tried on some by no means promising land, now the site of the model village of Messrs. Fox at Stocksbridge.