Revival in The Rountons
It’s a familiar tale, repeated over and over again: village services close, and when the last shop/pub/school closes, the village ‘dies’. There’s nowhere to bump into neighbours and pass on news; nowhere to draw people to put up posters about events; nowhere to work; nowhere to walk to.
People are forced into cars – the bus service will have long since disappeared – and into town for all their needs. At best, the village becomes a dormitory for commuters, at worst, it will die.
But the Rountons have bucked this trend. New ventures are opening up, new jobs created, new businesses bringing the villages back to life.
The Rountons, East and West, are tucked under the northern edge of the Hambleton Hills. I often used to drive through East Rounton to use the Black Swan junction on the A19, and I’d been struck by how attractive the buildings were. The warm brick buildings were cleverly made, with the bricks laid in interesting patterns. And the setting sun shone beautifully through the arch on a lodge house, illuminating a tantalising path leading, it seemed, to nowhere.
So I wasn’t suprised when I found that East Rounton had been built by a noted Arts and Crafts architect, as a ‘model’ village for a big Estate House that no longer existed.
The big house, Rounton Grange was designed by Philip Webb, who had worked with William Morris, the famous exponent of the Arts and Crafts style. It was built for Sir Lowthian Bell, a Teesside ironmaster.
Rounton Grange, along with with Home Farm, which now houses Roots Farm Shop and Cafe, was built in the 1870s. There was a further wave of building in the early 20th century, initiated by Sir Lowthian’s son, Hugh. The architect this time was George Jack, and the lovely Village Hall is one of his creations.
Like so many big country houses, Rounton Grange was demolished in the 1950s. Rumour has it that the man who demolished it – during the Cold War – marked the cellar entrance, now lost in the woods, in case he needed a nuclear fall-out shelter
Despite the loss of the big house, architecture students still visit the village to study the work of Webb and Jack.
The village also boasts an unusual stained glass window,with inscriptions in Arabic. It is a memorial to Gertrude Bell, neice of Sir Lowthian. Her family home was at Rounton Grange, but she spent much of her life in the Middle East.
Gertrude was born in 1868, and was a pioneer of women’s education, graduating from Oxford University. She loved to travel, and became an expert on the Arab regions. She went deep into the desert, learning the local languages.
Therefore, following the outbreak of the Great War, she was consulted by the British Government for her local knowledge. At the end of the War, she contributed to founding the state of Iraq. She established the museum in Baghdad, and died there in 1926. Her papers are now archived at Newcastle University, and her memorial window is at St Lawrence’s Church, East Rounton.
As Rounton Grange was built for a Teesside ironmaster, it became a commuter village early on life. The Bells were regarded as very forward-thinking employers – they used what is now the Village Hall as a respite centre for their employees and their families.
But after the demolition of the Big House, jobs in the village declined.
A further blow – felt particularly keenly by East Rounton – was when a modern structure divided it from its traditional links with Rudby. The A19 Trunk Road from Thirsk to Middlesbrough has become so busy that it creates a barrier as powerful as any river.
The power of this division was made apparent when, in 2004, the Highways Agency closed the central reservation at the Black Swan crossroads. Closing the central reservation meant that traffic from the side roads could only ‘turn left’ onto the A19, joining it in one direction only. And traffic that had previously crossed the A19, connecting the Rountons and Hutton Rudby, could no longer do so.
The closure was for safety reasons: there had been fatal accidents there. So, says Derek Lawton, who was on the Parish Council at the time, “The obvious solution was a bridge.”
But a bridge was not forthcoming. The Black Swan Pub, on the opposite side of the crossroads to the village, closed – although it now operates as a Bed and Breakfast. Events in the village hall at East Rounton declined, for lack of visitors from across the A19. It seemed the village’s fate was sealed.
But change was coming. In West Rounton, those ‘in the know’ had been calling at the Grainge family’s Whitegates Nurseries to get flowers and plants for their gardens. For them, it was a treasure-trove. So, says Claire Grainge, “In 2006, we created a brand-new purpose built sales area.”
It was an instant hit. Claire says, “We did it because people liked to see the plants growing – they could look in the greenhouse and see a swathe of seasonal colour. And because we were growing the plants, we could give them expert advice.”
Since then, the nursery has come full-circle. It was founded by founded by Jonathan Grainge’s grandfather in 1966, who grew mainly soft fruit, salads and plants. In later years, they concentrated on salads, but then, following an influx of imported salads, they specialised in flowers and plants for gardens.
Now the Grainges grow a wide range of garden plants and flowers, and following public interest, have extended back into fruit and vegetable plants for people to take home and grow their own.
Claire comments, “We now do sundries, trees, roses, and pick-your own fruit. When the fruit’s in season, we stock cream and yoghurt from nearby Stamfrey Farm to go with it.”
“We’ve tried to become a one-stop for what people need for their gardens, but we’re still fundamentally growers – that’s what we’re passionate about. Everything is done by hand – including the watering – because it’s about quality.”
“It’s a family concern – there’s me and Jon, and Jon’s parents, Bryan and Sheila. Sheila really enjoys working in the shop, and they have huge knowledge – forty-five years’ experience. And John’s neice, Chloe Hall, works here. On my side, there’s my sister, Louise Marshall, and her husband Chris. We have others too – twelve people work here in total, and they all live locally.
“We love the fact that it’s a family concern. We love that we can give it that passion and attention to detail. We’re proud of what we have, and we enjoy sharing it with customers.”
“And we like that we’re a focal point of the community. We do coffee, and we have group visits and charity nights here. We donate prizes to local events, and we put up notices for community events.
“Each winter, we do a project to add to what we have, and this year, we’re renovating a historic greenhouse.”
While the nursery was thriving, the pubs were closing. There were two pubs in West Rounton: the Horse Shoe and the Grey Horse, while in East Rounton, there was the Black Swan on the A19.
But, over the course of the first decade of the twenty first century, all three closed.
So when I was researching this article, everyone said, “You must talk to Stan Taylor, he’s a hero – he bought the pub and opened it up again.”
When I called Stan, the first thing he said was “I’m not a hero – but I valued having somewhere where people could go and talk, and get to know each other.”
Stan says that when he and his wife Ann moved into West Rounton about fifteen years ago, “There were two pubs then, the Horse Shoe and the Grey Horse.”
Stan visited both pubs, and says, “The Horse Shoe was run by Mrs Hoare. It was in her family for generations.” Mrs Hoare was famous for the way she ran her pub. She’d greet guests, sit them down, and introduce them to others in the bar. Stan says, “It was like visiting your Mother.”
But then age and ill-health forced Mrs Hoare to retire, and, says Stan, “The pub stood empty. Then the Grey Horse closed – the owner said it wasn’t viable.”
But, says Stan, “I wanted a pub in the village. So I bought the Horseshoe as a building project and did it up – now we’ve ended up running it. My son and his daughter help out, and we’re doing OK.”
“In a way, we do it like Mrs Hoare – we do introduce people who come in. If people have just moved into the village, it breaks the ice. It’s been well-supported by the village. And we’ve got a couple of holiday lets started up now – we had someone from one of them in last night.”
Meanwhile, in East Rounton, Barry and Katherine Hutchinson had grown up on Home Farm, where their fathers worked together. But, like so many family farms, there wasn’t enough work to support another generation, so, like rural youngsters everywhere, they’d had to go away to find work.
But they both wanted to come home and work. So, says Barry, “While we were working elsewhere, we spent 4 years developing a plan. It included getting a bank loan and a grant.”
The cousins then faced the problem of the A19 gap closure. The grant wouldn’t pay unless there was a bridge over the A19, to enable customers to come from the other side.
And, says Barry, “Without the grant, the bank wouldn’t lend us money. For us, the bridge is significant. Access is key to these local communities.”
Luckily for the Hutchinsons, ever since the A19 gap was closed, the Parish Council had campaigned for a bridge.
At the time, Derek Lawson was on the Parish Council, and he says, “When we heard that the closure was planned, we called a meeting. The obvious solution was a bridge, but it fell on deaf ears. They shut the junction and put a barrier up.”
But Derek’s group wasn’t prepared to give up. He says, “We kept bombarding the Highways Agency with letters and e-mails – not just me, lots of people.”
It was a long campaign, and, comments Derek, “We used every source we thought would benefit our case. And in the end, out of the blue, they said yes – we can build a bridge.”
“But they didn’t have a start date. So we carried on with our letters and emails. Eventually, they gave a date – and to give them their due, they finished on time.”
Derek feels that the team’s efforts have been worthwhile. He says, “The bridge has boosted this side of the A19 tremendously. We’ve had new businesses set up, and the Village Hall has benefitted too.”
The promise of the bridge unlocked the funding to enable Barry and Katherine to put their plans in motion, and they converted the beautiful arts-and-crafts designed out buildings of Home Farm into a shop and cafe, named Roots.
Barry says, “The buildings were designed by Phillip Webb, who worked with William Morris. Every couple of years, we get architecture students coming here, taking photos etc. We tried to keep the building as it was, and installed a ground-source heat pump that does all the hot water and heating.”
Barry says, “From the start, we employed an experience butcher, Darren Nesfield. We designed it so that people can see everything that we do in the butchery – they can see what we’re putting in the mincer, and they can come and get exactly what they want.”
“We aimed to offer a whole basket shop, for convenience – bread, meat, dairy, home bakery, staples. And we open till six o’clock for people coming home from work.
“We were a dairy farm, but we sold the dairy cows last year, and now we do beef – we produce 70% of the shop’s beef, and we get the rest – and pork and lamb – from local farmers. We’ve never bought beef or pigs from further than Hutton Rudby. And we use a nearby abbatoir in Brompton, so it’s all short journeys. I reckon it makes a massive difference – it’s not like the animals going to market and getting stressed. I think it’s better for animal welfare.”
Most of the other stock is local too. Barry says, “If it’s not Yorkshire, it’s English, and if it can’t be English – bananas for instance – it’s Fairtrade.” The bananas, he explains, are for convenience to local shoppers wishing to save fuel by coming here.
Since opening, trade has increased, and they took on a local lad as an apprentice butcher. Barry says, “He’s clever – and brilliant with customers.”
“In the longer term, we’re trying to create good quality, long term, sustainable jobs. We’ve now got 12 full time jobs, plus several part timers – probably about 20 in all,” comments Barry.
“It was definitely worthwhile, though it’s very hard work and long hours. It’s satisfying when you see customers enjoying local produce, and when they compliment us on it, we feed that back to the farmers and producers.”
The shop has social as well as economic benefits. Barry says, “I’ve lived here all my life and I didn’t know people who lived in West Rounton – now I’ve met them and it brings back community spirit.”
“It’s amazing how many people come into the shop and see people who they haven’t seen for ages. And we have a lot of teenagers who work here part time. They live in the villages, and you don’t see them. It’s hard for them, with the price of houses here.”
“And one lady who works here used to work in town, now she only has to travel 100 yards down the road. Most staff live locally, which cuts road congestion and creates local jobs. It’s the same as Whitegates – they’re all local people there.”
Katherine says, “I’m really pleased how well it’s gone. What makes it work is the staff – they’re all local and they all really care about the community. It’s them that give it its personality.”
“We get customers who come in 3 or 4 times a week, it’s like a second home, a place to meet friends. There aren’t many places like that outside the towns.”
“And regular customers feel comfortable to suggest ideas – such as new things to stock in the shop. It feels like the customers are friends – it’s comfortable.”
Katherine echoes Claire and Barry when she says, “I love being part of the community. It’s amazing how many people I didn’t know before the shop opened. People come here and see people they’ve not seen for years – you do get a buzz from that.”
“And we put notices up,” says Katherine. “A man came in yesterday and said it makes a difference, seeing posters here and at Whitegates – how else will people find out about an event?”
“And there’s less need for people to travel to town. They come here, they go to Whitegates.”
Their work is driven by their passion for their home farm. Katherine explains, “Generally family farming has been diminishing , making way for larger farming. But it means the next generation has to make a living elsewhere. Our Dads were saying there’s no money in farming, go elsewhere. This is a way of injecting a long term future for us. We’re both passionate about farming. We didn’t want just a shop, we want a sustainable farm as well – it has to work together.”
“And growth has to be sustainable and natural. Every pound spent here goes straight back into the community, because all the suppliers and staff are local. And this helps the carbon footprint because there’s less driving for food – it’s better for everybody.
As well as the star butchery apprentice, there’s further career development, says Katherine, “Julia’s just started NVQ patisserie. We bake all our own cakes and pies.”
Katherine and Barry are well-educated, thoughtful people, who work really hard to build a future for themselves, their families and their community. For instance, on her ‘day off’, Katherine travels in search of new suppliers for the shop.
And, she adds, “Each year, we try to build the skills here. We’re trying to create roles that people are enthusiastic about. They’ve got to feel they’re gaining more than just money by working here – you’re at work long enough, you need to feel it’s worthwhile. Hopefully, they’ll be sustainable careers.”
And, concludes Katherine, “I love the idea that maybe the next generation might take it over – if not my children, then maybe neices or nephews.”
The presence of Roots led to the start of yet another venture in the Rountons. Shaun Passmore and Jenny Gaunt are restoring the old walled garden at Rounton Grange. They’d been looking for somewhere to establish a nursery for Jenny’s Dark Star Plants, when they came over to Roots for a coffee.
Shaun says, “I used to work for the National Trust, then began gardening for private clients. We went to Roots, and I saw the old lodge house. Having worked for the National Trust, I knew what it was, and asked about it in the shop. They told me there were other buildings, and a walled garden.”
The garden hadn’t been maintained for years. So, says Shaun, “We went to the owners and put up a business plan.”
Shaun’s wife, Jenny Gaunt, also a gardener, had been growing her specialist Dark Star plants – plants with dark leaves and foliage – for some years. She was well known at garden fairs, but, says Shaun, “We wanted somewhere that customers could visit.”
Since taking on the garden at Rounton, Shaun says they’ve discovered much more about its history, and are now trying to restore the original features. He says, “I’d worked at Beningborough Hall, and Jenny has a diploma in garden design, so we can bring our skills to this site.”
They’ve been supported by friends, neighbours, and locals – many of whom call in to tell the couple more about the garden’s history. So, says Shaun, “We’ve found that Gertrude Bell was a gardener. In the 1950s and 60s it was used as a market garden, but after that it was turned over to pigs and they destroyed the paths.”
“But now we’ve got some of the original maps and plans, so we can reinstate original features.”
“It’s good to envisage how it was when the Grange was here. The Estate would have had lots of buildings, all with people employed in them. It’s good to see those buildings used for employment again.”
And it’s good to see the villages humming with life again, as both locals and visitors enjoy all the local amenities.
Whitegates Nursery www.whitegatesnursery.co.uk Tel 01609 882355
Roots Farm Shop and Cafe www.rootsfarmshop.co.uk Tel 01609 882480
The Horse Shoe Inn www.horse-shoe-inn.co.uk Tel 01609 882176
Dark Star Plants www.darkstarplants.co.uk Tel 01609 883204/ 07710 184189
Rountons village website: www.therountons.com
From Turkey Farmer to President –
Raymond Twiddle OBE
It’s not just at the Rountons that Yorkshire folk are creating opportunities. We’re surrounded by exhortations for people to set up their own businesses, and at the age of 19, Raymond Twiddle, OBE, did just that. In his own words, he says, “I began as a boy of 19, with 11 turkey eggs and an acre of land. When I left, we were producing 10 million turkeys a year.”
His father encouraged him to work early in life: “When I was ten,” says Raymond, I asked my father for an ice cream. He said it was time I started earning my own money, so I started delivering newspapers. And I bred rabbits.”
“At school, I was the only boy who earned money. I used to buy things off lads, then sell them to other lads. And the school had a vegetable garden. I said to the headmaster, why not sell the produce in the holidays – I’d do it, and take a shiling in the pound. I sold door to door.”
After he began his turkey enterprise, he began borrowing money, either by buying materials on credit, or by borrowing from the bank. But he made sure he could pay it back. For example, he says, “When I first started, to make ends meet, I’d build poultry houses for other farmers. I’d get the materials on account, then build the house in a week, get paid and clear the account. I was young then, and everybody thought that this young boy would go bankrupt – but I didn’t. The accountant said I had the biggest profit from the smallest amount of land.”
“I rented a house and filled every room with turkeys. Then I moved them out for me to live in, but I kept the incubators in the house. My first hatchery was an oil-fired incubator and the eggs had to be turned by hand, three times a day. I’d be doing that at 2 o’clock in the morning.”
“I had no social life at all – I used to take my overalls off to go to Church, then on again and work. The lady next door said that the way I worked, you’d think I had eleven children. 1959 was hard. We plucked 10,000 turkeys, and I never went to bed for a week.”
But his bank was behind him. He says, “They gave me a £8,000 overdraft with no security. I never had bother with them.” As an aside, he comments, “Banks are interesting. When you owe them money, they take you out to lunch. When you lend them money, they don’t.”
It’s easy to look at successful people and consider them lucky. Raymond concedes that there can be some luck – and you need to seize opportunity. But mostly, it’s about hard work and committment. He says, “Lots think it’s easy, but it’s not. It’s all about doing things properly. I put my heart and soul into it, night and day. I didn’t have any hobbies – except in 1972 I got pedigree sheep – Suffolks.”
In the early days, Raymond sent his poults to other farmers to raise. But this created a problem for him one year when he’d agreed to supply a number of finished turkeys – and not enough came back from the farmers who’d been raising them. He lost money, as his customer sued him for the loss of profit. But Raymond feels that was fair enough, and even went on to do more business with the customer in later years. But as far as the loss went, he learned his lesson, and decided to take control of all his processes. He says, “I went fully integrated, doing all the hatching, breeding and growing on.”
Raymond says he became a pioneer of AI (artificial insemination) in turkeys. This came about by chance, as he explains, “I’d got some American turkeys, but they were too broad to breed. So I bought an incubator, and a lady who was visiting from Israel showed me how to do AI.”
After this, he says, “I was called across the country to teach other people how to do AI.” It turned out to be a golden opportunity, as, visiting other producers to teach AI, he says, “It proved to be the University of Life, as I got to see everything, good and bad.”
Through all the hard work, the thrill, says Raymond, was in “Always striving to be the best, in everything I do – take the best, and then improve it. It wasn’t until I had an offer to buy the business that I realised how much it was worth.”
Growing his business meant taking on staff and learning to delegate. Raymond says, “It’s all about people, and motivation. You can motivate people to heights they didn’t know they could reach. I was known as a hard taskmaster, but a lot of people stayed with me for 25 or 30 years, so it musn’t have been that bad.”
He also worked with competitors: “I was chairman of the turkey industry for 17 years, then of the British Poultry Federation for a further 5 years. And I was the first chairman of the European Turkey Federation. When I first came into turkeys, they were only for Christmas, and were a luxury. We developed seasonal markets for them, such as Easter and Whit. Then we went into added value products, and made it possible to buy turkeys all year round.”
So, with experience in sheep and rabbits, and the dream of chickens, why turkeys? Raymond replies, “When I hatched those first 11 eggs, I thought the profit was phenomenal – so I thought it was the way to go. The eggs came from a friend of my father’s. I trussed the turkeys and put a label on them – it was the first time someone put a label on a turkey.”
Raymond developed his turkey enterprise as supermarkets were growing, and, he says, “We used to sell to wholesalers, but we could see that the ‘big boys’ wanted to buy direct.” So, while continuing to supply wholesalers, Raymond also entered into negotiations with supermarkets. He says, “After that, instead of having around 250 customers, we went to around 6 customers being about 80% of our volume.”
Unlike many producers who complain of the unequal bargaining relationship of small farmers and big corporations, Raymond says he had no problem with supermarkets, and comments, “Where would our manufacturers be today without supermarkets?”
He is also aware that it’s up to the supplier to fulfil the customer’s requirements. For instance, he says “If you deliver to Sainsbury’s and they say to arrive at 2am, you haven’t to be there at 2.30, or they’ll turn you away.” And in his youth, after spending a sleepless week plucking turkeys, he was prepared to drive to Scarborough on Christmas Eve to replace one turkey that had not arrived as expected.
“In those days,” he comments, “prices of turkeys went up towards Christmas. Supermarkets started discounting turkeys, and we brought out a brand of fresh frozen turkey – we were the first to supply frozen turkeys. It’s a matter of keeping your eye on the ball – there are always changes.”
“My proudest achievement in turkeys was in giving employment to a lot of people. That gave me tremendous satisfaction.
Raymond’s talk is peppered with anecdotes indicating that it is unwise to judge people by their appearance: people in flashy cars who went bankrupt; customers appearing in tatty old coats but producing wads of cash upfront. And, he says, “The man who sweeps the yard knows more about the business than the managers, so he needs speaking to.”
Nowadays, Raymond may be retired from turkeys, but he is still full of energy. Up early every morning to see his sheep, he then fills a packed schedule of voluntary work for the Yorkshire Agricultural Society.
And although he will hand his Presidency on in July 2012, he will continue to serve on the council until, he says, ‘they sack me’.
Yorkshire Agricultural Society: http://www.yas.co.uk/en/about-yas/
Heritage Crafts Alliance
My final visit this month was to a man who hopes to give youngsters a future in caring for our past.
Glenn Young clearly has three passions: a love of historic buildings, a love of hand skills – and a deep desire to share those joys with youngsters.
He described how, for years, he’d dreamed of being able to offer apprenticeships to youngsters, to give them the skills that could lead to a lifetime of satisfying work.
And now, he’s about to make that dream come true, forming a partnership with Hartlepool College to offer apprencticeships in heritage building skills.
And to learn to work on Britain’s historic buildings, he takes his students to Romania.
The architecture there is similar to Britain’s historic buildings, he explains, because the area was settled by Saxons returning from the Crusades, resulting in a Mediaeval style very similar to ours.
But the industrial revolution that changed our architecture hasn’t yet happened in Romania.
Many of our historic buildings are made with local materials. This produced a regional diversity in style, and created buildings that have the look of having ‘grown’ from the landscape – because they have. But the Industrial Revolution brought mass-production and cheaper transport, making it easier to use the same materials and styles across the land. This produced a profound change to the landscape, built environment, and craft skills.
Glenn takes students to Romania, he says, “Because they can get an understanding of Mediaeval construction in Europe, and how it interacts with the landscape and people.”
He adds, “Most people there still work by hand. It makes you realise the true value of grain, hay, stonework and so on, when the whole family’s labour has been used to get it.”
He adds that the Romanian people are very supportive, and comments, “We also train some of the local people who’ve never worked in conservation. We hope they’ll put it into practice to save their buildings.”
Back in England, the training centre that Glenn has established at Thorp Perrow aims to rekindle those skills here. Students learn to work in green wood, freshly cut from the estate. They use hand tools, giving them a ‘feel’ for their materials that machine tools can never provide. It’s a love of the material and its handling that shines in Glenn’s eyes when he picks up a piece of wood.
Glenn is trying to kindle this love in the younger generation – not only in apprentices, but also in school children. Whenever he gets the chance, he’ll visit a school, taking with him demonstration models and portable activities.
He also goes into schools, to inspire children to a career in building. The universal favourite activity, he says, is wattle and daub. The children love to stomp the clay, then use their hands to push into the wattle framework.
He says, “Even the disengaged kids get involved. Some are quite isolated, but this brings them out.”
It’s something he’d love to do more of.
You don’t have to be a child or young person to have a go at a heritage skill. The HCA offers courses of all types, including short sessions for amateurs traininghttp://www.heritagecraftalliance.co.uk/