Back to the past with Ed Grimsdale: How north Bucks fed Londoners milk

Buckingham milk factory PNL-140915-145337001
Buckingham milk factory PNL-140915-145337001

Victorian railways brought north Bucks closer to London.

This region had sent less perishable farm products, such as butter and veal, to ‘town’ by horse-drawn wagons for hundreds of years but steam opened a new market for north Bucks milk and cream.

Major John Henry Hooker who was in charge of the Buckingham milk factory. PNL-140915-145348001

Major John Henry Hooker who was in charge of the Buckingham milk factory. PNL-140915-145348001

In the decades before 1900, businessmen realised that diversification would further reward farmers and create profits for themselves.

Nestlé debated whether to base its operation in Buckingham or Aylesbury and opted for the latter, a creamery was built next to Winslow Station and an existing building was adapted to become a milk factory at Verney Junction.

Ease of access to the railway network was key to success – Verney Junction was designed as the Crewe of Bucks. But, look at the rare, faded snap of the Junction’s milk factory, the acorn that became the company Thew, Hooker & Gilbey. You can see how its foundations sank and fractured into the clay of north Bucks. The concern was moved to the former iron foundry opposite Buckingham Station (it’s now the University’s Chandos Road building). Buckingham’s milk factory thrived under Captain (later Major) John Henry Hooker, TD JP. Malted Milk (similar to Horlicks) was invented there; tins of nutritious Bivouac Chocolate were regularly distributed to soldiers in the British Army during the First World War, and countless cans were filled with condensed milk ensuring that ne’er a drop of best Bucks milk was wasted. In the 1920s a milky giant, United Dairies, gobbled up Hooker’s business.

From a United Dairies advertisement (1925): “In the Lane by the Farm”.

“The sun has already been up an hour or more Already the cows have been milked – Queenie and Mad, Pixie and Bess, and all of the rest – and they have sauntered back with swinging tails into meadows where the last of the dew still lingers on the grass.

“The morning’s milk is now in the churns, which, after cooling, are trundled along to the lane outside the farm, where with a heave and a swing they are lifted up to a miniature platform of rough planks, built into the hedge. Here, under the shade of a hawthorn bush, they will bide, safe and shaded till the coming of the milk collector’s motor lorry…

“In a countryside so quiet it is easy to catch the distant rumble of the UD lorry. Its load of churns, close packed and clattering, the morning’s milk of a district, give a strange motley of notes as they bump along lanes – a jangle which grows louder and louder till it drowns the chatter of the hedge-sparrows and the morning song of the lark overhead.

The motor-lorry runs alongside the hedge-platform with the exactness of a liner making dock and in a jiffy, hefty arms swing the churns from platform to lorry – to join the freight of churns bound for the milk collecting depot.

“A whirr of the engine, a change of gear and soon the clang of the churns is a waning sound – remoter and more remote till the lane is its calm self again. No sound but the sparrows and the frolicking lark…

“This is the scene you may see in many a lane of Bucks – a microcosm of the vast scheme of milk collection stage-managed by United Dairies across a score of counties. All to one end – that you in London may have the best and freshest milk in amplest supply.”