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There cannot be many people who have lived in and around Rooksbridge during the last 100 years or so, whose lives were not touched by the existence of the Cheddar Valley Dairy Company.

I worked at the dairy for 33 years from 1960 -1993. Some of my colleagues had been there far longer! During that time I got a pretty general experience of the goings on at the dairy!
Apart from a spell of five or six years in maintenance I was employed as a driver.
My regret now is... I never took many photos or kept any kind of records while I was there!
So from memory and with the help of the late Mr Richard Brown and others, I hope here to give an outline of the history, the work and some of the characters on which the dairy depended.

If you have a story to tell about the dairy, or can add to this history of the Cheddar Valley Dairy. Do please get in touch.  
John (Fred) Rigarlsford

Situated in “Factory Lane” on what is now the site of the  'Mendip Business Park' in Mendip Road, the dairy was first established by two local farmers Messrs Arney and Clothier. And later, joined by  Mr John Wood of East Brent.

“John Wood moved back to Derbyshire in about 1892 with his wife Ellen Banwell of Rooksbridge. Where he subsequently had a milk business in Ashbourne before finally being put out of business when Nestle built a factory in the town” Andy Wood.  

During its 120 year history, the dairy – situated in the heart of Somerset dairy country – would become one of the largest manufacturers and suppliers of cheddar cheese, butter, cream and other dairy products in the south west.  It also became one of the largest employers in the area. Many of its workers and sometimes their families, spent their whole
working lives there.

From an OS map of 1880. Note the footpaths radiating across the fields from the dairy. In the days before motor transport was introduced, many workers would walk from surrounding villages to work at the dairy.

Edward Clothier and William Chappel Arney built the cheese "Manufactory" in 1870 at the site of a farmhouse in Factory Lane.  By 1874, Messrs. Clothier and Arney were manufacturing cheese at the factory with milk supplied by local farmers, from an estimated 850 cows . At times there were also upwards of 500 pigs kept there, to be fattened on the whey.
Because of the abundance of whey and skimmed milk from the production of cheese and cream etc. most farmers in the area kept a pen or two of fattening pigs.
In fact a dedicated pig fattening unit was built opposite the dairy in 1935, where until 1980 upwards of 1000 pigs at a time were fed with whey piped direct from the factory into the pig houses.
By 1889 the dairy was occupied and run by Messrs Boley and Wood.
In 1890 Isaac Boley left the partnership.  John Wood sold the business about 1892.

Towards the end of the 1800's the production of butter, cream and milk was growing and it became known as the Cheddar Valley Dairy Co Ltd when the Cox family, among them William and Mary Cox from High Littleton became major shareholders.
They had set up ‘Cox and Sons’  Cardiff Milk Supply. with a number of retail shops and outlets in the City of Cardiff.

The milk for Cardiff, supplied by CVD for many years, was sent in churns via Rail from Brent Knoll Station. In the early days the churns were transported to the station by horse and cart.
This photo of a proud George Emery is undated. Note the 17 gallon churns riding with no visible means of constraint ! The lorry was built on what appears to be a 6 wheeled chassis? Which would have been unusual in those days.
Photo courtesy: Margery Fear.
In the early 1900's, The Cox family were joined by directors, Gilbert Brown of Cheddar and John Counsell of the 'Manor' Lympsham, who remained active in the company until the 1960's
Kelly directory of 1902 states that the manager of CVD in 1901 was a Walter Mitchell?

Soon after this in 1904 Charles Emery become the manager, and then a director of the Cheddar Valley Dairy. 'Charlie' ran the dairy for just over 50 years through two world wars until he died in 1954.  Charles and his older brother Fred had began a dairy business at Manor Farm Tarnock in the early 1900's. Charles was regarded as an expert cheese maker and pig breeder. He was also a prominent Freemason.  The Emerys were a large and active family in the village.

About 1934, a managers house, 'Brent Holme' was built on the site. And the old existing farmhouse and living quarters became part of the factory, housing the extended cheesemaking room and cheese store.

When Charlie Emery died in 1954 his son David took over the management of the dairy.  

Photos courtesy: Margery Fear nee Hatcher.

In 1958, The Cheddar Valley Dairy was taken over by Horlicks Farms and Dairies of Slough.
They also owned the cheese dairy and a Cattle breeding Station at 'Hort Bridge' Ilminster Som.  (The cattle breeding centre at Ilminster provided an Artificial Insemination service to farmers).
By 1959 Richard Brown was manager and Geoffrey Raffel was the under manager.
Richard Brown remained manager until the late 1980's when he took up a post with Chewton Mendip Dairy as a cheese consultant.

Richard and Mrs Brown, Geoffrey Raffell and Gilbert Brown
Photo courtesy: R Brown.  

The dairy circa: 1900   Photo courtesy: R Brown.

The expansion into doorstep deliveries.

After the war, improved hygiene and distribution standards were introduced countrywide. Previous to this, milk was delivered daily to dairymen and customers mainly, un-refrigerated and in churns.  Improved methods of transport, pasteurisation, cooling of milk and sterilising of equipment made processing more efficient, making it possible for milk to be stored for longer and distributed over greater distances, .
In addition to Cheese, cream and buttermaking, the installation of an APV continuous pasteuriser and a mechanised bottling system in the 1950's and early 60's enabled a period of expansion by the Rooksbridge dairy into further retail and doorstep deliveries etc.  
Beside supplying bottled milk etc. to independent dairymen, a number of local dairy businesses were acquired or merged with the existing retail depots and outlets owned by Horlicks and CVD.   
Greenway Dairies of Taunton, Courts Dairy at Burnham on sea and Rawles Dairy at Minehead were bought and run by CVD. As were dairies operated by Highbridge Bacon Co. Ltd at Highbridge and Weston Farmers Dairy in Locking Road Weston super mare.
By the early 1960's, the Horlicks Farms and Dairy division would have retail rounds depots and shops  at: Burnham, Cheddar, Clevedon, Glastonbury, Nailsea, Taunton and Weston super mare.
To supply all these depots etc. The Rooksbridge dairy was now employing over 120 people and new offices, maintenance workshops, canteen and restroom facilities were built in 1968. And a brand new high speed bottling unit was planned.

The acquisition of Taylors Dairy of Weston super mare was one of the early larger retail dairies to be bought by CVD.  This combined with the Weston Farmers Dairy, would under the name of 'Horlicks Farms and Dairies' become the largest doorstep delivery operation in Weston and the surrounding area.
At its peak in the 1970's, to serve Weston alone, a fleet of nearly 60 milk floats would operate daily from the depot at Locking Road.
Seen here are Mr Cyril Taylor and some of the staff and milk floats from Taylors Dairy on display at the annual June Dairy Festival in Weston super mare in the 1950's                       Photo courtesy: R Brown.

The Locking Road premises became the Headquarters of the Horlicks Dairies retail operation managed for many years by Mr John Horlick. (No relation)!

A 1960’s display of Cheddar Valley Dairy  products at the Dairy Festival.
Included: Traditional truckles of cheese in 60lb, 9lb and 4lb sizes. Milk, butter and cream including novelty 'midget cheddars' and 'Clotted Cream by post', popular with visitors.
Cyril Taylor (Weston retail manager) aided by a young assistant and Mrs French (Manager Cheddar)
Photo courtesy: R Brown.

Cheese making. The end of an era!

In 1972 the Horlicks Company was bought out by the Beecham group. Mainly for its Pharmaceutical division based at Slough. The sale included the Horlicks Farms and Dairies division including the  Rooksbridge dairy and its retail division. and also the Cheese Dairy and the Cattle Breeding centre at Hort Bridge, Ilminster.
Maybe we had not realised it at the time, but the British dairy industry had reached its peak at around this period.
With increasing foreign dairy produce imports and competition from supermarkets, with their strong selling and purchasing powers adding further pressures on producers and suppliers margins... the decline in doorstep deliveries and the profitability of the old traditional ways of producing dairy products had begun. Changes had to be made to the way dairies operated.
Butter and cream manufacturing were among the first dairy products to be phased out at Rooksbridge. These had always been made in small batches, in keeping with the traditional farmhouse style, which was labour intensive.  
Next came the end of traditional cheese making at Rooksbridge after over a 100 years.
In 1981 cheese production ended at Rooksbridge and was moved to Ilminster.

In order to stay viable, Beechams had invested more than a million pound in upgrading the cheese making operation at the Ilminster dairy. A fully automated mechanical cheese making process was installed. Which when running, virtually mass produced block cheese with hardly any manual intervention!
Milk went in one door and literally 'supermarket ready' vac-packed blocks of cheese came out of the other!

Another effect of ending cheese, cream and butter production at Rooksbridge was.... skimmed and semi-skimmed milk for bottling had to be bought in! This was at a time when the promotion of low fat products was getting into full swing.
The early 70's had also seen the phasing out of traditional churn collections from the farm. Local farmers had to install refrigerated bulk tanks from which the milk would be collected by tankers operated by the Milk Marketing Board.
Due to the extra expense of installing the new tanks and access needed etc. many of the small dairy farmer suppliers, were forced to called it a day!
Because of the way that raw ex-farm milk was now collected and distributed under the national control of the Milk Marketing Board. The long standing contracts and connections between the many local farmers and CVD had to be ended.
Milk would now have to be bought in by tanker from the MMB. with no choice of suppliers as before.
By now the dairy was solely reliant on liquid milk products and sales.
Milk was produced in:
bottles for doorstep delivery,
non-returnable polyjars, cartons mainly to shops and supermarkets
and 3gall and 5 Gallon milk-pak containers for catering establishments


To keep the business viable, a purpose built Bottling Hall was erected on land adjoining the dairy. It was commissioned in 1969
With the installation of a high speed bottling line, capable of an output of 1000 crates an hour, production was able to keep up with the increasing demands made by supplying a wider area and larger wholesaler contracts.

Photo courtesy: R Brown.

'Unigate Dairies'..... the final chapter!

By 1985, The Rooksbridge production Dairy and all its retail depots and outlets had been  bought by Unigate.
Unigate, a large National dairy company which had previously been formed by the amalgamation of the old United Dairies and the Cow and Gate Dairy.
With bottling plants and retail depots nationwide, those in the south and west were at, Totnes in Devon, St Erth in Cornwall, Marshfield in Sth Wales, Hanworth in Surrey and several smaller plants along the South Coast. Unigate also operated the St Ivel brand. producing Yoghurts, butter, cheese and other dairy products at factories at Evercreech and Wooton Bassett etc.

The acquisition of the Rooksbridge operation gave Unigate a greater presence in Somerset area, to add to its national coverage of milk sales and dairy products etc.

Soon after Unigate took over the dairy, many changes were made to many of the existing buildings and production processes.
'Brent Holme' the former managers House, was now being used for offices. A large extension was added to this and became, the 'Wessex Area' headquarters for all Unigate operations in the South West. At about this time a fully automated carton and poly-bottle filling area was built where the old cheese room had been. The building also housed new offices for production, transport, engineering and laboratory managers etc.
The Rooksbridge dairy was now distributing over 26000 gallons of milk daily to retail depots extending to the whole of Somerset, Parts of Devon, South Gloucester and into Wiltshire.
In addition to the former Horlicks retail depots, the dairy was also now supplying the three original Unigate depots in Bristol, at Ashton Gate, St Phillips and Stoke Bishop. And also at Bath and Swindon. The Rooksbridge dairy also helped to supplement production of the Totnes and Marshfield Dairies.

Wholesale deliveries in non returnable containers were also being delivered direct to shops including large contracts with Tesco and Sainsburys supermarkets daily.

A 42 ton refrigerated trailer carrying up to 1000 crates of bottled milk being unloaded at Stoke Bishop. Bristol
Photo. J Rigarlsford

Sadly, under Unigate, the investment in expansion and the viability of the Rooksbridge site was not to last. As with many dairy companies, foreign imports and the decline in doorstep sales and the increasing demands from the supermarkets for lower milk prices and produce,  was to lead to crisis for much of the dairy industry and indeed the dairy farming and agricultural economy of the country in general.

To try to keep going, Unigate sold off its retail and production dairies north of the M4. Concentrating its efforts on its production and retail operations in the South and West of England. Of these, gradually all the production dairies along the South Coast at Worthing, Portsmouth, Southampton and Bournemouth
etc. would eventually be shut down.

At the end of production, on the last day at the Rooksbridge dairy. A few empty commemorative  cartons dated 02-07-1993 "ROOKSBRIDGE" were run through the machine before it was finally switched off.
(I managed to grab one)!
Photo: J Rigarlsford.

The fateful day for the dairy at Rooksbridge came in July 1993. After over 120 years, production ceased at Rooksbridge on July 2nd. The Rooksbridge production and any moveable equipment was shared between the remaining Unigate bottling factories at Totnes in Devon and Marshfield in South Wales.
Even this could not save a once huge company such as Unigate as a productive dairy operation. It eventually sold out all of its liquid milk division to Dairy Crest in 2000. Even the St Ivel operations at Evercreech, Wooton Bassett, St Erth and Totnes were later reduced or closed down.  
While other national dairy companies phased out doorstep deliveries, Unigate vowed to keep them going.  So far, Dairy Crest has continued with that promise
(But who knows for how long)?
Sadly, I believe what is left of the company now goes under the name of 'Uniq' and makes sandwiches for 'Marks and Spencer'!

Mendip Industrial Estate.

The old dairy site lay empty and declined badly for a couple of years, suffering from unofficial visits by gypsies, scrap merchants and other vandals!
In 1995 the site was bought and developed as an Industrial Estate by Malcolm King Estates.

Uncannily, The first small company to set up on the new site was a cheese packaging operation. Its Unit, happens to occupy what was once the old cheeseroom area! So cheese has come back to Rooksbridge in a roundabout way!

Malcolm King piloting his private helicopter into the estate on one of his regular visits. Photo: J Rigarlsford

The main occupant of the site at the time was 'Hillcrest' a company that repaired and serviced Ex fleet hire cars in preparation for auction etc.
Regrettably, with the site containing hundreds of vehicles, security was a big problem.
Eventually 'Hillcrest' folded.

Mendip Business Park

In 2003 the site was acquired and developed further by Tim Roper of Mendip Estates.

Security and renovation of the existing buildings were improved. Many of the buildings such as the former bottling hall and offices etc were divided into smaller units and a number of new units built.
This has brought a number of diverse businesses and new employment to what was the old dairy site.
These include, Engineering, Joinery, Computer, Heavy plant and forklift training, Organic food producers etc.
Photo: J Rigarlsford

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The Rooksbridge Dairy

Ellen Banwell with g’daughter Dorothy Wood

Photo courtesy: Andy Wood

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