Frozen to fresh in a generation of Fultons

Ian Fulton with a young turkey. His farm shop and butchery is keeping the family name in the publie eye. Picture: Simon Hulme
Ian Fulton with a young turkey. His farm shop and butchery is keeping the family name in the publie eye. Picture: Simon Hulme
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MERELY mentioning the name Fulton, to those who live in and around the Leeds and West Yorkshire area, is bound to trigger the name Jack Fulton and his empire of shops selling frozen food.

Today his son Ian runs the farm smallholding, Willow Park Farm between Garforth and Barwick in Elmet, that his father bought one night in the dark in the late 1950s; plus a farm shop-butcher’s shop on the same site and a butcher’s shop in The Shambles in Wetherby.

“It’s gone full circle as customers’ buying habits have changed since dad opened up his first frozen foods shop in the 70s when the market took off and we happened to be in the right place at the right time. By the mid-80s we had over 50 shops in Yorkshire as far afield as Goole, Harrogate, Keighley and Rotherham.”

The business was sold 18 years ago. Jack, whose real name is actually James, retired and is in some quarters now better known today as chairman of Castleford Tigers RLFC.

“My granddad was the one who was called Jack and he was a market trader in Kirkgate Market in Leeds when it was the old wholesale and retail market. He was also a racecourse bookie and by all accounts quite a character. He died when dad was 13 and since dad was also at Leeds Market he became known as Jack and it just stuck. He met my mum Bridie whose family the Devanneys were fruit and vegetable merchants in the market.

“After his National Service dad rented a bit of land at Churwell and started standing at markets in Leeds, Barnsley and other towns selling eggs and old hens, then known as boiling fowl. He and mum moved to Branch Street in Bramley where they took a corner shop under where they lived. Mum ran the shop while dad stood the markets.

“He bought Willow Park Farm in the dark. It was made up of old prefabricated buildings, had no running water and no toilet when they arrived. My sisters and I were all born here. When dad sold the business in 1997 I kept the farms on, we have another just up the road from here that takes us to around 30 acres overall.”

At its height when it was supplying the shops the farm had 45,000 laying birds for eggs; 2,500 pigs; and 180,000 broilers that were kept at the other farm. Ian found it quite a change after the sale of the Jack Fulton empire.

“I’d grown up with the farm and kept with it but we’d moved from being a retailer to a wholesaler and suddenly everything was going at the price everybody else was getting rather than what we’d been achieving in servicing our own shops. We cut right back and now we keep 8,000 layers out of which we rear our own replacements and sell our eggs through the two shops and to milkmen and fruit and veg men and women; and 140,000 broilers that come in at a day old and are all out by 54-56 weeks.

“We stopped rearing pigs and now I buy store pigs in at 30kgs through Yorkshire Farmers Livestock Marketing and take them to all sorts of weights dependent on what customers are looking for. I bought a little slaughterhouse in Crossgates in Leeds two years ago and so we have all of our own facilities.”

Just as his father was in the right place at the right time years ago, Ian appears well placed for the current trend towards fresh meat.

“We opened the farm shop-butchery here about seven years ago and I can’t believe how it’s gone. We now have four butchers. I also took the shop on in Wetherby four years ago. People come because it’s a nice little run out and they can park up much more easily than in a town or village. I think that’s where a lot of farm shops win. We’re open every day but on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday it keeps four of us flat out.”