It’s that time of year when the big names in sport receive accolades for their achievements and those who have left us during the past twelve months are remembered with a very tangible sense of loss.
Giants of the sporting world Bob Willis, Gordon Banks and Niki Lauda all left us in 2019, but in the Yorkshire farming world there has also been significant passing of individuals who have held similar affections for their life’s work and perhaps none more so than Charlie Hinchliffe of Netherton, near Huddersfield.
Charlie arguably changed the face of not just Yorkshire but British agriculture with what many believe to have been the UK’s first farm shop in the way we know them today.
He also built a massive poultry business and at one time had reputedly the world’s largest herd of South Devon cattle.
When I published the Farming in Yorkshire magazine in the 90s he was nominated in my agricultural version of the BBC’s sporting extravaganza, the more humble Farming Personality of the Year awards.
He took the West Riding title. He passed away in July this year at 95, sadly only just missing out on the opening of the newly built Hinchliffe’s Farm Shop and The Rusty Bull bar and restaurant, so named in deference to his herd’s colour.
It is Charlie’s grandsons, Simon and Ben Hirst, who are now at the helm of the farm business and farm shop enterprise which they have run together for the past 19 years. Simon tells of how Charlie took the reins and how his enthusiasm shone through.
“Charlie’s dad, Allen, started at a farm on Pole Moor. He and his wife, Betsy, who was a nurse, sold eggs from a horse and cart.
“Allen bought a butcher’s shop on Upperhead Row in Huddersfield but died suddenly in 1941 when Charlie was just 17. Charlie had three younger siblings, became the man of the house and had the chequebook in his hand.
“He built the business to what it has become today. He had all the drive, the ambition.
“Charlie took it from one butcher’s shop to a couple in the town, a factory producing pies, a huge poultry operation, and the farm shop and restaurant here at Netherton. He was very proud of his South Devon herd.”
Disaster struck for Hinchliffe’s in 2010 when a fire destroyed the farm shop, butchery, bakery, restaurant, offices and storage and it was nearly a decade of temporary accommodation until the all-new premises were opened in September.
There are now new challenges for Simon and Ben who continue to run the poultry operation that sees them with around one million egg laying hens per year for commercial egg businesses; the cattle herd that currently numbers a more modest suckler herd of 75 cows; and an outside catering company, as well as making sure their investment in the new building provides a legacy for future generations.
“When I hear customers’ reaction as they come into the new building going ‘Wow!’ I must admit it gives me the feeling we’ve hit the nail on the head.
“We’re not on a main road so we have to be a destination venue and we wanted to design something that would make people want to come in and spend time here.
“The family name has been around in the farm shop and butcher’s shop business for 90 years and we wanted this to create solid foundations for the rest of our lives and those of our children and theirs.
“The Rusty Bull is a hark back to the South Devons’ colouring. It’s something very different to the farm shop and allows us a high-quality place to showcase as much of our produce as we can.
“We are opening it up full time as a restaurant and bar during the day and an evening establishment where you can come in for just a beer or glass of wine if you want or for an evening meal with a contrasting menu for night-time diners.
“We’re getting ready for its evening destination opening in February.”
While the brothers share the load on the management front, Simon’s speciality is the farm shop, bar and restaurant while Ben’s is the poultry and beef.
“Our poultry operation contributes around half of our overall business,” says Ben. “We work on tight margins.
“We grow hens from day-old chicks to point of lay at 16 weeks on 15 individual sites that cover as far as Lincolnshire, Lancashire and County Durham.
“Our growers provide the accommodation, heat and bedding, we pay for the feed, vaccines and the growers’ animal husbandry and accommodation. At 16 weeks the mature hens go to the egg producing companies.
“Although we are 1,000 ft above sea level we still graze our cattle here in the summer but our herd is now predominantly Limousin X cows.
“The Limousin produces the shop meat we need for today’s customer as buying habits have changed. We buy cattle in as stores to fill any gaps we might have. Long gone are the days when we had up to 850 cattle. Today our beef rearing is solely for the shop.
“We don’t rear the commercial hens for egg laying here, we rear fancy chicken of different colours for the hobby and home market where a family want maybe half a dozen for their garden. We rear around 70,000 a year.
“They look like old fashioned birds such as the Sussex but are good egg laying hybrids.
“We are one of the largest in the fancy hens market.”
Although Charlie quite rightly takes the spotlight even today, Simon and Ben are in no doubt over another man who helped build Hinchliffe’s, their dad Les.
“Dad was instrumental specifically in building the poultry side of the business and we are happy to be carrying on the good work he and our grandad carried out here.
“Come and see our new farm shop and have a beer or glass of wine in The Rusty Bull.”