Made in Yorkshire: The hardy breed farmer still strong at 90

Charles Hinchliffe, who has just celebrated his 90th birthday, at Hinchliffe's farm shop at Netherton near Huddersfield
Charles Hinchliffe, who has just celebrated his 90th birthday, at Hinchliffe's farm shop at Netherton near Huddersfield
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AT the age of 90 many people are content to put their feet up but Yorkshire farmer Charles Hinchliffe is a hardy breed and can still be found in his family’s farm shop.

Born in 1923 – the year Stanley Baldwin became PM and Howard Carter unsealed the chamber of Tutankhamun – Mr Hinchliffe was three years old when he started raising his own bantams and by 11 was making cash selling sweets.

Now he spends most days at the farm shop at Netherton, Huddersfield – a business founded by his father Allen in the 1920s.

Mr Hinchliffe, who has decades of experience rearing cattle and hens, enjoys overseeing the fourth generation running the business.

“I’m in here every day, whether they like it or not,” says Mr Hinchliffe, who took on Hinchliffe’s when his father died, while still in his 40s, in 1941, leaving wife Betsy and four children.

Betsy continued to run the shop during the war years with help from Charles who, in subsequent decades, expanded and developed the shop, butchery and restaurant complex.

He now keeps a close eye on grandsons Simon and Ben Hirst, both partners in the business, and enjoys passing the time of day with customers and staff, many of them old friends.

“I’ve always enjoyed it here,” he says.

“I worked hard to build this place up, so it’s nice to see it doing so well. There’s a good atmosphere and everyone gets on well while getting on with their job. I set the standard a long time ago and they’re keeping it up today.”

Tenacity, it seems, runs in the family.

His father, Allen, escaped relatively unscathed from the First World War only to lose a leg falling from scaffolding while working as a plumber. Undaunted, he set up a successful butcher’s shop in Huddersfield before moving his family out of town to launch the country’s first farm shop, selling home-reared chickens and eggs.

As an 11-year-old, Charles, the eldest of four children, was showing that he shared his father’s acute business acumen.

“When I was three I started 
raising my own bantams, and at 11 I sold sweets to my grammar school friends. I sold them at half price and practically put the school tuck shop out of business, so they chucked me out in the end.”

He was only 17 when his father died, but he was head of the household and had to take on all the responsibilities that entailed – including taking the helm of the family business.

He soon began to put his own stamp on the Hinchliffe’s brand, expanding the range to include home-grown vegetables and home-reared beef.

When the time came, his own children – Robert, Richard and Susan – followed him into the family business and, while his sons have since moved on to pastures new, his daughter, her husband Les and their children Simon and Ben continue to work together to keep the Hinchliffe flame burning bright.

It was a flame of a different variety that almost destroyed the family business on July 5, 2010.

A small fire ignited by an electrical fault in the butchery engulfed the entire complex, gutting the butchery, farm shop, restaurant, store rooms and offices.

“Many people cried that day,” recalls Mr Hinchliffe.

“I shed a few tears myself, but it’s just one of those things in life that you have to get through. I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved since.”

Now, almost four years on, Kirklees Council has granted the business planning permission to replace its temporary buildings with a new purpose-built farm shop and restaurant. The groundwork will begin in April for a November launch.

Mr Hinchliffe expects to be leading from the front as the ribbon is cut on new era.

“Some people thought the fire would be the end of us, but I knew better,” he said.

“It’s just the way we do things. If a job needs doing, you get off your backside and do it.

“The plans for the new shop and restaurant look great, but it won’t feel completely real until I’m walking round and having a good look at what’s on the shelves.”

Asked about retirement plans, he is typically blunt: “No way! The only way I’m leaving here is in a box.”