WHEN fire engulfed Britain’s first farm shop, its owners could only watch in horror as decades of hard work went up in smoke.
Now eight years after Hinchliffe’s Farm Shop and Restaurant, at Netherton, south of Huddersfield, burned to the ground, work is about to start on a £2.5m project to build state-of-the-art premises.
The doors of the new farm shop, butcher’s and restaurant should open next summer, marking the 90th anniversary of the family business.
Great-grandfather Allen Hinchliffe opened a butcher’s shop in Huddersfield in 1929, with grandfather Charlie opening the farm shop in the early 1970s – just a few years before the late Duchess of Devonshire opened hers at Chatsworth.
The oldest member of the family, Charlie, 94, is still taking an active role in the business, and can be seen pottering around the farm, tending to the animals, alongside his great grandchildren, Arthur and Edward.
Four months after the fire, with the thermometer plummeting to minus 15 that winter, the business moved into its temporary home, two massive marquees pushed together.
“The hardest thing has been keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. If it gets really windy it makes a bit of a racket,” said fourth generation family member Simon Hirst.
He said: “It will be nice just to get back to normal. It’s been quite an adventure – not one I would like to do again.
“This has dragged on so long and we are just relieved as much as anything that it is finally going ahead. We are typical Yorkshire farmers – we haven’t been jumping up and down. We just all know it is about time it happened.”
The new building will be around twice as big as their current home and “like a palace in comparison”, with great views over Castle Hill.
Mr Hirst said theirs was a true family business, whose loyal following includes customers, who might move away for work or through marriage, but always came back to stock up.
It will be business as usual, as work starts on the new building, with the farm shop remaining open seven days a week.
He said: “It’s the start of new beginnings that I feel confident will carry us many years into the future and be passed down through many more generations of the Hinchliffe family,” said Mr Hirst.
“We cannot thank our incredible 50-strong team of staff, some of whom have been with us for over four decades, and our tremendously loyal customers enough for their support and patience over the last eight years.
“My dad Les and grandad Charlie are here every day of the week. Charlie oversees the cattle side, while my Dad and my brother Ben oversees the pullet rearing side, which we have on 20 sites round the country.
“We all muck in. Even at his age Charlie lives and breathes the farm shop – all he wants to do is see his legacy continue.”
The new building has been awarded a LEADER grant as part of the Rural Development Programme for England, which has partially funded the project.
It is being developed in phases, with the main phase starting now, with the gastro pub, first floor function room and extension of the shopping floor, following in the coming years.