Edgar Dickinson

INNOVATOR, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Edgar Dickinson, who has died aged 87, was co-founder with his elder brother Joseph of a business whose name, taken from their farm near Holmfirth, became a brand leader in the food industry.

Prominent in Freemasonry, he supported its charitable works over many years but his generosity extended into many others areas, and he received a MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of 2005.

In the 1990s he stepped in as sponsor to save the Hade Edge Band, and later helped to revive its junior section in which his son Mike had played as a boy.

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He followed the band and in May brought it to London to play at the wedding of his granddaughter, Zarah, at Temple Church, the middle and inner Inns of Court. His was a crucial role in the provision of a new bandroom, named – in his honour – the Edgar Dickinson Building.

His support for the New Mill Choral Society resulted in his being made Life President. Involvement in local politics saw him become a member of the old Holmfirth Urban District Council.

He and his brother Joseph were in partnership until 1997 when they both retired. For Edgar, however, that meant taking over the Bowers Mill complex in Barkisland with units rented to various businesses. He owned and ran one of them, a plastics business, up until his death, and he created The Venue, an events hall.

Their father, also Edgar, owned Abbey dairy farm at Shepley, near Emley Moor, one of the first to introduce tuberculin-tested milk. He also had a threshing contracting business at Kirkburton, near Huddersfield, where the Dickinson family had been farming since 1750. Son Edgar went to Holme Valley Grammar School (now Honley High School) and from there got an engineering apprenticeship with Hopkinsons of Huddersfield. He left to become an agricultural contractor, operating his father’s steam traction engine.

In 1948 he married Renee Kelly, and the following year he and Joseph, who had served in the Royal Navy, were left the 30-acre Longley Farm near Holmfirth by their great-uncle Jonas Hinchliffe. It had five cows and a horse.

To begin with, it was the threshing business which provided for Edgar and Renee, but the creamery business began to grow, and in the mid-50s, the brothers went into partnership. They bought pigs which they fed on the skimmed milk surplus.

The Dickinson brothers were innovators and their business model was highly flexible, enabling them to introduce a stream of new dairy products.

That flexibility and readiness to experiment was behind their installation of the country’s first commercial wind turbine.

The business was such that in 1960 it was featured in a TV documentary The Other Man’s Farm and was visited by the film star Richard Todd.

In 1964 on a visit to the USA, Mr Joseph Dickinson saw the mass-production of cottage cheese, and returning to Yorkshire he experimented by making early batches in a tin bath.

Matters progressed, and in 1973, Longley became the first dairy in Europe to make cottage cheese on a commercial scale.

Ignoring objections that the French would only buy French cheese, they successfully launched the product in Paris.

The brothers bought a farm of over 1,000 acres near Barnsley where they kept 15,000 pigs, and their dairy herd grew to 500. They were also buying in milk, and by the mid-1990s, Longley Farm was making sales the envy of many public-owned companies.

People who can compare Mr Dickinson and Sir Ken Morrison see a kindred spirit, both men straight talking, sticklers for the highest of standards and totally dedicated to their respective businesses.

Mrs Dickinson died eight years ago and Mr Dickinson is survived by their children Mike, Judith and Claire, by four grandchildren, and by his 90-year old brother Joseph.

A service to celebrate the life of Mr Edgar Dickinson is to be held at Holy Trinity Church, Holmfirth, at 1pm on Monday, August 1.