The Bomfords of Worcestershire
Extract from The Bomfords of Worcestershire by Dr Bruce Bomford FRCS, Salford Priors, 1983. The work was published privately and only a few copies were made. Re-published here with permission from Dr Bomford's sons.
Springhill Farm was originally 600 acres and formed part of the Worcester Bishopric Estates vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1860. The farm was on lease to a Mr. J. Webb for 14 years, from the 29th September, 1860, until he returned the farm in 1872.
The farm was then leased to E. G. C. Bomford and Son, from the 29th September, 1872 for 14 years and the lease was subsequently extended for a term of 21 years from 1878, and thereafter on an annual tenancy. 78 acres were leased to smallholders at various times.
Ernest Bomford was born at Pitchill, the son of Benjamin and Mary. Before he was married he spent a period of 3 to 4 years at The Grange at Harvington. Benjamin Bomford of Pitchill had considerable influence with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and he was instrumental in the acquisition of Springhill. The previous tenant, Mr. Webb, of Worcester, was a business man in a carpet firm. He had rebuilt the house in the 1860s and put up all the buildings. It is possible (James thinks) that he may have got into financial difficulties later on and then the Church stepped in and bought the farm. In 1872 Ernest took over as a tenant at first, and he proved to be an innovative farmer. There was already a hop farm of 40 acres all supported by wooden poles. Ernest invented the wire work with a Mr. Farmer of Tenbury Wells. He also made a moat for driving a water-wheel which in turn drove a pump.
In 1890 Ernest married Janet Elizabeth Ferguson, daughter of a Presbyterian Minister of Fosseway, Perthshire. She was the sister of an Edinburgh Surgeon practicing Obstetrics and Gynaecology, and related to the Haigh family.
They had three children:-
1. Janet Helen Ferguson Bomford.
2. James Ferguson Bomford.
3. Mary Elizabeth Ferguson Bomford.
Ernest expanded his enterprises greatly. He bought a hop farm at Harvington, where the land went down to the Mill. He also started a business in Harvington to bake bread called Avon Pure Bread Company, producing wholemeal bread. Although the business was closed later, it is said that the ovens are still to be seen in good condition.
Ernest also bought Heath Farm on the Banbury road at Stratford-on-Avon, comprising some 300 acres. James went over and managed this farm. He also had the whole of Wick, almost the whole parish including 40 acres of hops, so that he had 100 acres of hops altogether.
Ernest also started a brewery at Springhill which flourished. The Company had all the “tied houses” in the surroundings of Fladbury, Chadbury etc. James remembers the smell of beer and the barrels in the cellar. Ernest continued his expansionist plans and the brewery business moved to Birmingham in 1898/99. A Mr. Smart [Charles Smartt, m 1883 Eleanor Carter: Neil Stretton email 6 Mar 2018] was appointed Manager in Birmingham: he was brother-in-law of Mr. Carter of Fladbury, an artist.
It was then that Ernest became ill with Diabetes.
In 1900 there was a great flood (the bench marks are preserved at Messrs. Burlingham’s yard by Evesham old bridge). Ernest had 400/500 ewes in the meadows and the river rose by one foot in one hour. He spent the day trying to rescue the ewes from the flood banks. The Rev. Campbell of Fladbury and his son Alec farmed the Glebe, and they helped to get punts and to fetch the sheep to high ground. Many sheep died or had to be slaughtered.
James thinks this event killed his father, who died in March 1901. Ernest had only been married for ten years and he had remained “a bit isolated”. After Ernest’s death James says his mother managed well and Uncle Ray from Bevington helped and came to Springhill once a week. Mr. Smith helped with the books. They remained tenants until 1920 when the Ecclesiastical Commissioners offered the farm to Mrs. Ernest and a big mortgage was needed. Uncle Ben of Harvington Lodge lent £3,000 to help out. The mortgage was paid off in ten years.
James took over the farm management in 1920. His mother moved to Bredon to the old Mansion near the Church. She died in 1953 aged about 78 years. Janet, her daughter, lived with Mrs. Ernest at the Mansion until she died. Janet then moved to a house in Abbotswood, Greenhill, Evesham. She remained a spinster.
Elizabeth (Betty) their other daughter had married Douglas Bomford, and they lived at Bevington Hall.
James Bomford was just leaving Bradfield School when the Great War 1914/18 broke out. He had been on the Modern side at school and planned to go to Cambridge to take a B.Sc., in agriculture. He had passed the Little Go and remembers this involved learning Latin and Greek. James was in camp with the school O.T.C. at Aldershot when war was declared and the cooks and other regulars had been withdrawn. He recalls seeing the British Expeditionary Force troops in their trains on the way to France. James went home and a friend from Bradfield wanted him to join the Scottish Borderers. He did not know what to do, but decided to join up. Douglas, who was in Edinburgh studying medicine, came to Springhill to see Betty. He and James decided to enlist together and were commissioned on the 5th September, 1914. They tried for the Worcestershire Yeomanry, but the unit was full up (probably just as well, says James reflectively). They joined the 2/8 Worcesters, a new Battalion billeted in Worcester, so they were able to get home. The unit was then moved to Northampton for training and next to the East Coast for duty there. Then to Salisbury Plain for preparation to go to France. They embarked at Southampton, but were turned back when half-way over, due to submarines. Next night they crossed the Channel and landed at Le Havre and were taken to the front in trucks to the 61st Division.
Leslie was in the 1/8 Worcesters, the original Territorials, attached to 48 Division, in which he won the Distinguished Service Order. James says Douglas was also a great soldier and he had no fear. When others were taking cover under heavy fire, Douglas might be seen walking about quite unconcerned for his own safety in order to see what was going on.
They were in Belgium a lot of the time at the Ypres Salient and then to Cambrai. The mud and the rats were terrible, James recalls. Douglas was wounded twice, very badly. James was at home on leave at the time and he applied to go to Rouen where Douglas had been taken. He was given duties as a base officer at Rouen and later posted back to his battalion which was re-formed several times, due to casualties being so numerous. He was demobbed in 1919 and the regiment went to Egypt. James remembers being at Billericay in Essex during the Zeppelin raids and he heard that the bombs had no fuses, and that it was rumoured the Germans dropped the engineer responsible overboard. The first raid at Maldon was seen as a practice run, since no-one was killed by the Zeppelin.
After the War, James acquired 530 acres on 25th August, 1920 and this was added to the original area being farmed. In subsequent years James became one of the most substantial and influential farmers in the whole of Worcestershire. In addition to his skill as a farmer he proved to be an astute businessman and manager of his company. At one time he took a case to the House of Lords on appeal, and won his case against the Inland Revenue on an issue which proved to have important implication for agriculture.
Maurice Stokes of Naunton, Severn Stoke, Nr. Worcester, set up a business called J. M. Stokes Ltd. He and James were close friends and used to go out shooting at Charlton. One day J. M. said that he would like James to run his business, but someone came up and they could not continue the subject. And it was never mentioned again. When Maurice Stokes died suddenly he had left James as his chief executor. J. M. always wanted his firm to go public for the employees to be given an interest in the firm.
Will Stokes (J. M.’s brother) married Alice Bomford, who was connected with the Campden Bomfords. He fought the will and tried to contest James as head of the firm, in the Chancery Court.
Mrs. J. M. Stokes once went to London and castigated James and her husband for going to the House of Lords on appeal, and said that they had plenty of money already.
The Stokes had two daughters, Hilary who was friendly with Michael Bomford for some time, and Daphne who partnered Bruce Bomford in a Worcester Junior tennis tournament.
The firm of Stokes Bomford was set up by the amalgamation of the two firms and James was the first Managing Director. The Company grew and flourished under James’ direction until 1964 when at the age of 69 years he retired and his place was taken by his son Bill (E. W. Bomford), who at the age of 36 years became Managing Director.
Since his retirement James has devoted his still considerable energies to developing the gardens around Springhill, enlarging the lake and tending his trout breeding stream. He still retains a shrewd and keen interest in farming and business matters, and for many years at Christmas collected members of the family at Springhill, notably Leslie and Dick, and Elizabeth, and in earlier days Douglas and Betty.
The extensive gardens at Springhill contain many trees and James recounted to me how each has been meticulously sited so that it can be seen from the house. James goes up to an upstairs window with a white flag on a pole and waves it to direct the tree planter to the exact spot where it can most easily be seen.
The gardens are opened to the public on certain days and Phyllis hosts a number of Church activities and fetes. Also, societies for the handicapped are allowed to use the grounds on certain days in the summer for outings for the disabled.
James married Dorothy Walker, daughter of Mr. T. L. Walker, who was a substantial farmer from Knightwick. James had been a pupil in the district. Gwen Bomford, James’ daughter, has three cousins still active in farming in the district. Dorothy’s sister, Eleanor (Dolly), married Hubert Silvers Williams Thomas, who was the owner of the Stevens and Williams Glassworks of Brierley Hill, producers of Royal Brierley Crystal near Stourbridge. Hubert’s son, Rig, is now Chairman and his son, David, is Managing Director of the business. Dorothy was the youngest daughter and she married James on 19th April, 1922, which is Primrose Day, Gwen adds.
James and Dorothy had four children:-
1. Lawson, born 12th May, 1926. Died 1978. He suffered from thyroid deficiency from infancy and needed care all his life. He lived with his mother at Hartland in later years.
2. Bill (E. W. Bomford), born 1927. Educated at the Elms, Colwall, and Uppingham. National Service in the Royal Marines. Studied the growing of tomatoes in Holland. Married Patsy, daughter of Hector Smith and lived at Manor Farm, Boradway. Master of foxhounds and horseman of wide repute; Bill owned several notable horses successful on steeplechase courses. He became Managing Director of Stokes Bomford following the retirement of his father, but left the firm in the 1970s after a boardroom difference of opinion. Moved from Manor Farm and started afresh in a new home. Bill and Patsy had three children, James, Allison and Emma. James sometimes stays with his grandfather at Springhill at week-ends, and is studying agriculture at Cirencester College. Allison married a farmer, John de Lisle Wells.
3. Gwen, Born 11th January, 1924, was educated at Bredonbury Court, near Hereford and then Wickham Abbey. She has devoted a great deal of her life to helping members of her family when they had needed an extra pair of hands. She now has a bungalow in the village of Alderton. She has remained a spinster, but is always in demand at social gatherings and is welcomed at many Bomford family homes. She keeps an eye on most members of the family and is a mine of information on family history.
4. Anita, born 1933. Educated at Malvern Girls College preparatory and main schools. Married in 1957 to Mr. Sale, son of the Rev. David Sale of Devon, and they lived at Nottingham [they lived in Oxfordshire - see the family tree] where her husband worked for Spillers F.M.C., as livestock officer. He died suddenly of Leukaemia in 1977. They had two sons, Philip and David.
James and Dorothy separated and were later divorced. In 1945 Dorothy moved to Hartland and lived first in a hotel for two years. She also stayed at Knightwick and later purchased a bungalow at a spot above Hartland Quay in North Devon, where she looked after Lawson her son for many years. She returned to Worcestershire a short while before she died, and lived with Gwen at Alderton.
James married Phyllis Garms and they have lived at Springhill since the end of the second world war.
The Bomford family gathers there at Christmas and James has always been considered the senior member of the Bomford Family, certainly in the 1960s and 1970s. During his lifetime farming has undergone many changes, but James and Springhill have carried on and reminded us of the family as it was in the golden days at the turn of the century and the great days in the 1920s.