Our History and Tradition
- 1912 - 1929
- 1930 - 1939
- 1940 - 1949
- 1950 - 1959
- 1960 - 1969
- 1970 - 1979
- 1980 - 1989
- 1990 - 1999
- 2000 - 2010
- 2010 - 2017
West Cumberland Agricultural Co-Operative Society Limited established at Queen St, Whitehaven when a small group of farmers grouped together to improve the quality of their seed, manure, feed and fertiliser purchases and gain the benefits of buying in bulk.
1912 - 1929
"Purchased on the highest analysis and best quality on the market and given every satisfaction where used”
Owing to the war the Society was not able to make any contracts and had much difficulty procuring supplies.
West Cumberland Farmers Trading Society Limited registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Acts with John Wade as Manager and Ed Braithwaite as Secretary (the latter served as Secretary for 37 years until he retired in 1948). The second primary purpose of the Society was established – the marketing of members’ produce.
Appointment of Thomas Smillie as Chairman (who served until his death in 1940) and CH Roberts as President (who served until his death in 1959).
Depots at Whitehaven, Bootle, Cockermouth (on the site of our Pet & Equestrian store), Wigton (on the site of our current Pet & Equestrian head office and store), Penrith (opposite our current Pet & Equestrian site), Brampton (on the site of our current registered office), Carlisle, Annan and Keswick.
Obligation placed on every member to secure a new member during 1928.
1930 - 1939
Appointment of JC Wade as Manager in 1932 following the death of his father John Wade (JC Wade retired in March 1969 when he became President).
Society started to grind, preparing and mixing its own meal and mashes.
In July 1939 the depot at Lindal-In-Furness opened (which remained a Country Centre until our Pet & Equestrian business relocated to its new premises in Ulverston in 2013).
Operations affected by the outbreak of war and the scarcity of animal feeding stuffs; many male employees taken for Military Service.
1940 - 1949
Appointment of W Atkinson as Chairman (he became President in 1969 and served until his death in 1976). According to JL Blackley "his contribution to the Society’s development was unique”.
Acquisition of The West Cumberland Egg Packing Company Limited to collect and grade eggs.
Expansion in the trade of ware potatoes, with members asked to grow only those varieties for which there was good demand, and the threshing and ploughing business.
Introduction of poultry, grass drying and machinery operations.
Opening of the first agricultural engineering department in Hexham selling and servicing farm equipment.
Wartime restrictions prevented considerable expansion of the Society’s activities but membership had grown to 4,700 by December 1945.
1950 - 1959
"In business for your benefit”
Acquisition of A&G Little Limited, North of England Seed Growers Ltd and Lothian and Borders Farmers Ltd.
Society appointed as an authorised distributor of Shell tractor fuel, burning and lubricating oils (later extended to include BP products).
By 1956 the Society had 13,500 members and:
- 12 depots in England and 9 in Scotland
- 4 mills in England and 3 in Scotland
- 2 egg packaging stations (Carlisle and Kilmarnock)
- 1 bacon factory (Girvan)
- 2 ironmongery shops (Ayr & Port William)
- 7 agricultural engineering departments
- 1 pharmacy department supplying vaccines, sera and other veterinary medicines by return of post
- 1 dairy supplies department; WCF were the area distributors for the Surge Milking Machine
- 2 seed departments (Whitehaven & Hexham)
- 6 Shell depots in England and 4 in Scotland
Pre-packing of potatoes commenced in Gretna in 1957.
Acquisition of Lothian Egg Producers Ltd and Tyneside Egg Producers Ltd.
JC Wade appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his services to the Society and to his activity in a wide range of agricultural spheres.
By 1959 the Society had 20 fuel tankers and 206 commercial vehicles.
1960 - 1969
"Founded by farmers for farmers”
Acquisition of agricultural merchant Fred Wood Ltd, Wakefield.
Opening of the Brampton warehouse in which our registered office and our Home Shopping business now resides following a fire in June 1960 which destroyed the existing building.
Merger with Yorkshire Farmers Limited in 1964; membership rose to almost 22,000 (reaching a peak of 22,676 by the end of 1966).
Retirement of JC Wade as Managing Director in 1969, who then served as President until his death in 1984. Writing in the annual report in 1984 J Craigs, Chairman said that "no single person has made a greater contribution to the development of your Society than John Wade.” JC Wade served as Lord Lieutenant of Cumberland between 1968 and 1974 and became the first Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria in 1974.
JE Clark appointed General Manager (he retired on the grounds of ill health in 1975).
By 1962 the Society was marketing barley, eggs, seed and ware potatoes, weaner pigs and Fresian bull calves on behalf of its members and had around 1,200 employees.
In the 1966 Annual Report the Chairman issued a plea to those members who gave no notice of their needs, ordered their requirements in small lots and still expected a fire-engine service to increase their support of the Society.
1970 - 1979
Transfer of the egg marketing function to Egg Farms Ltd, a company formed jointly with a number of other agricultural bodies and establishment of its branded "Goldenlay” egg.
Establishment of the Agricultural Contracting Services Department offering crop spraying and treatment from the ground and air.
Britain joins the EEC and introduction of VAT.
WCF discontinues its arrangements with Shell and becomes authorised distributors for BP fuel oil products only, extending its territory into Yorkshire and Teeside.
Frozen chip joint venture with Witch Chips Ltd came on stream at Boroughbridge; full ownership transferred to WCF in July 1976.
Society’s involvement in livestock marketing ended in 1975 following changes in US import regulations and the collapse of the exotic cattle market.
Acquisition of WB Anderson Ltd, a wholesale fruit, vegetable and potato merchanting business based in Carlisle in January 1976 and its vegetable prepack subsidiary Hagues in Lancashire (which later became WCF Distribution). Our HR and H&S Manager MH Parker joined WCF as part of the acquisition in the role of Payroll Clerk and is now our longest serving employee with over 39 years.
JL Blackley appointed Chairman (served until 1983) and NEL Hill appointed as Managing Director in 1976 (served until 1985).
Name changed to West Cumberland Farmers Ltd.
Formation of Farmers Crop Chemicals, an agrochemical company, with the 3 largest agricultural trading companies in the UK and its own F brand products.
Acquisition of JR Holland (Wholesale) Limited, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler based in Gateshead.
Construction of first feed mill in Hexham.
Acquisition of the authorised Texaco oil distribution business in South East Scotland Baxter Johnston Oils Limited, Scotland (which the group held until it was sold in 2008).
Head office moved from Whitehaven to Durranhill, Carlisle.
1980 - 1989
Completion of the purchase of the fuel distribution business Curries Fuels (Cumbria) Ltd which now forms our WCF Fuels Cumbria business based at Kingstown. Move away from BP exclusivity to a multi-supplier fuels business.
Merger of our Scottish ware, seed and grain trading operations into Strathmore Farmers Ltd at Abernethy (out of which our horticultural seed potato business WCF Horticulture was born).
Withdrawal from our broiler packing station Chicpak Ltd (a company jointly owned with Cavaghan & Gray) which was sold as a going concern to DB Marshall.
Acquisition of the oil distributor Cargo Fuels in 1983, now trading as WCF Fuels North West based at Carnforth and serving North Lancashire and South Cumbria.
Acquisition of the Gulf bulk fuel oil distributor Gyme Fuels, with depots at Humberside, Scunthorpe and Goole; this business became WCF Fuels Eastern and is still managed by SM Hebdon, the son of the owner today.
PJ Hadden assumes responsibility for Produce and Fuels businesses (Peter served as Deputy Managing Director until 2007).
J Craigs JP becomes Chairman in 1983 and our current Chairman DJ Biggar joins the board.
AIT Stewart appointed Managing Director in 1985, a role he occupied until his retirement in 2017.
Head office relocated to Geltsdale, Wetheral.
Introduction of the Fiat franchise to our machinery businesses.
Name changed to WCF in 1986 to reflect the broad geographical coverage of the Society, whilst at the same time maintaining a clear link with its roots.
West Cumberland Farmers changes its legal status from a co-operative to a private company incorporated under the Companies Act 1985, WCF Ltd. All members and employees offered the opportunity to become shareholders; almost 12,000 shareholders.
Introduction of the Employee Share Ownership Plan to allow employees to benefit from the future fortunes of the company.
The company operated the following divisions:
- WCF Farm Supplies (which included WCF Country Centres)
- WCF Farm Machinery (discontinued in 1992)
- Baxter Johnston Oils (sold to GB Oils in 2008)
- WCF Fuels North West
- Curries Fuels – Cumbria (acquired 1981)
- Cargo Fuel Oils (acquired 1983)
- WCF Fuels – Lancashire
- WCF Fuels – South West Scotland
- WCF Fuels Eastern
- Viking Fuel Oils
- Gyme Fuels (acquired 1986)
- Mariner Oil (acquired 1988)
- WCF Fuels – North East
- Vulcan Oils (acquired 1988; sold to GB Oils in 2008)
- WCF Gas (acquired from Stair Brown Gas in 1986; sold to Macgas Ltd in 1990)
- WCF Farm Produce
- WCF Potatoes Abernethy (sold to Branston Ltd in 2004)
- WCF Potato Storage Pocklington (closed in 2008)
- WCF Fresh Produce Ormskirk (activity sold to Emmett UK Ltd in 2007)
- WCF Gateshead (sold in 2000)
- WCF Distribution Services
- WCF Grain Marketing (sold to Dalgety Agriculture Ltd in 1993)
- WCF Seed Potatoes Charlesfield/WCF Phoenix (now trading as WCF Horticulture)
- Advance Foods (acquired 1988; sold in 2000)
- WCF Farm Produce
- Food Processing
- WCF Foods (formerly Witch Chips) (closed May 1999)
Grain export facility acquired in the North East at Blyth.
1990 - 1999
"Ensuring customer satisfaction through superior quality”
Sale of feed mills and seed plant to Amalgamated Farmers alongside a reciprocal retail trading agreement. New Country Centres opened in Kendal, Claughton and Lockerbie acquired as part of the arrangement.
Introduction of our Home Shopping business with the launch of leisure wear brand Country Collection and equestrian brand Ride & Groom.
Disposal of the liquid petroleum gas business in 1990 to allow the company to focus on bulk fuel oil distribution.
Oil distribution depot at Hexham opened.
In 1994 the head office moved to Brampton, where it remains to this day.
J Craigs retired as Chairman and is replaced by DWD Thomson (who served as Chairman until 2013).
Potato processing business at Boroughbridge closed in 1999 due to a bleak long term outlook and our inability to recover the escalating costs of potatoes in our selling prices.
2000 - 2010
Acquisition of niche mail order businesses:
- Scotland Direct (The Scottish Gourmet (solid in 2011), The Whisky Connoisseur (closed in 2010) and The Thimble Guild
- Waggers selling pet products; and
- Perfect Setting (household linens and gifts; integrated into Country Collection)
Disposal of Advance Foods and the Gateshead wholesale business as going concerns.
Exchange of our BP Dundee operation for equivalent volume from BP Kendal, which significantly strengthened our WCF Fuels North West operation.
Foot and mouth disease devastated the rural communities.
Acquisition of Bordercolour, a Carlisle based reprographics business that now forms the in-house Marketing function for our Home Shopping business.
Acquisition of oil distributors Leighton Oils, Q8 Fuelcare North and Scotland and Total Butler’s Jarrow based businesses which were integrated into our existing fuels businesses WCF Fuels North West and WCF Fuels North East.
In 2003 acquisition of James Meade – a Hampshire based mail order company specialising in premium clothing for both ladies and men. This was relocated to Brampton and integrated into our existing mail order clothing. One store at Salisbury remains.
In 2004 an agreement was reached with our potato marketing allies Branston Potatoes Ltd to purchase the potato packing business at Abernethy to protect the company’s interest against the potential delisting of their product following significant rationalisation of the fresh produce supplier base by the major supermarkets. This same drive also resulted in the conclusion of the produce growing and packing operations at Ormskirk in 2007 and the closure of our potato storage business at Pocklington in 2008.
MS Ward appointed to the board in 2007 as a non-executive director.
Sale of Baxter Johnston Oils business to GB Oils in 2008 following a decline in market conditions in central and lowland Scotland.
2010 - 2017
Conversion of those Country Centres with genuine retail potential into a new Pet & Equestrian format focussing on the consumer market; this was followed by refurbishments at Penrith, Rosehill and Skipton.
JL Ritzema becomes WCF’s first female Managing Director in June 2013 (after serving on the board as Finance Director since 2007); DJ Biggar takes over as Chairman.
WCF Horticulture achieves Safe Haven and ISO9001 accreditation.
Launch of our on-line fuels ordering website Fuelfighter in 2011 to take advantage of the growing numbers of customers who wish to place their bulk fuel order on line.
Launch of The Classic Boutique and The Home and Gift Shop niche mail order brands aimed at widening the range of merchandise sold to our core clothing customers.
Acquisition of Lincolnshire oil distributor Chandlers Oil & Gas and its web development agency Hat Trick Media in November 2012.
Relocation of our store in Lindal-in-Furness to a purpose built retail unit opposite a Booths supermarket at Ulverston.
DA Routledge appointed to the board as a non-executive director in 2014.
Acquisition of Cumbrian family oil distributor Allan Stobart Lubricants & Fuels.
WCF Distribution Services relocates to new premises in 2015.
In April 2017 our new Pet & Equestrian store in Alnwick opened; our first store in a new location for many years.