Sir John (Jack) Cohen

founder of the TESCO supermarket chain and a past owner of Lt London Farm

Jacob Kohen

Jack Cohen

In 1940, concern for the safety of his children in London, food shortages, rationing, and the 'Dig for Victory' campaign persuaded Jack Cohen to purchase Little London Farm (within Goldhanger Parish boundary) and used it as a family retreat and to extend his London based business activities, which he did well into the 1950s. During that period he created and developed a canning factory in Tolleshunt Major which he named Goldhanger Fruit Farms. Later he opened his first purpose-built supermarket in Maldon High Street.

Here is a summary of his career and activities relating to Goldhanger...

1898    - Jacob Edward Kohen was born in London

1917    - he served in the Royal Flying Corp for two years

1919    - created his first grocery stall in Hackney using surplus NAAFI stock

1924    - The TESCO brand was launched

1930s  - he changed his name to John Edward Cohen but was always known as Jack

1940    - Cohen bought Little London Farm

1942    - he bought Longs, Hill and Little Renters Farms in Tolleshunt Major

1944    - He founded Goldhanger Fruit Farms company at Hill Farm

1946    - Cohen helped fund the building of the Goldhanger British Legion Hall

1947    - The first Cold store was built at Goldhanger Fruit Farms

1950s  - The peak staff level was recorded as 300 personnel

1950s  - Created “Kingsmere” cannned products and sold the label to Woolworths

1950s  - “Kingsmere” products were taken to Maldon East Goods yard

1956    - His first purpose-built supermarket was constructed and opened in Maldon High St

1958    - TESCO sold Goldhanger Fruit Farms to Cadbury-Sweppes

1969    - Cohen retired as chairman of Tesco and was knighted for services to retailing

1970s  - Cadbury-Sweppes sold GFF to TKM Foods

1979    - Jack Cohen died aged 81

1980s  - Goldhanger Fruit Farms closed down, the site was re-named Beckingham Business Park

Lt London Farm in the 1950s with TESCO staff

and the Cohen family (seated in the middle)


below are extracts from the authorised biography of Sir Jack Cohen written by M Corina in 1972

( bold phases have been added only to this webpage)

Pile it High, Sell it Cheap

and the chapter entitled


...The combination of Jack's interest in his nursery venture and the desire to be with the children during the war-time years led him naturally into farming. When the town-bred grocer found himself torn between the desires to relax in the countryside and to see his children, these were reconciled not by any calculated action but by another of those unexpected opportunities that come to gregarious friendly men. Just as a telephone call from a bank manager took him to Cheshunt, so another call from a salesman friend, Mr Matchen, introduced him to a Major Frost and took him to farmland fringing the east coast marshes near the Heywood Basin(sic) near Maldon.

...Shortages of foodstuffs had resulted in a national campaign to 'Dig for Victory'. Allotments were springing up on every spare piece of land. Jack was becoming bored by restricted business, or so it seemed. After all, there seemed little skill required in running shops stocked by goods generally supplied on allocations worked out by Ministry of Food officials. Rationing made the art of selling mechanical and uninspired. The nursery project had aroused his enthusiasm and he liked the prospect of becoming a farmer as well as a market gardener. Perhaps he could build a country home and give his girls some happy hours in the freedom of Essex acres.

...Major Frost turned out to be a friend of Mr Matchen, formerly a representative for the American canning giant Armour, but now an agent for a Maldon milling firm, E. J. Baker. Jack's own small involvement in the north of Cheshunt, was to help him move sideways, across to the Essex coast, in response to advice from Major Frost on land for sale. The and turned out to be a thirty acre fruit farm on the outskirts of Goldhanger village. It was called Little London, but known to the local population as the '13.X. Ranch'.

Jack visited Little London Farm and scanned row upon row of fruit trees. By a process of calculating the number of trees about 8,000 - and then assessing the value of each by the wholesale value of a crop of apples, Jack arrived at a purchase price equal to 10s. per tree, ₤4,000 for the whole farm. The offer was accepted. It was several days before he came down to earth and fully realized what he had bought. He now had to face the reality of running a fruit farm at a time of war-time restrictions.

At first Cissie was reluctant to accept Jack's idea of a country retreat, but soon she found herself drawn into his planning, agreeing to the conversion of the farmhouse, with the aid of a war damage claim, into a replica of their Chessington Avenue home, down to the outside first-floor veranda. As the house went up, her enthusiasm was also aroused. Jack built a tennis court, and added a bowling green to the lawns. Landscaped and Snow-cemmed, it offered four bedrooms to accommodate friends and relations for rural weekends.

. . .Two farms came up for sale in the adjoining village of Tolleshunt Major, Longs Farm and Hill Farm, with an area of just over three hundred acres. Jack bought them at ₤50 per acre. Denny moved into Longs Farm and proceeded to take Jack into arable farming. Shortly afterwards, a local auction offered the chance to buy Little Renters Farm, near Little Totham, with no competing bidder, to take his land holdings to over four hundred acres. Into Little Renters went a young couple called Ernest and Dora Seaborn, and the Cohen family occupied Little London at weekends and holidays. Seaborn introduced Jack to a new world, bringing in cattle, heifers, pigs, turkeys, and chickens. The farmhouse teas at Little London, always available when the Cohen family arrived thirsty and hungry from war-torn London, began many happy weekend hours, with the girls learning to ride on the team of six horses kept by Seaborn, an expert horseman who also tutored Cissie in the use of a pony and trap. One regular visitor to the farms was a good-looking young Royal Artillery sergeant called Hyman Kreitman, the steady boyfriend of Jack's cider daughter, Irene. Hyman frequently joined the family for their country weekends and was captivated by Irene.

A large pipe-smoking enigmatic man, he gives little away. Creative and cultured, he had become embroiled in the world of Jack Cohen by accident - a minor riding accident, falling off a horse at the Selsdon Park Hotel while on leave. He was tended by a sympathetic Irene Cohen, also staying at the hotel with her parents. The two became inseparable, courting at Goldhanger, and finally marrying. When he met Irene, his elegant manner was a badge of membership in a well-to-do family. Hyman, youngest of five sons of a successful London footwear manufacturer, was courteous and calm. Jack was immediately attracted to him.

. . .Close to Hill Farm, and fronted by an old thatched house and old cowshed, was The Bell, an unspoilt rural public house where Jack and Cissie would buy one-and-sixpenny barside meals and talk over plans for developing the farms as a coordinated unit. Without the day-to-day pressures of retailing, it was pure bliss for Jack to apply his mind to framing an agricultural policy. For the first few years, fifty per cent of the acreage was devoted to cereals and root crops, twenty per cent to pasture and thirty per cent to soft fruit and apples; but Jack could not resist the temptation to apply his weekday business techniques, and it was the fruit that interested him most of all as the most profitable if most speculative of all the crops. The family enjoyed country life - Cissie and Shirley would drive back and forth in the trap, going into Maldon for the shopping. And it was now that Jack reached a decision to become a major fruit farmer. Once again Bernard Lazarus formed a company - Goldhanger Fruit Farms - with a ₤100 nominal capital, in 1944.

Jack's first fruit produce came from the orchards of Little London. Then he began to plant soft fruits such as strawberries, blackcurrants and loganberries. Water was a constant problem. There was a lot of laughter at the sight of Hyman Kreitman with a hazel twig trying (in the end successfully) to divine water, so that a well could be sunk. The energetic Hyman also did his share of hedging and ditching, and went to market to buy pigs.

. . .As the war in Europe came to its close, the Goldhanger fruit venture still occupied much of Jack's time. Rationing and re-strictions were still holding Tesco's development in check, and the main business ticked over. When Hyman married Irene, his enthusiasm for the farms buoyed up Jack, anxious to expand his country interests and always having difficulty in cultivating the patience of farmers, who think in weeks and seasons rather than minutes and hours. It was the beginning of a long and astonishing business as well as a family partnership. Both men came to realize that it was all very well to plant lots of soft fruit that they would have no difficulty in selling, but the problem was how to preserve the crop for marketing and how to pick the fruit. The answer was to convert Hill Farm into a cold store and the outbuildings into storage and production areas. The cowshed became a jam factory.

. . .Central to the farm development plan was the cold store, for which an old barn had been earmarked. Plate freezing equip-ment was ordered from a Scottish engineering firm, Weir's of Glasgow, and was ready for action by June 1947. Extra out-buildings were needed, mainly to accommodate twenty girl fruit-pickers hired in answer to an advertisement in a London evening newspaper that promised a working holiday in the country. Once again Jack's resourcefulness paid off. The end of a war meant surplus defence equipment, and Jack bought three large, rather rusty Nissen huts from a Royal Naval base near Burnham-on-Crouch. The ex-naval huts were being erected piece by piece under a building licence as the first girls arrived to pick the crop, mainly strawberries. Some of the earliest arrivals had to be accommodated in the barns at Little London while a team, including Ernest Seaborn's two sons, Donald and Peter, worked frantically to erect the billets on concrete bases for the pickers. Well over ₤10,000 had been invested by Jack in the fruits enterprise and between June and September 1947 he had cause for second thoughts.

Jack was no established manufacturer with research facilities, and yet he was ahead of his time - as usual - in trying to develop a frozen foods business. During the first year the freezing plant did not operate at all, and as the baskets of fruit poured in from the fields, a jam-boiling pan installed in the corner of the old cowshed, now cleaned and converted to meet sanitary laws, had to go into twenty-four-hour action. Lorries brought in case after case of glass jars as the factory worked around the clock filling thousands of pots of jam. What was being lost on the swings was gained on the roundabouts, but Jack looked rueful whenever he saw a pile of cartons labelled "Snowkist", a brand he had registered for quick-frozen fruit. The local authority added to the problems by raising unexpected planning objections to the use of zoned agricultural land for manufacturing purposes.

. . .The following summer saw changes. Local labour was used and Goldhangcr Fruit Farms engaged a small office staff, led by W. C. Hooper, with Frank Foster as foreman and Marie Martin in charge of the fruit-picking. Foster and Miss Martin were to marry and some of the girls brought from London were to wed local farm staff.

Jack recalls:

The next three years were an uphill struggle with many, many problems but we saw our baby grow and develop strongly in all departments. We installed an expert jam-maker, and in this field we excelled, although it was on the canning side that we were ultimately to be most successful. With a fleet of old Albions we built up a net-work of distribution throughout England and Wales, and with the aid of the then British Road Services we put the name of Goldhanger Fruit Farms on the map. The drivers took up to eighty to ninety deliveries a week to customers all over the country. We built up a fleet of ancient buses to transport our increasing labour force, in which field we had to move out to surrounding villages. Our canning activities embraced many local farmers by now and peas were brought into the factory on the vine to be threshed. They were paid for by net weight which was a more profitable outlet for them. In this period we laid the foundation for the expansion of all departments and our building programme provided many a headache for Ted Dennis, who eventually took over from the contracting builders. The old Army huts disappeared, indeed one of them went up in smoke one evening while the staff were still there. This contained mainly cartons - fortunately all our documents were rescued.

By the summer of 1951 our labour force at its peak, including casual workers, had risen to over three hundred. In these few years we had achieved far more than we had dared hope. A new team was formed under Ken Harradence as general manager, new offices were built and we began to produce more and more brands. Goldhanger Fruit Farms were here to stay. In 1958 I felt after consultation with Hyman that our baby had grown up and there were fresh fields to conquer. I reluctantly said goodbye to the factory and farms.

What Jack omits in his recollection is his astonishing anticipation of future developments. Not only was he one of the first to try quick freezing of fruit and, later, vegetables on a commercial scale, but the Goldhanger factory was ahead of later trends by supplying large quantities of own-label canned goods and bottled jams and fruits. He had built new houses for farm staff and created an industrial area in lush countryside.

. . .The Goldhanger venture flourished in a number of ways. One of the most important deals came after Kreitman, on holiday in France, met by chance a Mr Vincent Smith, the biscuit buyer for F. W. Woolworth. Kreitman seized the opportunity to talk about the canning operations and suggested that perhaps Woolworth might be interested in taking some supplies. An offer was made to provide some labelled samples and after further discussion, without any commitment by Woolworth to buy, the brand name Kingsmere (taken from a road in Wimbledon known to Mr Smith) was decided. Today, Kingsmere is one of Woolworth's best-known product titles, largely because Goldhanger won an important supply contract and even became a go-between in arranging for the same label to be used by other canners in filling bulk orders.

The sale of Goldhanger Fruit Farms came suddenly. For some time, packing had been undertaken for the Express Dairy Company through Mitcham Foods, and an offer to buy came when Jack was away in Florida, via a telephone call relayed through Hyman Kreitman. He sold the factory at a handsome profit. It was a wise move, in that Tesco at the time was in a phase of explosive growth as a public company and Jack could not possibly devote his attention to an essentially personal investment that had become a substantial business enterprise. Besides, Cissie was anxious to resume town life now that the children had grown up. The country was too quiet for her.

. . .Later, Goldhanger Fruit Farms was bought by Schweppes, manufacturers of Chiver-Hartley preserves among other foods. Today it is part of the Cadbury-Schweppes empire and few executives in that major food manufacturing combine probably realize that the cannery in Essex (telegraphic address Goldfarm) was the creation of their toughest trade customer.

In July 1970, Jack and Cissic made a sentimental journey to Goldhanger. He shook his head as he drove his pale blue Rolls-Royce round the lanes showing the author the farms he once owned. 'Did I make a mistake, selling up?' he kept asking. It would be easy to think so, standing in the vast storehouse. Goldhanger is now the largest canner of own-label fruit and vegetables in Britain. Capital investment by Schweppes, the new owners, has exploited Jack's early ideas to the full. Some 4,800,000 cases of canned products pour out each season bound for such prominent customers as Fine Fare, V.G., the Co-op, Pricerite, Key Markets, F. W. Woolworth, Moores Stores, Unigate and Express Dairy. Fruit and vegetables pour in from abroad to supplement home-grown crops needed to keep the lines going.

. . .Cissie, who placed a small carton of plump strawberries in the boot of the Rolls before we drove away, said: "No, I don't regret it. You can't expect those good and happy times to return by owning something permanently. We have our memories and that's enough. I was almost the Lady of the Manor, handing out prizes of Tesco's Banquet flour and cake mixtures at the village fetes. Goldhanger was an interlude, but with Jack it always has to be business, business, and more business. It is not enough for him to have started something and taken it to the point of success - he just wants to be more successful. "

a Goldhanger Fruit Farms summer outing in the 1950s

a Goldhanger Fruit Farms Carnival float

A “Kingsmere” special goods train at Maldon East Station in the 1950s

The first purpose-built supermarket in Maldon High St in 1956

extracts from a Cadbury-Sweppes magazine in the 1960s

the Goldhanger label

the Kingsmere label

GFF office block

in recent times

TESCOs Cheshunt, Herts HQ


 The Welwyn Garden City “Campus”

in recent times

One of the buildings at TESCOs Welwyn Garden City headquarters and Campus has been given the name “Maldon”

in recognition of the Company’s first self-service supermarket which was opened in the old Maldon cinema in 1956.

Sir Jack Cohen

1898 - 1979

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