OBITUARY: Sir John Eastwood

John Eastwood developed the largest integrated chicken- and egg- producing company in the world, transformed chicken from the dearest of common meats to the cheapest and initiated a decline in the price of eggs which, in real terms, still continues.

Jack Eastwood was born in 1909, the son of William and Elizabeth Townroe Eastwood. He left Queen Elizabeth Grammar School, Mansfield, at the age of 16 on the understanding that his grandfather had bought a small farm and that he would be able to work on it. But the deal fell through and instead he joined the family's civil engineering business, Adam Eastwood & Sons, started by his grandfather, who had migrated from Yorkshire to work as a carpenter on the fifth Duke of Portland's extensions to Welbeck Abbey, near Worksop.

By the time he was 21, Eastwood was put in charge of the company's biggest contract, installing sewerage at Romford, Essex. When it was finished and he had married his childhood sweetheart, Constance Tilley, Eastwood announced he intended to take a farm in Essex. His father responded by buying the substantial Belle Eau Park Farm, in Bilsthorpe, to attract him back home.

Eastwood then became a farmer as well as helping with the civil engineering business, and his wife developed poultry units at Bilsthorpe which became large enough to attract local attention. They included some thousands of turkeys for Christmas and, eventually, 3,000 laying hens in homemade cages.

Following the end of the Second World War, the Nottinghamshire Agricultural Executive Committee chose John Eastwood to reclaim for farming the area of Rufford Park, on the edge of Sherwood Forest, from its wartime military use. This set him on the track of making light sandland fertile with the use of animal manures, originally using manure from a 3,000-sow pig unit.

By 1956, his attention had been caught by broiler chickens as a means of turning home-grown cereals into a higher value product to sell. His first broiler houses were fitted with his own design of automatic feeder, the first in Britain, and he was delighted with the margins left by the chickens, which finished up at 4lb in only 11 weeks.

He multiplied the houses, increased their size and developed a 3,000- tons-per-week feeding-stuffs mill at Belle Eau Park, thought to be the largest in Britain at the time. A chicken-packing plant was incorporated and the plan was to repeat the pattern of mill, packing plant and broiler houses in Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Carmarthenshire, North Yorkshire and Fife. However, planning permission was refused for these sites elsewhere in Britain although eventually there were 11,000 acres devoted to the business.

The chicken business was run by the company set up in 1945, J.B. Eastwood Ltd, which went public in 1959, with Eastwood advising all his many friends to buy shares rather than invest in their own farms. Egg units were added to the existing broiler units from 1963 and Eastwood came close to supplying 10 per cent of the national market for both chickens and eggs. He sold the poultry business for some pounds 40m to Imperial Tobacco in 1978 and also sold his private Thorganby Estate, south of York, for pounds 4m at about the same time.

Apart from producing cheaper chickens and eggs, and cheaper products which competed with them, Eastwood showed the way to integration in farming. His poultry business had buildings built by his civil engineering business, the farms themselves produced some of the feed through the company's own mills. Eventually he moved into marketing as well, taking over a large meat-importing business for the purpose.

Eastwood had begun supporting charitable works in west Nottinghamshire from early in the days of the expanded poultry business. He had a particular sympathy with the coal miners which endured from the days of the 1926 General Strike, and had taken many of them to work on the Romford contract for Adam Eastwood & Sons.

He was three times president of the Newark and Nottinghamshire Agricultural Show and provided the society with a number of large buildings as well as funds to encourage other aspects of the show. He was knighted in 1975 and appointed a deputy lieutenant of Nottinghamshire in 1981.

At various times, he was an important benefactor to the Farmers' Club in London, the Royal Agricultural Society in Warwickshire and the Glyndebourne Opera, in Sussex. He became virtually blind in his early sixties and this extended his charitable works into new fields, including the establishment of talking newspapers in his home county.

C. David Edgar

John Bealby Eastwood, farmer: born 9 January 1909; founder, W. & J.B. Eastwood Ltd 1945; chairman, Adam Eastwood & Sons Ltd 1946-95; Kt 1975; married 1929 Constance Tilley (died 1981; two daughters), 1983 Mrs Joan McGowan (died 1986); died Farnsfield, Nottinghamshire 6 August 1995.

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