Oral History Recording: Ian Millward

We were particularly interested to meet Ian Millward at the Dairy Days launch event last April. It turned out that he once managed the Creamery in Hawes and he brought along a wonderful collection of objects and photographs from his days there. We were obviously very keen to record his memories so volunteer Sally Stone arranged to meet up with him last August.

Ian Millward at the Dairy Days launch event
Ian Millward at the Dairy Days launch event

Ian began work in Hawes in 1983 and managed the factory there until it was closed by its then owners, Dairy Crest, in 1992. He had a workforce of well over seventy, both men and women, although each had specific roles to play in the dairy.

“…the women were mainly on the production side for making miniature cheese and also for making butter for local sales.”
Ian Millward, formerly of The Creamery in Hawes, now retired

Sally asks him about the types of cheese produced by the factory in the 1980s. Interestingly, they were not just making Wensleydale cheese as the following audio clip reveals. Sally also asks him about production and local sales of the famous one pound ‘Baby’ Wensleydale cheese:

Baby Wensleydale Cheese labels. 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward
Baby Wensleydale Cheese labels. 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward
Newspaper advert for Baby Wensleydale cheeses. Courtesy of Ian Millward
Newspaper advert for Baby Wensleydale cheeses. Unknown date. Courtesy of Ian Millward

Ian isn’t quite sure how much of the cheese they made was sold locally and how much went further afield:

“I would say that at least half of the production went into local sales [the rest went to the supermarket chain and abroad, a lot going to the States and Canada?] Yes, that was for the one pound cheese, the baby cheese. We did make a lot of traditional cloth-bound Wensleydale… they were a traditional feature of Wensleydale cheese. Some were waxed, which meant that they would probably keep a bit longer, but one of the local sales was for unwaxed cheese, just bound in cloth.”

Wrapping traditional Wensleydale cheeses in cloth. 1950s. Courtesy of Mary Dinsdale
Wrapping traditional Wensleydale cheeses in cloth. 1950s. Courtesy of Mary Dinsdale
Wensleydale Cheese waxed and ready for sale. 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward
Wensleydale Cheese waxed and ready for sale. 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward

Cheese production was the main business of the Creamery but in Ian’s day butter was still being made on the premises:

“We did have a butter packing operation, on a very small scale, but there was a local demand for what [I] can only describe as home-made butter…my predecessor at the Creamery had some equipment made specially because the old equipment was getting worn out. He had some blending equipment made, to handle this small packing operation, but again, when the crunch came and the Creamery closed, the butter operation went with it.”

Shaping and packaging butter at the Creamery. 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward
Shaping and packaging butter at the Creamery. 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward
Butter blender, specially made to mix fresh butter with whey butter. Courtesy of Ian Millward
Butter blender, specially made to mix fresh butter with whey butter. Courtesy of Ian Millward

Sally asks Ian about where the milk for the Creamery came from in the following audio clip. He confirms that it was all locally produced at that time, with any surplus that they couldn’t handle going back to the main Dairy Crest facility in Northallerton:

The daily round of cheese production and packing at the Creamery started in the early hours of the morning as Ian describes in the following audio clip:

Ian supplied us with a series of publicity shots showing some of the various stages in the production of cheese at the factory in the 1980s. Just like today, there was a lot of manual labour involved. The process starts with the vat being filledwith warm milk and the bacterial starter culture. It finishes with the cheese packed into cardboard boxes, ready to be shipped out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As demonstrated in the photographs, the production of cheese was a highly specialised process, necessarily undertaken in very clean conditions to prevent contamination. The Creamery had its own laboratory but also took part in a national grading scheme to assure quality as Ian describes in the following audio clip:

Testing product at the Creamery. 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward
Testing product at the Creamery. 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward

Ian clearly took great pride in the quality of the cheese they produced at the Creamery and often entered it into competitions particularly the huge cheese and dairy show at Nantwich which we visited ourselves last year – see the blog post Cheese competitions – now and then.

They did well, winning many cards and trophies including being outright winners in 1988.

“We used to exhibit from the Creamery at the National Dairy Show which was usually held in London. Eventually, this fell by the wayside, but t’take its place, Nantwich Show started up a cheese section, which developed into one of the main sections for the dairy industry. And we, at Hawes, had some success with our cheese and certainly had won some silverware for our cheese, which could have been Wensleydale or Cheshire, our two main types of cheese that we produced. [So you were competing with the rest of the country?] Oh, very much so, I mean, competition was pretty fierce amongst creameries, in particular for the acid-type cheese, which again, was Wensleydale and the Cheshire. And because the manufacturers of these cheese were not just confined to the Milk Marketing Board, or t’Dairy Crest, it was open to the whole of the trade, so the competition was extremely fierce.”

In May 1992 owners Dairy Crest decided to close the factory down. Some of Ian’s senior staff were moved to other creameries while the decision was being made, but fifty-nine people lost their jobs. 

Ian stayed on temporarily to help his workers relocate or find other work in the area, but that was the end of his involvement with the Creamery:

“…a job-shop was established on the site which was run independently by Dairy Crest, to help staff with any problems that they had in either relocating or finding a fresh job in the area, which itself was quite a difficult operation” 

Staff at the Creamery in the 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward
Staff at the Creamery in the 1980s. Courtesy of Ian Millward

Six month’s later, six of the original senior managers teamed up with a local businessman and organised the famous management buy-out which placed the Creamery on course to become the thriving business and major local employer it is today. 

Read more about the history of the Creamery and its current operations on the Wensleydale Creamery website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.