Apple years at Cockayne Hatley 1929-1946: the history of Coxes Orange Pippin Orchards ("Copo") at Cockayne Hatley 1929 - 1946 and its creator Mr Alexander Whitehead by Anthony Crossley
In this interesting booklet Mr Crossley records the development of the apple orchards in Cockayne Hatley under Mr Alexander Whitehead. Within ten years they became the largest apple orchards in Europe. This enterprise made quite an impact on the village and by the late 1930s more than 200 people were employed in the orchards.
Alexander Whitehead was born in1876 and purchased the Cockayne Hatley Estate when he was 53. Prior to this venture he had had a colourful career. He had worked his passage to the USA as a young man and then returned to England to manufacture aircraft, raise chickens, build houses and a night club!
Mr Whitehead was an unusual entrepreneur as he used a form of pyramid selling to build his orchards. He invited people to become 'tree holders' for a subscription and encouraged existing tree holders to recruit others to the scheme. Unusual or not, the scheme worked and by 1936 he offered 500,000 trees for planting. In the period 1933-1939 enough money had been subscribed to enable more than 1000 acres of orchards to be planted.
Mr Whitehead was also an enlightened employer as he paid good wages to his staff, cared for his workers and encouraged trade unionism. He turned a blind eye to a certain amount of apple scrumping by local people and provided two acres of land to be used by his workers as allotments.
During the war the apples were still produced but there was more emphasis on other crops. Mr Whitehead also began to be rather short of capital and had to mortgage large parts of the estate. Following bad frosts and poor crops in 1946 the orchards and the estate were sold to the Co-operative Wholesale Society. The orchards operated until 1974 when they became uneconomic and the trees were taken up.