Farm History

The Express Dairy Company

As you travel towards Finchley from Golders Green two fields rise gently up a slope, topped by the same five gabled red brick farm buildings that Sir George Barham, founder of the Express Dairy Company, built in 1883. This is College Farm, although the farmland is much reduced, today it still remains and long may it do so, for this is a breath of country in a landscape once totally agricultural but now totally urbanised.

express dairy flyerCollege Farm was mentioned as long ago as 1302, then known as Sheephouse Farm, the owner Henry De Byke, Lord of the Manor of Bibsworth, Finchley, grazed sheep there and collected the taxes on staples of wool for the whole Shire of Middlesex. The Express Dairy Company bought Sheephouse Farm in the 1860’s and rechristened it College Farm because from every field you could see the copper tops of Christs College in Hendon Lane, Finchley. Sir George Barham commissioned renowned architect Frederick Chancellor to draw up plans for a new model dairy farm on this land he had bought. This was to be a model to the dairy industry to promote hygiene, as at the time it was not a high priority in the London dairies. It was built by Steed Brothers of Camden in 1883 for £4,942

The farm was stocked with Guernsey , Shorthorn and Kerry cattle, 40 in total. There were 4 Shire horses and many roundsmen horses. The farm then opened to the public daily as a public relations venture to show the customers and the dairy industry the clean, healthy environment that the Express Dairy cows lived in.

College Farm was soon one of the sights of London. It was both a centre for Victorian family outings and a venue for visits by dairy trade experts from home and abroad. College Farm provided foundation stock for Guernsey herds all over the world, as many improvements to this breed were pioneered at College Farm. Besides for the cattle, College Farm itself became known all over the world as Sir George Barham travelled to countries such as the U.S.A., India and Jamaica, to demonstrate the working of a model dairy using the farm as an example.

The most important function of College Farm was that it was, first and foremost, a public relations exercise and shop window for the whole dairy industry, conceived long before the phrase “public relations” had ever been invented. Its contribution to London’s supply was quite small in quantity but its importance was great as a showplace of all that was newest and best in dairy livestock and equipment.

Sir George Barham was a man in many ways ahead of his time. He was innovative and a great many firsts were pioneered at College Farm.

  • 1883 College Farm was the first working farm open to the public.
  • 1884 One of the early experiments at College Farm was the production of ‘nursery’ milk distributed in bottles, this was the first use of bottled milk in London and probably in Britain.
  • Late 19th Century,The swedish De Lavel cream separator was the first brought to College Farm for trials and the Express Dairy Company bought the British rights.
  • 1894 College Farm was the first dairy farm to be used for conventions and exhibition, such as the Public Health and Sanitary Congress in 1894.
  • 1921 Following the formation of the National Clean Milk Society, College Farm became the first Tuberculin tested dairy, again setting the standards for other suppliers.
  • 1929 College Farm was the first installation of the ‘sealcone’ machine (outside the US) used to put milk into waxed paper cartons, for trials in North London. After the trial period 3 out of 4 housewives voted against it. The Express had been 30 years ahead of there time!
  • 1936 The first school for roundsmen was established at College Farm.
  • Mid 20th Century, College Farm was the first (outside the US) to intall the Davies-Watkins automatic bottle filling machine.

Original architechs drawing by Frederic Chancellor 1882

Original architechs drawing by Frederic Chancellor 1882

After the Second World War the Express Dairy decided to dispose of most of their farms in the London area. College Farm however was destined to survive as a model of dairying, a sentimental talisman of the group and fine piece of public relations, less than five miles from Central London. A past Chairman of the Express Dairy, Walter Nell said in 1964 ‘When I became it’s chairman I resolved that we should revert to the system of preserving all which might be of future interest’

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