Old Cornwall Society talks about the history of Rodda’s Creamery

Photos from the Rodda’s Facebook page

By Helen Hocking:

Gathering as they always do on the last Monday of the month members of Bude, Stratton & District Old Cornwall Society welcomed their guest Speaker, Mr. Philip Rodda with warm applause.

Having travelled the length of the Duchy to be with them, it was duly satisfying to see the Parkhouse Centre room fit to bust with visitors and friends all hoping to learn something about the ‘History of Rodda’s Creamery’.

Mr. Rodda began with the showing of a short film, ‘Westcountry Dynasties’ made twenty years back and packed full of information on this most Cornish of families. At his request, it took no time at all for the audience to spot the serious editorial error a few minutes in, that being a cream tea made with jam on top! For every true Cornish person knows, jam goes first.

In the beginning, cream produced on the family farm was next to nought, compared to the 1500 tonnes sold across the world today. Exported as far abroad as China and Japan, it is also found as part of ‘in-flight meals’ on 90% of all the aircraft flying from Heathrow. Rodda’s supplies hotels, restaurants, pubs and supermarkets across Britain, as well as dairies, convenient stores and ships!

Stretching as far back as the 1800s, Rodda’s story started with a local need to diversify from mining, as the age of Cornish ore was coming to an end. Established by Grandparents who lived a life without running water, electricity supply, or bank credit, what was once a Welsh coal yard became a working farm. The Methodist faith stayed strong in the family, with principal beliefs that nothing was bought unless it could be paid for and to, ‘earn, save and give all you can’.

With the arrival of the Great Western Railway line, the new era economy swiftly arose, that being tourism. Before long, visitors in their droves, enthralled with the flavour of Cornish cream, wanted to take it home. With her ingenious idea, on how this product could be safely transported by rail, Philip’s Grandmother Fanny Rodda, aged 18, unknowingly discovered a process  of sterilisation in the year 1898, giving the ‘Cornish Gold’ inside air-tight glass jars, packed in straw for the journey, a shelf-life of up to 3 months. Over time this ‘cottage industry’ became big business, employing several local women. Still being made by hand, it was hard work, indeed, in a time when ‘Health and Safety’ protocol was yet to be invented.

During World War II,  the government declared cream to be a luxury food and the family were told they could no longer produce it. During this time the farm diversified further, in the form of ‘turkeys’, another Christmas favourite! Restrictions on cream were not lifted until 1953. In the 60s a new dairy was built to meet customer demand, the most famous of these being the late Queen Mother who went through half a pound of cream every week, gifted to her by the Duke of Cornwall.

In 1981 the Royal Family commissioned Rodda’s to provide cream for Charles’ and Diana’s wedding breakfast and recently, at the Royal Cornwall Show HM the Queen on her 90th Birthday, gave her personal seal of approval, by visiting the Rodda stand. These days, 70% of the British population opt for semi-skimmed milk and nearly all of that is homogenised, with not a trace of cream to be seen. Yet this exceptional fayre, with famous ‘crust’ as perfected by the family and described by one PM Gladstone as ”food of the gods” is as popular today as it’s always been.

As well as cream, the company now produce milk, butter, shortbread and fudge, supporting 60 workers,  many of them relatives. Uniquely Cornish the cream has protected status under European law, made in Cornwall with Cornish milk the 30 farms that provide milk to the Creamery being found within a 30-mile radius of the family farm. In line with environmental concerns about plastic, the company is currently looking into friendlier ways to package their goods.

If history is anything to go by Rodda’s will roll with the changes accordingly, in much the same way as they’ve always done, with humility, grace and a strong sense of Cornish identity. Funny and honest, with a colloquial ‘call and response’ technique worthy of any great teacher, Mr. Philip Rodda’s ‘talk’ was thoroughly enjoyed by all those present.

The next OCS event is that of a World War I Exhibition in conjunction with Bude Heritage Centre from the 8th – 27th Nov. at The Castle in Bude. Anybody interested in stewarding, please do contact Audrey, who would be very happy to hear from you. Furthermore, anyone wishing to sing ‘a part’ in the ‘Carols of the Stratton Hundred’ Advent celebrations, please be advised that the first rehearsal is scheduled for 12th Nov. 2 pm, at the Methodist Chapel in Poughill. For general enquiries please contact Hon. Secretary helenhocking@yahoo.co.uk

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