The life story of an Essex Boy
PUBLISHED: 17:21 10 January 2014 | UPDATED: 17:21 10 January 2014
Eric Hobbs' life story is played out across the county of Essex, and it really is quite a remarkable story. His recently-released book, all the proceeds of which will go to the Essex Air Ambulance, tells his tale with both photographs and words, and his experiences have allowed him to provide some insightful commentary on life past and present within the county.
Eric Hobbs was born in Herongate in Brentwood in 1935. When his father was called up to join the rifle regiment during the war, he went to live with his grandparents, whose land adjoined Thorndon Park. Eric regularly helped his grandfather on his smallholding and it was at this time that he began to nurture a love of farming.
After the war, his family relocated to West Horndon where they opened a fish shop, going on to open five in total across Brentwood, Grays, Romford and Dagenham. But Eric stayed on with his grandparents and attended Ingrave Junior School, where he excelled in cricket, but didn’t do quite as well academically.
At the age of 18, Eric signed up for National Service and, with a stroke of luck, earned a place in the RAF. After his initial, gruelling training in Lancashire, he was posted to North Weald Airfield, just outside Ongar, and he was more than happy to be back in Essex. While serving in the RAF, Eric found himself taking up the role of a car salesman, after showing an interest at a local dealership in Brentwood. He became known as the first port of call for senior officers looking for a nice vehicle, but when his service was complete, Eric turned his back on the car sales business and decided to venture into the field that he was truly passionate about – farming.
Eric made friends with young farmers across the county, including Margaret Doe from Ongar Young Farmers’ Club, and together they went into the fur farming business selling mink and chinchillas. The couple’s friendship developed, along with their business, and they eventually married and purchased their first proper farm at Ivy Lodge Farm.
It was here that Eric expanded his farming into growing fruit, namely blackcurrants. Disaster struck when a lucrative contract was pulled just as his 15-acre crop was ready to be picked. It was this turn of events that prompted Eric and Margaret to find a new market for their blackcurrants, and they did so by pioneering the first ever Pick Your Own scheme. People came from all over Essex in their thousands to pick and enjoy the Hobbs’ bumper crop.
Eric then took on Chapman’s Farm in Upminster (later renamed The Strawberry Farm) and it was this move that saw him develop an interest in horses. Eric and his family, including his four children, all became keen riders and were heavily involved in the East Essex Pony Club.
It seemed that life was treating the Hobbs family well; that was until their chickens were hit by fowl pest, not once but twice. It was another disaster that Eric somehow bounced back from, choosing to give up with chickens and instead purchasing a stock of rabbits to breed for meat. However, as Eric had come to learn, nothing is plain sailing in farming, and indeed in life, and his farm-reared rabbits soon fell victim to myxomatosis, which killed the rabbit trade completely.
Eric always found ways to earn a living though, even charging courting couples to tow their cars out of the mud when they found themselves stranded on Upminster Common, often earning himself a decent wage in the process.
In the 1960s Eric and his family moved once again, to the place they continue to call home, Earls Colne Airfield, as it was then. The airfield was in a poor state when they arrived and they had a lot to do to get the farm into a useable condition, including removing all of the concrete from the runways, which was in turn used to create the Marks Tey bypass. It took a great deal of hard work, including planting trees and picking up stones by hand across the acres of fields.
At the same time Eric began to help out local businesses, providing industrial premises for them on the request of Braintree District Council, and as the years went on Eric built more and more industrial units, turning Earls Colne Airfield into Earls Colne Business Park.
In 1986, a fire in a warehouse building which was housing Gerbers’ produce, saw the Hobbs family facing bankruptcy, with the threat of being sued for a massive £500,000. But rather than sit back and let the lawsuit destroy him, Eric kept on doing what he did best, developing and diversifying, and that was how the Earls Colne Golf and Country Club, now known as The Essex, was born.
Throughout all of his business ups and downs, Eric has also raised a large family, with grandchildren and great grandchildren. His book was originally written to provide his family with some background about his early life, as well as some pearls of wisdom to help them along.
But Eric is, and has always been, a firm supporter of the Essex Air Ambulance, which is based at Earls Colne Business Park. He is very passionate about the work that this charity does and appreciates that any one of us could need their help at any time. This is why Eric chose to offer all of the proceeds from his book to this worthy charity, going a small way to keeping the helicopters in the air.