Sir Richard Powell Cooper Bt. 1847 – 1913
Creator of Frinton-on-Sea
Captain of Industry
Farmer to the World
On the 17th January 1893, Richard Powell Cooper purchased land in Frinton-on-Sea intending to take over and continue the development begun in 1886 by Peter Schuyler Bruff and The Marine and General Land, Building and Investment Company Limited.
Progress over the previous seven years had been slow but the new owner, with a clear vision of creating “a high class and select watering place”, set about selling off plots of land so that on his death twenty years later there was established a modern town “full of vitality and rich in the promise of even greater extensions in the future”.
Richard Powell Cooper, the son of Henry Cooper of Clunbury, Aston-on-Clun, Shropshire, was born on the 21st September 1847. He was educated privately and, after studying at the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, obtained his M.R.C.V.S. in 1868. This course had been taken because his uncle, William Cooper of Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, a manufacturer of veterinary products, having no children of his own, had arranged with their father that Richard and his elder brother, William Farmer, should both qualify as veterinary surgeons in order ultimately to participate in his business.
While William joined his uncle in Berkhamsted, Richard established a veterinary practice in Lichfield, Staffordshire and in 1872 married Elizabeth Alice, daughter of Elias Ashmole Ashmall of Hammerwich near Lichfield. The 1881 Census shows the family living at 52, Bore Street, Lichfield. They had two sons and three daughters and in 1889 moved four miles away from Lichfield to a large house and estate, Shenstone Court. Extended in 1900, it was to be the family home for all their lives.
Meanwhile, Richard’s younger brother Herbert Henry, who studied Law at London University, had joined the family business, which was re-named William Cooper and Nephews.
In 1882, on the death of his older brother William at the early age of 37 years, Richard began his association with the firm while still retaining his practice in Lichfield. He travelled to Berkhamsted for one day each week until the death of his uncle in 1885 when the visits increased to three days a week. Six years later, at the age of 41 years, Herbert dies leaving Richard sole owner of the Berkhamsted business.
At this point a brief history of Coopers of Berkhamsted is useful to understand the source of Richard’s wealth. In the 1840’s as a veterinary surgeon practising in Berkhamsted, Richard’s uncle, William Cooper, would have been well aware of sheep scab, a disease giving great problems to sheep farmers. He began experimenting and developed a sheep dip containing arsenic and sulphur, which by 1843 he began manufacturing on a commercial basis. The business was very successful and left so little time for his veterinary practice that he gave this up in 1852. By then he had erected a factory in the centre of Berkhamsted for the production of sheep dip.
During the early years William single handedly did all the planning, selling and advertising together with the clerical work and accounts. He set up a printing department to produce his own posters and labels.
By 1865 his nephew William had joined the firm, sales increased, new buildings were acquired and extra staff taken on. The 1870’s saw the start of overseas trade and the establishment of agencies in many parts of the world. In 1880 when the second nephew Herbert entered the business, another factory had been built and at the age of 67 years, William began to leave the active work of management to his nephews and took on a supervisory roll. William Cooper died in 1885. As a much respected figure, all his 120 employees accompanied his coffin to the family vault in Berkhamsted Cemetery.
During the late nineteenth century increasing imports of refrigerated meat from the United States, South America and Australia, cheap wheat from America and wool from Australia brought about great hardship for British agriculture. Because of these changes William Cooper and Nephews became even more involved with trade overseas and had branches or agencies in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, South America and Russia.
In 1895, when he became 21, Richard’s eldest son, Richard Ashmole, joined the firm. He was keen to diversify rather than have the fortunes of the business tied up in one product and so he initiated research into new lines. Two outstanding achievements were a fluid dip, which would penetrate the greasy fleeces of Russian sheep, and a liquid dip for controlling sheep tick in South Africa. He also organised the installation of a revolutionary machine for wrapping and weighing the packets of dip.
In 1911, Richard was granted the Royal Warrant, entitling him to exhibit the Royal Arms as a supplier of sheep dip to the Sovereign. That same year Richard’s younger son William Francis took over the management of the Cooper Research Laboratories. In 1925 the firm amalgamated to form the Public Company of Cooper, McDougall and Robertson Limited, manufacturing a wide range of agricultural and veterinary products. This was in turn acquired by the Wellcome Foundation in 1959.
But Richard had more than a commercial interest in the battle of the farmer against sheep and cattle pests. Through the firm’s worldwide connections much was done to benefit not only his own business but also farming and agriculture in general. By 1901 he owned a quarter of a million acres throughout the world for his various farming enterprises, including three farms in Africa, a sheep station in New South Wales and two estancias in South America. He was one of the foremost importers and exporters of pedigree livestock and such was his success as a breeder and exhibitor of sheep and cattle that he had many prizewinners amongst his herds.
In the United Kingdom his farms were based at Shenstone, Berkhamsted and the Napwell Estate near Cambridge. He was a member of upwards of fifty agricultural and breed societies, some of them abroad. He was made an honorary member of both the Argentine Agricultural Society and the Imperial Agricultural Society of Russia.
In 1903 he made a major contribution to a very valuable scheme for the provision of food in times of war. He was a governor of Harper Adams Agricultural College in Shropshire and Chairman of the Agricultural Research Committee of Birmingham University, while his interest in the Staffordshire Agricultural Society led to his becoming its President. He was elected the Staffordshire representative on the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society in 1905 and later became its Vice President. He had much to do with making the changes that led to its increased prosperity.
Towards the end of his life he turned his attention to political work in connection with English agriculture. It is therefore not surprising that in 1905 he was created a Baronet for his services to agriculture. While Richard devoted most of his life and a great deal of his fortune to agriculture and livestock farming he gave much of his time to public service. In Lichfield he was returned as Conservative candidate on the City Council and later elected an alderman. He became a governor of the Grammar School and was made a director of Lichfield City Brewery Company, becoming its chairman in 1892. In the same year he was elected a member of the Staffordshire County Council for the Rural Division of Lichfield which constituency he represented until his death. He became a J.P., Deputy Lieutenant and in 1901 High Sheriff of Staffordshire. He had also been gazetted as Veterinary Lieutenant to the Staffordshire Imperial Yeomanry and held the position for 18 years.
Described as one of the shrewdest businessmen of his day, always employing competent managers, Richard’s aptitude for things on an enterprising, even vast, scale developed to a remarkable degree. He controlled the arsenic mines of Cornwall and was proprietor of the Anglo-Peninsula Mining Chemical Company, Portugal.
Together with Sir Gilbert Greenall, he purchased Olympia, one of London’s most famous show places. In the late 1880’s Richard and his brother Herbert became involved in development projects in Clacton so he would have been well placed to take over Frinton from Peter Bruff and his ailing Company.
While the early development of Frinton is the subject of a separate study, it is interesting to observe a little of what Richard Powell Cooper had bought. The population of Frinton in 1891 had been only 75 and it would not have grown much by the time contracts were exchanged in January 1893. Contemporary plans show that much of the Esplanade had been laid out together with Station Road (now Connaught Avenue), Harold Road, Cromwell Road (now Queens Road) and all the then unnamed roads in the east leading up to Pole Barn Lane. This lane, Wittonwood Lane and Old Road, all meeting at the Railway Gates, had been in existence for some time while older buildings present were St Mary’s Church (now known as the Old Church), Frinton Hall, the Wick Farmhouse (now the Library), the Rectory and a few cottages, mainly in Old Road. Recently constructed public buildings included a Railway Station, Public Hall, Hotel, College, Post Office and a handful of shops.
In 1892 the number of houses was given as 58. Of these, the newer ones were in the main along the Esplanade, Harold Road and Wittonwood Lane. All of the undeveloped farmland to the west of Station Road was included in the purchase and three years later Richard bought more land on this side of Frinton for his son Richard Ashmole Cooper. Peter Bruff’s 1886 legal covenants and restrictions were upheld and strict guidelines were set out regarding the cost of houses to be erected on the plots of land. A surveyor was appointed to supervise the layout of the new town while Richard’s brother-in-law, Charles Ashmall, moved into the Wick Farmhouse as the estate agent organising the sale of plots.
In 1910 the Cooper Estate Office was built on the corner of Upper Fourth and Fourth Avenues. One of the major developments was the laying out of the Golf Club of which Richard was President. He provided land for the Tennis and Cricket Clubs and enabled football and hockey to be played on the Greensward. This area of land stretching over a mile in length along the seafront was ceded forever in trust as an open space to the newly formed Frinton Urban District Council in 1901.
A keen sportsman, Richard enjoyed the country pursuits of hunting, shooting and, to a lesser extent, fishing. Horses were always his greatest pleasure. In his 50’s he won the lightweight race in the South Staffordshire point-to-point two years running. He took keen interest in the South Staffordshire Hounds and owned large areas of first class shooting in the Midlands. His moor was at Stanhope Castle in County Durham. As this was only about 15 miles from Upper Teesdale it might provide a clue as to why families from that area migrated in the 1890’s and early 1900’s to Frinton and surrounding district.
During 1913, although still actively pursuing his business and other interests, Richard was not in the best of health and when in July he caught a chill, pneumonia and further complications ensued. He died on the 30th July 1913 in Berkhamsted where he was buried three days later. Among those present at the funeral was a representative of the tenants and employees of Frinton and Great Holland Estate and a floral tribute was sent by the Committee of the Frinton Golf Club. Newspaper obituaries described him as “the biggest farmer in the world” and spoke of his having been “held in the highest esteem and regard not only for his personal character but also for his great services in countless directions and particularly in agriculture”.
Writing in 1960 Dr. Francis Ashmole Cooper said of his grandfather Sir Richard Powell Cooper: “At the age of 43, through the double chance of the childlessness and untimely deaths of his two brothers, he found himself the sole proprietor of a large and expanding business. In the next 22 years, under his direction, it went from strength to strength and before his death he enjoyed an income which, taking account of the low taxation and high value of money in those days, would be today quite astronomical. This seems, however, to have had no effect on his character. He never smoked, he drank but little, and that of the very best. He rose and retired early and seemed to possess a burning, vital energy. He was described as one of the shrewdest businessmen of his day and had a great sense of purpose in his life, but like many such he was very generous in directions in which he thought it was deserved. He had competent managers in his business and gave them full responsibility and devoted about half his time to the direction of it and the other half to the other ruling passion – livestock farming, and to public service in connection with it”.
Jane E. Caddick, Frinton-on-Sea, June 2000
Kelly’s Directories of Essex
The Frinton and Walton Directories (1914)
Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage (1967)
Lichfield Mercury (August 1913)
Frinton-on-Sea by Patrick Ogilvy Macdonald M.A. (1909)
Berhamsted. An Illustrated History by Scott Hastie (1999)
William Cooper – The Founder of a Great Industry by Dr. Francis Ashmole Cooper (1960)
Mary Colverson of Shenstone
Kenneth Walker of Colchester
Councillor Philip Gibbs of Berkhamsted
Matthew Wheeler, Curator, Dacorum Heritage Trust, Berkhamsted
Durham County Record Office and Archives
Frinton and Walton Heritage Trust.
© 2000 Jane E. Caddick
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