Neville Hitcham: Played key role in turning Great Yarmouth agricultural merchant into national concern

Neville Hitcham who has died aged 80

Neville Hitcham who has died aged 80 - Credit: Submitted

One of the country's oldest established agricultural merchants was transformed during the stewardship of Neville Hitcham, who has died aged 80 after a long illness.

In his 63 years with J & H Bunn, of Great Yarmouth, it became the country's largest independent fertiliser importer and producer. Established in 1816, it evolved from a small animal feedstuff and grain trading business to having manufacturing sites from Falmouth, Cornwall, to Montrose, Scotland.

Born in Ormesby St Michael, he joined the firm aged 15 in 1948 as a junior grain trader under the tutelage of the eponymous Wallace Bunn, and soon became a popular fixture at corn halls across the county and also in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

After National Service, he rose rapidly during the business. His quick mind, easy manner and engaging repartee resulted in the formation of lifelong trading relationships and deep personal friendships among the farming community. His quips and sayings could rapidly defuse a tricky trading situation or close a deal. 'There's no smoke without salmon' and 'a bid (sic) in the hand is worth two in the bush' were among his favourites.

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In the late 1960s, J & H Bunn, already Yarmouth's oldest established business, reacted to the threat posed by then giant, ICI Fertilisers to dominate the market. Mr Hitcham and his fellow directors took prompt action and imported a cargo of 20:10:10 fertiliser from Holland through the port. They broke the stranglehold and became a serious competitor, which quickly attracted orders from farmers in Norfolk. That first shipment, delivered to Gorleston, led to J & H Bunn starting the Big A fertiliser spreading service.

Later he became a non-executive director of Sentry, when that business left the stock market. He saw it grow to be recognised as one of the country's leading arable farming businesses.

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A member of the Worshipful Company of Farmers and the Farmers' Club in London, he served on the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association's council for many years and was also a member of Stalham Farmers' Club.

He enjoyed sport, especially golf. He was a pas captain of Caister Golf Club and organised many matches between farmers and traders over the years. Shooting was another love and he was a long-standing member of the Blickling syndicate.

He enjoyed cricket and liked to attend test matches at Lords eventually becoming a member of the MCC. In the summer season, he was proud to be a member of the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.

He married Shirley in 1967, living in Gorleston and they had two sons together, Miles & Jeremy, the latter of whom succeeded him in the business.

He supported Shirley's dress shop often stepping round the products of her buying expeditions at their Gorleston home.

He was quietly thrilled about her foray into the media spotlight as an early and glamorous participant on Sale of the Century, when she won a dishwasher, an uncommon luxury at the time.

After living at Rollesby, they moved to Gillingham House, near Beccles, and enjoyed holidays in Cyprus together, where they had purchased a villa.

After Shirley's death in 2006, he met Beverley and they married in 2009. Two years later, while on holiday in Minorca, he suffered a stroke and following other complications died on October 19.

He is survived by Beverley, sons Miles and Jeremy and three grandchildren, Millie, Clemmie and Jemima, and stepdaughter Marina.

A funeral has taken place.

Michael Pollitt

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