Tony Duffield: Third generation to head top Norfolk milling group

A third-generation Norfolk flour and animal feed miller, Tony Duffield, has died peacefully at home aged 83 after a long illness.

He laid the foundations for the firm's rapid growth in the 1960s and 1970s at Saxlingham Thorpe mill, near Norwich, but later also took one of his most painful decisions to quit flour production in 1991. It ended the family's 101-year tradition of flour milling, which had been started by his grandfather, William C Duffield, at the Black Tower Mill, Mattishall. He ran mills at Tasburgh and Flordon and even a post mill at Topcroft before Saxlingham was acquired, for the first time, in 1910.

Hugh Anthony Duffield, always known as Tony, was born in Buxton in 1928 just four years after his grandfather had leased the mill. Then there were 62 mill businesses in East Anglia but today there are a handful.

Remarkably, in his entire life, he only moved about a mile as the crow flies from one end of the farm at Hautbois to Lammas, where he died.

He started as a tenant farmer on 160 acres with 12 dairy heifers but became more involved with milling. By May 1986, when he was elected president of the trade organisation, UKASTA (United Kingdom Agricultural Supply Trades' Association) at Eastbourne, the farm was then 360 acres and had pig and poultry enterprises.

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In his 50 years in milling, he was chairman and managing director of Duffields Group, when it had moved its head office from Buxton to Saxlingham in the 1960s as the business expanded. His younger son, Alastair, took Duffields on from the mid 1990s as a top independent animal feed supplier to farmers across eastern and southern Britain.

In 1965, Mr Duffield, then general manager, became chairman of a group of independent regional feed companies, which included Jordans of Biggleswade, and Dodson & Horrell, of Northampton. His vision for a large single modern animal feed and flour mill at Saxlingham was realised in 1969. And in May 1970, flour mills at Buxton and Tharston, near Long Stratton, were closed as �150,000 was invested to produce biscuit flours and other speciality products including stoneground for the wholesale trade.

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Determined to remain at the forefront of technology, he attended the world's leading milling conference at Kansas State University, USA, every year for almost 20 years, always accompanied by his wife Julia, who died almost two years ago.

His leadership as chairman of governors at Easton College for nine years until 1998 was crucial. When it gained independent status, its fortunes improve and an ambitious investment programme transformed the college. The �1.8m investment was the first in what became a �21m programme by the following decade.

To mark the centenary in 1990, it announced a new �1m investment and Duffields returned to the Royal Nor-folk Show after a near 20-year absence. Mr Duffield was keen to expand and in 1991, Horsford-based R Baxter & Son, was acquired and a dozen staff joined the group's 100-strong workforce.

In retirement, he kept closely in touch with the industry. Although wheelchair-bound for the past two years, he remained as active, lively and good company as possible.

He leaves five children, his oldest son, Tim, predeceased, and a dozen grandchildren. A family funeral will be held on Wednesday with burial at Lammas Church. A service of thanksgiving will be held on Friday, June 24 at St Andrew's Church, Buxton, at 2pm.Michael Pollitt

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