Small Owners Limited was incorporated on 6 February 1911 by brothers George Harold Humphrey and Leonard John Humphrey. On 30 April 1912 George was on the board as managing director, the other board members were Sir John F L Rolleston MP (Chairman), D M Milner (Solicitor) and Bevil Tollemache (Secretary) (1889-1914). While Leonard was the company's technical advisor. A year later the directors had changed, Robert Hamilton-Edwards had become chairman and George Humphrey was the only original director remaining.
The Humphrey family came from Coggeshall in Essex, in 1901 Leonard was a horticultural student, while his elder brother George Harold Humphrey (1882 - 1950) worked for his mother as a draper's assistant. Ten years later George was the manager of an opera company.
December of that year they fought an unsuccessful court fight against the publlication Smallholder, which had renamed itself Smallholder and Smallowner. The judge rejected Small Owners' claim that it adversely affected their business (Times 2.12.1911).
Small Owners bought the 313 acre Fairby Farm estate on 29 Feburary 1912 for £12,750, although they had already been advertising land for sale here in October the year before. On 27 May 1913 they added the 588 acre Hartley Manor and Hartley Court estates. This meant they owned over three-quarters of Hartley, the only sizeable parts they did not own were New House Farm and the Payne and Trapps Estate at Wellfield.
The Company borrowed heavily to finance the scheme. The £1,728 sale price for a large block of land in Gorsewood Road went entirely to the lenders, Smallowners did not see a penny of it. By the time Jane Foote Maxton took over the company they still owed £24,000 when the original mortgages were for £33,000.
One of the main creditors was a director of the company Robert Hamilton Edwards. In 1919 he became joint owner of one of the main Irish newspapers the Freeman's Journal. At first those in favour of independence were worried because of his connections to Lord Northcliffe, the owner of the Daily Mail, but Mr Hamilton Edwards quickly became a vociferous supporter. His friend T P O'Connor MP said of him. "He is a Welshman. He was formerly member of a Conservative Club in the City. He went over to Ireland, and, instead of going from light to darkness, from the National Liberal Club to the Constitutional or the Junior Carlton, he fell into the hospitable embraces of the national cause in Ireland, and, like many Englishmen who have gone over there, he has become more Irish than the Irish themselves." (Hansard HC 7.12.1920). He was imprisoned by the British military in 1920 after the Freeman's Journal published reports of brutality by the authorities. He became bankrupt in 1922 which meant that as an asset, his mortgages over the Small Owners land were sold.
Land Mortgage Secured Against
Memorandum of Deposit
Barclays Bank Limited
Mortgage to secure £10,500 charged on Fairby Farm Estate in parishes of Hartley, Longfield, Fawkham, and Ash, comprising 313a 3r 0p with the cottages and outbuildings thereon
Robert Hamilton Edwards, esquire
106 Ashley Gardens, London SW
Mortgage to secure £1,000 on lands in Great Leigh and Black Notley, Essex
David Norton Nicholen
Further charge to secure £2,500 with 6% pa on Fairby Farm Estate, with exception of parts sold with consent of mortgagee
Robert Hamilton Edwards, gentleman
37 Parkside, Knightsbridge, London SW
Mortgage of £5,000 at 5% pa on 194a 2r 39p at Winklebury, Basingstoke, Hants
Robert Hamilton Edwards
Mortgage pursuant to order of Kings Bench Division of High Court dated 18.6.1913 for £16,000 secured on land at Hartley and Longfield (588a 2r 15p) called Hartley Manor and Hartley Court, Hartley Manor with fee farm rents of £2.2.8
Robert Hamilton Edwards
Consolidation of all mortgages to R H Edwards
Robert Hamilton Edwards
Mortgage and further charge to secure £3,850 on land at Hartley Green having frontage to Ash Road of 109 feet and rest of hereditaments previously described
Robert Hamilton Edwards
Sub-mortgage to secure £14,000 on the security of the mortgages to Robert Hamilton Edwards of which £25,040 6s 7d was still owing
Equity & Law Life Assurance Society
Robert Hamilton Edwards adjudged bankrupt by High Court of Southern Ireland
Sub-mortgage transferred by Equity & Law Life Assurance Society to Grace Margaret Joephine Curtis, Oswald Leo Chamberlain and Ignatius John Saxton for £1,496 12s, said to be the amount owing on the mortgage
Transfer of mortages dated 26.3.1914 and 27.7.1914 on which £24,170 is owing, by Alfred George Hollinshead and henry Johnston to Jane Foote Maxton. No details of consideration.
Redemption of submortgage to Grace Curtis etc
Memorandum of satisfaction of all mortgages
Conveyance of remaining property of Small Owners Limited at Hartley to Jane Foote Maxton, in consideration of the £6,860 owing on the mortgages, which will be redeemed as a result
Their aim was to split Hartley up into smallholdings or house plots. The way they split up the old farms has had enormous influence on the shape of modern Hartley. Leonard Humphrey described the process in 1914:
The offer of the land in small areas attracted applicants of almost every class, some 40 of whom took up holdings of from 3 to 10 acres. All these holders agreed to purchase their holdings, to become small owners, in fact, either by an immediate cash payment, or by means of deferred payments on the annuity system. Ownership is preferred for a number of reasons, but principally in the case of the smallholder because of the value which his own labour, and the natural growth of his fruit trees, adds to the property, a value which is with difficulty realised under a tenancy system.
Small Owners didn't just sell the plots, but they set up the necessary support for the new smallholders. They did stress though that they were a commercial concern not a charity. Leonard Humphrey again:
The first step taken, after the purchase of the farm, was the establishment of a central depot which might become the organisation centre of all the holdings. For this purpose the existing farm buildings were utilised, and they now form what is generally and familiarly known as the Depot. The depot was equipped with farm implements of almost every useful kind, including ploughs, harrows, carts, wagons, sprayers for fruit trees, weighing machines and fruit baskets. An oil engine in one of the barns was employed for the grinding of corn, root cutting, oat crushing and chaff cutting. The depot was placed in charge of a farm manager, in whose office was installed the telephone. The manager was instructed to do all in his power to enable the holders to become successful. The farm staff, implements and horses under his control were to be hired out to the smallholders at fixed rates, and he was also to cultivate the land which was not taken up by smallholders. Advice of all kinds was free, but assistance had to be paid for. The farm manager was also to undertake the disposal of all kinds of produce, and to advise on the best markets for the purpose.
All these facilities were immediately taken advantage of to an extraordinary extent, day after day the office was visited by smallholders who either wanted work done on their holdings or advice on some question of cultivation. A full staff is now continually employed. The depot frequently acts a labour exchange, one smallholder being employed to work on his neighbour’s holding whenever slackness of work or shortness of money makes such arrangements necessary or desirable. No smallholder has ever been unable to obtain work through this agency. The result of the establishment of this well equipped depot is that no smallholder owns a farm horse, a plough or any of the heavier or more expensive farm implements, and he has had no need to build a stable or implement shed. It is estimated that the total saving of capital to the smallowner is at least £50 per holding. There is no loss of cultivating power. There is even a gain, as the implements at the central depot are well maintained, frequently renewed, and consequently more efficient than those in the possession of a holder of a few acres could possibly be.
The company claimed great success for the scheme, both at Hartley and their other smaller estates at Black Notley, Essex and Winklebury, Hants. For some involved with the company there was a political angle. Both Rolleston and Tollemache were Conservatives, who saw this scheme as a non-socialist way to widen land ownership. George Humphrey's politics appear to be different, as he unsuccessfully stood as Independent Labour in the 1918 General Election at Tynemouth.
A good many articles were written about the Fairby Scheme (see separate page)
The company faded from the scene in 1915, although they still owned land at Hartley until 1928. However the farming business was transferred as well as the site of Springroft, to the Rural Development Company set up by George Humphreys and the majority shareholder Cuthbert Archibald Lambton of Hartley Court. This company folded in 1919.
In the 1920s a new person comes into the story of Small Owners Limited, Scottish businesswoman Jane Foote Maxton. She became director and company secretary of Small Owners Ltd, while her younger brother David Maxton was also a director. She also acquired in 1924 the outstanding mortgages that Smallowners had taken out. On 30 January 1928 the company transferred all its remaining assets to Jane. This was effectively the end of Small Owners, but it was not until 6 Febuary 1931 that it was formally removed from the register of companies.