The seeds for our endeavour were planted 90 years ago, in the Great Depression, by my maternal grandfather, William (Bill) Alford.
William was a tenant farmer in the tiny village of Exton, in south Devon. Having fought in, and survived, the major military encounters of the First World War, he returned to his beloved village, looking for peace and a chance to build a better future for his children.
As a poor tenant farmer, his prospects were not good in the early 1920’s. But he did know his landlord, Lord Rolle. Lord Rolle had been William’s regimental commander in the First World War. Lord Rolle had been moved by the way my grandfather cared for the horses on the frontlines. These unfortunate animals pulled the guns in to position. They died by the hundreds of thousands, along with the men.
On the day before he died, Lord Rolle told my grandfather that he was going to gift half the farm to my grandfather in this will. Lord Rolle died a day after talking with my grandfather about this. The bequest came through though. It gave my grandfather a chance, and he took it.
Slowly, William improved yields from the farm and created a future for my mother, uncles and aunty. But the Great Depression soon followed, ruining so many lives. William was appalled by the suffering he saw around him. He decided he had to do something. “People have got to eat. Right?”
Each morning, when William delivered food to people in the village, he would quietly walk to the doors of people who had no work, or no way of paying for food. He’d leave a bag with eggs, milk, bread and butter.
He never told anyone what he was doing.
It didn’t take long for people to work out who was leaving the gifts of food.
No one approached my grandfather about these gifts. They knew he was a quiet man and he didn’t want attention.
Throughout his life, my grandfather worked for local and regional charities, helping those who had fallen on hard times.
As a young boy, my greatest delight was to stay at the farm during summer holidays. I couldn’t wait to wake up in the morning. I would run down the meadow as fast as I could to make the 5am milking.
If I was lucky, I got to fill up the milk bottles and stamp on the lids. If I was even luckier, I was allowed to go with the milkman/woman on early morning food deliveries.
During these deliverers, I retraced the steps my grandfather took all those years before during the Great Depression.
Unknown to me at the time, I was delivering milk, eggs, butter and bread to the same people my grandfather had helped in the Depression. When the villagers found out I was William Alford’s grandson, the smiles on their faces were like acres of sunflowers on a summer’s day.
I could never understand why people in that village were so friendly. The woman who owned the sweet shop under-charged me for sweets on a regular basis. Sometimes, I told her she had made a mistake with her addition. On these occasions she just smiled at me.
My grandfather was never a wealthy man. When the died in 1974, my family planned a modest funeral for him at one of the local churches. Friends of my grandfather asked my grandmother if they might help her organize a ceremony at a larger venue. They approached the Bishop of Exeter.
William’s funeral was held at the great Gothic Cathedral of Exeter. There wasn’t an empty seat in the cathedral that day. People stood around the edges of the nave to hear the eulogy.
William Alford didn’t leave a lot of material wealth to his children. But the seed of his legacy are with me every day. It was my inheritance and the motivation to start 48Hour Food and 48Food Club.
Simon Trevelyan (Founder and Executive Director)