MILK: The Milk Marketing Board & the 'Milk Crisis'


In the 1920s, dairy farmers were facing troubled times: throughout the decade, milk production exceeded demand; prices continually fell and many farms were forced to close.

Overview

The Milk Marketing Board (MMB) was established in 1933, at a time when thousands of dairy farmers were struggling financially. The purpose of the MMB was to buy, advertise and sell milk: guaranteeing a reasonable price for farmers and finding buyers for every drop of milk produced in the UK.

From it’s headquarters at Gigg’s Hill in Thames Ditton and supported by a workforce of 7,000 employees spread further around the country, the MMB maintained stable economic conditions for up to 70,000 independent farms. The history of the Milk Marketing Board (MMB) started in the 1930s and ended with its closure in 1994, but its legacy continues into contemporary debates around farming, food production and national commerce.

The first floor board room in the central range of the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. Taken in 1994 when the MMB closed down.The first floor board room in the central range of the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. Taken in 1994 when the MMB closed down.

The Milk Market Today

In October of 2014, twenty years after the closure of the MMB, UK dairy farmers and their supporters took to the streets to protest at the low price of milk to the consumer, compared to high production costs. Not only did these actions have an impact on supermarket executives, but they raised awareness for dairy production among the public, rehashing a debate that had brought about the formation of the MMB in the first instance over 80 years before.

Many local residents remember working at the MMB building; it was one of the largest local employers. This online exhibition explores the MMB’s long local story.

The Story of the Milk Marketing Board

Formation

Photograph of the first Milk Marketing Board meeting at Thames House, London on 6th October 1933.

Photograph of the first Milk Marketing Board meeting at Thames House, London on 6th October 1933.

In 1932, a Government commission was set up investigate the dairy industry, and It decided that there was an urgent need for an organisation to stabilise the market. That organisation was the Milk Marketing Board. Set up in October 1933, the Board originally worked out of Millbank, London.

The initial task of the MMB, when it was set up in the 1930s, was to stabilise the milk market, thereby giving more bargaining power to the small farmer. As a co-operative, it was the largest agricultural model of its kind in British history.

Funded and run by farmers, the MMB encompassed every dairy farm and milk producer in the country, as well as acting as a contact between the producers and every buyer. The MMB had a two-tier pricing system: farmers were paid more for milk that was going to be sold as liquid, and less for milk that was going into cheese production. Month by month an average price was struck and every farmer was sent a cheque.

In the late 1930s, as the MMB’s role was solidified, work began on a new building, large and open plan that could double up as a hospital during national emergencies. Located in Thames Ditton, this new headquarters would come to be the home of the MMB for over 50 years.

The MMB Building

View of the Milk Marketing Board buildings in Thames Ditton, taken on Christmas Day 1995.

The Front Entrance

View of the Milk Marketing Board buildings in Thames Ditton, taken on Christmas Day 1995.

A Side View

View of the Milk Marketing Board buildings in Thames Ditton, taken on Christmas Day 1995.

View From The Road

View of the Milk Marketing Board buildings in Thames Ditton, taken from the road on Christmas Day 1995.

A Side View

View of the Milk Marketing Board buildings in Thames Ditton, taken on Christmas Day 1995.

The North Quadrangle

The north quadrangle of the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. There is a grassed area in the foreground, upon which there is a blossoming tree to the left and a large bush to the right, separated by a path. Taken in 1994.

Inside the MMB

The main staircase at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton, taken from the mid-landing, looking partially down the first flight of stairs and up the second to the first floor offices. Taken in 1994.

The Main Staircase

Photograph of the main staircase at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton, taken from the ground floor hall looking up the first flight of stairs to a table with a flower arrangement, under a portrait, on the mid-landing. Taken in 1994.

Staircase Landing

Photograph of a staircase at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. The photograph has been taken from a landing between two flights of stairs and is looking up the stairs to the left. Taken in 1994.

First Floor Landing

Photograph of the first floor landing, of the main staircase, at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. The stairwell is in the centre and the area surrounding it is tiled with glass. Several pillars can be seen. Taken in 1994.

The Main Restaurant

The main restaurant in the north range of the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. The area is open plan and filled with long tables, each surrounded by chairs. Taken in 1994.

The Coffee Lounge

The first floor west end coffee lounge, in the North range, comprising two large rooms, each with grouped low tables and chairs, at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. Taken in 1994.

The Coffee Lounge

The North range, first floor west end coffee lounge, being a large, open plan room filled with grouped low tables and chairs at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. Taken in 1994.

The Director's Conference Room

The director's conference room, second room from the main staircase west side in the East range, north end, on the first floor, at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. Taken in 1994.

The First Floor Board Room

The first floor board room in the central range of the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. The room is dominated by a large horseshoe-shaped table around which there are many chairs. Taken in 1994.

The First Floor Board Room

The first floor board room in the central range of the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. Taken in 1994 when the MMB closed down.

Moving to Thames Ditton

Speaking in 1986, the MMB’s Public Relations Officer – Mr. Chapman – described the company’s move from central London to Gigg’s Hill, in Thames Ditton, in 1939:

“With the declaration of war, the new building was occupied in a hurry; filing cabinets that had once filled the Board’s Millbank premises were piled into milk lorries and carted south to Thames Ditton. Anyone due to work in the new building was required to wear a hard hat when entering: construction work was still taking place, the steps leading into the entrances were not completed and a plank was the only way in.”

Life at the MMB

Social Life Summer Fete at the Milk Marketing Board Building, Thames Ditton, c. 1950-51.

Summer Fete Summer Fete at the Milk Markrting Board, Thames Ditton, 1960.

Heading to work Employees at the Milk Marketing Board, HQ, Thames Ditton, in early 1940.

Sorting papers Three seated ladies in the parcels office at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton, c. 1938 -1940.

Stacked parcels Three men in front of stacked parcels in the parcels office at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton, c. 1938 -1940.

Posting parcels Employees in the parcels office at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton, c. 1938 -1940.

Milk Sampling Arthur Bell, Environmental Health Officer, and John Scott, sampling milk, c. early 1970's.

Checking parcels Two men in front of a stack of parcels, in the parcels office at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton, c. 1938 -1940.

Deliveries Two men stood to the rear of a Royal Mail van, at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton, c.1938-1940.

Working in the Parcels Office Men in the parcels office at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton, c.1938-1940.

Stacked parcels A man sitting at a desk and writing, in the parcels office at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton. c.1938-1940.

Transporting deliveries Two men in a room full of sacks labelled "Post Office" at the Milk Marketing Board, Thames Ditton, c.1938-1940.

The Unigate Milk cart presented to the Whiteley Village Homes Trust, 16th February 1978.The Unigate Milk cart presented to the Whiteley Village Homes Trust, 16th February 1978.

Later Developments

Increasingly throughout the post-war years, consumer trends have changed the way milk is perceived and consumed. Supermarkets now sell more ‘pintas’ than the doorstep milky.

The MMB had a responsibility to advertise producers’ products to the public. Iconic advertising campaigns such as ‘is your man getting enough?’ and ‘Accrington Stanley, Who Are They?’ were commissioned by the Board to boost milk sales, and were very well received.

Crisis

The Milk Marketing Board effectively ceased operation in 1994. A voluntary scheme, Milk Marque, was established in its absence and controlled 65% of the UK’s milk marketing. The number of dairy producers in the mid-1990s was still strong with over 35,000 farms. In 1996 Dairy Crest was detached from the MMB and floated on the stock market as an independent company.

Since its dissolution in 1994, milk farmers in the UK have suffered unprecedented losses on their product. In 2014, twenty years after the MMB shut its doors, the media brought to public attention what they called a ‘milk crisis’.


Arthur Bell checking milk on a float (c.1970s).Arthur Bell checking milk on a float (c.1970s).
The fate of J.Trigg & Son, a local dairy shop. It used to be more common than it is now for independent dairy shops to buy milk directly from dairies and sell it door to door. This photo was taken in 1987 after the closure of their Molesey Road shop.The fate of J.Trigg & Son, a local dairy shop. It used to be more common than it is now for independent dairy shops to buy milk directly from dairies and sell it door to door. This photo was taken in 1987 after the closure of their Molesey Road shop.

Like the situation that spurred on the formation of the MMB back in the 1930s, the production of milk now – in the early twenty first century – greatly exceeds the demand for the product. The consumption of milk throughout Britain has decreased as the population has grown, and therefore many dairy farms continue to close. In 1995 there were 35,741 registered dairy farms in the UK. By the end of 2015 this number had dropped to 9,914, meaning that for the first time in living memory there was under 10,000 operational dairy farms in the UK.

Many dairy farmers have stopped producing milk or have moved into other fields of agriculture. This is due to the low prices they are being paid for their product; price wars in supermarkets are often blamed.


Tell us your memories

Did you work at the Milk Marketing Board, or have memories or photographs of it before it closed? We'd love to hear and see them - add them in the comment section here!

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Timeline

The Life of the Milk Marketing Board.

Origins
1882

The first ever dairy cooperative is started in Denmark. Milk is still delivered by horse and cart at this point. The photograph shows a milk girl next to a cart in front of the Bear Hotel in Esher during the Great War just over 30 years later.



Beginnings
6th October
1933

The first Milk Marketing Board meeting is held at Thames House, in London.



The Second World War Years
1939-45

1940: The Ministry of Food takes control of milk production and marketing due to the outbreak of the Second World War.

1942: The MMB becomes a direct purchaser of milk from farmers.

1944: The MMB becomes responsible for the development of artificial insemination.

1945: The MMB oversaw 3.75 million school children and 4 million under fives and expectant mothers’ daily milk allowance.



Expansion
1950s - 60s

1953: The Ministry of Food hands back complete control to the MMB upon the ending of rationing.

1958: The first year of ‘The Milk Race’ – the MMB's sponsorship of the Tour of Britain.

1962 – The MMB is used as a model for international cooperatives. Its advisory boards are made available to other countries, and agricultural officials from India are invited to London by the MMB.



Decline
1970s - 90s

Late 1970s: Sales indicate that supermarkets are taking over from milk home delivery systems.

1987: Dairy Crest is made a separate company, detached from the MMB.

1991: John Gummer, the Minister of Agriculture declares: “I remain committed to encouraging the industry to make progress for ending the MMB’s statutory monopoly”.

1993: The MMB’s sponsorship of the Tour of Britain ends. At 35 years, ‘The Milk Race’, as it became known, was the longest cycle sponsorship in the UK ever.

1st November 1994: The MMB dissolves.



Present Day
1990s - Now

Summer 1996: Dairy Crest is floated on the UK stock market.

2000: 'Milk Marque', the voluntary cooperative set up to replace the MMB, disbands.

2012: Thousands of European farmers violently protest outside the EU headquarters in Brussels against low milk prices.

October 2012 : UK dairy farms march in protest against milk prices. On average, farmers lose 7p for every litre of milk produced.

August 2015: Milk prices continue to fall. The ‘Milk Trolley Challenge’ and the ‘Milk Bucket Challenge’ – both protests against milk prices – make the national news.

September 2015: Protests once again erupt in Brussels outside the EU's headquarters.

February 2016: ‘Milk’, the first of Elmbridge Museum's exhibitions exploring the history of the MMB, opens at Dittons Library.



Explore Further

Find out more about another of Elmbridge's most significant former industries, the Walton dental factory, in our 'Pulling Teeth' online exhibition.

Go to the 'Pulling Teeth: Walton's Dental History' online exhibition

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