Celebrating 70 years of G. Farwell Ltd.
70 years in the business is a triumphant achievement for any company – but what a year in which to celebrate a platinum anniversary! The team at Farwell’s are proud to mark this significant milestone in 2022, coinciding with Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
We celebrated in style at a recent party, attended by nearly 700 friends, family, employees and associates. Founder George Farwell, who turned 90 on 25th July, was of course, the guest of honour.
George established G. Farwell Ltd. in the year of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1952. From its humble beginnings as a timber merchant, today it is a multi-million pound business employing around 50 workers across its sawmill, civil engineering, plant hire and transport divisions.
Remarkably, now in his 10th decade, George remains the beating heart of the business, still enthusiastic and ambitious he oversees operations from his home on site.
George’s story is one of self-belief, courage, integrity and, above all, hard work. Not only is he an inspiration to three generations of his family, but also a role model for any aspiring entrepreneur or small business owner.
New Forest Born and Bred
George Farwell was born in July 1932 to dairy farmers, at Wootton in the New Forest. He moved at an early age to live with his grandparents on their smallholding and riding school, also in Wootton.
Young George led the life of a country lad and had the run of the forest. Living life at one with nature and the changing seasons, he spent happy days hunting with his trusty dog. It was then that he discovered a life-long passion for shooting.
When war broke out, George was just seven years old, but vividly remembers the sight of German bombers making passage across the skies of the forest. While relatively safe in the New Forest, several bombs came dangerously close to home, with one obliterating a road near to his cottage home and another claiming casualties in nearby New Milton.
While bombs were falling, George fell ill with rheumatic fever, which caused him to miss more than two years of schooling. At the age of around 12, he overheard a doctor informing his mother that he probably wouldn’t see his 21st birthday.
The effect of the war and illness on young George must have been formidable, but somewhere deep down it watered the seed of determination to go out and make a good life for himself.
Never a lover of school, among the only subjects to catch George’s attention were woodwork and gardening. As it turned out, they nurtured the skills that were to shape a lifelong career.
He regularly dodged school in favour of helping a local farmer. His job was loading sheaths of hay, long before the days before combine harvesters. George took to work with enthusiasm and a sense of pride, which soon earned him a good reputation.
George left school at 14, and his enterprising nature led him to make and sell thatching spars, amongst other endeavours, to make ends meet. He worked with his grandfather and uncle on their land and helped to provide for the family by hunting for rabbits.
Times were undoubtedly tough, but through the hardship of those early post-war years, George was acquiring valuable skills and developing a strong work ethic that would become the making of him.
Into the woods
George’s first real job was with the Forestry Commission. He was employed to dig ditches; gruelling work carried out with only hand tools. Today’s power tools were an unimaginable luxury, “we would have thought we had gone to heaven” if they’d had them, says George.
Although fairly well paid, George was frustrated with the poor work ethic of those around him and the £5 cap on wages. Eventually, he left the commission and found work with a local tree feller.
A royally good role model
When the young Queen Elizabeth II unexpectedly ascended the throne in 1952, it had a profound effect on a 20-year old George Farwell. Her Majesty has remained his biggest inspiration in life for her stoicism and commitment.
“She was thrown in at the deep end and she had to step up and that really made an impression on me. I was really fed up with working for others and I wanted to do my own thing and be in control, and I thought ‘if she can do it why can’t I?”
So that was precisely what he did. G. Farwell Ltd. was now open for business.
From tiny acorns
George acquired a saw bench and a Ford 10/10 van, which was converted into a pick-up truck with the help of a friend. He began to make a living from selling firewood, collected from the forest and sawn, split and delivered to local customers.
He began to expand his services and among George’s early customers was a Mr Kitely-Webb, who commissioned 36 oak gate posts. While that wouldn’t present too much of an arduous task these days, George recalls “I had to cut 36 6’ x 6’ oak gate posts on an ordinary saw bench which was incredibly hard work. It took 2-3 days just to cut the wood”. Despite the backbreaking effort, hard work and “just getting on with it” were, by now, second nature to George.
He was also becoming far shrewder with every business transaction. It was customary of the said Mr Kitely-Webb to deduct a hefty 5% from an invoice for early payment. George couldn’t help but inform him years later that, since that first job, he had inflated his prices to him by 10% to make up for it!
Ever moving forwards, George would soon take on his first workers to help lighten the load, and the business continued to thrive and diversify.
George married his beloved Linda in 1954, and she would be a pillar of strength as the business grew, right up until her sad death in 2018.
The couple’s first home was humble, “nothing more than a wooden shack”. Fuelled by a strong will to achieve, George built a sawmill on his land and took on more staff. This enabled Farwell’s to diversify into fencing, tree felling and land clearance. The Farwells were thrilled when their first year’s turnover totalled £323/13/6d, plus assets – including vehicles, a tractor, saw bench, plant and equipment – totalling £425.
Farwell Ltd.’s reputation grew by word of mouth, and it was soon taking on larger commissions, including from the Forestry Commission, where George first started his career. His biggest success to date came when he purchased a Challenger 33 bulldozer for an enormous £7k, with the promise to pay the loan back within three years, which, of course, he did. The civil engineering part of the business now took off in earnest.
George and Linda were blessed in the 1960s with the birth of their two children Margaret and David. George built a comfortable bungalow on one of his sites in 1963, and offices and workshops were to follow in the years after. The fleet of vehicles and inventory of plant equipment continued to grow. While the work was still tough – and sometimes treacherous compared to today’s standards – the family and the business were on the up.
At the top of the tree
Farwell’s had built an empire from nothing, but never passed on the opportunity to acquire other businesses, fulfilling George’s vision to become self-sufficient. The biggest change to the business came when Farwell’s diversified into skip hire.
According to George, the key to his success has always been “hard work and looking after people”. The former is self-evident, but it is the latter that truly makes Farwell’s what it is. George’s altruistic approach forms his personal as well as professional philosophy, stemming from a quote his dear mother ingrained in him – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – hence the title used for his recent autobiography!
He also attributes his “desire for success” as a key factor, as well as being “very competitive!”. Times haven’t always been easy – the business weathering the hardships of the early years, several recessions, accidents, petty bureaucracy, and countless disputes with wily competitors – but 70 years later in 2022, the business is still thriving and as much a part of the New Forest as the landscape it has helped to shape.
Sowing the seed for future generations
George’s caring approach to his workforce has paid dividends over the years. ‘A round peg in a round hole fits, unlike a square peg into a round hole’ is one of George’s mottos.
His son David, and son-in-law Malcolm have worked for the firm, as well as both of his grandsons. David joined the business when he left school and has worked tirelessly to make the business what it is today, for which George is eternally grateful. David is also a director of the company, and he was joined by fellow director, Steve Stacey in 2008. Steve takes care of the daily running of the company and also ensures that George is kept up-to-date with all of the company business.
Many of Farwell’s trusted employees from over the years – some of which span generations – are considered extended family. “I go outside my back door and there’s 20 people I consider my friends working in the back yard”, he says.
The affinity with Queen Elizabeth II that a young George first felt back in 1952 continues to this day. “You can build your whole life around the Queen”, he says “she’s done everything right in my book”.
“It’s about training and nurturing all those around me to make sure everyone fits into a slot when I’m gone, which is exactly what the Queen is doing”.
Long may both their legacies continue!
With thanks to:
Bob Waters for the drone footage
Barry Rickman for the party photographs
Simon Speechley for the staff photograph