The fruit industry recently lost one of its greatest characters when Peter Hill passed away peacefully at Rivermere Care Home in Sevenoaks, Kent on 1st February. Peter was a huge influence in the top-fruit industry, particularly in the Bramley apple and processing sector.
Born in October 1930 at Spye Park Estate near Chippenham, Wiltshire, where his parents worked in service to the owner Captain Spicer, with whom Peter’s father Charles had served in the Horse Guards in World War 1 in Belgium. Peter grew up on the estate and became a keen cyclist and active member of the Chippenham Wheelers Club, competing in many time trials and long-distance races.
After leaving school, his first job was as an apprentice in a local greengrocer’s. At the end of the year the owner handed Peter his pay and told him that his services were no longer required. Undaunted, he looked further afield, finding a job working for a company in London importing various food products.
Peter married Aileen in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex in August 1958 and they had two sons, Graham and Andrew. Their first home was a flat in Blackheath in south-east London, and moves to Cudham, Longfield and Wateringbury followed before settling in Marden, Kent in 1970.
Peter’s breakthrough came when he got a job at Tunnel Refineries in Greenwich in 1958. Starting as assistant to the managing director, he worked through the ranks to become commercial director. The business was a glucose refinery processing thousands of tonnes of maize and wheat into glucose, starch, and syrup, which were then sold and distributed to the food and drink industry.
When the family moved to Marden, Graham and Andrew became interested in riding, taking lessons at High Lees Riding School near Paddock Wood. Peter was soon organising three annual horse shows in Marden raising funds for local charities and later became Chairman of the Malling Horse Show.
The link to Peter’s future and second career came in 1979 when Newtime Foods in Hastings, desperately needing apples to make mincemeat and knowing that Peter lived in Kent, asked him if he could source ten tons of apples in July. At the time Graham was working for the Tipples family in Marden and ten tons of Grenadier apples were picked into bushel boxes, and this became the first load. Peter then contacted every Tunnel Refineries customer that he knew used apples. The apple trading had commenced and A & P Hill Fruit was formed, with Aileen managing the accounts. Before computers and mobile phones, Peter became known by local farmers as the ‘after tea man’ as this was the only time he could communicate with the growers.
In 1988 Peter retired from Tunnel Refineries having served the company for 30 years. At the age of 58 he threw himself into the fruit industry. The company grew and became heavily involved in the industry, particularly with the sale of Bramley apples for processing, both in England and Northern Ireland.
The sale of Class 1 apples was now on the agenda and, to help growers move from selling through the wholesale markets into supermarket sales, Marden Gowers Association was formed with 27 members, mainly from the Weald. Peter’s long friendship with James Nicholls at Checkers Growers Ltd resulted in Chequers/MGA supplying their fruit to Home Grown Fruits.
Peter continued to work into his late 80s and was a member of many institutions involving farming, horses, football, and cricket, and he was a member of The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. He enjoyed travelling and supported a family in the Gambia on a long-term basis.
Today the company is managed by Graham Hill and Steven Packer, trading as Hill Fresh Fruit Ltd and Apple Logistics Ltd. The business has grown over the years and has become a major player in the fruit processing industry, trading in apples, pears and soft-fruit. A fleet of lorries provides transport for fruit from farms to packhouses and delivers fruit to factories across the country.
Peter led a very full, productive, and fast-paced life, with Aileen as his support, and was a generous, hardworking, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable man who will be missed by many. As one condolence message said: ‘They don’t make them like that anymore’.
There will be a private family funeral and a memorial service will be held at Marden Parish Church on 21 April at 2.00pm followed by a reception at Marden Cricket Club
Tributes can be left at Tribute to Peter Hill, 1930 – 2023 (muchloved.com)