The days before buying a pint of milk was as simple as visiting one of a dozen supermarkets is the subject of a new exhibition in Fleet Library.

These were days when warm milk was lauded as the height of freshness.

Organised by Fleet and Crookham Local History Group, the exhibition explains that Fleet’s milk was once produced locally at places such as Rose Farm, Bramshott Farm and Velmead Farm.

It was then pasteurised and bottled at each dairy and delivered to households by local milkmen.

“On the farms, cowmen and milkmaids looked after and milked the cows,” said Phyllis Ralton of the local history group.

“Cleanliness was the top priority and the milk was transported in churns to the dairies.

“Before refrigeration it was difficult to stop the milk from going off, although some dairies advertised its freshness as being still ‘warm from the cow’.

“Delivery men carried one or two churns on small hand-drawn ‘prams’, on horse-drawn carts, or smaller quantities by bicycle.

“They used to ladle a measured amount of milk into the customer's own jug.”

Dairy through the decades

Rose Farm Dairy was started in 1862 by Mark Kimber.

He lived at Rose Cottage, which later became Rose Cottage Farm Dairy. The entrance to the farm ran alongside the Prince of Wales pub in Reading Road South, and there were buildings associated with the farm behind it.

“By 1900 the dairy was established in premises in Fleet Road, near the Church Road junction, and the building was enlarged several times,” said Mrs Ralton.

“The Rose Farm Dairy business delivered milk to a very large area and in time horse-drawn floats gave way to electric or petrol-driven vehicles. They were a familiar sight in town and appeared in Fleet Carnivals.

“The Watts’ family bought a dairy from Adams and Cubby, and took over The Royal Dairy in 1946, absorbing them, and others, into Rose Farm Dairy.

“In the 1970s, they were employing 65 staff.”

Jack Watts, the grandson of Edwin Watts who started a milk business at Little Bramshot Farm in 1935, ran the dairy until he retired in 1999, ending 137 years of Rose Farm Dairy in Fleet.

The business, including 21 rounds, was sold to Unigate that year, but it soon closed and the site was redeveloped in 2004.

Birchlea Dairy, on the corner of Aldershot Road and Rochester Grove, was built in 1910 and owned by dairyman Tom Cubby.

“Another dairyman, Henry William Meech, lived next door and the dairy advertised as Meech and Cubby,” said Mrs Ralton.

Meanwhile, The Royal Dairy in Fleet Road had five or six horses stabled at the rear of the shop.

Although the first milk bottles were produced in 1880, bottled milk did not become generally accepted until the 1920s, and even later in parts of Fleet.

“The local dairies established pasteurisation and bottling plants on their own premises from the 1940s,” said Mrs Ralton.

Among the successful local companies were Stevens & Sons of Fleet Road, who made more than 870 floats for United Dairies in London.

The history display runs until the end of March.

The group next meets in the United Reformed Church in Kings Road, Fleet, on February 20 when Tony Wright will give a talk entitled The Post Medieval Pottery Industry in Farnborough.

Visitors are welcome. Visit www.fclhg.hampshire.org.uk for more details.