The Yeoman Story
A celebration of the life and achievements of John Foster Yeoman
A review by Kurt Larson FIQ
‘The Yeoman Story’ is a story of rock, men and machines. That was how ‘Mr John’ explained his approach to the aggregates industry to me when I joined Foster Yeoman Ltd as a mining engineering graduate from Michigan Tech in 1982. It did not take me long to be impressed by his vision and single-mindedness to develop the quarries at Torr Works and Glensanda, the transport systems using rail and ships, and the depots and asphalt plants that all became the envy of the industry. His ability to motivate men, to charm stakeholders, and constantly to be looking for a ‘better way’, made me and every member of the team at Foster Yeoman believers in this vision. He set out enough work to keep a generation captivated to carry on after his untimely death in 1987.
Commissioned by Angela Yeoman OBE DL, this 327-page celebration of the life and achievements of John Foster Yeoman was authored by Somerset historian Robin Thornes and includes a foreword by Angela, who also roped in myself and many others to research, contribute to and edit the text.
It was also important that the book should trace the history of the Yeoman family back to their days as shipowners in Hartlepool in the 19th century. The family had a thriving business in the north-east of England until their entire fleet was lost to U-boats during World War I. John’s father then came to Dulcote, near Wells, and started a limestone quarry, but Foster Yeoman died when his son was just 21, leaving John to take over a business that was on the brink of bankruptcy. When John married Angela in 1952, they spent the first four years of their marriage living in a caravan at the entrance to Dulcote, no doubt wondering how they would pay the men’s wages.
However, working with his men and by taking good advice, John managed to get Dulcote back on its feet and then had his big break, buying a then disused quarry at Merehead, near Cranmore. From the 1960s onwards he began the transformation of this small quarry in a valley into what became an 8 million tonnes a year unit by the 1980s. His big vision, however, was Glensanda, the remote mountain of granite in Scotland which is now Europe’s largest quarry and uses the largest gravity-fed, self-discharging ships in the world. It was always John’s ambition to see Foster Yeoman become shipowners once again, and this was achieved with a purpose by his successors.
Although a fiercely independent business, Foster Yeoman Ltd were eventually sold in 2006, a move that clearly marked the end of an era. The book, intentionally, does not dwell too much on the details of the transaction, as this will be subject of some work I am currently doing on ‘The Takeover Diaries’.
For now, though, UK-based members of the Institute of Quarrying can enjoy the history of what was a great company by ordering a ‘signed copy’ of ‘The Yeoman Story’, priced at £15.00 plus £5.00 postage and packing, direct from Angela Yeoman’s office at Southfield House, Whatley, Frome BA11 4JY. Cheques for £20.00 should be made payable to Angela Yeoman. Overseas customers are advised to visit www.amazon.com and type in ‘The Yeoman Story’.