Charity founder John Mechi, the son of an Italian businessman, certainly wasn’t born into farming stock; his father took refuge in England during the ‘Reign of Terror’ and found work in the household of George III at Kensington Palace.
Mechi Junior developed a keen love of farming and new ways of doing things and constructed a model farm at Tiptree Heath in Essex. With the industrial revolution gaining force, he warned others that farm labourers would have to be paid more and housing conditions improved to stop workers drifting away from the industry. He wrote letters to The Times to canvass support from influential landowners and money came in from over 700 regular subscribers. The first meeting of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent College took place on February 7, 1860.
The charity’s initial purpose was simple; ‘To secure a home for, or pension to, the bona fide farmer or widow of a farmer and to maintain and educate the orphan children of farmers’.
Since then, the ‘Agricultural Benevolent Institution’ has evolved considerably with royal connections running deep to give the charity its royal prefix. Queen Victoria became the charity’s first patron and succeeding monarchs followed suit, including George V, who granted a Royal Charter in 1935 to mark the 75th anniversary.
The Charter was amended in 1999 to extended support further to include farmworkers as well as farmers. This was particularly helpful during the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak when R.A.B.I paid out almost £9 million in nine months to more than 8,000 families.