Bernard Matthews dies aged 80

Norfolk's Bernard Matthews has died at the age of 80.

It was confirmed by his firm this morning after he died peacefully at home yesterday.

The farmer and businessman made a multi-million pound fortune through his poultry company and is known for bringing cheap turkey meat to the public.

Chief executive of the company, Noel Bartram said: ``It is with a great deal of personal sadness that I confirm Bernard Matthews passed away on the afternoon of the 25th November.

``I have personally known Bernard Matthews for well over 30 years, and on behalf of myself and my fellow colleagues, I wish to express our great sorrow and extend our thoughts and sympathies to the family.''

The Bernard Matthews empire began with a humble £2.50 investment in 1950 when he hatched a dozen turkey eggs in an incubator in the heart of Norfolk.

It grew into the biggest turkey processor in Europe and one of Britain's best loved brands.

He was not only one of the largest employers in rural East Anglia but a major supporter of the local farming community.

Noel Bartram added, "Through his own struggles as a young entrepreneur, he was always keen to support young people and the company was a founder Charter Member of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme.

"Thanks to the success of the business he also helped support many other charitable causes, often in an unsung manner, but notably the independent Caister Lifeboat and the Nelson Museum in Great Yarmouth, both of which demonstrated his keen love of Norfolk and the sea."

Bernard also gave significant help to major projects at Norwich Cathedral, Norwich Hospital, University of East Anglia, True's Yard Museum, Norwich Castle Museum, USAAF Memorial Library and many, many others.     

In 2008 he launched the Bernard Matthews Youth Awards in association with the Eastern Daily Press to recognise the achievements of young people in Norfolk and Suffolk, and established the Bernard Matthews Fund with the Norfolk Community Foundation to continue to help local organisations across Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire.

He was also a life-long supporter and President of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association.

He became a CBE in 1992 and was awarded the CVO in 2007.

Neil Bartram said, "Despite today's very sad news the business will continue to thrive, as we honour his memory through our ongoing work and ensure that the business remains a great British institution, and a key part of the fabric of life in Norfolk and across East Anglia."

He leaves a widow Joyce, four children and six grandchildren.

Tributes have been paid to Mr Matthews including one from Lord Alan Sugar.

He wrote on Twitter, "Shame about Bernard Matthews, he was a great inspiration to people to show what can be achieved in life by hard work. National Treasure RIP.''

Chef Antony Worrall Thompson, who met Mr Matthews on several occasions, said his ``thoughts were with the family''.

The University of East Anglia Sportspark, which Bernard Matthews contributed funds towards, also paid tribute. Assistant Director Maria Rowe said "We are all very sad to hear of Bernard Matthew's death. He was a very generous benefactor when we were gathering funding to build the Sportspark. He supported us from the start and ensured these excellent sporting facilities were built in Norfolk. The Bernard Matthews Olympic pool was named after him in his honour and as a result his legacy will live on, Our thoughts are with his family at this time."