Pitch perfect: a history of Mitre

Mitre is one of the largest football manufacturers in the world.

Benjamin Crook (1764 – 1834) traded as a currier, a worker in the leather industry who applies the finishing techniques to tans, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Crook established his own tannery in Huddersfield from 1817.

His son, Benjamin Crook Jr (1809 – 1883), was a currier at Bradleys Buildings, Huddersfield by 1841. Benjamin Crook Jr relocated his currying business to Fitzwilliam Street and employed three men by 1851. Footballs were produced from 1862.

Benjamin Crook Jr died in 1883, and the business was continued by his sons, George Henry Crook (1842 – 1901), and Frederick Crook (1852 – 1912).

Following the death of Frederick Crook in 1912 it appears that William Clifford Crook (1884 – 1959), the son of George Henry Crook, took control of the business.

During the First World War Benjamin Crook & Sons produced leather ammunition pouches for the British army, and haversacks for the French army.

Benjamin Crook & Sons held perhaps ten to 20 percent of the British football market by 1922. One of its major competitors was Sykes of Horbury.

Benjamin Crook & Sons had become a limited company by 1926. About 140 people were employed at the factory. Tens of thousands of footballs were produced every year, and three footballs a minute were produced during the working day.

Demand boomed during the post-war period. The Mitre brand was introduced for footballs from 1949.

William Clifford Crook died in 1959.

Grampian Holdings, a Glasgow-based conglomerate, acquired Benjamin Crook & Sons for nearly £195,000 in 1962.

Mitre provided the official ball for the England national team from 1962.

Mitre entered the football boot market from 1966.

Mitre relocated to the Bay Hall Works in Birkby, Huddersfield from the late 1960s.

Mitre became the official football of the English Football League from the 1970s.

Mitre began to develop the United States market from 1975.

Genesco, a Tennessee-based manufacturer of footwear and clothing, acquired the licence to sell Mitre clothing and equipment throughout North America from 1981.

Mitre closed two factories due to economic recession in 1981, one in Northampton with 80 employees, and one in Kettering with 38 workers. The Huddersfield site employed 300 workers, but a reduction in orders saw this reduced to 213.

United States sales of Mitre products increased from $1 million to $25 million between 1984 and 1989. Mitre became the leading supplier of football boots in the United States, with a 35 percent market share in 1989.

Genesco acquired Mitre for £17 million in 1992. Genesco hoped to capitalise on the increasing popularity of football in America during the 1994 World Cup.

Mitre was one of the leading suppliers of footballs and football boots in the world by 1995, and the leading football and football boot supplier in the UK. Mitre was also a leading supplier of rugby and cricket footwear.

The Sunday Times reported in May 1995 that Mitre footballs were being stitched by children as young as six in Pakistan, at a rate of 10p per hour. The newspaper described the work as “a modern form of slave labour”.

Duncan Bembridge of Mitre responded swiftly:

Mitre Sports International do not condone in any form the use of child labour. Agreements with our factories in Pakistan clearly state our policy and we have written assurances that child labour is not being used to stitch Mitre balls.

As a father, and a director of a highly principled international company, I am totally committed to stamping out child slavery.

Genesco entered into financial difficulty, and sold Mitre Sports to Pentland Group for $11.4 million (£7.2 million) in 1995. Pentland announced plans to increase marketing spend behind the brand and improve international distribution.

Mitre lost the prestigious contract to supply the Premier League football to Nike in 2000.

After 44 years, the England football team switched from Mitre to Umbro footballs from 2006.

Mitre has continuously provided the official match balls for the English Football League since 1962. Its is currently contracted to continue to do so until at least 2019.

Mitre ranked among the largest football manufacturers in the world as of 2010. Its major rivals in this field as Adidas, Nike, Puma, Asics, Mizuno and Umbro.

Spice of life: Drysdale Dennison

Drysdale Dennison was the largest importer of pepper into Britain.

Wallis & Co was a mustard, chicory (a popular coffee substitute) and spice merchant of 20 Duke Street, London Bridge. The Wallis family were Quakers from Northamptonshire.

Andrew Drummond Drysdale (1830 – 1867), originally from Perth in Scotland, was the manager of Wallis & Co by 1857.

Drysdale had entered into the firm as a partner by 1864, and the business began to trade as Wallis & Drysdale.

Andrew Drummond Drysdale died in 1867, and his stake passed to his brother, Hector Drummond Drysdale (1828 – 1902).

Hector Drysdale bought out the Wallis family stake to take full control of the business in 1878. By this time there were premises on 131 Upper Thames Street and Dock Street. The location close to the Thames was convenient for receiving imported spices.

The firm was trading as Drysdale Dennison by 1883. It was one of the best known pepper merchants in the world.

James Samuel Gray (1876 – 1935) joined the company in 1889.

Gray merged White Palmer, a long-established London spice merchant, with Drysdale Dennison to form the British Pepper and Spice Co Ltd, a public company with a nominal capital of £160,000, in 1933. The office was at 31 Queen Victoria Street, Eastcheap.

The head office was relocated to 7 New Court, Lincoln’s Inn in 1948.

Drysdale Dennison was the largest importer of pepper in Britain by 1959. The factory was located just off Petticoat Lane in London.

Burton Son & Sanders of Ipswich, specialist food manufacturers and distributors to the bakery trade, acquired the British Pepper & Spice Co in 1967.

Amidst falling profits at Burton Son & Sanders, Matthews Holdings, a food retailer, acquired the company for £1 million in 1969.

Matthews Holdings and S W Berisford merged their spice and pepper interests in a joint venture called British Pepper & Spice in 1971.

British Pepper & Spice Co was acquired by Hunter Saphir in 1987.

The factory and head office of British Pepper & Spice was located in Northampton by this time. 160 people were employed there in 1993.

Hunter Saphir was acquired by Albert Fisher for £29 million in 1993, and two months later British Pepper & Spice was sold to Burns Philip of Australia for £25 million in cash.

British Pepper & Spice was subject to a management buyout for £7.6 million in 1998.

British Pepper & Spice was acquired by SHS Group of Belfast, which owns brands such as WKD and Shloer, in 2004.

Still based in Northampton, British Pepper & Spice is a major supplier of supermarket own-label herbs and spices, as well as for producers such as Heinz and Premier Foods.

Holy spirit: Tanqueray

Tanqueray is one of the highest selling gin brands in the world.

Charles Tanqueray
Charles Tanqueray (1810 – 1865) was the son of the Reverend Edward Tanqueray (1762 – 1847), rector of Tingrith in Befordshire.

With his elder brother Edward (1805 – 1838), Charles was apprenticed as ginmaker to Currie & Co of Bromley by Bow, one of the largest distilleries in London.

The two Tanqueray brothers partnered with Arthur Currie (1804 – 1875) to takeover the Bloomsbury Distillery, an established gin manufacturer at 3 Vine Street, Bloomsbury, in 1835. The building has not survived, but the street still exists, and has been renamed Grape Street.

Charles Tanqueray was an ambitious man, and he wanted to create a gin to rival, or even better, those of Felix Booth (1775 – 1850) and Alexander Gordon. He experimented ceaselessly through trial and error to perfect his recipe, and finally settled on just four botanicals: juniper, angelica root, liquorice and coriander seeds, the same four used by Tanqueray today.

Edward Tanqueray died in 1838, and Charles was assisted by his brother John Samuel Tanqueray (1817 – 1902) in the 1840s and 1850s.

Arthur Currie left the partnership in 1847.

Charles Waugh Tanqueray
Charles Tanqueray died in 1865 and the business was managed by his brother William Henry Tanqueray (1814 – 1887). Charles Waugh Tanqueray (1848 – 1931), the son of Charles Tanqueray, took over the distillery upon completion of an apprenticeship to a grocer in 1867.

Charles Waugh Tanqueray was perhaps more commercially-minded than his father, and under his leadership sales grew and exports increased. A keen sportsman, he was an upright Christian gentleman with a keen social conscience and a determined character.

Most Tanqueray gin was sold at a strength of 40.19 percent ABV in 1877. Some gin was also sold at 35.19 percent ABV.

Tanqueray Gordon and acquisition by Distillers
Charles Waugh Tanqueray approached Reginald Charles Wilford Currie (1854 – 1922), the proprietor of Gordon & Co, gin distillers of Goswell Road, London, regarding a merger of their two companies in 1897.

The two businesses merged to form Tanqueray, Gordon & Co, a company with a capital of £500,000, in 1898. R C W Currie became the managing director, and Charles Waugh Tanqueray took the opportunity to retire.

Following the merger all production was centralised at the Gordon distillery at 132 Goswell Road. Gordon’s London Dry Gin became the priority brand.

Harry Aubrey Tanqueray (1907 – 1982) was the only grandson of C W Tanqueray. He became a stockbroker, and does not appear to have been affiliated with the gin business.

Largely due to the growth of the temperance movement and a substantial rise in excise duty, alcohol consumption in Britain declined in the period following the First World War.

Perhaps as a way to make up for declining sales at home, Tanqueray was first exported to the United States from around 1918.

Tanqueray Gordon was acquired by the Distillers Company, which was heavily involved in consolidating the spirits industry, in 1922.

R C W Currie, managing director of Tanqueray Gordon, died in 1922.

Tanqueray Gordon was by far the largest gin distiller in the world by 1926.

Charles Waugh Tanqueray outlived his only son Charles Henry Drought Tanqueray (1875 – 1928), and died in 1931.

During the Second World War the Goswell Road site was nearly destroyed during the Blitz.

The Tanqueray green bottle was introduced from 1948.

The growth of Tanqueray overseas
Tanqueray began to marketed and advertised in earnest in the United States from the mid-1950s.

The premium-priced product became popular among affluent Southern Californians, and American sales took off from there. British gin was popular because it was smoother than its American counterpart, and was to prove a good mixer for a Martini cocktail.

A 1969 advertisement in Newsweek

100,000 cases were sold in the United States in 1961. Sales doubled in 1964. Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack became fond of Tanqueray martinis at the Buena Vista Social Club in San Francisco.

United States sales rose by 1700 percent over a four year period. Over 85 percent of the Goswell Road output was shipped to the United States by the 1960s.

John P Tanqueray (1934 -2012), the great grandson of Charles Tanqueray, had been appointed export manager for Tanqueray by 1969. He credited the success of Tanqueray in the United States to snob appeal, “our product appeals to status seekers and consumers who want an outstanding gin”.

Tanqueray became one of the leading spirit brands in the world. 600,000 cases of Tanqueray were exported to the United States in 1975, where it was the highest proof gin, and generally the most expensive.

United States sales reached one million cases in 1979, second only to Beefeater in imported gin.

A new distillery and recent developments
The Goswell Road site struggled to keep up with increasing demand, and production was transferred to a purpose-built 26 acre distillery in Laindon, Essex from 1984.

Charles Tanqueray & Co won a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1985.

Guinness acquired Distillers in 1986.

John P Tanqueray retired as commercial director of Tanqueray Gordon in 1989.

Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo. The combination of two spirits giants left the company with an excess of productive capacity. As a result, the Laindon distillery was closed with the loss of 220 jobs in 2000, and all production was relocated to Cameronbridge in Scotland.

Tanqueray held over 50 percent of the United States gin market in 2002.

The future for Tanqueray looks solid; global sales grew by 15 percent in 2018.

Fillerys Toffees of Birmingham

Fillerys Toffees was established in 1923 by a consortium of four investors led by Robert Harold Mayhew (1874 – 1965). The factory was located on Warwick Road in Greet, south Birmingham.

The site covered four acres by 1927, and due to increasing sales, 24 hour production was introduced from 1930.

Fillerys Toffees was incorporated as a public company in 1934. Herbert E Morgan was chairman. The company had an authorised and issued capital of £100,000 by 1935. Around 300 workers were employed.

Fillerys led the toffee industry as one of the most efficient producers by 1942. Fillerys targeted the higher quality market.

During the Second World War, most of the factory was given over to munitions manufacturing for the war effort.

Under a Government scheme to encourage industrial efficiency, Fillerys Toffees were produced under contract by Rowntree of York between 1942 and 1946.

The company had established nationwide sales distribution by 1949.

The end of sugar rationing in 1954 saw a boom in confectionery sales. Fillerys Toffees won a prestigious and valuable contract to supply confectionery for Marks & Spencer.

The sugar confectionery boom was over by the end of the 1950s, as increasing prosperity saw consumers increasingly switch to chocolate products. As a result, the industry began to consolidate in order to reduce costs.

Fillerys was acquired by J A & P Holland of Southport in 1960 to create the largest toffee manufacturer in Britain, and possibly the world.

Cavenham Foods acquired J A & P Holland in 1965. The Fillerys factory was closed down in March 1966, and production was transferred to Southport. The reason given was that the Fillerys factory did not have room for expansion. About 230 workers lost their jobs.

The unfiltered history of Benson & Hedges

Benson & Hedges cigarettes are sold across the world. A former subsidiary introduced the highly successful Parliament cigarette brand to the United States.

Establishment and early growth
William Hedges (1836 – 1913) and Richard Matthias Benson (1817 – 1882) established Benson & Hedges, tobacconists and cigar importers of 13 Old Bond Street, London, in 1873. Situated on one of the most exclusive streets in the world, the firm targeted the aristocratic market.

Hedges was born in St Marylebone, the son of a coal merchant. A refined and pious man, he was a clerk by trade and a keen Wesleyan Methodist who frankly considered the tobacco business to be on the verge of immorality.

Benson was a Bristol tobacconist who had followed his father into the trade. He was a coarse man, and in many ways the opposite of Hedges. He spent much of his time at his tobacconists in Bristol, but when in London he would stand outside the Benson & Hedges shop, dressed drably, smoking a cigar and brazenly spitting onto the street.

Benson smoked fourteen to fifteen cigars a day, and died, allegedly from excessive smoking, in 1882. It was estimated that he smoked £20,000 of the firm’s stock during his lifetime.

A P Hedges enters the firm
Alfred Paget Hedges (1867 – 1929), the son of William Hedges, joined the firm as an assistant to his father following the death of Richard Benson. He possessed a fierce ambition, but was also likeable, and considered a thoroughly decent human being.

Alfred Paget Hedges (1867- 1929)

Benson & Hedges was converted into a private limited company in 1896.

Establishment of American subsidiaries
The London business attracted a number of high-spending Americans. Encouraged by their custom, William Hedges established a United States subsidiary at 288 Fifth Avenue, New York, from 1897.  A relatively small business, it sold high quality cigars and manufactured premium-market cigarettes. Arthur Quinton Walsh (born 1861), a long-term bookkeeper for Benson & Hedges, was sent to manage the subsidiary.

Sales were slow to develop at Fifth Avenue. The store was located on the first floor, and was thus unable to entice window shoppers. Walsh instead found success when he established a branch outlet at affluent Newport, Rhode Island.

Walsh defied the orders of William Hedges by relocating the Fifth Avenue shop to a ground-level address at 314 Fifth Avenue in 1900. He moved again in around 1905 to 17 West 31st Street, which was to prove unsuccessful due to its more obscure location. He relocated the business to 435 Fifth Avenue from 1907.

A Canadian subsidiary was established on Cote Street, Montreal from 1906. Both North American branches were to prove successful.

William Hedges had retired by 1901, and A P Hedges had become the managing director.

A P Hedges was a man guided by his Wesleyan Methodist faith, and served as a lay preacher. He was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament for Tunbridge in Kent from 1906 -1910.

Benson & Hedges was converted into a public company with a share capital of £120,000 in 1910, in order to fund the expansion of the London and Montreal businesses.

William Paget Hedges (born 1894) joined his father at Benson & Hedges following service in the First World War.

Company capital was almost doubled to £220,000 in 1920 in order to establish a new cigarette factory at 104, New King’s Road, Fulham, and to provide further capital for the North American subsidiaries.

The American subsidiary was highly successful on the back of a strong national economy, and the British company continued to prosper.

Meanwhile the initially successful Canadian subsidiary entered into modest losses in 1925 and 1926, triggered by an economic depression which hit the luxury trade particularly badly. This was compounded by high taxation. Benson & Hedges believed that the subsidiary would have required a very high level of advertising expenditure if it was to remain viable, and lacked sufficient capital to provide it. As a result of this, the Canadian subsidiary was sold to Adhemar Gaston Munich (1882 – 1970), a French-born Quebec investor, and a regular customer, in 1926.

The United States subsidiary was sold to two New York banking houses in 1928. With a tiny sales force of no more than 20 people, the company grew rapidly. It was to find great success with Parliament, a premium-priced filtered cigarette, from 1931. Joseph F Cullman Jr (1882 – 1955) acquired control of the company in 1941.

A P Hedges died in his London office from heart failure in 1929. Major Arthur Pearson Davison (1866 – 1955) became managing director of Benson & Hedges.

Benson & Hedges held a prestigious Royal Warrant to supply King George VI by 1946.

Benson & Hedges (USA) was the seventh largest cigarette manufacturer in America by 1952, and sales were dominated by Parliaments. However the company lacked sufficient scale to provide its growing brand with the research and marketing support that it needed. Benson & Hedges (USA) was acquired by Philip Morris, which, although the fourth largest cigarette manufacturer in the country, lacked a successful filtered cigarette brand of its own, in 1953. Sales of Parliaments tripled between 1953 and 1961, due to improved distribution and a growing market for filtered cigarettes.

Sale to Gallaher
Meanwhile, Benson & Hedges of Old Bond Street had consistently enjoyed moderate success by specialising in the luxury trade. The business was subject to a friendly takeover by Gallaher, a large British tobacco company which was attracted to the prestige value of the brand, in 1955.

Benson & Hedges held a Royal Warrant to supply the household of Queen Elizabeth II by 1956.

Gallaher sold the overseas rights to the Benson & Hedges brand outside North America to British American Tobacco in 1956.

The independent Benson & Hedges (Canada) Ltd was acquired by Philip Morris in 1958.

Benson & Hedges was the leading king-size cigarette brand in Britain by 1981.

Benson & Hedges (Canada) merged with Rothmans in 1986 to form Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc, in which Rothmans held a 60 percent stake, and Philip Morris held a 40 percent stake.

The Benson & Hedges premises at 13 Old Bond Street were retained until at least 1998.

The Queen Elizabeth II Royal Warrant was withdrawn in 1999.

Japan Tobacco acquired Gallaher for £9.7 billion in 2007.

Philip Morris International acquired full control of Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc for about C$2 billion in 2008.

Benson & Hedges remains a leading brand of Japan Tobacco, Philip Morris USA, Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco as of 2019.

Parliament is the twelfth highest-selling cigarette brand in the world.

Sauces Reconsidered by Gary Allen

I am absolutely delighted to have received a reference citation from Gary Allen in his new book, Sauces Reconsidered.

Allen cites my history of Crosse & Blackwell. I am glad that he found it helpful.

Sauces Reconsidered is very good, and if you have found my posts on sauces and foods interesting then I can highly recommend his book for further reading.

Allen has previously contributed to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. He is highly knowledgeable about food. You can explore his blog here.

Planet Mars: A Transatlantic Chocolate Dynasty

This post focuses on the history of Mars confectionery in the UK. Many of the products for which Mars are best known, such as Skittles, Twix and Galaxy chocolate, were originally developed and sold in Britain.

American origins
Franklin Clarence Mars (1883 – 1934) entered the wholesale confectionery business in Tacoma, Washington, from 1910.

Mars relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1920, where he formed the Mar-O-Bar company and began to manufacture chocolate bars. The business struggled until his son, Forrest Edward Mars (1904 – 1999), suggested that Mars create a chocolate bar influenced by a malted milkshake. On the back of this idea, the Milky Way bar was introduced from 1923.

The Milky Way bar was an immediate success. Sales exploded without the help of advertising. The product enjoyed a cost discount against rival chocolate bars, due to a filling made of relatively low-cost nougat.

Mars was one of the largest confectionery manufacturers in America by 1930. The Snickers bar was launched in 1930, and 3 Musketeers was launched in 1932.

Forrest E Mars graduated from Yale University with a degree in industrial engineering in 1928. He initially worked as a superintendent at his father’s factory. Meanwhile, he read voraciously on business methods, especially those used by DuPont, a large chemicals company, and business tycoon John D Rockefeller (1839 – 1937).

A brash and ambitious man, it wasn’t long before Forrest Mars clashed with his father. He deemed management as lax, and considered product quality to be inconsistent. Mars resented how his father cut costs by using low-quality chocolate in his products. He also harboured ambitions for Mars to expand its overseas sales.

Forrest Mars demanded a one third stake in the company. His father refused, but in recognition of his contribution he was given $50,000 and the foreign rights to Mars products, and told to establish a business for himself.

To gain an understanding of European confectionery manufacturing methods, Mars worked incognito at the plants of Tobler and Nestle in Switzerland, a case of industrial espionage he would later openly confess to.

Establishment of Mars UK
Mars took what he learned in Switzerland, and leased a single room factory in Slough, a small industrial town outside London, from May 1932. England was chosen for the European base because Mars could speak the language. He initially employed a staff of eight.

Original confectionery manufacturing equipment from the Slough factory

Mars understood that British confectionery tastes differed to those of his native land. His first product was an Anglicised version of the Milky Way, which he called the Mars bar. Introduced from August 1932, the product was initially entirely handmade. Instead of the Hershey chocolate used in the US, the Mars bar used a Cadbury chocolate coating, and the toffee was sweeter.

Within a year, two million Mars bars had been sold, and 100 people were employed. The product was advertised nationwide by 1934. Mars boosted sales by advertising his confectionery as a nutritious food product.

The British Milky Way, a different product to the American Milky Way, was launched in 1935. Not all of the early product introductions were a success; short lived confectionery lines included the So Big bar and a vanilla version of the Mars bar.

Forrest Mars was a great believer in scientific management as a driver of profitability. He also had a fanatical dedication to quality. However he could also be cruel and demanding, and on occasions he demonstrated a volatile temper. However for upholding his high standards his managers were rewarded handsomely.

Franklin Mars died in 1934 and control of Mars Inc passed to his widow, Ethel V Mars (1888 – 1945).

Maltesers were introduced in Britain from 1936.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Mars returned to the United States. There he established a business producing M&Ms, a product that he had developed based on Smarties, a British confection manufactured by Rowntree.

Rowntree agreed not to compete with M&Ms in the US in exchange for the production rights to the Mars bar in South Africa, Canada and Australia.

The Bounty bar was launched in the United Kingdom in 1951. It had similarities to Mounds, an American chocolate bar produced by Peter Paul.

Mars was the third largest chocolate manufacturer in Britain by 1960.

Starburst (originally known as Opal Fruits) and the Galaxy chocolate bar were introduced in the United Kingdom in 1960.

The “Mars a day” slogan was introduced in Britain from 1960.

Forrest Mars gains control of Mars Inc
Forrest Mars gained control of Mars Inc in 1964. An egalitarian, he quickly dismantled the executive dining room and dismissed the French chef. The art collection was sold off. Private offices were opened up with glass panels to improve communication. Executives were obliged to clock in and out the same as everyone else. However to compensate for his strict demands, Mars raised salaries by 30 percent. Mars also increased the proportion of chocolate in each bar.

Forrest Mars resigned as president and chief executive officer of Mars Inc in 1967. In his place he appointed Alfred Baxter (1913 – 1986), a Unilever veteran from England.

Mars had opened a second factory in Slough, located on Liverpool Road, by 1966.

The Twix was first produced in the United Kingdom from 1967.

Forrest Mars retired in 1969. He handed ownership of the company over to his two sons in 1973.

The Mars factory in Slough, c.2014

Skittles were first introduced in Britain in the 1970s.

Mars won a Queen’s Award for Export in 1979. Chocolate bars were exported to over 100 different countries. The Slough factory employed 4,000 people.

Slough produced two million Mars bars a day by 1982. With annual sales of £100 million, it was the highest selling chocolate confectionery in the United Kingdom.

Mars announced it would close its Liverpool Road factory, with the loss of 500 jobs, over the course of two years, in 2005. Production of Twix bars was relocated to France and Germany. Starburst manufacturing was transferred to the Czech Republic.

The Dundee Road plant received a £45 million modernisation investment, and continues to produce Mars bars, Snickers, Galaxy and Maltesers.

Mars opened a new £7 million research and development facility at Slough in 2012.

Slough is the European headquarters for Mars confectionery. The Dundee Road plant employed 1,000 people and produced 2.5 million Mars bars a day in 2013.

Mars remains a privately-held company controlled by the Mars family. Research by Statista indicated that Mars had the largest share of the global chocolate market in 2016, at 14.4 percent.

All gone to Pott: a history of Pott’s vinegar

Pott & Co built what was probably the largest vinegar brewery in Britain, and grew to control 25 percent of the market.

Rush family establishment
William Rush (1611 – 1668) began to brew vinegar at Castle Street, Southwark, London, from 1641. The premises had previously belonged to a gardener, who had used the land to rear hogs.

In an age before artificial refrigeration, vinegar was a much more important commodity than it is today, due to its preservative effect on foodstuffs.

A single vessel at the brewery held 50,000 gallons of vinegar by 1790.

Pott family acquisition
The Rush family operated the brewery until 1790 when it was acquired by Robert (died 1824) and Arthur Pott, whose family had brewed vinegar at Mansell Street, Whitechapel since 1720.

Robert and Arthur Pott rebuilt the entire site across five or six acres, to create perhaps the largest vinegar brewery in England by 1795.

Charles Arthur Pott and William Pott (1795 – 1878) were the partners by 1833. The firm was the third largest vinegar brewer in Britain by this time, with 14 percent of the market.

Charles and William Pott held a 25 percent share of the British vinegar market by 1844. The firm held a stock of 746,139 gallons of vinegar that year.

The brewery site covered five acres by 1846.

An examination of vinegars by The Lancet praised the purity of Pott’s vinegar in 1852.

The brewery possessed one of the principal wells of London in 1862.

The business traded as R W C Pott by 1866.

By 1876 the business traded as A W R & N Pott.

By 1884 the business traded as R & N Pott. Robert (1825 – 1894) and Norbury Pott (1838 – 1924), sons of William Pott, controlled the business.

Robert Pott was head of the concern until his death in 1894.

The brewery was operated by Robert Bertram Pott (1861 – 1944), son of Robert Pott, and Norbury Pott by 1900.

The family sold the brewery to Beaufoy & Co, its long-established London rival, in 1902.

Perry good: Babycham

Babycham was a highly successful pear cider drink that was established in Britain from the early 1950s.

Background
The Showering family had a long-established association with the innkeeping and brewing trade in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, dating back to the 18th century.

Albert Edward Showering (1874 – 1946), a small-scale brewer, owned three public houses in Shepton Mallet by 1928. He had four sons, and two of them, Herbert (1906 – 1974) and Francis (1912 – 1995) were to prove instrumental in the subsequent growth of the family business.

Arthur Edward Showering (1899 – 1979) took over the licence of the Ship Inn on Kilver Street, Shepton Mallet, which was owned by his father Albert, in 1921. The rear of the Ship Inn housed a small brewery.

Showerings was incorporated as a private company in 1932, with Herbert Showering as chairman. Cider production was established by this time. Albert Edward Showering retired in 1934.

Francis Showering, a trained chemist, was manager of the Showerings cider mill by 1939. He was a stocky, hard-working, no-nonsense West Countryman. He had been appointed managing director of Showerings by 1949.

Showerings won numerous awards for the quality of its bottled ciders throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Babycham introduction
Following years of research and development Francis Showering developed a new sterile filtration process that improved the shelf quality of perry (pear cider). The product was clear and sparkling, and reminiscent of champagne.

The sale of perry in Britain at the time was very small. The Showering brothers introduced the new product to the Bristol area and assessed its potential. Francis Showering determined to market the product towards women, and the Babycham trademark was registered in 1950. The product was packaged in 4 liquid ounce (118ml) “baby bottles”.

In order to prioritise the production of Babycham, brewing ceased from 1952, and apple cider production ended in early 1953. Babycham was launched nationwide from 1953 and demand immediately exceeded all expectations.

Herbert Showering was responsible for marketing the product, and advertising commenced from September 1953. Advertising was to heavily emphasise its similarity to champagne. Sales quickly boomed. Advertising agency Masius Wynne-Williams created the Chinese water deer mascot for the brand.

The Babycham deer outside the cider mill at Shepton Mallet (2008)

A significant factor behind the success of Babycham was that it appealed to the relatively underdeveloped female market. At the same time, bottled beers and ciders were becoming increasingly popular over draught drinks due to their more consistent quality. Furthermore, the brewers who owned much of the licensed premises in Britain readily introduced Babycham to their public houses, as it was not in direct competition with their beer.

Showerings found it was unable to meet demand for Babycham in the pre-Christmas period of 1954. Rather than compromise on product quality, which could have increased supply, strict rationing of Babycham was introduced.

In 1955 Babycham became the first alcoholic product to be advertised on British television. Around £300,000 was spent on advertising  between 1953 and 1956.

The success of Babycham turned the Showerings brothers into millionaires.

Acquisition trail
Showerings acquired R N Coate & Co of Nailsea, near Bristol, one of the four largest cider manufacturers in Britain, in 1956.

Tens of thousands of bottles of Babycham were produced every day by 1958.

Showerings was converted into a public company in 1959. Over 1,000 people were employed. By this time Showerings bought much of Britain’s perry pear crop, and had to import additional fruit from Europe.

Aided by heavy marketing expenditure, annual sales of Babycham had reached £8 million by 1961.

Showerings was keen to reduce its dependence on the Babycham brand. The family-controlled William Gaymer & Son of Norfolk was acquired for £150,000 in 1961. Gaymer was widely credited as the oldest cider producer in Britain, and was one of the largest, best known for the Olde English brand. However it had struggled against the greater resources of its major rival, H P Bulmer. The deal transformed Showerings into the second largest cider manufacturer in the world.

Allied Brewies and recent era
Showerings merged with Allied Breweries in 1968. Francis Showering was appointed chief executive of the wine and spirits division.

2.5 million bottles of Babycham were manufactured every week by 1969, utilising the majority of British pear production.

The Shepton Mallet plant had a production capacity of 90,000 bottles an hour, and Showerings employed around 500 people in the town.

Babycham overseas sales tripled between 1962 and 1971. Babycham was exported to 52 countries by 1971.

R N Coate production was relocated to Shepton Mallet from 1973.

Keith Showering (1930 – 1982), son of Herbert, became chairman of Allied Breweries from 1975. Allied was the largest drinks business in Europe by this time.

Allied Breweries sold 144 million bottles of Babycham a year by 1977. The product was distributed across 90 percent of licensed premises in Britain.

Babycham was made with 25 percent apple cider by 1979. It had an alcohol content of 8.4 percent.

Babycham sales were successfully established in South Africa and the Far East and the product was exported to more than 70 countries by 1980.

The Shepton Mallet site employed nearly 800 people in 1986.

The Allied Breweries cider business was demerged in 1992 as part of a management buyout named the Gaymer Group.

Annual sales of Babycham had fallen to around one million bottles by 1993, and the deer mascot was retired.

The Gaymer Group was acquired by Matthew Clark for £109 million in 1994.

Babycham sales suffered in the mid-1990s as alcopops grew in popularity.

Matthew Clark was acquired by Constellation Brands in 1998.

The Gaymer Group was sold to C&C Group of Ireland for £43.5 million in 2009. Constellation Brands retained the rights to Babycham.

The Shepton Mallet factory was bought back by the grandchildren of Francis Showering in 2016.

Meta post #2: the most popular pages on this site

Via the magic of Google Analytics, I bring you the top ten pages on letslookagain.com. Obviously bear in mind this ranking will by its very nature favour posts that have been on the site for the longest length of time.

  1. Smith’s crisps, also with reference to Walkers and Golden Wonder.
  2. Callard & Bowser was a victim of the success of its own Altoids mints
  3. Goodall, Backhouse & Co, the Yorkshire Relish producers.
  4. Keiller marmalade. People are often most curious about brands that have disappeared in the recent past.
  5. It’s a question often asked, which came first, Lifesavers or the Polo mint?
  6. Sharp’s toffee, a brand I’d never heard of before I began researching confectionery history
  7. Brand & Co, developers of A1 sauce
  8. The popularity of my post on the Fatty Arbuckle’s restaurant chain really took me by surprise
  9. Cantrell & Cochrane never really disappeared, but it did reinvent itself
  10. The Saxone shoe company rounds off the list