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.
Domestos is the leading brand of bleach in the United Kingdom.
Wilfred Augustine Handley (1901 -1975), was the son of a blacksmith employed in the Tyneside shipbuilding industry.
W A Handley trained as a dental mechanic. As a side project, he manufactured chemicals in his garden shed. He acquired sodium hypochlorite, a waste product from the local chemicals industries, including ICI Billingham, and manufactured a powerful disinfectant and sterilizer.
W A Handley established his “Hygienic Disinfectant Service” in 1929. Assisted by his wife Ivy, he worked as a door-to-door salesman to sell Domestos.
Domestos was incorporated as a private company in 1936.
Stergene, designed for washing woollens, was introduced in 1948.
Domestos enjoyed distribution across Britain by 1952.
Sqezy, the first washing up liquid in squeezable bottles, was launched in 1957.
W A Handley placed Domestos into a shell company which was valued at £250,000 in 1957.
Handley sold the company to Unilever for £2.5 million in 1961. Unilever lacked a bleach brand of its own, and was attracted to the company’s strong growth. The acquisition provided Domestos with much needed capital for expansion, as well as managerial expertise.
Handley was retained in a managerial capacity, but stepped down as chairman in 1962.
The Domestos blue plastic bottle was introduced from 1963.
Domestos held a third of the British bleach market by 1974.
Handley died in 1975 and left an estate valued at £172,786.
The Domestos factory in Newcastle upon Tyne was closed in 1975 with the loss of 160 jobs, and operations were relocated to Port Sunlight on the Wirral, Merseyside.
Domestos was sold throughout Europe by the end of the 1970s. It was introduced to Australia in 1981.
Hill Evans operated the largest vinegar brewery in the world by 1881, but the firm is almost forgotten today.
Cowell, Crane & Kilpin established themselves as British Wine manufacturers on Foregate Street, Worcester in the 1760s.
William Hill (1788 – 1859), a Wesleyan Methodist from Stourport, and Edward Evans (1788 – 1871), a Welsh chemist, acquired the firm from Charles Kilpin (1770 – 1845) in 1829.
Hill and Evans branched out into the production of vinegar; a highly important commodity for its use as preservative in an era before refrigeration.
Hill Evans was the sixth largest brewer of vinegar in Britain, and the largest producer outside of London, by 1844. 153,875 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1848.
Edward Bickerton Evans (1819 – 1893) and Thomas Rowley Hill (1816 – 1896) had joined their fathers in partnership by 1848. It was the two sons, especially Rowley Hill, who provided the impetus and drive for the business to develop scale. Rowley Hill had been barred from Oxbridge due to his Congregationalist faith, and instead received an education at University College, London.
The Hill Evans works held hundreds of thousands of gallons of vinegar stocks by 1852.
An 1852 chemical analysis of Hill Evans vinegar commissioned by The Lancet, a leading medical journal, asserted that the firm used sulphuric acid, a widely exploited adjunct which reduced maturation times. Hill Evans & Co refuted this, challenging the editor to conduct “the most rigid analysis of their vinegar…by chemists of acknowledged reputation”.
Eminent scientists such as Dr Lyon Playfair (1818 – 1898) were afforded free access to the entirety of the Hill Evans site, as well as their brewing records for the last twenty years. The Lancet was subsequently forced to back down in a rare and humiliating defeat, and acknowledged that sulphate of lime, naturally occurring in the local water, had been mistaken for sulphuric acid.
Bickerton Evans and Rowley Hill were the sole proprietors of the firm by 1858. Rowley Hill was a generous benefactor, with a strong work ethic and high integrity. Bickerton Evans was a down-to-earth Baptist. Hill Evans established a reputation as a model employer.
1,048,229 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1858. This had risen to an annual output of two million gallons of vinegar by 1866, and the firm was by far the largest vinegar producer in Britain, employing around 100 people.
Hill Evans was the largest producer of British Wine in Britain, with an annual production of 130,000 gallons in 1868. By this time the firm had established a London depot at Eastcheap.
Continuing growth saw the firm build a small private railway in 1870 to connect it to the Great Western & Midland Railways.
Rowley Hill and Bickerton Evans retired from the firm in 1874, and distributed a bonus of £1,173 among their 118 employees. They were succeeded by Edward Wallace Evans (1847 – 1901), Thomas William Hill (1843 – 1898) and Edward Henry Hill (1849 – 1911).
Edward Wallace Evans was an excellent businessman, and much of the subsequent growth of the firm was credited to him.
Hill Evans was the largest vinegar brewery in the world by 1881, with annual production of two million gallons a year. A single mash tun had a capacity of 12,307 gallons. There were eleven fermenting vats, each with a capacity of 15,000 gallons. A single storage vat with a capacity of 114,821 gallons was the largest vat in the world. All told, the brewery had a storage capacity of 500,000 gallons of vinegar. The brewery held more than 100,000 casks.
Rowley Hill died in 1896. He left a personal estate valued at £170,322.
Hill Evans became a limited company in 1900, with a share capital of £150,000, in order to pay out the share of the company owed to Thomas William Hill, who had recently died. It was probably the largest business of its kind in the United Kingdom. It had an annual capacity of 1.5 million gallons of vinegar production. Edward Henry Hill became chairman.
Lea & Perrins used Hill Evans vinegar to make their Worcestershire sauce, and accordingly, Charles William Dyson Perrins (1864 – 1958) joined the Hill Evans board of directors.
In later life Wallace Evans suffered from gout in his hands, and on the advice of his doctor, bandaged his hands in cotton wool. After Evans attempted to light a cigar whilst reading a letter, the wool set alight. Evans died from shock as a result of the subsequent burns in 1901. Curiously, he left a relatively modest net personalty of £10,876. The only son of Wallace Evans appears to have played no active part in the business.
The works covered around seven acres by 1907. Exclusively English grain was used for brewing. The company probably still had the largest vinegar brewing capacity in the world.
Edward Henry Hill died in 1911 and left a net personalty of £147,081. A generous benefactor, he died unmarried.
After the founding families ceased to be involved in management, Hill Evans appears to have been milked as a cash cow, with little inward investment.
Increased competition saw the company suffer from reduced profitability in the early 1960s. Hill Evans lacked the scale of its larger rival British Vinegar.
Hill Evans entered voluntary liquidation in 1967, and the vinegar works were closed. Grade II listed, the vinegar works building is now used by the Territorial Army.
Douglas Clague built Hutchison into one of the largest trading houses in Hong Kong.
John Duflon Hutchison (1855 – 1920) established John D Hutchison & Co, a Hong Kong trading house, in 1877.
Thomas Ernest Pearce (1883 – 1941) joined the firm in 1903, and acquired a controlling stake from 1917.
Philip Stanley Cassidy (1889 – 1971) entered into partnership with Pearce, his brother in law, from 1922.
Pearce was killed in action during the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941, and Cassidy became the chairman of the firm.
John Douglas “Duggie” Clague (1917 – 1981) was born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and raised on the Isle of Man. He originally worked as a bank clerk.
Clague served in the British Army in Hong Kong during the Second World War. He was captured when the Japanese invaded, and held in a prisoner of war camp. With three others, including John Pearce (1918 – 2017), the son of Thomas Pearce, he made a daring escape into China. There he joined, with Pearce, the British Army Aid Group, a MI9 unit assisting POWs to flee Japanese internment camps.
By the end of the war Clague was a Colonel honoured with a Military Cross and a CBE. He returned to Hong Kong in 1947 with a sterling reputation and an excellent network of acquaintances.
Presumably aided by an introduction from John Pearce, Clague was appointed deputy to P S Cassidy. At the time John D Hutchison & Co focused on importing and exporting, and was dwarfed by the Hong Kong trading houses of Jardine Matheson and Wheelock Marden.
Cassidy retired in 1952, and Clague became chairman of John D Hutchison. He would develop the company into a business with international scope.
Clague bought out a 50 percent stake in J D Hutchison owned by Wheelock Marden in 1963. He renamed the company Hutchison International, and embarked upon the acquisition trail.
A S Watson, with interests in soft drinks, was acquired in 1965. Other acquisitions included Davie Boag, a specialised trader, and Oriental Pacific Mills, a textiles business.
Hutchinson gained control of Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Company, one of the largest companies in Hong Kong, in 1969. Clague found that in the midst of China’s cultural revolution and riots in Hong Kong, assets could be acquired at a relative discount.
Following the takeovers Clague confidently proclaimed in 1969 that Hutchison was now the largest trading house in Hong Kong. The Financial Times described Clague as “one of Hong Kong’s most remarkable entrepreneurs” in 1974. He boasted, “I am Hong Kong’s Rock of Gibraltar”.
Hutchison encountered cash flow problems in 1975 due to heavy losses at an Indonesian subsidiary, high-risk financial speculations and overpayment of directors. It was rescued by the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC), who acquired a one third stake in the company. Clague was forced to relinquish his executive responsibilities.
HSBC sold its stake to Li Ka-shing (born 1928) in 1979.
Clague died in 1981 following a battle with cancer.
Ka-shing brought professional management principles to Hutchinson, and expanded its operations into overseas markets.
Hutchison remains one of the largest companies in Hong Kong, and Clague deserves credit for having faith in the Hong Kong economy and helping to build the company into what it is today.
Harold Charles Humphreys (1902 – 1974) was born in Mobberley, Cheshire, the son of a house painter.
Humphreys found work as a salesman for Bukta, a football kit manufacturer. He predicted that kit sales would continue to grow, and entered into the sportswear retail business for himself from 1920. He was initially assisted by his brother Wallace James Humphreys (1900 -1950), and the firm traded as Humphreys Brothers.
Harold Humphreys initially operated the business from rooms above a pub that his parents operated in Mobberley.
The Umbro brand was established in 1924, derived as a portmanteau of Humphreys Brothers. Clothing manufacture was originally subcontracted, but growing sales saw an Umbro factory established in 1930.
Both teams wore Umbro kits at the Wembley finals in 1934.
During the Second World War Umbro manufactured military uniforms and Lancaster Bomber aircraft interiors.
The England international kit was manufactured from 1952.
Roger Bannister (1929 – 2018) ran the first ever sub-four minute mile whilst wearing Umbro clothing in 1954.
Umbro began to outfit overseas international teams from 1958. When Brazil won the World Cup that year, they were kitted out in Umbro clothing.
By the early 1960s Umbro was being managed by the two sons of Harold, John (1929 – 1979) and Stuart (1931 – 2005). In practice, John was the leading dealmaker.
Umbro won a 25-year contract to be the sole distributor of Adidas products in Britain in 1961. Adidas was the largest manufacturer of soccer boots in the world, but this was its only manufacture, so there was no conflict of interest.
Umbro kitted out 15 out of 16 teams in the 1966 World Cup Finals, the sole exception being the Soviet Union.
Distribution of Adidas footwear and clothing had become the largest source of income for Umbro by the early 1970s.
The England international football team switched their kit manufacturer to Admiral in 1974, who made a superior offer.
John Humphreys died in 1979. His unexpected death affected corporate development, and Arnold Copley, a former partner at Price Waterhouse, the accountancy firm, was appointed chief executive from 1982. He led the company into the leisure wear market.
A factory was opened at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, in 1984.
Umbro regained sponsorship of the England international football team kit from 1984.
Adidas had entered the leisurewear market and there were increasing conflicts of interest with Umbro, so the distribution contract ended in 1986. The termination of the contract gave Umbro free reign to enter the footwear market for itself.
Umbro employed 650 people at factories in Macclesfield, Ellesmere Port and Wilmslow by 1985.
Umbro was the market leader in football kits in the United States by 1990.
Umbro was acquired by its US-franchise holder, Stone Manufacturing of the United States for £2.9 million in 1992. The increasing cost of club sponsorship saw Umbro abandon its interests in squash and rugby to focus solely on football.
Following a slump in demand, Umbro closed factories at Macclesfield and Stockport, with the loss of 146 jobs in October 1992.
The death of Eugene Stone in 1997 saw the remaining family members reach loggerheads regarding the future direction for Umbro. Phenomenal growth saw financial resources stretched to the limit. Several cost-saving measures were introduced in 1998 in order to stave off bankruptcy. Almost the entire United States workforce was dismissed. Headquarters were relocated to Cheadle, Greater Manchester. Meanwhile, Umbro divested its factory in Biddulph near Stoke. Umbro clothing continued to be manufactured there, but under contract by a third party.
Umbro was sold to Doughty Hanson, the private equity group, for £90 million in 1999. Umbro underwent a remarkable turnaround. The Wynthenshawe factory was closed in 1999, and manufacturing was outsourced to China and Hong Kong. The Umbro brand was repositioned to focus solely on football.
Nike acquired Umbro for a generous £285 million in 2008 in order to build its presence in the football market. At the time Umbro was the leading supplier of soccer clothing in the world, and the third largest supplier of branded athletic apparel in the United Kingdom.
Nike tried to impose its own manufacturing and sales logistics onto Umbro. Nike executives struggled to understand the niche company. Nike sold Umbro to Iconix Brand Group for £137 million in 2012.
England football kit sponsorship was switched to Nike from 2013.
I have producing this website since 2013. Now, on this, my 220th(!) post, I have decided to give viewers a way of supporting me.
A lot of research and copy-editing goes into this blog. I don’t mind that, I’ll do it for free as I love doing it. However there are numerous overheads which I have been covering. Domain hosting costs around £100 a year, and subscriptions to various newspaper archives costs me about £200 a year.
If you are able to support me at all, it can even be as little as a dollar, I would be highly appreciative. I don’t want to have to host advertisements.
H W Carter & Co introduced Ribena to Britain. 90 percent of British blackcurrant production goes towards making Ribena.
Henry Williams Carter (1839 – 1913), a chemist, partnered with J R Grace to acquire the Bristol Soda Water Works from George Withy & Co in 1872. Located at the Old Refinery on Wilder Street, the business traded as H W Carter & Co.
Ernest Matravers Wright (1851 – 1949) had joined the firm by 1891, and the business traded as Carter, Wright & Co.
Wright left the firm to enter into business for himself in 1898, and Henry Williams Carter took sole control, with the name changing to H W Carter & Co.
Poor health forced Henry Williams Carter to retire in 1904.
The company was best known for Carter’s Concentrated Lemon Syrup by 1909, a product for which it held the largest market share. The cordial was exported across the world, and was known as the best product of its kind. Other products included lemon squash, lime juice cordial, table jellies and custard powder.
Henry Williams Carter died with an estate valued at £12,000 in 1913.
By 1920 the company was also engaged as wine and spirits merchants. By this time William Dillworth Armstrong (1876 – 1954), long engaged as a salesman for the company, was managing director, and his son, Frank Dillworth Armstrong (1900 – 1993) was chairman. As a trained chartered accountant, Frank organised the finances at the company.
H W Carter & Co merged with four other local businesses to form Bristol Industries Limited, with a share capital of £250,000, in 1920.
Frank Armstrong was retained as chairman of Bristol Industries, but baulked when he was requested to sack his own father. He responded by negotiating a bank loan, and buying back control of H W Carter & Co with a capital of £30,000 in 1924.
H W Carter & Co went public in the mid 1930s.
British dairy farmers in the 1930s were producing a surplus of milk, and prices were consequently low. H W Carter decided to research fruit-flavoured syrups that could be added to milk to form milkshake. As a by-product of this research, Ribena was developed.
A new factory to produce cordials from British fruit was opened at North Street, Bedminster, Bristol in 1936. Ribena blackcurrant cordial was introduced that year.
During the Second World War imported sources of Vitamin C such as oranges had become scarce due to the German U-Boat campaign. Ribena, made from homegrown blackcurrants, was advertised as a good source of Vitamin C for children, and the government distributed it for free to babies, young children and expectant mothers.
Ribena production was relocated to a new factory at Coleford, Gloucestershire, in 1947. Sales of Ribena continued to grow strongly during the post-war period. Around 800 people were employed at the Coleford factory during the summer of 1955.
H W Carter & Co was acquired by the Beecham Group in 1955, beating a rival bid from Reckitt & Colman, which owned the rival Robinson’s Barley Water brand.
Beecham merged with SmithKline Beckman in 1989 to form SmithKline Beecham. It merged with GlaxoWellcome to form GlaxoSmithKline in 2000.
GlaxoSmithKline divested its British soft drinks business, which included Lucozade and Ribena, to Suntory of Japan for £1.35 billion in 2013.
90 percent of British-grown blackcurrants go towards Ribena production as of 2018, and each 500ml bottle contains around 37 blackcurrants.
The blackcurrant varieties grown were specially designed for Ribena and have a high juice content. The factory is supplied by 40 farms. The blackcurrants are harvested in July and August. They are pressed at the Thatcher’s cider mill in Somerset.
As an energy-restorative, Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa was the Lucozade of its era. It was one of the highest-selling cocoa-based drinks in Britain.
William Tibbles (1834 – 1912) was born into impoverished circumstances in Leicester, the English Midlands. The family lived in the workhouse during the 1851 Census.
Tibbles was a frame work knitter and medical practitioner in the 1861 census. No evidence has been uncovered that suggest that Tibbles ever underwent any medical training.
Tibbles claimed that botanicals had cured him of consumption in 1867. He began to sell coca and its concentrated extract, cocaine, as a general cure for debility and consumption, from 1871. He was advertising Tibbles Concentrated Essence of Composition and Cocaine by 1876.
Later, Tibbles invented Vi-Cocoa, a mixture of malt, hops, kola and cocoa. He licensed the recipe and naming rights to Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa Ltd, a company formed to exploit his product. Advertisements for Vi-Cocoa first appear from 1893.
The company was renamed as Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa (1898) Ltd from 1898 with a capital of £400,000. Tibbles retired soon afterwards. The company was probably overvalued, with high sales heavily dependent on unsustainable levels of advertising.
The concern was renamed the Watford Manufacturing Company in 1907. Over 1,000 people were employed by 1914.
The company did not pay a dividend between 1908 and 1918. Nominal capital was increased from £250,000 to £1 million in 1918, with Lord Leverhulme (1851 – 1925) becoming the largest single shareholder. Leverhulme was increasingly concerned with food manufacturers at this time, and the paternalistic reputation of the Watford Manufacturing Company was in sync with his own views.
Construction of a large new factory begun in 1918-19, but was never completed due to liquidity issues. The company had benefited from healthy sales during the First World War, aided by military contracts. However the wartime boom was followed by a post-war economic slump.
In 1919-20 company capital was increased to £3 million.
The Watford Manufacturing Company entered into liquidation in 1922. Lord Leverhulme purchased the company assets for £543,000 in cash to ensure that all creditors were paid, as well as in all likelihood, to protect his own reputation.
The Financial Times commented after the liquidation that the downfall of the company was as a result of an excessive valuation of the company.
Leverhulme almost immediately sold the site and brands to Planters Products Ltd, who continued to produce Vi-Cocoa. The product continued to be advertised as late as 1945.
I was originally inspired to create this blog by a number of creative and intelligent individuals such as Malcolm Gladwell (born 1963) , Adam Curtis (born 1955), Niall Ferguson (born 1964) and Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011). These figures regularly challenged the established consensus, and this encouraged me to examine the historical data for myself. Whist not always agreeing with their conclusions, they demonstrated that the historical narrative was open to challenge and question, and that such examination could be written in a lively and engaging way.
I was greatly inspired by the brewing historians Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson. Through their excellent blogs they have highlighted how much of history, even published academic history, is demonstrably wrong or incorrect. Often sloppy half truths are repeated confidently as fact.
Websites such as Wikipedia and Grace’s Guides were also influential as they demonstrated just how useful this kind of website can be, but also highlighted how there was a large gap of high quality research coverage of all sorts of areas.
In terms of business historians, there are lots of good ones, but I particularly admire Geoffrey Jones.