John Ellerman

When John Ellerman died in 1933 he was by far the richest man in Britain.

John Reeves Ellerman (1862 – 1933) was born in Hull, a large port on the Yorkshire coast. He was the son of Johann Herman Ellerman (1819 – 1871), a shipbroker and corn merchant who had emigrated from Hamburg in 1850.

When his father died in 1871  he left a relatively modest estate of £600. Ellerman subsequently spent much of his childhood in France. He was then educated at the King Edward VI School in Birmingham.

Ellerman received a modest inheritance from his maternal grandfather, and was able to train as a chartered accountant under William Smedley of Newhall Street, Birmingham. Smedley was a successful speculative investor, and almost certainly inspired the young Ellerman.

Ellerman subsequently became an accountant at Quilter Ball & Co, headed by Sir Cuthbert Quilter (1841 – 1911), one of the great accountants of the era.

Quilter regarded Ellerman as one of the most promising accountants he ever had, and offered him a partnership, which he turned down to set himself up independently as J R Ellerman & Co of Moorgate Street in the City of London from 1887. Soon his annual income reached thousands of pounds.

Frederick Richards Leyland (1832 – 1892), owner of the Leyland shipping line, died suddenly in 1892. Ellerman capitalised on the opportunity, and with a group of investors acquired the Leyland line for £770,000. This was an excellent price, as profits during the previous four years had averaged £121,159.

The new company had a share capital of £450,000. The assets acquired were excellent, and the modern fleet boasted a gross tonnage of 60,511. Existing management was continued.

Ellerman gave up his accountancy business from 1895. Hard work, shrewdness and good luck, saw Ellerman amass great wealth. No great investor had ever had accountancy training before, and this afforded Ellerman a great financial and legal advantage.

The Leyland shipping line was sold to J P Morgan (1837 – 1913) in 1901. Morgan was paying “reckless prices”, and Ellerman gained £1.2 million in cash for his stake, a sale that represented a 33 percent premium over market prices.*

A caveat of the deal was that Ellerman had to leave the Atlantic shipping trade alone for fourteen years, so he redirected his attention towards the East.

Ellerman established the London, Liverpool and Ocean Shipping Company with a share capital of £1.3 million. He invested £500,000 of capital.

Ellerman acquired the Leyland Mediterranean fleet of eleven vessels. He also acquired the Papayanni Steamship Co of Liverpool. Both assets were significantly undervalued. These lines formed the basis of the Ellerman shipping line.

Ellerman then acquired the City line, which ran between Glasgow and the West Indies, and controlled 400,000 tons of shipping. It was estimated that the purchase cost nearly £1 million.

Later in 1901 Ellerman acquired the Hall line and the Westcott and Lawrence line (with nine steamers and a gross tonnage of 15,000 tons).

Ellerman was a quiet, unassuming figure. He avoided leading an ostentatious lifestyle and spent just five percent of his income, and reinvested the remainder. He was a modest man with great attention to the smaller details of a large business. He was remarkable for his kindness in offering business advice towards those who sought it. He retained the most highly skilled managers from the lines he acquired, and respected the decisions that they took when he was unavailable.

In 1904 Ellerman became the largest shareholder in the Financial Times and, an admirer of Lord Northcliffe (1865 – 1922), one of the largest shareholders in the Daily Mail.

In 1907 Ellerman identified the brewing industry, with the exception of the global brands of Bass and Guinness, as stagnant. Perceiving the industry as undervalued, he began to invest in breweries.

Ellerman acquired the Bucknall line, which had 28 vessels and a large freight trade with South and East Africa, in 1908. Following the purchase Ellerman controlled 108 vessels with a combined tonnage of over 420,000.

In 1912 he became the third largest shareholder in The Times.

In 1913 Ellerman acquired a large interest in the Illustrated London News and Sketch. He also acquired the Sphere and Tatler. William D Rubinstein (born 1946) has suggested that his motivation for the acquisitions was to avoid attacks on his German ancestry by taking control of a large portion of the British media.

During the First World War, Ellerman rendered valuable assistance to the Ministry of Shipping. He also equipped and maintained the Ellerman Hospital at St John’s Lodge, Regent’s Park, London.

1916 saw his greatest purchase, the acquisition of the Thomas Wilson & Co of Hull from Lord Nunburnholme (1875 – 1924) for £4.1 million. With a fleet of 70 ships, Thomas Wilson & Co was the largest private shipping line in the world.

The Ellerman controlled lines owned 134 ships, and the Wilson purchase brought the total to 204.

By 1916 Ellerman was the richest man in Britain, worth, at his estimate, £20 million. His income that year was estimated at £3 million.

By 1917 Ellerman owned one eighth of British mercantile shipping tonnage.

Unfortunately, the Wilson purchase was to prove a rare misstep for Ellerman, due to a global slump in world shipping after the First World War.

Ellerman sold his controlling interest in the St Clement’s Press, which owned the Financial Times, to the Berry brothers in 1919. He sold his holding in The Times in 1922 to John Walter and John Jacob Astor (1886 – 1971).

In the early 1920s, the publicity-shy Ellerman informed the Eastbourne Town Council that if they introduced double-decker buses, which might allow people to see into his home, he would move houses. The buses were introduced, and Ellerman, true to his word, relocated.

In 1926 he divested his weekly papers, which included the Sphere, Tatler and Eve to the Inveresk Paper Company for around £3 million.

In 1927 Ellerman controlled over two million tons of shipping and was the third largest owner of shipping in the world.

A 1929 assessment by the Inland Revenue ranked him as easily the richest man in Britain, more than twice as wealthy as his closest rival.

Ellerman died in 1933 with an estate valued at £17,224,425.

Notes

  1. ‘J P Morgan in London and New York before 1914’ by Leslie Hannah (2011).

A history of John D Hutchison of Hong Kong

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 in 1917.

Pearce brought Philip Stanley Cassidy (1889 – 1971), his brother-in-law, into partnership 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 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.

Hutchison remains one of the largest companies in Hong Kong, and Clague deserves credit for having faith in the Hong Kong economy and building the company into what it is today.

A sporting chance: Umbro

Umbro was the foremost soccer brand in the world.

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.

Wallace Humphreys (Courtesy of Umbro)

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.

Support this site!

Hi all,

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.

You can find the link at the bottom of the page.

Many thanks!

Tom

Strong currants: H W Carter & Co

H W Carter & Co introduced Ribena to Britain. 90 percent of British blackcurrant production goes towards making Ribena.

A carton of Ribena in 2007

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.

A Ribena cordial bottle from the 1970s or 1980s

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 (1877 – 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.

Blackcurrants

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.

The Coleford, Gloucestershire factory in 2013

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.

Rows of 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.

Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa

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.

Meta post #1: The influences of this blog

Who inspired me to create letslookagain.com?

Early on I was inspired by a number of individuals who regularly challenged the “established consensus”. These included popular intellectuals such as Malcolm Gladwell (born 1963) , Adam Curtis (born 1955), Niall Ferguson (born 1964) and Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011). These figures 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 appreciated how Gladwell utilised a kind of academic vigour whilst maintaining a delectable readability. Curtis demonstrated how interesting archival blogging can be. Ferguson and Hitchens constantly challenged consensus.

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.

I hope this meta post has been helpful!

Cheers,

Tom

Making bacon: Henry Denny & Sons

Henry Denny & Sons was the largest bacon manufacturer in Europe.

Henry Denny (1790 – 1870) was the son of a Protestant shoemaker in Waterford, Ireland. He established himself as a provisions merchant in Waterford, initially in partnership with a Simon Max, but trading independently from 1820.

Waterford was the centre for pig production in Ireland, however as late as 1839 Denny’s principal trade was in butter. It is not until 1846 that we see him described as a bacon merchant.

Henry Denny was elected Mayor of Waterford in 1854. Abraham Denny (1820 – 1892), a trained architect, joined his father in the business from 1855. Abraham Denny is said to have been instrumental in expanding the business.

The firm introduced improvements to existing curing techniques. It was granted a patent for a process that cured bacon with ice in 1857. Known as “mild curing”, it made the bacon more palatable by using much less salt for preservation. In an era before refrigeration, large shipments of ice had to be ordered in from Norway. Improved preservation techniques allowed Irish meat to be exported year round.

The firm used over 1,000 pigs every week by 1866.

Henry Denny died of bronchitis in 1870 and the business was taken over by Abraham Denny.

By this time E M Denny & Co had been established as agents of Henry Denny & Sons in London. It was managed by Edward Maynard Denny (1832 – 1905) and Thomas Anthony Denny (1819 – 1910), cousins to Abraham Denny.

Henry Denny & Sons operations were extended to Limerick in 1872.

The works at Waterford probably represented the largest bacon curing plant in Europe by 1882.

Operations were extended to Cork in 1889.

Henry Denny & Sons went public in 1891 with a capital of £400,000.

Operations had been established in Hamburg, Germany by 1892.

Abraham Denny died in 1892. He left personalty valued at £174,967. By this time he was one of the largest employers in Waterford. He was succeeded by his son, Charles Edward Denny (1849 – 1927) .

Due to an insufficient supply of pigs in Ireland, Henry Denny & Sons acquired a Danish meat company in 1894. The company introduced Irish meat curing techniques to Denmark.

By 1898 the original Denny site on Queen Street, Waterford, had become too small for the company’s needs, and the factory of Richardsons of Morgan Street was acquired.

Edward Maynard Denny died in 1905. He left a gross estate valued at £584,789.

Thomas Anthony Denny died in 1910 with a gross estate valued at £226,150. He had been a prominent supporter of the Salvation Army.

Over 3,000 pigs were used every week by June 1914. The company was a substantial supplier of Irish bacon to the British armed forces during the First World War.

Henry Denny & Sons was advertising itself as the largest bacon manufacturers in Europe by 1919.

Charles Edward Denny died in 1927, with an English estate valued at £475,248 and an Irish estate valued at £66,277.

The factory on Morgan Street, Waterford, was the largest of its kind in the British Isles in 1933. 400 workers were employed during peak periods. The site could handle up to 4,000 pigs every week.

In 1935 a Wiltshire cure bacon factory was opened in Portadown, Northern Ireland. It initially had a capacity to process 2,000 pigs a week, and employed a workforce of 200.

Frederick Anthony Denny (1860 – 1941) died in 1941.

J & T Sinclair was acquired in 1963.

Due to overcapacity in the industry, the Cork factory was closed in 1968, with the loss of 160 jobs out of a total of 180. The Waterford site was closed in 1972.

The Irish operations were acquired by Kerry Foods in 1982 for around £1.5 million. The company employed 300 people. Kerry already supplied much of the pigs for Denny products.

Stocking trade: N Corah of Leicester

N Corah operated the largest hosiery factory in Britain.

Nathaniel Corah (1776 – 1832) was a Baptist from the Leicestershire village of Bagworth. Trained as a framesmith in the local knitting industry, Corah established business as a hosiery trader in Leicester in 1815.

Corah would purchase hosiery at the Globe on Silver Street in Leicester and sell it in Birmingham.  Initially he was assisted by his wife Sarah (1784 – 1856).

The Globe on Silver Street, Leicester, is still trading

The trade was to prove successful, and by 1824 Corah was able to purchase the freehold of a block of buildings in Union Street, Leicester to house his increasing stocks.

Corah’s sons, John, William and Thomas entered into the business as partners from 1830, and the firm began to trade as N Corah & Sons.

The firm moved to a purpose-built factory on Granby Street in 1845. The relocation allowed for the introduction of steam-power to manufacture.

John Harris Cooper (1832 – 1906) joined N Corah & Sons in 1846. The firm employed around 1,000 old hand frames for stocking manufacturing.

Following the completion of his seven year apprenticeship, Cooper became involved in management at the firm.

John Harris Cooper and Edwin Corah (1832 – 1880) acquired the business in 1857.

The business relocated to St Margaret’s Works in Leicester in 1865. Named after the parish in which it was located, the site originally had a floor space of two acres. The firm introduced the St Margaret’s trademark for clothing at this time. A large beam engine was operated from 1866.

By 1872 the firm employed a workforce of 1,500 and produced about 2,000 tons of product annually.

Upon the death of Edwin Corah in 1880, John Arthur Corah (1846 – 1917) and Alfred Corah joined Cooper in partnership, and the firm began to trade as N Corah, Sons & Cooper. J A Corah had previously managed the Liverpool branch of the business, and Alfred Corah had managed the Birmingham branch.

Electric lighting was installed at St Margaret’s Works from 1883. The firm paid wages substantially above average, and thus avoided strike action by its workers. The firm was a substantial benefactor to various charitable causes, especially the elderly poor of Leicester.

During the First World War, 50 percent of the male staff at Corah joined the forces. The firm produced ten million articles of knitwear, over 70 percent for government contracts.

John Arthur Corah died in 1917 with a gross estate valued at £143,208.

N Corah & Sons was incorporated as a private company in 1919. The St Margaret’s Works was the largest factory of its kind in Britain and probably the largest single-site hosiery works in the world. 2,500 people were employed on a five acre site. Production largely consisted of hosiery and other woollen goods. That year, King George V visited the factory, partly in recognition of Corah’s contribution to the war effort.

The firm developed a strong relationship as a supplier to Marks & Spencer from 1926.

Authorised capital was increased to £750,000 in 1939. 4,500 people were employed.

During the Second World War, half the company’s staff either went into the armed services or were transferred to munitions production. During the war, some 26 million articles were produced. The engineering department was largely given over to producing gun parts and parts for tank landing craft.

N Corah & Sons was converted into a public company in 1946. Marks & Spencer was the principal customer. The St Margaret’s Works in Leicester covered six acres and was the largest hosiery factory in Britain. Around 2,500 people were employed.

Marks & Spencer was a dynamic retailer, and Lord Marks encouraged Corah to be more ambitious. Marks & Spencer made the transition from a low-cost retailer to a quality purveyor from 1951. As a major supplier, Corah too entered this transition. Encouraged by Marks & Spencer, Corah entered into a policy of long-term planning and development.

To reflect the success of its trademark, the company name was changed to N Corah (St Margaret) Ltd in 1954.

The St Margaret’s Works covered a floor space of twelve acres by 1965. Corah employed 6,500 people across the company.

As late as 1978, Marks & Spencer accounted for 75 percent of sales.

Corah entered into difficulty in the 1980s. It acquired Reliance, a fellow M&S supplier, but struggled to integrate the business. This was followed by a strike at one of its factories.

Meanwhile, tastes in fashion began to change. The struggling knitwear division was closed in 1988 with the loss of nearly 800 jobs.

Corah sold its sock division to Courtaulds for £7.5 million in cash in 1988.

Corah was acquired by Charterhall, an Australian investment group, for £27.2 million in 1988. Charterhall entered into administration in 1990.

Coats Viyella, the largest textiles company in Britain, acquired Corah for around £25 million in cash in 1994.

Message in a bottle: Newcastle Brown Ale

This is the story of how Newcastle Brown Ale became the highest selling bottled beer in Britain, and came to make significant sales in the United States.

John Barras & Co

Established on Bath Lane, Newcastle in 1867 by Bells, Robson & Co, the Tyne Brewery was said to be the largest in the North of England. Before long it entered into financial difficulty, and in 1884 it was acquired by John Barras & Co of Gateshead, after their own brewery site was purchased by the North Eastern Railway.

John Barras & Co was operated by Charles John Reed (1820 – 1908), who had leased the brewery since 1861, after marrying into the founding Barras family.

Whether by luck, design or both, a masterstroke of Reed was to appoint Thomas Watson Lovibond (1849 – 1918) as head brewer and manager from 1887. Lovibond was scientifically trained at a time when almost all brewers lacked such formal education, and he was to have a significant impact upon the future success of the business.

Traditionally brewing mild ale, John Barras & Co was brewing pale ale by 1889, in order to compete with rival products from Burton upon Trent and Edinburgh.

Newcastle Breweries

John Barras & Co merged with four local brewers in 1890: W H Allison of North Shields, J J & W H Allison of Sunderland, Swinburne of Gateshead and Carr Brothers & Carr of North Shields to form Newcastle Breweries.

The Tyne Brewery was regarded as one of the largest and best equipped breweries in the North of England, and all production was centralised there. Output was doubled from 900 to 1,800 barrels a week.

The amalgamation was to prove highly successful. Forster’s Bishop Middleham Breweries was acquired in 1910.

The Colonel Porter era

James Herbert Porter (1891 – 1973) was the son of a master brewer in Burton upon Trent. He joined Newcastle Breweries as a trainee brewer in 1909. The model of an English gentleman, Porter was a highly courteous and mild-mannered man.

Porter left to fight in the First World War, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Newcastle Exhibition, a cask beer, was introduced from 1920.

After the war, sales of bottled beers began to increase, influenced by the inconsistent quality of cask beer. Colonel Porter determined to develop a high quality bottled beer of his own.

Newcastle Breweries opened one of the largest and best-equipped bottling plants in Britain in June 1925.

Colonel Porter, by now promoted to assistant brewer, and Archdale Mercer Jones (1881 – 1954), manager of the bottling works, laboured for three years to perfect the recipe for Newcastle Brown Ale. Porter created its distinctive taste by blending a strong aged beer with a light pale ale.

Newcastle Brown Ale was launched in April 1927. The sole ingredients were malt, hops, sugar and yeast and it boasted an ABV of 6.25 percent. Originally it was filtered but was not subject to pasteurisation.

Newcastle Brown Ale enjoyed immediate success. It was a quality product brewed to vigorous scientific methods and high standards, and sold at a reasonable price. Perhaps as a result, Colonel Porter had been promoted to head brewer by September 1927. Newcastle Brown Ale was named as the best bottled beer in Britain at the 1928 Brewers Exhibition in London.

The blue star logo was introduced in 1928. Each point on the star represented one of the five businesses that combined to form Newcastle Breweries.

ABV had been reduced to around 5.5 percent by 1931.

Colonel Porter was promoted to the Newcastle Breweries board of directors in 1931.

During the Second World War Newcastle Breweries encountered material shortages, and as a result brewed lower strength beers out of necessity. However the company refused to compromise the quality of Newcastle Brown Ale, which went unchanged, although productio by necessity represented just a small fraction of demand.

Although sales remained confined to the North East of England, 300 million bottles had been produced by 1952.

Colonel Porter was appointed chairman of Newcastle Breweries in 1955.

The Tyne Brewery occupied 6.5 acres by 1956. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale had continued to grow and the brewer’s bottling facility had reached capacity. A new bottling plant entered production from 1959.

John Rowell & Son of Gateshead was acquired in 1959 to bring the total number of Newcastle Breweries controlled premises to around 700.

Scottish & Newcastle

Newcastle Breweries merged with Scottish Brewers to form Scottish & Newcastle in 1960. Colonel Porter was appointed vice chairman of the new company. Newcastle Brown Ale was a leading product alongside McEwan’s Export and Younger’s Tartan Special. The merger afforded Newcastle Brown Ale a wider network for distribution.

In the early 1960s Scottish & Newcastle began to produce Newcastle Brown Ale in brown bottles instead of clear ones. This was to protect the beer from UV rays, which can have a negative impact on taste. However drinkers complained about the change, and the decision was swiftly reversed.

Distribution of Newcastle Brown Ale had begun throughout the Midlands and the South of England by the late 1960s. The Tyne Brewery was producing over one million barrels of beer a year by 1972, however increased national sales of Newcastle Brown Ale saw the facility struggle to meet demand.

Domestic sales of Newcastle Brown Ale peaked in 1974, after which sales of bottled beers began to enter into a steady decline. The appeal of bottled beer had been its consistency, but with the increasing quality, consistency and distribution of keg beer, its unique selling point was lost.

By 1977 a total of 7.5 million barrels of Newcastle Brown Ale had been produced since it was introduced in 1927.

Newcastle Brown Ale was the highest selling packaged ale in Britain by 1980. It was sold in over 97 percent of off licences in England and Wales and more than 90 percent of supermarkets and grocers.

It is believed that Newcastle Brown Ale ceased to be a blended beer from the early 1980s onwards.

A new £3 million bottling plant was opened in 1984. The Tyne Brewery had grown to cover 14 acres by 1985. 1,200 people were employed there in 1988.

Scottish & Newcastle was the fifth largest brewer in Britain by 1988.

Newcastle Exhibition was the highest selling draught ale in the North East of England by 1989.

Newcastle Brown Ale underwent a resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s with increased distribution in the South of England, as well as a strong presence in student union bars. Marketing efforts dissociated the drink from its working class roots in an attempt to position it as a premium product.

Scottish & Newcastle took direct control of its United States product distribution from 1990 onwards. With American headquarters in San Francisco, by the mid-1990s the brand had gained significant traction in the United States.

Newcastle Brown Ale was a pasteurised beer by 1994. The pasteurisation process increases the shelf life of the product, but critics contend that it reduces the delicate aromas of beer.

Scottish & Newcastle acquired Courage in 1995 to become the largest brewer in Britain.

230,000 hectolitres of Newcastle Brown Ale were exported to the United States in 1998. The majority of Newcastle Brown Ale production was shipped to the United States by 2001.

The Tyne Brewery was closed in May 2005. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the Federation Brewery in nearby Dunston, Gateshead.

Newcastle Brown Ale was among the top fifty highest-selling beers in the United States by 2006.

Bottling of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, from 2007.

Scottish & Newcastle was acquired by Heineken, a Dutch brewer, in 2008.

Heineken closed the Federation Brewery in May 2010, and Newcastle Brown Ale production was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery.

Caramel colouring, apparently used to darken and flavour Newcastle Brown Ale since its inception, was replaced with roasted malt from 2015, amid US health concerns.

Production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the Zouterwoude Brewery in the Netherlands from 2017.