The fruit of enterprise: Pink’s jam

By the late nineteenth century, Pink’s was the largest producer of jam and marmalade in the world.

Edward Pink (1827 – 1910) emigrated to London from Durley, Hampshire. He served an apprenticeship to a grocer before founding a preserves business in 1860.

Edward Pink
Edward Pink (1827 – 1910)

His son, Thomas (1854 – 1926), entered the business in 1867, at which point there were twelve employees. When Edward Pink Jr also entered the business the firm became known as Edward Pink & Sons.

A factory was established on Staple Street, Bermondsey, South London. The operation utilised steam-powered machinery by 1874. Over 400 people were permanently employed, rising to 600 during the busy seasons.

Scrupulous cleanliness was adhered to. In 1874 the influential Dr Arthur Hassall of The Lancet toured the company’s factory and after scientific analysis was able to vouch for the purity of the firm’s products. This was a great boon for the company at at time when food adulteration was rife.

From 1874 the company added a small amount of apple jelly to its marmalade, which mellowed the bitterness of the Seville oranges.

In 1879 the company claimed to be “the largest manufacturer of preserves”. The company catered largely to a working class market.

By 1881 Edward Pink & Sons employed 263 men and 366 women, a total of 629 people. From this time, Edward Pink & Sons added glucose to their jams, which the firm claimed to greatly improve the product.

In 1890 Thomas Pink became managing director of the company, which henceforth was known as E & T Pink. Pink was a dour, hard-working, hands-on employer. Immediately after taking control of the business, he completely reorganised it.

In 1892, in response to alleged intimidation of union members, the activist Clement Edwards urged the Co-operative societies to boycott Pink’s products.

60 female workers in the finishing department went on strike in 1892 after their wages were reduced. They were all promptly replaced by new workers.

E & T Pink did not allow its workers to leave the premises during their lunch break, and did not provide a separate room where staff could rest during their break. In 1893 a juryman described the situation as “shameful”. In 1893, following an appeal by the MP John Burns to Thomas Pink, permission was granted for outside breaks, and in 1894 Pink built an 800-capacity dining room for employees.

By 1893 there were 500 regular workers at E & T Pink, around 400 of whom were women. That year, 8,000 tons of jam were produced.

In 1894 Pink employed 56 salesmen, 130 clerks, and over 1,800 workers during the busy season. His steam engines amounted to  over 1,000 horse power.

By 1894, E & T Pink was the largest manufacturer of jam in the world, with an average production of 40 tons per day. He controlled a twelfth of the British tapioca market. By the late nineteenth century, E & T Pink claimed to be by far the largest manufacturer of marmalade in the world.

Advertisement from 1890
Advertisement from 1890

Thomas Pink was a highly-gifted engineer: he designed the machinery at his pepper mills himself; in 1894 they ground sixteen tons of pepper a week, and Pink controlled an eighth of the British pepper trade.

Pink was the first British businessman to dictate his correspondence by phonograph. By 1894 he conducted the majority of his business through the newly-invented telephone. A strong Conservative, Pink was knighted in 1904.

By 1900 over 1,500 people were regularly employed by the company.

By 1909 the Staple Street factory covered 5.5 acres. It was the largest jam factory in the world.

Edward Pink died in 1910 with an estate valued at £261,677. E&T Pink was converted into a company in 1912.

Between 1910 and 1914 the business suffered heavy losses.

In 1911 there was a woman’s strike at Pink’s factory. The women managed to secure a wage increase of two shillings per week.

Pink's strikers in 1914
Pink’s women strikers in 1911

In 1914 the Pink factory suffered a serious strike of around 1,000 people, involving almost all but the clerical staff. The workers demanded an increase in their wages. Pink’s response was to close the entire factory, citing safety concerns for those among his workforce who remained loyal. This left a total of 1,200 to 1,500 people idle. Work resumed after Pink agreed to grant the minimum wage recommended by the Trade Board.

During the First World War, wartime contracts allowed E & T Pink to re-enter profitability, but following the end of the war, the losses returned.

In 1918 a cooperage fire at Pink’s factory caused £20,000 worth of damage.

By 1920 control of E & T Pink had come under control of the Van Den Bergh family.

In 1920 E & T Pink was merged with Plaistowe, a fellow jam, marmalade and confectionery manufacturer. The merger was motivated by anticipated economies of scale.

The merged company had an annual production of 24,000 tons of jam and marmalade, 7,500 tons of confectionery and 2,500 tons of Fulcreem food products. Total sales were over £2.75 million.

In 1921 the company directors agreed that the Pink’s name had become noxious, and that a rebranding was necessary to increase sales.

After sustaining losses of £200,000 between 1920 and 1923, the E & T Pink subsidiary was liquidated, and the assets acquired by Plaistowe.

Following the merger, Sir Thomas Pink was retained in an advisory capacity, but had no directorial control. A keen smoker, drinker and meat eater, he died from heart failure at his London home in 1926, following surgery. He left an estate valued at just over £275,000.

In his will Sir Thomas awarded a £750 a year annuity to his son, Thomas Bernard Pink, who having emigrated to Canada in 1914, had not been heard from since.

Plaistowe entered receivership in 1926. This was blamed on losses made by the Pink side of the business, as well as the mismanagement of the merger of the production of the two firms. Plaistowe was acquired by Crosse & Blackwell in 1930, who merged operations with their Keiller jam and confectionery subsidiary.

The Bermondsey factory was demolished in 1935, and replaced by a housing estate.

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3 thoughts on “The fruit of enterprise: Pink’s jam”

  1. Thank you for this interesting account of the company.
    Have been digging at a dumping ground of London rubbish, our findings have only been small broken bits of china, jars and bottles, luckily some with a name. This particular stone jar had E & T Pink London on the base. Interestingly, a few other pieces have also been traced to Vauxhall. possibly bewteen 1880-1919

      1. My family tree has a written note – Pink’s Jam through Jonathan Edward Pink – my grandmother’s grandfather. I will see what further details she can clarify – she is now a 106.

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