Can-do spirit: a history of Farrow’s peas

Farrow & Co ranked as one of the largest industrial concerns in Peterborough. Farrow’s marrowfat peas are still sold in Britain.

Farrow & Co is established
Joseph Farrow Sr (1815 – 1898), was from Dowsdale in Lincolnshire. He established himself as a manufacturer of mushroom ketchup at Parson Drove near Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, from 1840. Mushroom ketchup was a popular condiment of the period.

Joseph Farrow Jr (1850 – 1939) had entered his father’s business by 1876. He was a dedicated Baptist, a lifelong non-smoker, a Liberal and a temperance advocate.

Joseph Farrow Sr retired as a gentleman around 1883. Joseph Farrow Jr and his wife Mary Farrow (1844 – 1926) continued the business.

Joseph Farrow Jr established a new mushroom ketchup factory at a former brewery in Holbeach, Lincolnshire, from 1883.

Mustard production was commenced from 1888. Farrow was keen to break the duopoly on the mustard trade, which was controlled by J & J Colman of Norwich and Keen of London.

A house and former granary at South Square, Boston were acquired in 1889. The premises were converted into a factory in order to accommodate increasing demand for Farrow’s mustard. The site was chosen as it had space for expansion and offered good railway links. There was an initial staff of 60 people.

Joseph Algernon “Algy” Farrow (1874 – 1949) joined his father in business. He was a warm-hearted, egalitarian man.

Farrow & Co claimed to have been the first business in England to sell dried peas in packets.

Farrow & Co enters into mass production
Expanding sales saw production relocated to a large five-storey model factory on Fletton Avenue, Peterborough, from 1902. The site was located close to the Great Northern Railway. The factory employed up to 300 people.

Farrow peas and mustard were the leading product lines, and were branded under the A1 trademark, (no relation to Brand’s A1 sauce). Much of the company’s mustard seed was grown on its own farms. A large export market for dried peas was developed in South Africa.

Farrow & Co claimed to be the largest manufacturer of mushroom ketchup in the world in 1904.

The Boston and Holbeach factories were closed in order to centralise all production at Peterborough.

Joseph Farrow & Co is acquired by Colman’s
J & J Colman, mustard manufacturers of Norwich, acquired Joseph Farrow & Co in 1912. The business was registered as a limited company. Farrow & Co was one of the largest mustard manufacturers in Britain, and Colman was probably motivated by a desire to increase its control of the market.

Farrow & Co acquired its leading competitors in mustard production later that year. Barringer & Co, Moss Rimmington & Co and Sadler’s Mustard were all acquired. To absorb this new production, Farrow reopened its Holbeach factory, and reopened the Boston site as a warehouse. The Peterborough site was also expanded.

Farrow & Co introduced a 48-hour working week for men, and a 44-hour week for women.

Farrow & Co entered into pea canning from 1930. Mass canning was enabled by the development of pea harvesting machinery.

Production of Farrow’s mustard was relocated to Norwich from 1931. Marketing of the mustard was ended, and the product was discontinued.

The Peterborough factory was greatly extended in order to can fruit, as well as increase the pea canning operation, in 1932. The factory was one of the foremost canneries in Britain. Fruit canning focused on English soft fruits such as gooseberries, strawberries, blackberries and plums. At the height of the fruit-picking season up to 250 women were employed in the canning process.

Pea canning was the main business by the mid-1930s.

Joseph Farrow Jr died in 1939. The role of company chairman was assumed by Joseph Algernon Farrow.

The vegetable canning operation was enlarged in 1940, and the peak staffing levels were doubled.

Much of production was dedicated to the armed forces during the Second World War.

By the end of the Second World War, Farrow & Co was one of the principal industrial concerns in Peterborough, behind brickmaking and ranked alongside sugar beet processing.

R W Gale & Co Ltd of London, a processor of honey, was acquired in 1948.

Joseph Algernon Farrow was chairman of Farrow & Co until his death in 1949. He left an estate valued at £58,000.

The growth period for canned foods had largely ended by the early 1950s. R W Gale & Co production was relocated to Peterborough from 1951.

Aided by the popularity of Gale’s honey, Farrow & Co was the largest subsidiary of J & J Colman by 1961. Gale’s honey was the market leader in Britain.

The canning business is sold and the Peterborough factory is closed
The Farrow & Co canned vegetables business was sold to Batchelors of Sheffield, a Unilever subsidiary, in 1971.

J & J Colman continued to manufacture Gale’s honey and preserves at Peterborough, until the factory was closed with the loss of 250 jobs in 1973. Production was relocated to Norwich.

Unilever sold Batchelors to the Campbell Soup Company in 2001. Batchelors was sold to Premier Foods in 2006. Premier Foods sold the Farrow’s brand to Princes Foods of Liverpool in 2011.

Farrow’s Marrowfat peas are still sold.

5 thoughts on “Can-do spirit: a history of Farrow’s peas”

  1. Hello Thomas, I was fascinated by this post as my great grandfather Benjamin Jabez Fletcher was married to Joseph Farrow’s daughter Rosetta. After having two children she disappeared out of the village of Whaplode Drove and was only located when being buried in Boston in 1901 after becoming ill and spending a week in the Workhouse there. My Aunt always told me that Mrs. Farrow would go from house to house selling her mustard which was bought by Colmans. I did wonder if there was any truth in it and now I know! I have a friend who works for Reckitt and Colman so it is great to have a connection to the history. Thanks for posting this. I hope it is o.k. to copy the link to my public Ancestry tree (George/McDonald)? It has made my day finding this information. Best wishes, Sally George.

    1. I too am related to Joseph Farrow. My maiden name was Farrow. My father was Michael Farrow. His father was Dr. Ernest Pickworth Farrow who was a research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. His father was William Farrow who grew the peas on his farm. His grandfather was William Farrow whose son was Joseph Farrow snr. Looks like we’re cousins !!!. My name is Annis Sokol and you’ll find me on Facebook. Send me a message and I’ll try to work out what sort of cousins we are !!!

      1. Ok so it appears that you were a third cousin of my father and my third cousin once removed ! I looked up the Farrows and Joseph Farrow (snr) was born in 1816 and died in 1898. He had several children; Victoria, (b 1841), William, (1842-1929), Simon, (1848-1905), Joseph, (1850-1939), Julia(1853) and Rosetta (1857). My great, great grandfather was William whose middle name was Morton. He married Matilda Hipkin in 1863. Their eldest child was Ernest William who inherited the farm. He had 3 children Ernest, William and Eleanor. I think that William inherited the farm. My father was the son of Ernest and his only child. My grandparents never married but lived together at the end of Ernest’s life. I don’t know why they didn’t get married but needless to say my father wasn’t involved with his father’s family much. My mother tried to find out but didn’t get very far. Now family genealogy is all online so it is much easier. Are you in cntact with any other Farrow’s or their descendents? As I said before I am on Facebook as Annis Sokol.

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