Oh figs: Batger & Co

Batger & Co was one of the largest confectioners in Britain by the early twentieth century. It was best known for Chinese Figs, Jersey Caramels and Silmos Lollies.

The Batger family had a background in the London sugar trade. The business claimed that it was established by a Miss Batger in 1748.

By 1783 John Batger was based at 16 Bishopsgate Street, London, where he had established a confectionery business by at least 1814.

Batger & Co had a four-storey factory at 15-16 Bishopsgate Street by 1847.

Batger & Co was acquired by Samuel Hanson & Son of Botolph Lane in 1856.

A new factory was established at 103 Broad Street, Ratcliff, London in 1863.

Frederick Machin (1826 – 1902) and Samuel Hanson (1804 – 1882) had control of Batger & Co by 1864.

The Bishopsgate premises were divested in 1867.

Batger & Co employed 200 people by 1871. “Harlequin” Christmas crackers began to be produced from 1872.

The factory covered two acres, all built upon, by 1875. 450 people were employed; rising to 550 at Christmas and 700 during the English fruit season, when jam was made. Around 2,000 tons of sugar and 1,000 tons of English fruits were used each year. Machinery was used extensively.

Frederick Arnold was the general manager of the company from 1855. He was a kind man and an effective manager. He led a content workforce, for whom annual excursions were organised. Arnold was dismissed in 1880 for extensively stealing from the company, and sentenced to 14 months hard labour.

Frederick Machin had assumed full control of Batger & Co by 1880.

Batger & Co employed 400 people (250 men, 100 women and 50 boys) by 1881. The company was one of the largest manufacturers of jam and confectionery in London.

14 tons of rotten fruit were seized from the Broad Street factory by the local health authority in 1895.

Frederick Machin died in 1902 with an estate valued at £59,887. Control of the firm passed to his son, Stanley Machin (1861 – 1939).

Batger was one of the largest confectionery companies in the United Kingdom by 1902.

Batger had introduced Chinese Figs by 1903. They were oval sweets consisting of real figs, fruit jelly and a sugar coating.

Batger employed well over 1,000 people by 1909. During the First World War the company won a lucrative contract to supply the Army with jam.

Batger & Co was acquired by Crosse & Blackwell for £522,902 in 1920. Batger retained its old management, and Stanley Machin was appointed a director of Crosse & Blackwell.

Batger & Co was the sole profitable Crosse & Blackwell subsidiary in 1923. However Crosse & Blackwell directors discovered that a confectionery firm lacked synergies with a company largely concerned with preserves.

Crosse & Blackwell divested Batger & Co Ltd as a private company under the sole control of Stanley Machin and Joseph Hetherington (1873 – 1937), who had both been associated with the firm for over forty years, in 1926.

There was a strike at the Broad Street factory in 1926. The striking employees were all dismissed.

Stanley Machin died in 1939. An obituary hailed him as one of the “leaders of commercial life in the City of London”.

The Broad Street factories were destroyed during the Blitz in 1940. A new factory was opened at 44 Southside, Clapham Common.

Batger made a loss of £66,000 on a turnover of £1.2 million in 1969. Its net asset value was £301,000.

Batger & Co was acquired by Needlers Ltd of Hull, a confectionery firm, for £263,000 in cash in 1970. The Batger factory in Clapham was closed in 1971, with production relocated to Hull. Two Batger directors, J Hetherington and Colin Machin, joined Needlers.

The last remaining Batger’s product, Chinese Figs, was discontinued around the year 2000.

The Needlers business was acquired by Ashbury Confectionery of Corby in 2002.

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