Strange but true: Meredith & Drew

Meredith & Drew was the largest biscuit manufacturer in Europe.

William Meredith
William Meredith (1803 – 1868), originally from Bristol, established a bakery at Shadwell, East London in 1830. William George Drew (1813 – 1867) was his principal assistant.

Little is known of this early period, but following a quarrel between the two men, Drew left to establish his own biscuit business nearby from 1852.

Meredith hired Frederick Collier (1838 – 1903) from 1853. Meredith focused on the public house trade for his biscuits, pound cakes and Banbury cakes. He operated a steam-powered factory on Commerical Road East, and traded as Meredith & Son by 1856.

Drew & Sons
Drew had also established a steam-powered factory by 1856, located on Shadwell High Street. Like Meredith, he focused on supplying the public house and hotel trade with biscuits. He employed 30 men by 1861.

Drew died from a heart attack in 1867, and his obituary hailed him as “a man of remarkable energy and enterprise”, remembered for his charitable interests. He was succeeded in his business by his wife Barbara, and his only son, Lear James Drew (1840 – 1917), a genial man.

Drew & Sons produced over 100 different varieties of biscuit by 1877.

Meredith & Drew
Frederick Meredith and Lear James Drew merged their interests as Meredith & Drew in 1891, with a capital of £107,000.

Meredith & Drew received its first Royal Warrant, from Queen Victoria, in 1894.

The Meredith & Drew factory at Shadwell was extended in 1896. Production was still concentrated on the manufacture of biscuits for the catering industry, particularly public houses and hotels.

Meredith & Drew developed a reputation for fair treatment of its customers and workforce.

Meredith & Drew was one of the best known East End of London businesses by 1897. Lear Drew was chairman, and he was supported by a strong management team including H D Rawlings (1837 – 1904) as vice chairman and Frederick Collier as managing director.

The Wright stuff
Meredith & Drew merged with Wright & Son of Shadwell through an exchange of shares in 1905. Thomas Reuben Wright (1868 – 1923) became managing director of the company.

Lear J Drew died in 1917 with an estate valued at £30,986.

Thomas Reuben Wright died in 1923 with an estate valued at £73,530.

A factory was acquired in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire in 1927.

Meredith & Drew launched the Betta Biscuit, a cut-price product, from 1931. Largely due to the success of the product, the company was the largest biscuit manufacturer in Europe by 1934.

Meredith & Drew had six factories across England by 1939. The London site, which was also the largest, was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940, and production was permanently relocated to plants at Oldham, Brighouse and High Wycombe. Company headquarters were relocated to Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

Schoolchildren help to load Meredith & Drew biscuit tins onto a lorry, to be sent to liberated Europe (1945)

Meredith & Drew lost its position as the largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain following the formation of United Biscuits in 1948. It remained the longest-established biscuit manufacturer in England.  At this time 29 different biscuits were produced, and among the most popular were shortcake, currant shortcake, Nice, Bourbon, custard cream and ginger nut.

Meredith & Drew had an authorised share capital of £1 million, and 2,500 employees by 1951. Geoffrey Anthony Edward Drew Wright (born 1908), son of T R Wright, was managing director by this time.

A new factory at Cinderford, Gloucestershire, with a focus on cream cracker production, went online from 1951, with 300 staff, including 150 women.

Meredith & Drew divested its Brighouse factory in 1954. The company reduced seven factories to three throughout the 1950s, with production centralised at Halifax, Cinderford and Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

The Cinderford factory was closed in 1962. Meanwhile the Halifax and Ashby-de-la-Zouch plants were extended and modernised.

Meredith & Drew had around five percent of the British crisps market by 1963, with own-label production for Marks & Spencer and a strong presence in the licensed trade.

Crisps contributed an increasing share of turnover, and the Ashby-de-la-Zouch facility began to struggle to meet demand. A new crisp factory with a staff of 280 was acquired in Lanarkshire in 1963.

Meredith & Drew was strong in own-label production, savoury biscuits, the catering trade and potato crisps in 1967.

United Biscuits era
Meredith & Drew, with four percent of the British biscuit market, was acquired by United Biscuits for £2 million in a cash and share offer in 1967.

The Meredith & Drew biscuit factory in Halifax employed hundreds of workers in 1968.

Brand rationalisation saw the Meredith & Drew name retired by some point after 1980, but it was reintroduced from 2018 as a United Biscuits premium biscuit brand with a focus on the catering trade.

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15 thoughts on “Strange but true: Meredith & Drew”

  1. I worked at the factory in Halifax in the summer of 1966, the foreman on the day shift was George Smith. The workers were really nice mostly English with some Indians from Kenya. I leved in Siddle with a Mrs Mcdaid and she worked for Roundtree McIntosh her husband was dead and her children were Joseph and Marita. I hope to visit again one day

    1. Thanks for sharing Liam. What products was the Halifax factory producing, and do you know when the site opened? Cheers, Tom.

      1. The products made at the Club Lane factory Halifax were
        Custard Cream, Bourbon Cream, Ritch Tea, Giner nuts, Coconut Creams, Digestives, and Pink wafers to name but a few.
        I worked there in 1969 and remember the place well, had various roles from a “porter” filling up the lines to working in the paper stores, and down in Ovenden warehouse, and the dispensary making the dough. Hard work but as I was young it did not seem to matter, starting at 07.45 in the morning and finished by 16.45 pm except Friday when we finished at 12.45
        Happy days…..

  2. I managed to persuade a company Base Toys B T models to make models of M & D trucks. Permission was obtained from U B to use their trade name. They can be found at Hattons Liverpool and do come up on ebay. I actually worked there in the late 60s and was interested in transport, John Spence was the transport manager then. I am still trying to find old pics of 50s 60s 70s vehicles of theirs.

    1. I used to work for the golden twin crisp company in Reading Berkshire . They made crisp’s for Marks & Spencers in 1963 it was a small company but fun to work at.

  3. I worked there when I left school for 7 years a bus picked us up in Bolton on dearne to take us to Halifax buiscuit factory it took the bus 2 and a half hours to get there the girls that worked there were great some best years of my life when anybody had a day off you got sent up stairs to the wet end

  4. I have a Meredith & Drew – cheese assorted – biscuit tin, squarish in shape 9″x8.5″x4.75″high. Wording is on an orange background with images of cheese biscuits on a white background. On the side is a weight 2 LBS 8OZ. There is also the name and address, Meredith & Drew Ltd, London, EC2, England. On this website it informs that the company was founded in Shadwell, London in 1830 but I believe Shadwell is EC1. Can anyone advise of an EC2 address as per my tin. I am curious why I have not been able to find anything. Many thanks.

  5. Hi, I was born in 1948 and lived at 29k Juniper Street, Stepney, London. We all left when I was 8 years old to live in Suffolk. whilst in Juniper st, my Mum worked in a large Meredith and Drew biscuit factory which was situated halfway down the said street, which incidentally is a short distance from Shadwell, so this may have been classed as the Shadwell factory.

  6. Mr.Meredith was also behind Merco,(Miniature Exhibition Railway Co)who produced lithos for model railway originally in HO but mainly in OO.The lithos covered coaches and freight vehicles.Can still be found at exhibitions and on e-bay.

  7. Hello. My name is Peter Denby . I joined M&D as a junior sales representative covering the North Yorkshire Area in the early 60 ‘s and was based at Club Lane , Ovenden, Halifax. My first car was a company Ford Anglia and I was extremely proud of it. I shall always be grateful to M&D for giving me my first sales representative job and starting me on a career in selling which lasted all my working life. Incedently my favourite biscuit was Rich Harvest Digestive. Happy Memories.

    1. Very interesting Peter, thanks for sharing. Do you know when the Meredith & Drew brand was phased out? Cheers, Tom

  8. Hello, my name is John Mortimer. In 1942 we moved to Midway near Ashby where my father, Jim Mortimer, started work as traffic manager. I went to Ashby Grammar School. Peter Dolman, whose father worked at M&D, also went to the same school.
    In 1946 we moved to Osterley because my father was transferred to the Londo office. Jim Mortimer died in 1980 aged 79.

    Does anyone know the name Winnie Godfrey? Who was she? She was connected somehow to M&D.

    John

  9. I worked in the Ashby-de-la-Zouch biscuit factory after it had been sold to United Biscuits. Someone in quality control, who had worked there when it was Meredith and Drew, said that one night (or day) the mix had been wrong for the marshmallows, and no one noticed, After they had all been sent out for delivery, the marshmallow then suffered severe shrinkage, (some were covered with chocolate and the customer only noticed on eating them). The factory lost a large sum of money for the factory. Does anyone know if this might have been true?

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