Worth a mint: Barker & Dobson

This is the story of how Barker & Dobson became one of the largest confectionery manufacturers in Britain.

Origins
Joseph Dobson (1801 – 1864) opened a sweet shop at 75 Paradise Street, Liverpool in 1834. Using the maiden name of his wife, he commenced trade as Barker & Dobson.

Dobson was declared bankrupt in 1861. One of the trustees of the estate was George Bassett (1818 – 1886), confectioner of Sheffield.

Barker & Dobson had relocated to 6 Duke Street by 1870. Their main business was in imported French confectionery.

Jacobson era
The business was taken over by Henry Dobson Jacobson (1867 – 1961), grandson of Joseph Dobson, in 1889.

Jacobson was to prove the impetus behind the subsequent growth of Barker & Dobson. He relocated the business to Hope Street and entered into confectionery and chocolate manufacturing. Over 100 workers were employed in sweet and chocolate manufacture by 1897. Their leading product line was Walnut Toffee, with sales of over 2000 lbs (over 900 kg) a week.

Barker & Dobson operated three confectionery shops by this time, and these specialised in the sale of imported confectionery from France, Germany and America.

Jacobson was a great believer in the power of advertising, and bought space in newspapers, and invested in enticing product labels and packaging.

A 1929 advertisement for the Barker & Dobson Verona chocolate assortment from Britannia & Eve.

Barker & Dobson established a factory and head office at Franklin Place, in the Everton district of Liverpool, from 1906.

In order to fund expansion, Barker & Dobson was incorporated as a public company from 1919.

Premises had been established at London as well as Liverpool by 1924.

A disused tram depot on Whitefield Road, Liverpool was acquired and converted into a factory in 1926. The new factory adjoined the Franklin Place site.

Barker & Dobson had a authorised share capital of £500,000 by 1928. The business employed over 1,200 people.

H D Jacobson became chairman, and appointed his brother, Percy Isidore Jacobson (1873 – 1961), as managing director.

Sale to Scribbans-Kemp
Barker & Dobson was one of the largest manufacturers of chocolate and boiled sweets in Britain by the post-war period. Following the Second World War the company began to struggle to meet demand for its products, and required an increase in capital.

Barker & Dobson was acquired by Scribbans-Kemp of Birmingham, a large cake and biscuit manufacturer, in 1952. Scribbans-Kemp established a new sugar confectionery factory and offices in 1955.

Bensons, a sweet manufacturer based in Bury, Lancashire, was acquired in 1956-7.

P I Jacobson died in 1961 with a gross estate of £353,003. H D Jacobson also died in 1961 with a gross estate of £865,359.

Fryer & Co of Nelson, Lancashire was acquired for £1.2 million in 1965. The company had invented the jelly baby, and produced the Victory V cough sweet.

Scribbans-Kemp changed its name to S K Holdings in the early 1970s. However its name was soon changed to that of its better-known subsidiary, Barker & Dobson.

Waller & Hartley of Blackpool, with the Hacks cough sweet brand, was acquired in 1972.

Overseas sales were important to Barker & Dobson, and 18 percent of production was exported to 86 different countries in 1972. The principal foreign markets were the Americas and Canada. The Everton Mint remained the highest-selling product line.

The five confectionery factories in Lancashire employed over 2,000 people by 1974. The Liverpool factory produced 250 tons of sweets per week.

The Blackpool and Southport factories were closed with the loss of 450 jobs in 1974.

Barker & Dobson distributed Ferrero products such as Tic-Tacs for the British market from 1974.

Financial difficulties
Barker & Dobson suffered heavy losses in the mid-1970s. A stake in Hacks Malaysia was divested in 1976.

Barker & Dobson was forced to remove the 0.2 percent chloroform component from its Victory V sweet recipe from 1981, due to a change in the law. Victory V sales immediately slumped by 25 percent.

The Barker & Dobson factory in Dublin was closed in 1982.

The Whitefield Road factory was closed with the loss of about 360 jobs in 1983. The sugar confectionery market was in decline, and the ageing factory would have needed extensive repairs in order to remain operational. 200 administrative staff remained at the Whitefield Road offices.

Only Bury and Nelson remained as large factories within the company. There were also smaller factories in Dundee and east London.

Barker & Dobson held the British distribution rights for Marabou products, such as the Daim/Dime chocolate bar, by 1984.

Barker & Dobson sold its newsagents business, with 150 outlets, to Guinness for £10 million in 1985. A high-class chocolate shop on Bond Street, London was retained.

Keiller, the butterscotch and marmalade manufacturer, was acquired for £4.9 million in 1985.

The highest-selling product lines in 1985 were Hacks, Victory V and Everton Mints.

The Whitefield Road offices were closed in 1985, and headquarters were relocated to Bury.

Barker & Dobson acquired Budgens supermarkets, with 148 outlets, from Booker McConnell for £80 million in 1986.

Subsequent owners
Alma Holdings acquired the heavily loss-making confectionery subsidiary of Barker & Dobson for £10 million in 1988. The deal created the fourth largest sugar confectionery manufacturer in Britain.

Alma entered into receivership in 1992, and Hacks and Victory V were sold to Cadbury for £3.1 million, who relocated production to their Trebor Bassett factories. Barker & Dobson and Keiller were acquired by Portfolio Foods for £3 million.

The Barker & Dobson brand is currently owned by Tangerine Confectionery in Britain, although it has been inactive in recent years. Hacks remains a leading confectionery brand in Malaysia.

5 thoughts on “Worth a mint: Barker & Dobson”

  1. Excellent abbreviated history of the evolution of the Lancashire confectionery industry, and its subsequent rationalisation from the 1970s onwards. Are there other sources of information on other companies mentioned e.g. Waller & Hartley Limited, Fryer & co.

  2. Through my mother’s side of the family I am related to Thomas Barker (born 1848) and his wife Mary Ann (“Polly”) Barker nee Dorn. I would be interested in any information relating to the Barker, Dorn and Dobson families.

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