Welsh fire: Idris & Co

Idris “Fiery” ginger beer is sold throughout Britain, and is manufactured by Britvic.

Thomas Howell Williams (1842 – 1925) was born at Vallen, Pembrokeshire, the son of a Welsh-speaking Baptist farmer. He was apprenticed to a chemist in Monmouthshire at the age of twelve. He emigrated to London in 1863.

Manufacturing chemists of the era often produced soft drinks, which were purported to have medical benefits. Ginger ale, Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper were all created by chemists.

Williams established Idris & Co, soft drink manufacturer, on Pratt Street, Camden Town in 1875. An ardent Welsh nationalist, his business was named after a mountain in his homeland.

Idris & Co employed at least 400 men by 1891. That year, a generous profit-sharing scheme was introduced for the employees. The firm was incorporated in 1892 with a nominal capital of £100,000.

T H Williams added Idris to his surname by deed poll in 1893.

Idris & Co employed two automated carbonated soft drink filling machines, which were designed by T H W Idris himself.

Between 1895 and 1897, Idris & Co nearly doubled in size. Additional factories had been established at Southampton by 1896 and at Liverpool by 1898. A public offering in 1897 took company capital to £150,000. By 1897 the company had a Royal Warrant to supply Queen Victoria.

A merger was proposed between Idris & Co and the Chemists’ Aerated & Mineral Waters Association in 1898. With a capital of £400,000 the business would have had the scale to rival Schweppes. However the merger plans did not come to fruition.

Idris & Co had a share capital of £216,000 by 1900. Depots were located at Teddington, Watford, Reigate, Folkstone, Portsmouth and Bournemouth. The company employed almost 1,000 people, including nearly 200 at the Camden Town factory. That year, five million bottles of carbonated soft drinks were sold, as well as millions of non-carbonated drinks. That year, an additional factory was opened at Canterbury.

Motorised distribution was introduced in 1901. Horse-driven carts had previously limited road distribution to a 17 mile radius.

Politically T H W Idris was a radical and a progressive. In 1902 he invited representatives of the Social Democratic Federation and the National Democratic League to inspect his wages bill. They declared that Idris & Co was paying the highest wages in the industry, that retired workers received pensions and that the profit-sharing scheme had distributed thousands of pounds to staff.

In 1904-5 T H W Idris served as the Mayor of St Pancras. Between 1906 and 1910 he was the Liberal Member of Parliament for Flintshire.

By 1908 Idris & Co had a Royal Warrant to supply Edward VII.

120 women and girls at the Camden Town factory went on strike in 1911 in protest at the dismissal of an employee. The strikers agreed to an independent review of the case by the Board of Trade. The review cleared Idris & Co of any wrongdoing.

By 1912 Idris & Co was distributing soft drinks within a 50 mile radius of its Camden Town factory. Depots were situated at Watford, Teddington, Enfield and Southend. The company had over one million bottles. By 1914 the firm had 21 lorries. By 1916 Idris & Co had a Royal Warrant to supply George V.

Thomas Howell Williams Idris died in 1925 with an estate valued at £30,317. He was succeeded as chairman by his son, Walter Howell Williams Idris (1875 – 1939).

In 1936 Idris & Co opened a new depot at Chelmsford, Essex.

W H W Idris died in 1939, with a gross estate valued at £20,230. He was succeeded as chairman by Joseph Edward Southwell. In 1943 Southwell stepped down, and was succeeded by Ivor Trevena Idris (1911 – 1993), the grandson of the late founder.

Idris mineral water was not available during the Second World War due to Government restrictions aimed at rationalising production.

In 1961 Coca-Cola Bottlers of Scotland was acquired.

In 1964 Idris entered into a joint venture with Fuller Smith & Turner, the London brewer, for the 7 Up bottling franchise for London and the South East.

In 1965 the antiquated Camden Town factories were closed, and production was relocated to a new site at White Hart Lane, Tottenham.

Following problems establishing the new factory, and a fire at the Coca-Cola Scotland plant, in 1965-6 the company made a loss of £348,000.

In 1967 the loss-making Idris was acquired by Beecham, which owned the Lucozade, Ribena and Corona soft drinks brands.

The Beecham soft drinks business was acquired by Britvic in 1987.

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