Welsh fire: Idris & Co

Idris became one of the largest soft drinks manufacturers in Britain. Idris “Fiery” ginger beer continued to be sold until 2019.

Idris & Co is established
Thomas Howell Williams (1842 – 1925) was born at Vallen, Pembrokeshire, the son of a Baptist farmer. His first language was Welsh, and he did not learn to speak English until he was eight years old.

From the age of twelve Williams was apprenticed to a cousin in Crickhowell who worked as a chemist. He was restless and ambitious, and emigrated to London to work for a well-known firm of chemists in 1863.

Williams entered into business for himself with a chemist shop on Seven Sisters Road from 1870. It was there that he first introduced soft drinks under the Idris brand, named after a Welsh mountain.

Thomas Howell Williams Idris (1842 – 1925), c.1905

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.

The soft drinks arm was successful, and Williams divested his chemists business and established Idris & Co, soft drink manufacturers, on Pratt Street, Camden Town, from 1875. Lemonade, ginger ale and soda water were the principal products.

The business expanded quickly, and the factory site was repeatedly extended.

Idris & Co introduced a generous profit-sharing scheme for its 500 employees in 1891. Workers received wages 10 to 15 percent higher than the industry average, and conditions at their factory were described as superior. Workers received overtime pay during the peak summer season, and maintained full time hours during the slack winter period.

Idris & Co is incorporated
Idris & Co was incorporated with a nominal capital of £100,000 in 1892. The company was one of the largest soft drinks manufacturers in the world, and operated the largest soft drinks factory in England.

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 Thomas Idris himself.

The business nearly doubled in size between 1895 and 1897. Additional factories had been established at Southampton by 1896 and at Liverpool by 1898.

A public offering raised company capital to £150,000 in 1897. The company held a Royal Warrant to supply Queen Victoria by 1897.

Cadair Idris in the Snowdonia National Park, Wales, after which the soft drink brand was named. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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

Horse-driven carts limited distribution to within a 17 mile radius. Motorised transportation was introduced from 1901.

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

Thomas Idris was appointed Mayor of St Pancras in 1904-5. He served as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Flintshire from 1906 to 1910.

Idris & Co held a Royal Warrant to supply Edward VII by 1905.

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

Idris & Co was distributing soft drinks within a 50 mile radius of its Camden Town factory by 1912. Depots were situated at Watford, Teddington, Enfield and Southend. The company had over one million bottles. The company had 21 lorries by 1914.

Idris “Fiery” ginger beer (2018)

Idris & Co held a Royal Warrant to supply George V by 1916.

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

Idris & Co established a new depot at Chelmsford, Essex in 1936.

Walter Idris died in 1939, with a gross estate valued at £20,230.

Later history and acquisition of the business
Ivor Trevena Idris (1911 – 1993), the grandson of the late founder, was appointed company chairman from 1943.

The first female board member was elected in 1949.

Coca-Cola Bottlers of Scotland was acquired in 1961.

Idris ranked among the second-tier of national soft drinks producers, behind Schweppes, J Lyons and Beecham, but alongside R White & Sons and Tizer.

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 1964.

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

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

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

Britvic acquired the Beecham soft drinks business in 1987. Idris “Fiery” ginger beer continued to be sold until 2019.

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