Pearce Duff is the leading powdered blancmange brand in Britain.
Pearce Duff was established by William Pearce and William Henry Duff (1793 – 1874), a Hampshire-born cook, in 1847. Baking powder and egg substitute powder were produced from a private home.
Growing sales saw the business relocate to a factory at Long Lane, Borough, London by the mid-1860s. Newspaper advertising had commenced by 1866.
Control of the business had passed to George Pearce and Daniel Duff (1837 – 1917) by 1884.
Relocation to Rouel Road
Pearce Duff relocated to the former premises of Young & Co, a glue manufacturer of Rouel Road in Bermondsey, from 1890.
The factory was briefly closed in August 1911 due to worker intimidation by striking employees.
In 1914 the partners were Daniel Duff, Mrs Elizabeth Jane Duff (born 1870), Daniel Duff Jr (1879 – 1953), James Thomas Hosking (1856 – 1922) and Leslie George Cockhead (1861 – 1947). Nearly 500 people were employed at the five-storey Rouel Road factory.
J T Hosking retired from the partnership in 1916.
Daniel Duff died with an estate valued at £65,091 in 1917.
Pearce Duff had been registered as a private limited company by 1937. Daniel Duff Jr was appointed managing director.
L G Cockhead died with an estate valued at £90,327 in 1947. His nurse, with whom he was romantically involved, was granted an inheritance of £20,000.
Daniel Duff Jr died with an estate valued at £165,026 in 1953.
Introduction of automation; acquisitions
Mechanisation and automation of the factory was completed in the mid-1950s. A fully-automated plant for manufacturing custard powder was installed in 1957. Products were exported to 77 countries.
The business remained family-owned, and four members of the Duff family sat on the board of directors. Nearly 30 percent of production was exported in 1962.
A factory was acquired at Annan, Dumfriesshire to manufacture jellies in 1965.
Hugh Bidwell (1934 -2013) was appointed managing director of Pearce & Duff in 1970, and became chairman from 1971.
Pearce Duff acquired Marela from W R Grace of New York in 1973. Marela manufactured pickles and Fardon’s sauces and vinegar. In return, W R Grace and Barings Bank took a 40 percent stake in Pearce Duff. The acquisition gave Pearce Duff an annual turnover of around £4.5 million.
The Bermondsey and Annan factories were closed with the loss of 300 jobs in 1974. Production was relocated to a new factory at Dunstable, near Luton, where 250 people were employed.
Sales worth over £3 million in the Middle East and West Africa led Pearce Duff to win a prestigious Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1979.
James Ashby & Sons, tea and coffee importers of London, was acquired in 1983. The purchase took Pearce Duff annual turnover to over £16 million.
Pearce Duff loses its independence
Hugh Bidwell and Sir Kenneth Cork (1913 – 1991) held a majority stake in Pearce Duff by 1984. That year they sold the business to Gill & Duffus, the largest cocoa trader in the world, for £4 million.
Dalgety acquired Gill & Duffus the following year. Dalgety merged Pearce Duff with its own Spillers Homepride division.
Pearce Duff products such as custard powder and baking powder were eventually discontinued in Britain, leaving only the blancmange powder to remain in production.
Dalgety sold its food ingredients business, including Pearce Duff, to Kerry Group of Ireland in 1998.
Pearce Duff blancmange powder is manufactured in Rotherham, Yorkshire. 700,000 units, to the retail value of £500,000, were sold in 2006.
Pearce Duff custard powder is sold in Pakistan and Spain, and Pearce Duff remains the leading brand of baking powder in West Africa and the Middle East.
2 thoughts on “Just desserts: a history of Pearce Duff”
Loved reading the history of Pearce Duff. Worked at Dunstable, Woodside Est. between 1980/85, then transferred James Ashby’s, Milton Keynes 1985/86. Those where fun days! Even went on the Pearce Duff day at Ascot ?
I lived next door to pierce duffs, from 1944-1967, when I left to get married and moved to the suburbs.
As a child, I saw regularly the factory girls leaning out of the windows during their lunch break sometimes waving to us all in their uniforms and white headscarves.
It certainly was a hive of activity. during the lead up to 5th November and Guy Fawkes week, we would stand outside the building and call out a penny for the Guy as workers hurried home.
I have fond memories of the company and staff.