Just desserts: Pearce Duff

Pearce Duff is the leading blancmange powder brand in Britain.


The firm was established by William Pearce and William Henry Duff (1793 – 1874), a Hampshire-born cook, in 1847. Initially the business was operated from a private home. Baking powder and egg substitute powder were the first products.

Pearce Duff were advertising their wares by 1866. By this time the firm was based at 42 Long Lane, Borough, London.

Control of the firm had passed to George Pearce and Daniel Duff (1837 – 1917) by 1884.

The business was relocated to Rouel Road, Bermondsey on the former premises of Young & Co, a glue manufacturer, from 1890.

The factory briefly closed in August 1911 due to worker intimidation by striking employees.

The Pearce Duff factory on Rouel Road/Spa Road, Bermondsey
The Pearce Duff factory on Rouel Road/Spa Road, Bermondsey

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 Rouel Road factory, which spanned five storeys.

Elizabeth Jane Duff was the granddaughter of William Pearce.

J T Hosking retired from the partnership in 1916.

Daniel Duff died in 1917 with an estate valued at £65,091.

Pearce Duff & Co had been registered as a private limited company by 1937.

Daniel Duff Jr was managing director of Pearce Duff & Co by 1939.

L G Cockhead died in 1947 with an estate valued at £90,327. His nurse, with whom he was romantically involved, was granted an inheritance of £20,000.

Daniel Duff Jr  died in 1953 with an estate valued at £165,026.

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 in the late 1950s four members of the Duff family sat on the board of directors.

H G Green & Co Ltd of Brighton, manufacturer of cake mixes and George Borwick baking powder, proposed a merger in 1961. However the amalgamation was abandoned following insufficient shareholder support.

Nearly 30 percent of production was exported by 1962.

A factory was acquired at Annan, Dumfriesshire to manufacture jellies in 1965.

Hugh Bidwell (1934 -2013) became managing director of Pearce & Duff in 1970, and was chairman from 1971.

Marela Ltd was acquired 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 in 1974, and production was relocated to a new factory at Dunstable, near Luton. 50 jobs were relocated to the new location, but 250 jobs were lost. The Dunstable site employed 250 people.

Pearce Duff won a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1979.

Pearce Duff sorbet mix, probably from the 1980s
Pearce Duff sorbet mix, probably from the 1980s

James Ashby & Sons, tea and coffee importers of London, was acquired in 1983. The purchase took Pearce Duff annual turnover to over £16 million.

Hugh Bidwell and Sir Kenneth Cork had acquired the majority of Pearce Duff when it was sold to Gill & Duffus, the largest cocoa trader in the world, for £4 million in 1984.

Dalgety acquired Gill & Duffus the following year. Dalgety merged Pearce Duff with its own Spillers Homepride division.

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, and as of 2006 sells 700,000 units a year, worth £0.5 million in retail sales.

Pearce Duff custard powder is also sold in Pakistan and Spain.

Pearce Duff is the leading brand of baking powder in West Africa and the Middle East.

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One thought on “Just desserts: Pearce Duff”

  1. 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 😀

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