All posts by Thomas Farrell

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Ice to meat you: T Wall & Sons

T Wall & Sons was the largest ice cream manufacturer in the world.

Richard Wall (1777/8 – 1838), pork butcher, was apprenticed to Edmund Cotterill, a pork butcher in St James’ Market, London. He became a partner, and was the sole proprietor from 1807.

Richard Wall received his first Royal Appointment as “pork butcher to the Prince of Wales” in 1812. This was renewed when the prince succeeded as George IV in 1820, and by William IV in 1830.

Richard Wall leased larger premises at 113 Jermyn Street from 1834.

Wall died in 1838 and was succeeded by his widow, and then his son, Thomas Wall (1817 – 1884).

Thomas Wall Jr (1846 – 1930) became partner in 1870. He was joined by his brother Frederick C Wall (1855 – 1924) from 1878 and the firm became known as Thomas Wall & Sons. The two brothers transformed the firm into the best known sausage business in Britain.

The firm was beginning to wholesale across Britain by 1900, and a factory was opened at Battersea.

The business was registered as T Wall & Sons Ltd in 1905, when it acquired an Acton rival.

The six acre Friary House and grounds in Acton was acquired in 1919, and a large sausage factory was built there.

William Hesketh Lever acquired the company in 1920. He sold the business to Lever Brothers in 1922, which from 1929 became a part of Unilever.

At Lever’s request, the company began to produce ice cream during the summer months, when sausage sales slacked off.

Thomas Wall Jr was devoted to charities dedicated to the education of young people. The capital released from the sale of his company allowed him to established the Thomas Wall Trust, with capital of £233,000, to fund students at schools and universities. Wall died in 1930 with an estate valued at £288,116. The bulk of his estate went to the Thomas Wall Trust.

Seven million tons of ice cream were produced in 1945.

T Wall & Sons was the largest manufacturer of sausages and meat pies in Britain by 1954. They had a factory at Willesden.

A new sausage factory was opened at Godley, Cheshire in 1955. It had a weekly output of 350 tons.

The Acton factory concentrated on ice cream production from 1956, and the meat business was relocated to Atlas Road, Park Royal, London.

20 million tons of ice cream were produced every year by 1960, and Wall’s was the largest manufacturer of ice cream in the world.

Mattessons, a processed meat manufacturer, was acquired in 1965.

Robert Lawson & Sons of Aberdeen was acquired in 1965 for £2.6 million. Lawson had the largest bacon factory in Scotland, and had a valuable contract to supply Marks & Spencer.

113 Jermyn Street remained as a Wall’s shop, where all Wall’s products could be purchased, as late as 1970.

The Atlas Road site was closed around 1978. The Friary, Acton, ice cream plant was closed in 1988.

The meat business was sold to Kerry Group in 1994. The Wall’s ice cream business is still operated by Unilever.

Eno’s Fruit Salts

Eno’s Fruit Salts was one of the best known proprietary medicines in the world.

James Crossley Eno (1827 – 1915) was a chemist in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Eno’s Fruit Salts were being marketed by 1874. First developed for drunken sailors, it was sold as a hangover and indigestion remedy.

Eno left Newcastle in 1876 to establish a factory at New Cross, London.

An analysis in the British Medical Journal in 1903 found Eno’s Fruit Salt to consist of sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid and citric acid.

Eno died in 1915. His estate had a gross value of £1.6 million.

The business was acquired by Harold F Ritchie of Toronto, Canada, in 1928.

Eno Proprietaries Limited had a paid-up share capital of £2 million in 1934. By this time Eno’s Fruit Salts was one of the best known proprietary medicines in the world.

Eno’s Fruit Salts were sold in 83 countries. It was advertised in 73 countries with 26 different languages.

The principal factory was in London, but there were two large factories in North America, and nine smaller factories across the rest of the world.

Eno Proprietaries was acquired by Beecham for £1 million in 1938.

Eno’s Fruit Salts remained a major Beecham product as late as the 1970s.

Now owned by GlaxoSmithKline, Eno is still widely sold across the world as an antacid for the relief of indigestion. Latin America and Asia are its largest markets.

 

C & E Morton

C & E Morton was a large packaged food producer.

John Thomas Morton (1828 – 1897) established a small factory producing preserved foods in Aberdeen in 1849.

By 1851 he had established a base in London. Almost all production by J T Morton was for the export market.

Morton was a dedicated Puritan, and devoutly observed the Sabbath. He was reserved, with very few close associates. His only known sentiment was towards his mother. He was hard, but just and honest.

The head office was relocated to Leadenhall Street in the City of London in 1866.

A factory was established at Millwall around 1872, in a former oil factory belong to Price & Co. Millwall Football Club was established by J T Morton tinsmiths in 1885.

By the 1880s the Aberdeen factory employed hundreds of workers.

John Thomas Morton died in 1897 an extremely wealthy man. He left a personal estate valued at £786,719. He dedicated over half of his wealth to churches and charities. His manager, who had been with the company for nearly 40 years, and helped to build his fortune, received nothing.

The business was inherited by his two sons, Charles Douglas Morton (born 1861 – 1944) and Edward Donald Morton (1866 – 1940).

C D Morton was an energetic and generous man. The two brothers established agents in overseas markets, which increased sales. They travelled the world extensively to attend to their overseas trade.

By 1897 there were factories at Millwall, Aberdeen and Falmouth in Cornwall.

C & E Morton was a substantial supplier of food to the military during the Boer War.

C & E Morton was registered as a public company in 1912 with a capital of £650,000. There were premises at Leadenhall Street, Millwall, Lowestoft, Aberdeen and Mevagissy, Polruan and West Looe in Cornwall.

1,500 workers at the Millwall factory went on strike in March 1914, in protest against girls under the age of 18 being hired, which allegedly threatened to undercut their wages. The strike resulted in a victory for the workers.

Morton was singular among preserved provisions manufacturers in normally refusing to hire under 18 year olds. They claimed that they had been drive to do so because of difficulties in sourcing sufficient labour. They also asserted that their factory workers were among the highest paid in London.

During the First World War the company continued to pay half wages to its staff who were serving in the armed forces.

There were plans for Crosse & Blackwell to acquire C & E Morton in 1926, but the proposed deal fell through due to an uncertain economic climate.

In the 1930s increasing import tariffs overseas hurt the business. Factories were established overseas.

There were three large factories at Millwall, Cubitt Town and Lowestoft by 1939. Thousands of people were employed. The Lowestoft site was the largest herring cannery in Britain.

E D Morton died in 1940 and left an estate valued at £213,295.

Beecham, a consumer goods group, acquired the struggling C & E Morton for £180,000 in 1945. Beecham concentrated production at Lowestoft.

Morton Brands was sold to Hillsdown Holdings in 1986 for £8.5 million. The Lowestoft factory produced tinned vegetables and fruit fillings. 160 people were employed and the assets had a book value of £6 million.

The Lowestoft factory was closed down in 1988, and the Morton brand name was phased out.

The Morton brand name is still used for tinned goods in India, although the former subsidiary has been independent since 1947.

Curry favour: J A Sharwood

Sharwood’s is the leading Asian food brand in Britain.

James Allen Sharwood (1859 – 1941) was a City of London merchant. He initially worked in insurance, followed by wine and spirits distribution. He entered the wholesale grocery distribution market in 1888.

Sharwood was born to a Scottish mother, who taught him the importance of being thorough. He had a great interest in travel and learning foreign languages. He was intelligent, hard-working, and innovative.

Sharwood was introduced by a family friend to Lord Dufferin (1826 – 1902), the Viceroy of India. Dufferin asked Sharwood to bring his French chef some supplies from Europe.

Legend has it that the grateful chef recommended that Sharwood visit P Vencatachellum. Based at No. 1 Pophams Broadway in Madras, Vencatachellum blended a famed curry powder. The ingredients included turmeric from Chittagong, coriander from Kerala, chillis from Orissa, and four secret ingredients.

The mix impressed Sharwood, and he arranged to distribute Vencat curry powder in Britain. He also began to import mango chutney.

The Northern Meat Preserving Co was acquired in 1891.

J A Sharwood was incorporated in 1899 as a limited company with capital of £50,000.  A factory, the Offley Works, was established at Vauxhall.

F A Bovill & Co of City Road, London, a preserve manufacturer, was acquired in 1900.

J A Sharwood was advertising itself as “the largest dealers in Indian condiments in the world” by 1933.

James Allen Sharwood retired to South Africa. He died in 1941 and his effects in England were valued at £7,296.

Cerebos, a British foods company, acquired J A Sharwood in 1962 for £982,047. The Offley Works was divested and production was relocated to Greatham, Hartlepool.

Close but no cigar: Cope Brothers

Cope Brothers was the second largest tobacco manufacturer in Britain, and pioneered the employment of women in the sector.

George Cope (1823 – 1888) and Thomas Cope (1827 – 1884) began to sell cigars, snuff and tobacco from 63 Paradise Street, Liverpool in 1848. Trading as Cope Brothers, by 1853 the firm was undertaking its own manufacturing from premises on Lord Nelson Street.

George managed the manufacturing arm of the firm, while Thomas was responsible for the business as a whole.

Cope Brothers was one of the first tobacco manufacturers in Britain to employ a female workforce. Cope Brothers began to employ women following a factory strike in 1858. Female workers proved capable, so the policy was continued until the factory employed around 700 women and girls by 1871, out of a total of 774 employees.

Cope’s Christmas entertainment at St George’s Hall in 1864. Taken from the Illustrated London News.

The Cope Brothers factory was spacious and well-ventilated. Charles Dickens and Emily Faithfull were given tours and reported favourably. Shifts were of six to eight hours in duration. The girls were generally the daughters of shopkeepers, warehousemen and clerks.

Cope Brothers employed 1,400 women and girls by 1879. The factory ran almost the entirety of one side of Lord Nelson Street by 1882.

Thomas Cope died in 1884, and left an estate valued at £199,000.

Cope Brothers was converted into a private limited liability company in 1885. It had a capital of £350,000.

George Cope died in 1888. He was succeeded as managing director by his nephew, Thomas Henry Cope (1867 – 1913).

Cope’s Tobacco Works in 1889

The regular workforce at the Liverpool factory totalled 1,500 people by 1892, many of them women and girls. With four percent of the British tobacco market, Cope Brothers was second only to Wills of Bristol.

The formation of Imperial Tobacco in 1901 created a giant in the industry. In a defensive move, Cope Brothers acquired Richard Lloyd, tobacco manufacturers best known for the Old Holborn brand, in 1902. Robinson & Barnsdale Ltd, tobacco manufacturers of Nottingham, was acquired in 1905.

Escudo Navy De Luxe pipe tobacco was introduced by Cope Brothers in 1912.

H C Lloyd & Son Ltd of Exeter was acquired in 1924.

In 1950 there was a strike at the Liverpool factory regarding the employment of non-union labour.

Cope Brothers was acquired by Gallaher in 1952, in an exchange of shares. The Liverpool factory appears to have been closed shortly afterwards. At the time, purchase of American tobacco was limited by quotas from the Government, and Gallaher acquired Cope Brothers to increase its quota allowance. Gallaher was also attracted by the strength of the Old Holborn brand.

Cope Brothers remained a major Gallaher subsidiary as late as 1969.

Escudo Navy De Luxe pipe tobacco and Old Holborn are still sold as of 2017.

How the cookie crumbles: United Biscuits (Part II)

For Part I of this history of United Biscuits, click here.

United Biscuits produces McVitie’s Digestives, Jaffa Cakes, Jacob’s cream crackers and Carr’s water biscuits.

Two Scottish biscuit manufacturers, McVitie & Price and Macfarlane Lang merged in 1948 to form United Biscuits, with a capital of £3.5 million. The businesses continued to trade under their respective names.

The Harlesden, London facility became the first fully-automated biscuit factory in the world in 1948, increasing output by 1000 percent.

McVitie & Price produced around 450 different products in 1939. This had been streamlined to about twelve major lines, with corresponding cost efficiencies, by 1959.

United Biscuits held nearly 70 percent of the digestive biscuit market by 1959. It was also a leader in the sale of Rich Tea biscuits.

United Biscuits was the largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain by 1962.

William Crawford & Sons, the largest privately-owned biscuit manufacturer in the United Kingdom, was acquired in 1962 in a mostly share-based transaction which valued the company at £5.9 million.

United Biscuits increased its capital from £9 million to £13 million in 1963. Hector Laing (1923 -2010) became managing director of United Biscuits in 1964.

United Biscuits entered the packaged cake market in 1964. The company had taken a 14 percent share of the market by 1968, winning market share from J Lyons.

William Macdonald & Sons of Glasgow was acquired in 1965 for £2.8 million in cash and shares. The firm had introduced the Penguin chocolate-coated biscuit in 1932. It was experiencing strong growth, and held almost 20 percent of British chocolate biscuit exports.

The United Biscuits subsidiaries were absorbed into a single operating company in 1965. The company announced plans to close four of its nine factories, and to greatly increase production at Glasgow and Liverpool in 1966.

The McVitie & Price factory in Edinburgh was closed in 1967 with the loss of 541 jobs. The Macdonald factory at North Cardonald, Glasgow was closed with the loss of 497 jobs. The Crawford factory in Leith was closed in 1970 with the loss of 703 jobs, and the Macdonald factory at Hillington, Glasgow was closed with the loss of 497 jobs. The factories that were closed had no room for expansion, and it made economic sense to rationalise production at a smaller number of larger sites.

The Macfarlane Lang factory at Tollcross, Glasgow was doubled in size at a cost of £2.3 million in 1969. The labour force was increased from 250 to 1,350. The factory would supply the Scotland, Northern Ireland and North of England markets.

The Crawford factory at Liverpool increased capacity by 50 percent following a £2 million investment in the 1970.

Sales of the McVitie’s brand doubled between 1962 and 1967, and McVitie’s had by far the most brand recognition in its category. The McVitie’s Chocolate Home Wheat (a chocolate digestive) was its highest seller.

Meredith & Drew was acquired in 1967. Following the acquisition, United Biscuits produced over one third of all biscuits consumed in Britain.

Kenyon, Son & Craven, with the KP salted peanuts brand, was acquired in 1968 in a share exchange which valued the private company at £3.5 million.

United Biscuits was the largest biscuit manufacturing company in Europe by 1969.

Hector Laing became company chairman in 1972. That year, the firm took over the biscuit interests of Cavenham, which included Carr’s of Carlisle and Wright’s of South Shields.

The South Shields factory was closed in 1973 with the loss of 823 jobs.

A total of four factories and four offices were closed in the early 1970s in a spate of rationalisation. The McVitie, Crawford and Macfarlane sales teams were merged in the early 1970s.

United Biscuits acquired Keebler, the second largest US biscuit manufacturer, in 1974.

United Biscuits employed 36,000 people in 1976. Its products were sold in 92 countries. The company controlled 41.6 percent of the British biscuit market, and boasted eight out of the ten highest selling products.

Not every venture was a success however, and United Biscuits was prepared to admit defeat when appropriate; in 1977 the company withdrew from the packaged cakes market.

By 1978 United Biscuits sold 75 million biscuits every day.

In 1980 it was announced that the former Macfarlane Lang factory at Osterley, West London would be closed with the loss of 2,000 jobs.

The Hobnob biscuit was introduced in 1985.

In an admission of defeat in the American snacks market, Keebler was divested for $500 million in 1995.

United Biscuits employed 22,500 people in 22 countries in 1999.

Jacob’s, a Liverpool biscuit manufacturer, was acquired from Danone of France for £200 million in 2004.

United Biscuits was acquired by private equity firms Blackstone and PAI Partners for £1.6 billion in 2006.

In 2012 the snacks division of United Biscuits, including Hula Hoops crisps and KP nuts, was sold to Intersnack of Germany, manufacturer of Pom-Bear crisps and Penn State pretzels, for £504 million.

In 2013 United Biscuits was sold to Yildiz Holding of Istanbul for over £2 billion to create the third largest biscuit manufacturer in the world, behind Mondelez and Kellogg.

From 2014 United Biscuits rebranded all of its sweet biscuits under the McVitie’s name, and all of its savoury biscuits under the Jacob’s name. McVitie’s gained the Club, Fig Rolls, BN and Iced Gems products from Jacob’s, whilst Jacob’s gained the Cheddars snacks products. The Crawford’s name was repositioned as a value brand, and products such as Family Circle were rebranded as McVitie’s.

 

Go nuts: Kenyon Son & Craven

Today, the KP brand is best known for peanuts, crisps and chocolate dip pots.

Charles Kenyon (1832 – 1893) was born at Brierley, South Yorkshire. He served an apprenticeship to a confectioner in Barnsley, before establishing his own business on College Street, Rotherham, from 1853. His principal product was jam.

Kenyon relocated production to Morpeth Street in Rotherham to cope with increasing demand, and was joined by his son, Harry Kenyon (1862 – 1932). He employed 27 people (five men, five boys, eight women and nine girls) by 1881.

Charles Kenyon became an alderman, representing the Liberal party. A keen Wesleyan Methodist, it was through the church that he met Matthew Smith Craven (1845 – 1923), who produced jam from a large factory on Scarborough Street in Hull.

Kenyon and Craven merged their interests in 1891, and the firm was incorporated as Kenyon, Son & Craven. Pickles, sauces and confectionery were produced, as well as jam.

The Hull factory was divested in 1930, and all production was concentrated at Rotherham.

Harry Kenyon died in 1932, and left a gross estate valued at £2,081.

Simon Heller (1906 – 1989) of the Leeds-based Hercules Nut Company became chairman in 1943. A new 40,000 sq ft factory at Eastwood, Rotherham was established in 1947. After his factory in Leeds burned down, Heller acquired Kenyon, Son & Craven in 1948, and began to produce roasted and salted hazelnuts.

KP salted peanuts were introduced in 1953, and soon achieved nationwide distribution. Kenyon, Son & Craven almost single-handedly created the salted peanut category in Britain, and achieved national dominance of KP Nuts with very little advertising.

Manufacture of other products was discontinued in order to concentrate on peanuts. Kenyon, Son & Craven employed over 1,500 people by 1965.

Kenyon, Son & Craven was acquired by United Biscuits in 1968 in a share exchange which valued the private company at £3.5 million. Kenyon Son & Craven was the largest nut processor in Europe by 1970.

Simon Heller died in 1989 and left an estate valued at £3.8 million.

H J Packer of Bristol

H J Packer was the largest low-cost chocolate manufacturer in the world.

Edward Packer (1848 – 1887) was a Quaker who worked for J S Fry & Sons of Bristol, a chocolate manufacturer, in the 1870s.

Edward Packer left Fry to commence chocolate manufacture for himself in 1881. He worked from his house at 11 Armory Square, and was assisted by his wife. Soon he employed eight people.

Packer entered into partnership with Henry John Burrows (born 1853). Unfortunately, trade immediately declined, and all employees other than members of the Packer family had to be laid off. The partnership was dissolved leaving Burrows as sole proprietor from 1884. Burrows added his own initials to the company name, and began trading as H J Packer & Co.

Caleb Bruce Cole (1862 -1912) was a confectionery salesman in Bristol. His contact with H J Packer & Co impressed him, and his father lent him £1,000 to buy the business in 1886. Around nine people were employed.

Cole identified a gap in the market, and began to manufacture high quality chocolate at an affordable price. The chocolates found a keen market among children.

Cole subverted the notion that low-cost food production need sacrifice standards of cleanliness or provision for the workforce.

In 1896 Cole was joined by his brother Horace, and William John Mansfield (1846 -1912) was employed as general manager.

A new factory was opened at Greenbank, Bristol in 1903. It covered four acres and was the largest low-cost chocolate factory in the world. Greenbank was situated on a major railway line, which allowed for convenient distribution. Two large dining halls, each with a capacity of 400 people were erected, and food was available to workers at cost price.

H J Packer & Co became a limited company in 1908.

Carsons Ltd of Glasgow, with a share capital of £50,000, was acquired in January 1912. A high quality manufacturer, Carsons had been the first company to introduce tray chocolates.

Charles Bruce Cole died in June 1912. A progressive man, he was described as quiet and likeable. He left an estate valued at £259,937.

H J Packer & Co had a capital of £750,000 and employed 1,000 people by 1912.

A dedicated Carsons chocolate factory was opened in Bristol in 1913..

By 1922 Packers was the fourth largest chocolate manufacturer in Britain, and the largest manufacturer of low-cost chocolate in the world.

The company struggled during the Great Depression.

Suffering from overcapacity, the Carsons factory was divested in 1960.

The company name was changed to Carsons Ltd in 1962. The Carsons brand had become well known as Britain’s largest producer of chocolate liqueurs, chocolates filled with some of the leading spirits, liqueur and fortified wine brands in the world.

Until 1961 liqueur chocolates could only be sold from licensed premises. This opening up of the market provided an opportunity.

Cavenham Foods, managed by James Goldsmith (1933 – 1997), gained control of Carsons in 1964.

Goldsmith immediately divested all the Carsons chocolate lines except for liqueur chocolates, the only sector of the market which was experiencing a growth in sales. The liqueur chocolate market was largely dominated by imported brands such as Lindt, Ringer, Rademaker and Trumpf.

Carsons held over 29 percent of the liqueur chocolate market by 1966. This was achieved with minimal advertising. Instead Carson’s benefited from the advertising campaigns of spirits brands that were inside their chocolates; names such as Harvey’s Bristol Cream and Hennessey brandy.

By 1966 Carsons liqueurs were being marketed under the Famous Names brand.

Elizabeth Shaw, an upmarket chocolate manufacturer, was acquired in 1968.

Carsons held over 40 percent of the chocolate liqueur market in Britain by the late 1970s.

Cavenham Confectionery was subject to a management buyout in 1981, and the company renamed itself Famous Names Ltd. It was acquired by Imperial Tobacco in 1985.

In 1988 management bought control of Famous Names Ltd, which was renamed Elizabeth Shaw Ltd. In 1990 Elizabeth Shaw Ltd was acquired by Leaf of Finland.

Elizabeth Shaw closed its outdated Greenbank factory in 2006. Production was relocated to factories across Britain and Europe.

Comfort for the table: Epps Cocoa

Epps was the leading brand of cocoa in Victorian Britain.

James Epps (1821 – 1907) was the son of a Calvinist London merchant.

His brother, Dr John Epps (1805 – 1869), was one of the pioneers of homeopathy in Britain. He established premises at Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, and was joined by his brother James from 1837.

Epps’ cocoa was first sold from 1839 for the use of patients for whom tea and coffee were restricted. It was an instant cocoa powder, made by adding hot water or milk.

The almost prohibitive duty on cocoa was greatly reduced in 1832, allowing the market to grow exponentially. Easily prepared cocoa had been difficult to procure, and the fat in the raw material was unpalatable for many. Dr John Epps discovered a way to make it more appetising, mixing the cocoa with 20 percent West Indies arrowroot and 13 percent sugar.

Dr John Epps was not the first person to invent soluble cocoa powder, but James Epps was largely responsible for presenting the product to the mass market.

He heavily advertised Epps’ Cocoa, and by 1855 had coined a distinctive slogan, “grateful and comforting”.

Epps’ Cocoa was initially produced under contract by Daniel Dunn of Pentonville Road, who had invented instant cocoa powder in 1819.

Epps had established his own factory at 398 Euston Road, London by 1863. He installed his nephew, Hahnemann Epps (1843 – 1916), as manager.

A new steam-powered works was established at Holland Street, Blackfriars in 1878. Epps was the largest cocoa powder producer in Britain, with an output of nearly five million pounds a year. At its peak the firm processed half of all cocoa imports into Britain.

Steam Cocoa Mills, Holland Street, London
Steam Cocoa Mills, Holland Street, London

A short and slight man, James Epps kept a low public profile, unlike his gregarious brother John. He was known only for his work in business, and had few outside interests. He allowed his portrait to be taken only once, and not once did he grant an interview or issue a public statement. He was a hard worker, keen on a bargain, and somewhat of a control freak. Despite his massive wealth he lived in an unfashionable area of London.

The business was converted into a private joint stock limited company in 1893 known as James Epps & Co. The directors were James Epps, Hahnemann Epps and James Epps Jr (1856 – 1905), and the company had a capital of £200,000.

Epps’ Cocoa had been overtaken in sales by Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa and Rowntree by 1898.

James Epps Jr (also known as Willie James Epps), the only son of James Epps, died of a heart attack in Jamaica in 1905. His gross estate was valued at £162,422.

James Epps died in 1907 and his gross estate was valued at £735,387. This was a larger estate than contemporaries in the food industry such as Jeremiah James Colman (1830 – 1898), Alfred Bird (1849 – 1922) or James Horlick (1844 – 1921).

The estate was inherited by his nieces and nephews, principally James Washington Epps (1874 -1955). Hahnemann Epps became chairman and James W Epps became managing director of James Epps & Co.

Taylor Bros Ltd, a London cocoa manufacturer, was acquired in 1907-8.

Epps’ Cocoa powder had been reformulated to include 44 percent sugar, 40 percent cocoa and 16 percent West Indies arrowroot by 1924.

James Epps & Co was acquired by Rowntree of York in 1926 for £70,000. The Epps factory was closed in 1930.

Engineering success: S Pearson & Son

The Pearson group of companies was by far the largest British business in 1919.

Weetman Pearson (1856 – 1927) was the proprietor of S Pearson & Son, a large public works contractor. He had been single-handedly responsible for taking the firm from a regional to an international player. In 1890 he embarked upon a £2 million project to provide a drainage canal for Mexico City, which had experienced seasonal flooding. Mexico City’s Grand Canal was completed in 1896, on schedule and on budget.

Around the turn of the century, Pearson built three harbours, Vera Cruz, Salina Cruz and Puerto Mexico, as well as the Tehuantepec railway (completed 1905) which connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Pearson began to acquire oil concessions in Mexico from 1901. He was encouraged by President Porfirio Diaz (1830 – 1915), who was keen to develop a rival to the US oil companies already operating in the country.

S Pearson & Son employed 60,000 men by 1905, and it was the largest engineering firm in the world.

Having struck oil, Pearson agreed to supply C T Bowring, the largest distributor of petrol in Great Britain, with oil at a fixed price. Unfortunately, his well ran dry, and he was forced to buy oil at inflated prices from his rival, Standard Oil, in order to fulfil the contract.

In a huge stroke of luck, Pearson made a large oil discovery in 1908. Dos Bocas was the largest oil deposit yet found in the world.

The Mexican Eagle Co was formed to exploit this field in 1908.

Mexican Eagle went public in 1910, with a capital of £3 million. Its production output over the next two years was estimated at 750,000 tons. Mexican Eagle was recognised as a strong competitor to J D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co.

Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell virtually controlled the global oil market at this time. As Pearson did not want to be reliant on them, he established the Eagle Oil Transport Co to process and distribute his raw product.

The Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Co was registered in 1912 to market the product outside of Mexico.

The value of Mexican Eagle tripled between 1910 and 1913. Between 1912 and 1913, the company held an estimated 50 percent market share for fuel products in Great Britain. Production in 1913 was 11 million barrels.

By 1914 Mexico was the third largest oil producer in the world after the United States and Russia, and Pearson controlled around 60 percent of the country’s output.

Mexican Eagle produced nearly 19 million barrels of oil in 1919.

Eagle Oil Transport had a capital of £3 million in 1919. Mexican Eagle had a capitalisation of nearly $56 million.

With a market capitalization of £79 million, the Pearson group of companies ranked as by far the largest business in Britain by 1919, with a valuation more than 25 percent higher than its nearest rival, Burmah Oil.

Pearson sold 35 percent of the ordinary capital of Mexican Eagle and 50 percent of the shares of Anglo-Mexican to the Shell Transport & Trading Co for a reported £10 million in 1919. Shell representatives were given a majority on both boards of directors.

The merger represented the takeover of the largest British company by the largest European company. The Shell companies had an output of oil in 1918 roughly double that of Mexican Eagle, around 40 million barrels.

Shell invested heavily to increase production in Mexico. Mexican Eagle produced over 32 million barrels in 1920. An estimated 50 million barrels were shipped in 1921. The company had a daily capacity of well over 100,000 barrels.

Pearson died in 1927 with an estate valued at £4 million. According to his obituary in the Manchester Guardian, he “never lost his accent and pleasant Yorkshire ways”.

Pearson had struck lucky again, by cashing out at the right time. Mexican Eagle share prices declined by 89 percent between 1920 and 1930.

By the early 1930s, Mexican Eagle, in common with its competitors, was decreasing its investment in Mexican oil. The Mexican oil industry was nationalised by the government in 1938.