This is the story of how a declining brand underwent an export-led revival, and its gradual dissociation from its namesake city.
The Tyne Brewery on Bath Lane, Newcastle. was the largest in the North of England by 1867. It was acquired by John Barras & Co in 1884.
John Barras merged with W H Allison of North Shields, J J & W H Allison of Sunderland, Swinburne of Gateshead and Carr Brothers & Carr of North Shields to form Newcastle Breweries in 1890.
The Tyne Brewery was one of the largest and best equipped in the North of England. Brewing was centralised there and production was expanded from 900 to 1,800 barrels a week.
Newcastle Breweries opened a new bottling plant to satisfy the increasing demand for bottled beers in June 1925. It was one of the largest and best-equipped bottling plants in Britain.
Assistant brewer Lieutenant-Colonel James Herbert Porter (1891 – 1973) and Archdale Mercer Jones (1881 – 1954), manager of the bottling works, laboured for three years to perfect the recipe for Newcastle Brown Ale.
Newcastle Brown Ale was launched in April 1927, produced by blending a strong aged stock ale with a light pale ale. The beer originally had an ABV of 6.25 percent, Originally it was filtered but was not subject to pasteurisation.
Newcastle Brown Ale was an instant success, and Colonel Porter had been promoted to head brewer by September 1927. The product was named as the best bottled beer in Britain at the Brewers Exhibition of 1928 in London.
The blue star label had been introduced by February 1929. Each point on the star represented one of the five breweries that combined to form Newcastle Breweries.
ABV had been reduced to around 5.5 percent by 1931.
300 million bottles had been produced by 1952, but sales remained confined to the North East of England.
Colonel Porter was appointed chairman of Newcastle Breweries in 1955.
The Tyne Brewery occupied 6.5 acres by 1956. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale had continued to grow and the brewer’s bottling facility had reached capacity. A new bottling plant entered production from 1959.
Newcastle Breweries merged with Scottish Brewers to form Scottish & Newcastle in 1960. Colonel Porter was appointed vice chairman of the new company. Newcastle Brown Ale was a leading product alongside McEwan’s Export and Younger’s Tartan Special. The merger afforded Newcastle Brown Ale a wider network for distribution.
Newcastle Brown Ale was approaching national distribution by 1973, and domestic sales peaked the following year.
The brand underwent a resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s when distribution through student unions afforded the brand cult status. Newcastle Brown Ale was the highest selling bottled beer in Britain by 1990.
Scottish & Newcastle acquired Courage in 1995 to become the largest brewer in Britain. Newcastle Brown Ale was the most widely available alcoholic product in Britain by 1997.
Scottish & Newcastle took direct control of distribution of its products in the United States from 1990. Based in San Francisco, by the mid-1990s the brand had gained significant traction in the United States.
230,000 hectolitres of Newcastle Brown Ale were shipped to the United States in 1998. The majority of Newcastle Brown Ale production was shipped to the United States by 2001.
The Tyne Brewery was closed in May 2005. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the Federation Brewery in nearby Dunston, Gateshead.
Newcastle Brown Ale was among the top fifty highest-selling beers in the United States by 2006.
Bottling of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, from 2007.
The Federation Brewery was closed in May 2010, and Newcastle Brown Ale production was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery.
Caramel colouring was replaced with roasted malt from 2015.
Production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the Zouterwoude Brewery in the Netherlands from 2017.
Beecham’s was the largest business of its kind in the world by 1913, with well over a million pills sold every day.
Thomas Beecham (1820 – 1907) was born in Oxfordshire to humble circumstances. He worked as a shepherd and used his knowledge of herbs to tend his animals.
A coarse yet charismatic character, Beecham began to manufacture pills from 1847. Beecham’s Pills, comprised of aloes, ginger and soap, had a mild laxative effect.
Beecham relocated to the booming mill towns of the North West of England. He sold his pills from a market stall in Wigan, Lancashire. He relocated to nearby St Helens in 1859. Until the late 1870s the business was run by the family and a small number of employees.
Thomas Beecham’s son Joseph (1848 – 1916) had effectively taken control of the company by the 1880s. Joseph Beecham was described as “[i]n personal appearance … the quiet, pipe-smoking, tweed-clad type of Englishman. He has neither business nor artistic pose, and is modesty itself.”
Beecham pills had the highest sale of any patent medicine in the world by 1885. A new factory, powered by electricity, was opened at St Helens in 1886.
250 million pills were sold in 1890, a quarter of all factory-made pills in Britain.
A factory was established in New York in 1890.
Thomas Beecham handed over full control of the business to Joseph in 1895.
The firm spent £100,000 a year on advertising by 1895. The factory had 120 employees, all men.
Between 1906 and 1913, American sales doubled.
Around 365 million pills were manufactured in 1912.
The business was sold to Philip Hill (1873 – 1944) in 1924. Hill was a skilled entrepreneur, and established a laboratory.
The company’s first pharmaceutical product, an aspirin-based cold and flu powder, was introduced in 1926.
The Veno Drug Company of Manchester, a manufacturer of cough syrup, was acquired in 1928.
Beecham’s Pills was incorporated as a public company in 1928.
Macleans, a toothpaste manufacturer and owner of Lucozade, was acquired in 1938. Also that year, Eno Proprietaries and County Perfumery, the manufacturer of Brylcreem, were both acquired, the latter for £580,000.
Eno Proprietaries, best known for its Fruit Salts product, provided Beecham with an international distribution network.
Following the death of Philip Hill in 1944, Stanley Holmes (1878 – 1961) became company chairman.
A single product, Lucozade, provided one third of Beecham’s British profits in 1949.
Beecham was dedicating a significant amount of revenue to product research and development by the 1950s.
H W Carter, the manufacturer of Ribena, was acquired in 1955. Thomas & Evans, the manufacturer of Corona soft drinks, was acquired in 1958.
Beecham was the second largest advertiser in Britain by 1960.
Horlicks was acquired in 1969.
Production of Beecham’s Pills ended in 1998. The manufacturer recommended consumers use Milk of Magnesia as a substitute.
Henri Wintermans is the largest cigar brand in the world.
Sjaak and Henri Wintermans (1886 – 1975), two brothers, established a cigar manufacturing business in Duizel in the Netherlands in 1904. They traded as A Wintermans & Sons, in honour of their father.
Sjaak concentrated on sales and Henri concentrated on buying and blending tobacco.
A Wintermans & Sons captured a substantial proportion of the Dutch market but Henri amicably left the partnership to establish his own cigar manufacturing business in 1934.
Henri relocated to the neighbouring town of Eersel, and his son Adriaan entered the business. Adriaan Wintermans took over management from 1945 onwards.
Wintermans identified the post-war Dutch cigar market as over-saturated, and decided to look to export sales to drive his business forward. Before long Britain was the company’s largest market for sales.
The Cafe Creme cigarillo was launched in France in the early 1960s. Henri Wintermans was by far the most popular Dutch cigar brand in the United Kingdom by 1965.
Adriaan Wintermans had a clear vision for the European cigar market, but he lacked the financial capital to realise his ambition. He felt that the company could best realise its potential as part of a larger concern. He sold Henri Wintermans to British American Tobacco for just under £2 million in 1966. BAT was the largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the world.
Adriaan Wintermans was appointed head of BAT’s European cigar business.
Over 500 million Henri Wintermans cigars were produced in 1971.
Just two percent of Henri Wintermans sales were in the Netherlands by 1972. Over 62 percent of sales were to the United Kingdom, and Henri Wintermans had around 15 percent of the UK cigar market.
Henri Wintermans increased sales by over 500 percent between 1966 and 1972. Production capacity was increased by 75 percent in 1972 to cope with rising demand.
Henri Wintermans was the leading cigar exporter in the world by 1977. It was the highest selling imported cigar brand in Britain by 1978.
Wintermans Cafe Creme was number two in the British miniature cigar market by 1983.
Henri Wintermans was sold to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group in 1996 for £55 million.
Henri Wintermans products are still manufactured in Eersel. The vast majority of sales are in Europe.
J W Foster & Sons produced some of the most highly-regarded running shoes in the world in the 1920s. Rebranded as Reebok, its fashion shoes became highly successful in the 1980s.
Joseph William Foster (1881 – 1933) was a cobbler and keen amateur runner. He developed a spiked running shoe in 1895. In 1900 he established his business at 57 Deane Road, Bolton, where he hand made running shoes.
By 1910 the firm was trading as J W Foster & Sons. This was presumably an attempt to make the firm seem larger or longer-established than it really was, as his sons at this time were eight and four years old. His two sons, John William Foster (born 1902) and James William Foster (1906 – 1976) did eventually enter the business.
Foster’s running shoes were the elite athletic item of their era. A large number of professional athletes used his shoes. By 1922 the firm was advertising that 90 percent of English and Scottish football league clubs used their shoes. J W Foster & Sons supplied the 1924 British Olympic track team.
By 1926 the firm was advertising itself as the oldest manufacturer of completely hand-made running shoes in the world.
C Ellis broke the one mile record in 1928 wearing Foster’s shoes. Percy Williams (1908 – 1982) used Foster’s shoes to win the 100m and 200m races at the 1928 Olympic games.
The founder died in 1933 and his sons took over the firm.
Production switched to army boots during the two world wars.
The founder’s grandsons, Joseph William Foster (born 1935) and Jeffrey William Foster (1933 – 1980), established Reebok in Bury in 1958.
Joseph William Foster was the chairman and managing director.
The Reebok brand was well known throughout the North West of England by the 1970s. Reebok absorbed J W Foster & Sons in 1976.
Paul Fireman (born 1944) lobbied Joseph William Foster for the license to sell Reebok shoes in the US. Eventually Foster relented, and sold the US sales rights to Fireman for $65,000 in 1979. Reebok logged sales of around $300,000 in 1980.
By this time the components came from the original factory in England, but the shoes were assembled in South Korea.
Pentland Industries acquired 55 percent of Reebok USA in August 1981 for $77,500.
By the end of 1983, sales had climbed to $12.9 million. Reebok had stumbled upon an expanding market for aerobics. As chance would have it, Nike was also suffering from a downturn, which allowed Reebok to flourish.
Reebok International and Reebok USA merged in April 1984. Pentland Industries maintained its 55 percent stake, and its chairman, Stephen Rubin, was named chairman of Reebok International. Paul Fireman was named President and CEO of Reebok International, and held the remaining 45 percent share.
Reebok headquarters were relocated from Bolton, England to Avon, Massachusetts. The site had 52 employees. The relocation was based on the fact that most Reebok sales were in the US.
Warehouse and office facilities were maintained in Bolton, and Foster remained President of Reebok International.
In 1984 all the lasts, dies and markings were made in England. Research and development took place in England and South Korea.
Stephen Rubin, chairman of Pentland Industries, pushed for Reebok International to go public, which it did in 1985.
1985 sales totalled over $300 million.
Due to growth, head office was moved from Avon to Canton in 1986.
Rockport was acquired in 1986 for $118.5 million in cash.
Foster retired as President of Reebok International in 1990, but remained in a consultancy position.
Pentland Industries sold its stake in Reebok in 1991 for $770 million.
Reebok was acquired by Adidas for £2.1 billion in 2005.
Foster steeped down from his consultancy position in 2015.
Fox’s Biscuits employs over 3,000 people. An extensive own-label producer, it is best known for the Rocky and Party Rings biscuits.
Michael Spedding (1834 – 1927) was born into humble beginnings at Marsh, Huddersfield in Yorkshire. He received just three months of schooling, as well as some Sunday school teaching.
By the age of 13 he was working at a cotton mill in Meltham. With encouragement from his grandfather he walked to Batley to find work. He was poor, and would sometimes spend nights in barns.
Spedding married Susan Fox (1834 – 1895), the daughter of a bone setter, in 1854.
Spedding established himself as a food seller from 1863. Eventually he began to concentrate on the confectionery trade, with a focus on brandy snap biscuits.
Spedding took over the bone setting business of his father in law in 1877.
Spedding had been joined in business by his daughter Hannah and his son in law Fred Ellis Fox (1871 – 1938) by 1891.
The firm began to trade as F E Fox & Co from 1897, and Spedding retired in 1900. Brandy snaps continued to be the major product.
F E Fox was joined by his son, Michael Spedding Fox (1896 – 1963), and the firm began to trade as F E Fox & Son.
F E Fox & Son relocated to a new site at Batley in 1927.
Michael Spedding died in 1927 as one of the oldest men in his district.
F E Fox & Son was incorporated as a private company in 1938.
F E Fox died in 1938 and left an estate valued at £19,243. Michael Spedding Fox became managing director of the company.
F E Fox & Son Ltd had around 500 employees by 1955.
F E Fox & Son won a valuable contract to produce biscuits for Marks & Spencer in 1958. The contract accounted for half of all production.
F E Fox & Son required capital to fulfil its ambitions of becoming a nationally recognised company. The firm went public in 1960 as Fox’s Biscuits with an authorised share capital of £400,000. There were around 950 employees.
Parkinson’s Biscuits of Kirkham, Preston was acquired in 1966.
J Lyons & Co held a 25 percent stake in the company by 1974.
Fox’s Biscuits was acquired by Northern Foods in 1977. Following the merger of their interests, Northern Foods supplied Marks & Spencer with around 40 percent of its cake and biscuits.
Alfred Henry Fox died in 1977 with an estate valued at £124,375.
Fox’s Biscuits had emerged as one of the strongest brands at Northern Foods by the 1980s.
Fox’s Biscuits employed over 2,000 people by 1986.
Elkes Biscuits of Uttoxeter was acquired in 1987.
Fox’s Biscuits was best known for its Rocky and Party Rings biscuits by the 1990s.
Northern Foods was acquired by 2 Sisters Food Group in 2011.
The non-core Fox’s Biscuits business was identified as a potential divestment for 2 Sisters in 2016, with an estimated sale price of £250 million.
There are three Fox’s Biscuits factories as of 2017, located at Uttoxeter, Batley and Kirkham near Preston. The division employs over 3,000 people. The company has a large contract and own-label business, producing Farley’s Rusks for Heinz, for example.
In 2017 reports emerged that Fox’s might be merged with Burton Foods.
Perrier is the best known sparkling mineral water in the world. The iconic French product was introduced to the global market by an Englishman, St John Harmsworth.
William Albert St John Harmsworth (1876 – 1933) was the son of an unsuccessful alcoholic London barrister and a strong-willed mother.
Slight and nervous as a boy, St John Harmsworth attended Henley House School, St John’s Wood, London, where he was a pupil of H G Wells (1866 – 1946). According to Wells, Harmsworth was not the most academically-minded of pupils.
Harmsworth grew to become an athletic and handsome young man. He was charming and likeable.
Harmsworth worked as a director at Amalgamated Press, a newspaper empire created by his elder brother Lord Northcliffe (1865 – 1922), which included the Daily Mail, the highest selling newspaper in the world. Northcliffe suggested that Harmsworth travel to France in order to learn the language in 1902.
Harmsworth visited a carbonated spring at Les Bouillens, Vergeze, in the South of France, where Dr Louis Eugene Perrier operated a commercial spa. Perrier also bottled a small amount of the water for his guests and some local sales.
Harmsworth believed in the potential for the bottled water, which was lighter, crisper and had a lower sodium content than most waters sold in the British market at the time.
To the horror of his family, St John Harmsworth sold his shares in Amalgamated Press in order to acquire the Les Bouillens estate in early 1903.
St John Harmsworth closed down the spa, which catered to a declining market, and began to distribute the bottled water, which he branded as Perrier. It was sold at Monte Carlo and throughout the South of France during the 1903 season.
Following this successful trial, a London office was established at 45 and 46 New Bond Street by July 1904. The water targeted the premium segment of the market, and was sold at the Savoy, Claridge’s and the Berkeley hotels, as well as classic City of London pubs and restaurants such as Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and Slaters.
Perrier was advertised as an ideal mixer for whisky. Sir Thomas Lipton (1846 – 1931), a friend of Harmsworth, introduced the water to King Edward VII, who granted it a Royal Warrant in 1904.
The market for imported European sparkling water in Britain had been well-established by Apollinaris of Germany since the 1870s. Harmsworth packaged his water in a distinctive bulbous green bottle, inspired by an Indian club used for exercises.
French culture was considered aspirational, and the water may have benefited from an assumed link with the champagne houses of Perrier-Jouët and Laurent-Perrier, to which it had no affiliation. Perhaps to encourage the association, the water was originally marketed with “the champagne of table waters” slogan.
The London office was relocated to 45 and 47 Wigmore Street in November 1905.
Harmsworth broke his spine in a tragic motor accident in 1906. Paralysed from the waist down, he channelled his energies into developing the mineral water business.
A keen sportsman, Harmsworth was able to maintain his interest in swimming, and had a pool installed at his London address of 7 Hyde Park Terrace.
Perrier was registered as a private limited company in 1908 to acquire the share capital of La Compagnie de la Source Perrier.
Perrier was granted a Royal Warrant from King George V in 1911. Millions of bottles were sold every year by 1912.
Perrier was as well known as Apollinaris, its long-established rival, by 1914. Perrier was able to gain market share from Apollinaris during the First World War by using advertisements to highlight the German origins of its competitor.
During the First World War, much of production was distributed to the Allied armies in France, Salonika and Egypt.
Harmsworth negotiated a contract to be the exclusive supplier of bottled water to the restaurant cars of Wagons-Lits in France and Germany in 1927.
The London office had been relocated to Bear Wharf, 27 Bankside by 1931.
By 1933 Harmsworth had a small share in the French company, the Compagnie de la Source Perrier, and a large holding in the English company Perrier Limited, which held the British distribution rights.
Harmsworth died in 1933 and left an estate valued at £82,976. His estate was left to his brother Vyvyan George Harmsworth (1881 – 1957) and his three sisters.
Perrier Ltd had an authorised capital of £110,000 in 1935. The directors were Vyvyan Harmsworth, M Harmsworth and H Banks, who had been secretary to St John Harmsworth.
Perrier had never been hugely profitable, and the rest of the family lacked the faith in the brand that St John had. By May 1939 the family had granted the Britain and Ireland distribution rights for Perrier to its major rival, Apollinaris.
The Germans invaded France in 1940, and company capital was transferred to the United States to disguise the British origins of the firm. The Second World War isolated Perrier from its traditional markets of the British Empire, the USA and the French colonies. Between 1941 and 1944 sales to the German army represented 40 percent of turnover.
After the liberation of France, the Harmsworth family looked to sell the business, which was loss-making and required substantial investment. Gustave Leven (1915 – 2008) was working at his family stockbroking firm in Paris when his father asked him to find a buyer for Perrier in 1946. He visited the Perrier bottling plant, which was in need of reorganisation. He witnessed workers fill bottles by plunging them into the spring by hand, and sometimes using their feet to help put the bottle caps on.
Leven saw a strong brand that had considerable scope for improvement, and acquired the company along with four partners for £100,000. Ten million bottles were sold in 1946.
By 1952 annual sales were 150 million bottles. By introducing mass advertising to a staid industry, Perrier was able to gain considerable market share in France. Perrier was the highest-selling mineral water in France by 1962, with a 25 percent market share.
By the mid 1970s, Perrier held half of the French bottle water market. Leven installed a glass bottle manufacturing plant at Vergeze in 1973.
By the early 1970s, Perrier was distributed in Britain by Schweppes and Grand Metropolitan. The British market was limited to a few high-end establishments, as its distributors did not believe that there was a significant demand for bottled water. Perrier entered into British supermarket distribution for itself from 1974. Six million bottles were sold in Britain in 1978.
To further increase sales, Leven turned to the underdeveloped United States market. Three million bottles were sold there in 1976; by 1979 this had risen to 200 million.
In Britain and the United States, Perrier tapped into a growing aspirational culture, and an increasing health and fitness movement.
Rising sales in the United States saw a second factory opened at Vergeze in 1978. The new factory had a production capacity of nearly 400 million bottles, adding to the existing factory’s capacity of 350 million bottles.
By 1983 the Vergeze site employed 2,500 people and Perrier was sold in 119 countries.
25 percent of sales were in the United States by 1984. The brand peaked in 1989, when 1.2 billion bottles were sold, with half exported to the United States.
By 1988 Perrier had 60 percent of the British bottled water market. Nearly 100 million bottles a year were sold in the UK by 1990.
In March 1990 it was reported that Perrier contained a minimal amount of a carcinogen called benzene, because a filter meant to catch naturally occurring benzene from the spring had not been changed. 160 million bottles had to be recalled from 120 countries, for which the company was not insured.
A cancer specialist stated that an individual would have to consume a quart of Perrier every day for an entire lifetime to consume a harmful amount of benzene, but Leven decided that a total product recall was essential to preserve the reputation of the brand.
Despite Leven’s speedy and responsible reaction, production levels dropped by one third in the wake of the scandal.
Nestle acquired Perrier in 1992, in a deal which valued the company at $2.7 billion. Nestle believed it could turn around the struggling company.
Perrier acquired San Pellegrino, its Italian rival, in 1997.
Nestle struggled against a powerful union at the Perrier plant. With rising sales, Leven had acquiesced to union demands throughout the 1980s. Faced with stagnant sales, Nestle found that it was unable to accommodate union demands. Between 1992 and 2004 it failed to make a profit from Perrier.
Production levels crossed the one billion bottle threshold again in 2013.
According to data from Euromonitor, Perrier held six percent of the global carbonated bottled water market by value in 2016, and its share is growing.
In 2017 Nestle installed a new production line at the Perrier plant. It plans to add three more lines by 2020, bringing the total to 15.
Crawford’s biscuits survives as the economy sister brand to McVitie’s.
Ships biscuits were first produced at 31 Shore, a public house in Leith, Edinburgh, from 1813. Mr Mathie took over the business from 1817.
William Crawford (born 1818) succeeded Mr Mathie as a manufacturer of ships biscuits at 31 Shore in 1856.
Crawford was a master baker employing six men and one boy by 1861. He employed five men and one boy in 1871.
Crawford established a custom-built factory at Elbe Street, Leith in 1879.
William Crawford sent two of his sons, Archibald Inglis Crawford (1869 – 1940) and James Crawford to establish a subsidiary in Australia in 1897. Having booked their voyage from Liverpool, they reconsidered emigration after sensing opportunity, and instead established the Fairfield Works in the city.
William Crawford & Sons of Leith was registered in 1906 as a limited liability company with a capital of £251,000. The Crawford family controlled the company.
William Crawford & Sons employed hundreds of people at its factories at Leith and Liverpool by 1923. By this time the company claimed to be “the oldest of the biscuit manufacturers”.
Company capital was increased to £700,000 in 1924.
William Crawford (1858 – 1926) died in 1926 with an estate valued at £876,211. It was due to his efforts that the company grew to a national scale. He was of a retiring disposition.
Kenneth Crawford (1906 – 1936) died tragically in an air crash in 1936. His estate was valued at £155,922.
Archibald Inglis Crawford (1870 – 1940) died in 1940. He left an estate valued at £1,015,886.
Douglas Inglis Crawford (born 1905) was company chairman by 1956. The privately-owned company was still largely in Crawford family hands.
William Crawford & Sons was acquired by United Biscuits for £6.25 million in 1962.
United Biscuits closed the Leith factory in 1970, with the loss of 703 jobs. Meanwhile production at Liverpool was increased by 50 percent, following an investment of £2 million.
The McVitie’s, Crawford and Macfarlane sales teams were merged in the 1970s.
3,000 people were employed at the Crawfords factory in Liverpool in 1976. It was the oldest and largest of all United Biscuits factories. It was also the most progressive in terms of employee relations.
United Biscuits wound down manufacturing operations at Liverpool between 1984 and 1987. 934 full time and over 1,000 part time jobs were lost. Some administrative functions are maintained at the site.
D S Crawford, the Scottish bakery chain subsidiary , was subject to a management buy out in 1990.
The Crawford name was repositioned as an economy brand from 2014. The Crawford’s Family Circle was rebranded under the McVitie’s name.
John Corbett was by far the largest producer of salt in Britain.
John Corbett (1817 – 1901) was born to Joseph Corbett, a Shropshire farmer. Joseph Corbett relocated to Birmingham, where he established a successful canal freight business.
John Corbett left school at the age of ten, and began to drive one of his father’s canal boats. He was eventually promoted to canal boat captain. During this period Corbett observed that salt was one of the major freight goods.
In his spare time, as well as on canal boats, Corbett would read mechanical books, with the aim of becoming an engineer. He served a five year apprenticeship at the Leys Ironworks in Stourbridge from 1840.
John Corbett was taken into partnership by his father in 1846. However, with increased competition from the railways, the firm was sold to the Grand Junction Canal Company in 1849.
John Corbett went to work at the Stoke Prior Salt Works near Droitwich. He began as an engine driver, before working as an outrider, and finally as a cashier. Corbett was learning the salt business at all levels.
Corbett acquired the lease of the Stoke Prior Salt Works in 1852. The works had an annual production of 26,000 tons. Two successive companies had failed to make a success of business. Corbett studied the previous failures and endeavoured to make a success of it.
The Stoke Prior Salt Works produced salt from springwater. Underground springs passed through a salt bed, which gave the water a salt content of 38.4 percent, according to an 1886 study, a higher level than even the Dead Sea.
Corbett used his engineering ability to introduce improved salt refining techniques. Identifying distribution as the most profitable area of the salt industry, he acquired his own canal boats, and later trains, to transport his product. To increase export sales he established agents overseas.
Corbett also hired the best people he could afford, and looked after his employees. He was a model employer, and built a model village for his workers including a school, church and social clubs. Corbett was also a dedicated philanthropist, establishing a 40 bed hospital in Stourbridge, as well as gifting Salters Hall to Droitwich.
Throughout his career, Corbett remained a hands-on proprietor, deeply engaged in the management of his business. He was an incredibly keen businessman, and a hard worker, beginning his working day at 6am, and often sleeping above his work offices.
By character Corbett was a quiet, likeable man. He was thoughtful, intelligent and interested in the arts and travel. Despite his immense wealth he lived a plain life, and drank in moderation.
Corbett was the largest salt manufacturer in Worcestershire by 1879.
Salt was the largest manufacture by tonnage in Britain after coal and iron in 1879. Between one and two million tons were produced each year, and thousands of people were employed in the industry.
Corbett was producing 200,000 to 300,000 tons of salt very year by 1886. The works covered around 30 acres. High quality table salt was the main product, sold under the “Black Horse” brand.
Men were limited to an eight hour day, and women to seven. Corbett paid his workers a premium of around 15 percent against the industry average. In his entire career, Corbett never suffered a strike that lasted 48 hours or more.
According to an industry estimate, John Corbett held nearly 50 percent of the British salt producing industry by 1888 and the Stoke Prior Salt Works was the most valuable enterprise of its kind in Britain.
The Salt Union Ltd was formed in 1888 as a merger of various salt interests across the country, including the Stoke Prior Salt Works, which were acquired at the cost of £660,000. Salt Union had a capital of £3 million and produced two million tons of salt every year.
Corbett became deputy chairman, a managing director, and by far the largest shareholder in the concern.
The Salt Union was immediately accused of attempting to rig the market and raise prices. It was alleged in The Standard that salt prices to the strategically important alkali industry had increased by 80 percent.
As a consequence of the price increase, exports slumped by 20 percent, and many people were put out of work. Corbett initially defended the company, arguing that producers had been operating at an unsustainable loss for a considerable period of time, and that the price adjustment merely reflected a correction of the market.
Corbett was to regret joining the Salt Union. After selling out to the company, he realised that it had entered into a number of imprudent contracts. The company had a lack of focus and direction, and his recommendations for the business were ignored. As a result, Corbett resigned his post as deputy chairman and managing director in 1890.
The Salt Union rapidly lost market share. Its attempt to exploit its monopoly position simply allowed its competitors to undercut it. Furthermore, an improved table salt was introduced by rival Cerebos in 1894.
Corbett died in 1901. His gross estate was valued at £412,972. An obituary in the Daily Telegraph heralded him as the “Salt King”.
The Salt Union was acquired by ICI in 1937. The works closed in 1972 due to cheaper foreign imports.
Bell Brothers was the second largest producer of pig iron in the North of England.
Thomas Bell (1774 – 1845) was born at Lowhurst, Cumberland. In 1808 he entered the business of Losh & Co of Newcastle upon Tyne, a firm of merchants which was branching out into the manufacture of alkali and iron.
He became a partner in the firm, which became known as Losh, Wilson & Bell.
His sons, Isaac Lowthian Bell (1816 – 1904) and John Bell (1818 – 1888) established Bell Brothers in 1844. Initially they leased an iron smelting works at Wylam on Tyne.
Lowthian Bell was the senior partner. Educated in the sciences at the Sorbonne in France, he spoke fluent German, Danish and French. Bell would later be heralded as the first scientifically trained ironmaster.
John Vaughan discovered sizeable deposits of ironstone (from which iron ore could be extracted) at Eston in the Cleveland hills near Middlesbrough.
John Bell made his own ironstone discovery at Normanby, and leased the land from the Ward Jackson family. Two blast furnaces were erected at Port Clarence, Cleveland in 1853. Three more were built the following year.
Bell Brothers was registered as a limited liability company in 1873. The company remained entirely family controlled.
Two new blast furnaces were opened in 1874, and the company announced plans to increase capacity to 750 tons of iron per day.
Bell Brothers pioneered the Teesside salt industry. The company began to bore salt from 1882, and by the end of the year had a productive capacity of up to 400 tons of salt a week. The salt was sold to Tyneside chemical manufacturers, who used it to produce alkali. By April 1883 the company was produced 860 tons of salt a week.
By this time, Teesside was the largest producer of iron in the world.
Bell Brothers operated twelve blast furnaces at Port Clarence by 1877. The company also operated ironstone mines, limestone quarries and collieries. Around £1 million in capital was invested in the business. The company was second only to Bolckow Vaughan in pig iron production in the North of England.
By this time Thomas Hugh Bell (1844 – 1931), the son of Lowthian Bell, was responsible for managing the business.
Bell Brothers announced plans to develop a steel works at Port Clarence in 1887. The works would use the Siemens-Martin process, instead of the established Bessemer process, to manufacture steel from Cleveland pig iron. The strategy allowed the company to exit the increasingly competitive iron market.
Bell Brothers employed 4,500 men in 1898. The company had an authorised capital of £825,000.
Bell Brothers divested its salt interests to Salt Union Ltd and Brunner Mond Ltd in 1899.
Dorman Long acquired half of Bell Brothers from Thomas Hugh Bell in 1899. The remaining half was acquired from Lowthian Bell in 1902.
Lowthian Bell became chairman of Dorman Long. With a capital of £1 million, the merged company was the largest iron and steel manufacturer in the North of England.
Bell Brothers produced 360,000 tons of pig iron in 1903. The number of blast furnaces had been reduced to eight by 1905.
Lowthian Bell died in 1904 and his estate was valued at £768,676.
The Bell Brothers subsidiary was formally liquidated in 1923.
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.
Thomas and Frederick Wall transformed the firm into the best-known sausage business in Britain. Queen Victoria was supplied with sausages on a weekly basis from the Jermyn Street shop. The sausages for the monarch had a special recipe including freshly laid eggs and hand-chopped mince.
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 much of the meat business was relocated to Atlas Road, Park Royal, London. The Acton factory employed 4,000 people by 1960.
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.