All posts by Thomas Farrell

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Rocky road: Fox’s Biscuits

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 of humble origins at Marsh, Huddersfield in Yorkshire. He received just three months of schooling, as well as some Sunday school teaching.

At 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 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.

The highs and l’eaus of Perrier

The classic sparkling French spring water 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.

Previously a keen sportsman, he 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 steal 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 a great money-spinner, 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, according to Nicolas Marty.

After the liberation of France, the Harmsworth family looked to sell the business, which was loss-making and needed substantial investment. Gustave Leven (1915 – 2008) was working at the 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 a shambles. He saw 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. 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.

By 1983 two billion bottles were sold each year in 119 countries. The Vergeze factory employed 2,500 people.

By 1984, 25 percent of sales were in 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 occuring 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.

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.

William Crawford & Sons

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.

The Salt King: John Corbett

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.

Ring their praises: Bell Brothers

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.

Bell Brothers blast furnaces at Port Clarence in 1917

Lowthian Bell died in 1904 and his estate was valued at £768,676.

The Bell Brothers subsidiary was formally liquidated in 1923.

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. 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.

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) served as an apprentice chemist before opening a small shop of his own on Groat Market 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. The sailors helped to establish the reputation of the product overseas.

Unable to cope with the scale of demand, Eno left Newcastle to establish a factory at New Cross, London in 1876.

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 for a reported £1.5 million.

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, before moving into 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 at No. 1 Pophams Broadway in Madras. Vencatachellum blended a famed curry powder, including 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.

Green Label mango chutney was introduced from 1889.

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.

Around 460 Cope Brothers employees went on strike in 1950 in protest against the hiring of non-unionised labour. The strike lasted for nearly three months.

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.