When the media reported on the failure of the Thomas Cook travel company in 2019, I saw a spike in page views for my history of the business.
The quality of business news in British broadsheets is generally very good. However what journalists often overlook is the historical context of huge events such as when a business enters into administration.
Just look at when Stead & Simpson, one of the largest shoe retailers in Britain, entered into administration in 2008. Nobody reported that the 174 year old business had once been the largest footwear manufacturer in the world. This was information that a busy journalist, working to a deadline, simply does not have the time to find out. So the story was reported as a high street misfortune, rather than as the culmination of a slow and steady decline for a once huge and influential business.
Stead & Simpson was not just another high street brand; it had historically employed thousands of people, and the Gee family, who controlled the company in the early twentieth century, played an influential role in the establishment of the University of Leicester.
Stead & Simpson represented a rare survivor of the once-vast East Midlands shoe-making industry, and had managed to avoid being swallowed up by the J Sears & Co business that came to control much of British shoe retailing in the mid to late twentieth century.
I would argue that a greater awareness of historical context helps us to better understand the future and the present, as well as the past.
Lambert & Butler is the leading cigarette brand in the United Kingdom.
Lambert & Butler establish the business
Charles Lambert (1814 – 1887) and Charles Butler (1813 – 1882) established a cigar manufacturing business at 38 St John Street in Clerkenwell, London from 1834.
Lambert & Butler relocated to 142 Drury Lane, near Covent Garden, from 1838. The business began to manufacture tobacco, as well as cigars.
Lambert & Butler showcased their English cigars, made from Havana tobacco, at the Great Exhibition of 1851. As a curiosity, the firm also exhibited a sample of English-grown tobacco, raised in Cambridgeshire.
Lambert & Butler had extended their premises to include 141 and 142 Drury Lane by 1852.
Lambert & Butler were advertising across England by 1863.
The next generation takeover management; mass-production of cigarettes begins
The sons of the founders, Charles Edward Lambert (1843 – 1910) and Charles Butler Jr (1848 – 1898), entered into the partnership in the 1860s. Their skilled management was to afford the business considerable impetus.
Lambert & Butler had a capital of £87,200 in 1870.
Charles Butler Sr died with an estate valued at over £47,000 in 1882.
The Drury Lane premises buildings were demolished and rebuilt in 1895. A Luddington cigarette machine was installed. Machine-made cigarettes had lower production costs, and rendered cigarettes affordable for the working classes.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Lambert & Butler had grown to become the third largest tobacco business in Britain, after Wills and Cope Brothers. Lambert & Butler had an excellent marketing department, but competition with Wills was hampered by the more efficient patented methods of production at their major rival.
Charles Butler Jr died in 1898 with an estate valued at £79,558.
The firm was converted into a private limited liability company, Lambert & Butler Ltd, with an authorised capital of £450,000, in 1899.
Lambert & Butler employed 1,100 people by 1900. The company held around ten percent of the British cigarette market, behind Wills and Ogden’s, and alongside John Player & Sons.
Lambert & Butler joins Imperial Tobacco Imperial Tobacco was formed in 1901 as a combine of British manufacturers designed to combat the encroachment of American Tobacco into their country. Lambert & Butler joined as the second largest constituent of the group. Day to day operations at Lambert & Butler continued unchanged.
A large extension of the factory and offices at Drury Lane was completed in 1908.
Charles Edward Lambert died of heart failure in 1910. His estate was valued at £659,193. Photographs of Lambert depict a quintessentially patriarchal Edwardian figure, a mustachioed, well-built fellow who was rarely seen without a cigar in hand.
Walter Butler (1857 – 1913), a member of the Imperial Tobacco executive committee, died in 1913. He left a gross estate valued at £175,599.
Charles Rupert Butler (1873 – 1915) became managing director of Lambert & Butler until his sudden death from heart failure in 1915.
The First World War created a shortage of labour; 96 percent of male Lambert & Butler employees had either enlisted or attested by April 1916. Women were hired to provide cover for the enlisted men.
The principal concern was the manufacture of pipe tobacco by 1928. By this time there was a cigarette factory at Margravine Road, Fulham.
Lambert & Butler launched Varsity, the first filter-tipped cigarette from Imperial Tobacco, in 1936. It was withdrawn from sale around 1940 due to low demand.
Closure of the factory; introduction of the Lambert & Butler King Size cigarette
The sole remaining Lambert & Butler factory was closed in 1958. Its antiquated design meant it was nearly half as efficient as the highest-performing Imperial Tobacco facility. Lambert & Butler production continued at other Imperial Tobacco subsidiary companies. The Lambert & Butler brand accounted for just 0.2 percent of Imperial Tobacco cigarette sales.
The Drury Lane headquarters were closed in 1961.
Lambert & Butler was a relatively small subsidiary throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with a focus on cigars and pipe tobacco.
The Lambert & Butler King Size cigarette was launched in 1979, and was to quickly prove a huge success.
Lambert & Butler King Size was the highest-selling cigarette brand in the United Kingdom by 2008.
A G Barr is one of the largest soft drinks manufacturers in Britain, where its leading product, Irn-Bru, is the third highest selling soft drink.
Robert Barr (1834 -1904) was born in Falkirk, Scotland, a sizeable town roughly located between Glasgow and Edinburgh. He initially followed his father into the cork-cutting trade.
The cork-cutting trade came under threat with the rise of the screw-stopper, so Robert Barr established a soft drinks business in Falkirk from 1873. Barr had likely been exposed to the soft drinks trade through his cork-cutting business, and probably noted its high growth potential.
The soft drinks enterprise employed five men, three girls and two boys by 1881.
Robert Barr was a Liberal in politics, a keen sportsman, and a generous benefactor to charitable causes.
Andrew Greig Barr (1872 – 1903), son of Robert Barr, managed the Falkirk business from 1890. He had originally served an apprenticeship as a banker, a profession for which he demonstrated great potential.
A sister factory was established at 184 Great Eastern Road, Glasgow, and Andrew Greig Barr managed it from around 1892. He would develop it into the largest carbonated soft drinks factory in Scotland.
Robert Barr had passed full control of the soft drinks business to Andrew Greig Barr by 1899.
Iron Brew was introduced from 1901. It was based on an American soft drink of the same name, first produced in the late nineteenth century. The Barr recipe contains 32 flavouring ingredients, mostly originating from India, including “fruit essences”, quinine and curry powder.
The Falkirk and Glasgow works employed at least 500 workers by 1903.
Andrew Greig Barr contracted typhoid fever and died from acute pneumonia in 1903. He left a personal estate valued at £18,409.
Upon the death of their brother, Robert Fulton Barr (1868 – 1918) and William Snodgrass Barr (born 1881) became joint-managing directors of A G Barr & Co.
Robert Barr died of heart failure in 1904.
A workforce of around 1,000 were employed by 1913.
The Parkhead site was significantly expanded in 1914, to create one of the largest soft drinks factories in Britain.
A G Barr & Co was the largest soft drinks manufacturer in Scotland by 1918.
Robert Fulton Barr died in 1918, and the business was continued by William Snodgrass Barr.
W S Barr passed the chairmanship of the company to his nephew, Colonel Robert Barr (1896 – 1949), from 1931.
The Parkhead site in Glasgow was the largest soft drinks factory in Britain by 1931, and employed around 100 people.
A small amount of iron was present in Iron Brew from 1937 onwards.
Government rationing regulations saw Iron Brew withdrawn from sale between 1942 and 1948. A G Barr continued to advertise Iron Brew during this period. When Iron Brew was reintroduced to the British market it was renamed Irn-Bru in order to differentiate the drink from competing products.
Robert Barr became chairman from 1947.
A G Barr & Co went public in 1965.
Irn-Bru dominated the Scottish soft drink market by the early 1970s.
Tizer, the Manchester-based soft drinks manufacturer, was purchased for £2.5 million in 1972. The acquisition transformed A G Barr into the largest specialist soft drinks manufacturer in Britain.
Robin Barr became chairman from 1978.
Mandora, the soft drinks subsidiary of the Mansfield Brewery, was acquired for £21.5 million in cash in 1988. Mandora employed a workforce of 400 at its factory on Bellamy Road, Mansfield. The deal transformed A G Barr into the third largest soft drinks manufacturer in Britain. A G Barr invested £300,000 to upgrade the warehousing facilities at the Mansfield site in 1988.
Irn-Bru had distribution across Britain by 1992.
Only Robin Barr and one other unnamed individual know the 32 secret ingredients for Irn-Bru. Robin Barr personally mixes the 32 ingredients himself.
Rothmans established the largest mail-order cigarette business in Britain. Rothmans later grew to become the fourth largest cigarette manufacturer in the world.
Louis Rothman (1868 – 1926) was born in Kiev, then a part of the Russian Empire. He gained experience of the tobacco trade whilst apprenticed to his uncle in Kiev, who controlled the largest cigarette manufacturer in South Russia.
Rothman emigrated to Britain at the age of 17. He worked for a cigarette manufacturer before entering into business for himself two years later. L Rothman & Co was established with a small shop on Fleet Street, London in 1890. Rothman initially hand-rolled the cigarettes himself.
Rothman became a naturalised British subject from 1896.
L Rothman & Co relocated to 5 and 5a Pall Mall from 1900.
Marcus Weinberg (1859 – 1923) was a Jewish emigre from what is now part of Poland. He controlled Weinberg & Co, one of the longest-established cigarette manufacturers in London. Rothman and Weinberg merged their interests to form the Yenidje Tobacco Company Ltd from 1913.
During the First World War, the growing popularity of low-cost cigarettes, as well as the difficulty in procuring Turkish tobacco, convinced Rothman to pursue the mass market. Weinberg disagreed with his partner, and wanted to continue to target the upper-class market. The two men disputed, and eventually refused to speak to each other. Rothman bought out full control of the venture in 1917.
Introduction of the Pall Mall cigarette and the mail-order business model
Pall Mall cigarettes became the leading Rothmans brand.* They contained a blend of South Carolina tobacco and Virginia leaf. The cigarette was supplied to the House of Lords by 1920. Pall Mall cigarettes were advertised as, “less liable to stain the fingers and may be smoked constantly without affecting the most delicate throat”, due to containing less nicotine than any other brand.
Rothmans converted to a wholesale business model from 1922. By supplying customers directly through mail-order, prices were immediately reduced by 25 to 33 percent. The cigarettes typically reached the consumer within a few days after production, which helped to preserve product freshness.
Sydney Rothman (1897 – 1995) entered into partnership with his father from 1923.
L Rothman & Co sales increased fourfold between 1922 and 1926. Rothmans supplied over 100,000 smokers by 1927.
Louis Rothman died in 1926. He was remembered as a generous and charitable man.
Conversion into a public company
L Rothman & Co became a public company with a capital of £220,000 from 1929.
Rothmans supported its mail-order supply business with extensive newspaper advertising. It was the largest mail-order cigarette manufacturer in Britain by 1932.
Over one billion Rothmans cigarettes were supplied to the British armed forces during the Second World War.
Acquisition by the Rembrandt Tobacco Group
Following the war home market sales were negligible, and the business was acquired by the Rembrandt Tobacco Group, controlled by Anton Rupert (1916 – 2006), for £750,000 in 1954.
Rupert was regarded as “one of the sharpest people in the tobacco world … an elemental force of nature, a man to be reckoned with”, according to rival tobacco executive Joseph Cullman III (1912 – 2004).
Sydney Rothman was retained as chairman of Rothmans, and his technical advice was to prove invaluable.
Rupert had been the first person to introduce the king-size cigarette in his native South Africa. Sales grew rapidly after Rupert introduced the king-size filter-tip cigarette to the Rothmans product range.
Rothmans maintained the last brougham, a four-wheeled horse-driven carriage, in London. Built in 1865, it was used to deliver tobacco to West End clubs and restaurants. Its maintenance costs ran to £3,000 a year by 1956.
A cigarette factory was established in Toronto, Canada from 1957. Rothmans was the highest-selling king-size filter cigarette in the Commonwealth.
Acquisition of Carreras
In 1958 Rembrandt gained control of Carreras, manufacturer of Craven A cigarettes, and merged the company with Rothmans. The combined company held three percent of the British tobacco market.
Sydney Rothman retired as chairman of Rothmans in 1979.
The Rothmans brougham was still in use until at least as late as 1980.
Rothmans held 39 percent of the Australian cigarette market by 1983.
Global scale and absorption by British American Tobacco
Rothmans was the fourth largest cigarette manufacturer in the world by 1991, with two percent of the global market.
Rothmans was acquired by British American Tobacco for $7.6 billion in 1999. Rothmans remains one of the leading cigarette brands of British American Tobacco as of 2019.
* The Rothman’s Pall Mall cigarette is not connected to the Pall Mall cigarette manufactured by R J Reynolds in the United States.
Mitre is one of the largest football manufacturers in the world.
Benjamin Crook (1764 – 1834) traded as a currier, a worker in the leather industry who applies the finishing techniques to tans, in Huddersfield, Yorkshire. Crook established his own tannery in Huddersfield from 1817.
His son, Benjamin Crook Jr (1809 – 1883), was a currier at Bradleys Buildings, Huddersfield by 1841. Benjamin Crook Jr relocated his currying business to Fitzwilliam Street and employed three men by 1851. Footballs were produced from 1862.
Benjamin Crook Jr died in 1883, and the business was continued by his sons, George Henry Crook (1842 – 1901), and Frederick Crook (1852 – 1912).
Following the death of Frederick Crook in 1912 it appears that William Clifford Crook (1884 – 1959), the son of George Henry Crook, took control of the business.
During the First World War Benjamin Crook & Sons produced leather ammunition pouches for the British army, and haversacks for the French army.
Benjamin Crook & Sons held perhaps ten to 20 percent of the British football market by 1922. One of its major competitors was Sykes of Horbury.
Benjamin Crook & Sons had become a limited company by 1926. About 140 people were employed at the factory. Tens of thousands of footballs were produced every year, and three footballs a minute were produced during the working day.
Demand boomed during the post-war period. The Mitre brand was introduced for footballs from 1949.
William Clifford Crook died in 1959.
Sale of the company
Grampian Holdings, a Glasgow-based conglomerate, acquired Benjamin Crook & Sons for nearly £195,000 in 1962.
Mitre provided the official ball for the England national team from 1962.
Mitre entered the football boot market from 1966.
Mitre relocated to the Bay Hall Works in Birkby, Huddersfield from the late 1960s.
Mitre became the official football of the English Football League from the 1970s.
Mitre enters the United States market and is acquired by Genesco
Mitre began to develop the United States market from 1975.
Genesco, a Tennessee-based manufacturer of footwear and clothing, acquired the licence to sell Mitre clothing and equipment throughout North America from 1981.
Mitre closed two factories due to economic recession in 1981, one in Northampton with 80 employees, and one in Kettering with 38 workers. A reduction of orders saw the Huddersfield site staff downsized from 300 to 213.
United States sales of Mitre products increased from $1 million to $25 million between 1984 and 1989. Mitre became the leading supplier of football boots in the United States, with a 35 percent market share in 1989.
Genesco acquired Mitre for £17 million in 1992. Genesco hoped to capitalise on the increasing popularity of football in America during the 1994 World Cup.
Mitre was one of the leading suppliers of footballs and football boots in the world by 1995, and the leading football and football boot supplier in the UK. Mitre was also a leading supplier of rugby and cricket footwear.
The Sunday Times reported in May 1995 that Mitre footballs were being stitched by children as young as six in Pakistan, at a rate of 10p per hour. The newspaper described the work as “a modern form of slave labour”.
Duncan Bembridge of Mitre responded swiftly:
Mitre Sports International do not condone in any form the use of child labour. Agreements with our factories in Pakistan clearly state our policy and we have written assurances that child labour is not being used to stitch Mitre balls.
As a father, and a director of a highly principled international company, I am totally committed to stamping out child slavery.
Acquisition by Pentland Group
Genesco entered into financial difficulty, and sold Mitre Sports to Pentland Group for $11.4 million (£7.2 million) in 1995. Pentland announced plans to increase marketing spend behind the brand and improve international distribution.
Mitre lost the prestigious contract to supply the Premier League football to Nike in 2000.
After 44 years, the England football team switched from Mitre to Umbro footballs from 2006.
Mitre has continuously provided the official match balls for the English Football League since 1962. Its is currently contracted to continue to do so until at least 2019.
Mitre ranked among the largest football manufacturers in the world as of 2019. Its major rivals in this field are Adidas, Nike, Puma, Asics, Mizuno and Umbro.
Drysdale Dennison was the largest importer of pepper into Britain.
Wallis & Co was a mustard, chicory (a popular coffee substitute) and spice merchant of 20 Duke Street, London Bridge. The Wallis family were Quakers from Northamptonshire.
Andrew Drummond Drysdale (1830 – 1867), originally from Perth in Scotland, was the manager of Wallis & Co by 1857.
Drysdale had entered into the firm as a partner by 1864, and the business began to trade as Wallis & Drysdale.
Andrew Drummond Drysdale died in 1867, and his stake passed to his brother, Hector Drummond Drysdale (1828 – 1902).
Hector Drysdale bought out the Wallis family stake to take full control of the business in 1878. By this time there were premises on 131 Upper Thames Street and Dock Street. The location close to the Thames was convenient for receiving imported spices.
The firm was trading as Drysdale Dennison by 1883. It was one of the best known pepper merchants in the world.
James Samuel Gray (1876 – 1935) joined the company in 1889.
Gray merged White Palmer, a long-established London spice merchant, with Drysdale Dennison to form the British Pepper and Spice Co Ltd, a public company with a nominal capital of £160,000, in 1933. The office was at 31 Queen Victoria Street, Eastcheap.
The head office was relocated to 7 New Court, Lincoln’s Inn in 1948.
Drysdale Dennison was the largest importer of pepper in Britain by 1959. The factory was located just off Petticoat Lane in London.
Burton Son & Sanders of Ipswich, specialist food manufacturers and distributors to the bakery trade, acquired the British Pepper & Spice Co in 1967.
Amidst falling profits at Burton Son & Sanders, Matthews Holdings, a food retailer, acquired the company for £1 million in 1969.
Matthews Holdings and S W Berisford merged their spice and pepper interests in a joint venture called British Pepper & Spice in 1971.
British Pepper & Spice Co was acquired by Hunter Saphir in 1987.
The factory and head office of British Pepper & Spice was located in Northampton by this time. 160 people were employed there in 1993.
Hunter Saphir was acquired by Albert Fisher for £29 million in 1993. Two months later British Pepper & Spice was sold to Burns Philp of Australia for £25 million in cash. Burns Philp intended to build a global spice business large enough to challenge the dominance of McCormick of the United States. Burns Philp already owned the R T French and Durkee range of spices in America.
However Burns Philp entered into financial difficulty, and British Pepper & Spice was subject to a management buyout for £7.6 million in 1998.
British Pepper & Spice was acquired by SHS Group of Belfast, which owns brands such as WKD and Shloer, in 2004.
Still based in Northampton, British Pepper & Spice is a major supplier of supermarket own-label herbs and spices, as well as for producers such as Heinz and Premier Foods.
Tanqueray is one of the highest selling gin brands in the world.
Charles Tanqueray (1810 – 1865) was the son of the Reverend Edward Tanqueray (1762 – 1847), rector of Tingrith in Befordshire.
With his elder brother Edward (1805 – 1838), Charles was apprenticed as ginmaker to Currie & Co of Bromley by Bow, one of the largest distilleries in London.
The two Tanqueray brothers partnered with Arthur Currie (1804 – 1875) to takeover the Bloomsbury Distillery, an established gin manufacturer at 3 Vine Street, Bloomsbury, in 1835. The building has not survived, but the street still exists, and has been renamed Grape Street.
Charles Tanqueray was an ambitious man, and he wanted to create a gin to rival, or even better, those of Felix Booth (1775 – 1850) and Alexander Gordon. He experimented ceaselessly through trial and error to perfect his recipe, and finally settled on just four botanicals: juniper, angelica root, liquorice and coriander seeds, the same four used by Tanqueray today.
Edward Tanqueray died in 1838, and Charles was assisted by his brother John Samuel Tanqueray (1817 – 1902) in the 1840s and 1850s.
Arthur Currie left the partnership in 1847.
Charles Waugh Tanqueray
Charles Tanqueray died in 1865 and the business was managed by his brother William Henry Tanqueray (1814 – 1887). Charles Waugh Tanqueray (1848 – 1931), the son of Charles Tanqueray, took over the distillery upon completion of an apprenticeship to a grocer in 1867.
Charles Waugh Tanqueray was perhaps more commercially-minded than his father, and under his leadership sales grew and exports increased. A keen sportsman, he was an upright Christian gentleman with a keen social conscience and a determined character.
Most Tanqueray gin was sold at a strength of 40.19 percent ABV in 1877. Some gin was also sold at 35.19 percent ABV.
Tanqueray Gordon and acquisition by Distillers
Charles Waugh Tanqueray approached Reginald Charles Wilford Currie (1854 – 1922), the proprietor of Gordon & Co, gin distillers of Goswell Road, London, regarding a merger of their two companies in 1897.
The two businesses merged to form Tanqueray, Gordon & Co, a company with a capital of £500,000, in 1898. R C W Currie became the managing director, and Charles Waugh Tanqueray took the opportunity to retire.
Following the merger all production was centralised at the Gordon distillery at 132 Goswell Road. Gordon’s London Dry Gin became the priority brand.
Harry Aubrey Tanqueray (1907 – 1982) was the only grandson of C W Tanqueray. He became a stockbroker, and does not appear to have been affiliated with the gin business.
Largely due to the growth of the temperance movement and a substantial rise in excise duty, alcohol consumption in Britain declined in the period following the First World War.
Perhaps as a way to make up for declining sales at home, Tanqueray was first exported to the United States from around 1918.
Tanqueray Gordon was acquired by the Distillers Company, which was heavily involved in consolidating the spirits industry, in 1922.
R C W Currie, managing director of Tanqueray Gordon, died in 1922.
Tanqueray Gordon was by far the largest gin distiller in the world by 1926.
Charles Waugh Tanqueray outlived his only son Charles Henry Drought Tanqueray (1875 – 1928), and died in 1931.
During the Second World War the Goswell Road site was nearly destroyed during the Blitz.
The distinctive Tanqueray green bottle, with a shape based on a cocktail shaker, was introduced from 1948.
The growth of Tanqueray overseas
Tanqueray began to marketed and advertised in earnest in the United States from the mid-1950s.
The premium-priced product became popular among affluent Southern Californians, and American sales took off from there. British gin was popular because it was smoother than its American counterpart, and was to prove a good mixer for a Martini cocktail.
100,000 cases were sold in the United States in 1961. Sales doubled in 1964. Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack became fond of Tanqueray martinis at the Buena Vista Social Club in San Francisco.
United States sales rose by 1700 percent over a four year period. Over 85 percent of the Goswell Road output was shipped to the United States by the 1960s.
John P Tanqueray (1934 -2012), the great grandson of Charles Tanqueray, had been appointed export manager for Tanqueray by 1969. He credited the success of Tanqueray in the United States to snob appeal, “our product appeals to status seekers and consumers who want an outstanding gin”.
Tanqueray became one of the leading spirit brands in the world. 600,000 cases of Tanqueray were exported to the United States in 1975, where it was the highest proof gin, and generally the most expensive.
United States sales reached one million cases in 1979, second only to Beefeater in imported gin.
A new distillery and recent developments
The Goswell Road site struggled to keep up with increasing demand, and production was transferred to a purpose-built 26 acre distillery in Laindon, Essex from 1984.
Charles Tanqueray & Co won a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1985.
Guinness acquired Distillers in 1986.
John P Tanqueray retired as commercial director of Tanqueray Gordon in 1989.
Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo. The combination of two spirits giants left the company with an excess of productive capacity. As a result, the Laindon distillery was closed with the loss of 220 jobs in 2000, and all production was relocated to Cameronbridge in Scotland.
Tanqueray held over 50 percent of the United States gin market in 2002.
The future for Tanqueray looks solid; global sales grew by 15 percent in 2018.
Fillerys Toffees was established in 1923 by a consortium of four investors led by Robert Harold Mayhew (1874 – 1965). The factory was located on Warwick Road in Greet, south Birmingham.
The site covered four acres by 1927, and due to increasing sales, 24 hour production was introduced from 1930.
Fillerys Toffees was incorporated as a public company in 1934. Herbert E Morgan was chairman. The company had an authorised and issued capital of £100,000 by 1935. Around 300 workers were employed.
Fillerys led the toffee industry as one of the most efficient producers by 1942. Fillerys targeted the higher quality market.
During the Second World War, most of the factory was given over to munitions manufacturing for the war effort.
Under a Government scheme to encourage industrial efficiency, Fillerys Toffees were produced under contract by Rowntree of York between 1942 and 1946.
The company had established nationwide sales distribution by 1949.
The end of sugar rationing in 1954 saw a boom in confectionery sales. Fillerys Toffees won a prestigious and valuable contract to supply confectionery for Marks & Spencer.
The sugar confectionery boom was over by the end of the 1950s, as increasing prosperity saw consumers increasingly switch to chocolate products. As a result, the industry began to consolidate in order to reduce costs.
Fillerys was acquired by J A & P Holland of Southport in 1960 to create the largest toffee manufacturer in Britain, and possibly the world.
Cavenham Foods acquired J A & P Holland in 1965. The Fillerys factory was closed down in March 1966, and production was transferred to Southport. The reason given was that the Fillerys factory did not have room for expansion. About 230 workers lost their jobs.
Benson & Hedges cigarettes are sold across the world. A former subsidiary introduced the highly successful Parliament cigarette brand to the United States.
Establishment and early growth
William Hedges (1836 – 1913) and Richard Matthias Benson (1817 – 1882) established themselves as tobacconists and cigar importers on 13 Old Bond Street, London from 1873. Benson & Hedges targeted the aristocratic market from their location on one of the most exclusive streets in the world.
William Hedges was born at St Marylebone, the son of a coal merchant. A refined and pious man, he was a clerk by trade and a keen Wesleyan Methodist who frankly considered the tobacco business to be on the verge of immorality.
Richard Benson was a Bristol tobacconist who had followed his father into the trade. He was a coarse man, and in many ways the opposite of Hedges. He spent much of his time at his tobacconist’s in Bristol, but when in London he would stand outside the Benson & Hedges shop, dressed drably, smoking a cigar and brazenly spitting onto the street.
Benson smoked fourteen to fifteen cigars a day, and died, allegedly from excessive smoking, in 1882. It was estimated that he smoked £20,000 of the firm’s stock during his lifetime.
A P Hedges enters the firm
Alfred Paget Hedges (1867 – 1929), the son of William Hedges, joined the firm as an assistant to his father following the death of Richard Benson. He was considered a thoroughly decent man, who also possessed a fierce ambition.
Benson & Hedges was converted into a private limited company in 1896.
Establishment of American subsidiaries
The London business attracted a number of high-spending Americans. Encouraged by their custom, William Hedges established a United States subsidiary at 288 Fifth Avenue, New York, from 1897. Arthur Quinton Walsh (born 1861), a long-term bookkeeper for Benson & Hedges, was sent to manage the subsidiary. A relatively small business, it sold high quality cigars and manufactured premium-market cigarettes.
Sales were slow to develop at Fifth Avenue. The store was located on the first floor, and was thus unable to entice window shoppers. Walsh instead found success when he established a branch outlet in affluent Newport, Rhode Island.
Walsh eventually defied the orders of William Hedges and relocated the New York shop to a ground-level address at 314 Fifth Avenue from 1900. He removed the business to 17 West 31st Street from around 1905, but this was to prove unsuccessful due to its more obscure location. He relocated the business to 435 Fifth Avenue from 1907.
A Canadian subsidiary was established on Cote Street, Montreal from 1906. Both North American branches were to prove successful.
A P Hedges became the managing director following the retirement of his father in around 1901. A P Hedges was a man guided by his Wesleyan Methodist faith, and served as a lay preacher. He was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament for Tunbridge in Kent from 1906 -1910.
Benson & Hedges held a Royal Warrant to supply Edward VII by 1906.
Benson & Hedges was converted into a public company with a share capital of £120,000 in 1910 in order to fund the expansion of the London and Montreal businesses.
William Paget Hedges (born 1894) joined his father at Benson & Hedges following service in the First World War.
Benson & Hedges was one of the largest retailers of high-quality cigars in the world by 1917.
Company capital was almost doubled to £220,000 in 1920 in order to establish a new cigarette factory at 104, New King’s Road, Fulham, and to provide further capital for the North American subsidiaries.
The American subsidiary was highly successful on the back of a strong national economy, and the British company continued to prosper. A Florida branch was opened in affluent Palm Beach from 1923.
Meanwhile the hitherto successful Canadian subsidiary entered into modest losses in 1925 and 1926, triggered by an economic depression which hit the luxury trade particularly badly. This was compounded by high taxation. Management believed that the subsidiary would have required a very high level of advertising expenditure if it was to remain viable, and lacked sufficient capital to provide it. As a result of this, the Canadian subsidiary was sold to Adhemar Gaston Munich (1882 – 1970), a French-born Quebec investor, and a regular customer, in 1926.
The United States subsidiary was sold to two New York banking houses in 1928. With a modest sales force of no more than 20 people, the company grew rapidly. It introduced Parliament, a premium-priced filtered cigarette made with Virginia, burley and Turkish tobaccos, and flavoured with liquorice, apple and brown sugar, from 1931.
Joseph F Cullman Jr (1882 – 1955) acquired control of Benson & Hedges (USA) in 1941. His son later described the 435 Fifth Avenue shop at this time:
you might be forgiven for thinking you had entered into a time warp and had been transported to Victorian London. The manager wore a morning coat, the staff knew most of the customers by name, and the interior looked more like an ornate, exclusive jewellery store than a tobacco shop…the place was absolutely English.
A P Hedges died in his London office from heart failure in 1929. Major Arthur Pearson Davison (1866 – 1955) became managing director of Benson & Hedges.
Benson & Hedges held a prestigious Royal Warrant to supply King George VI by 1946.
Benson & Hedges (USA) was the seventh largest cigarette manufacturer in America by 1952, and sales were dominated by Parliaments. However the company lacked sufficient scale to provide its growing brand with the research and marketing support that it needed. Benson & Hedges (USA) was acquired by Philip Morris, which, although the fourth largest cigarette manufacturer in the country, lacked a successful filtered cigarette brand of its own, in 1953. Sales of Parliaments tripled between 1953 and 1961, due to improved distribution and a growing market for filtered cigarettes.
Sale to Gallaher
Benson & Hedges of Old Bond Street enjoyed consistently moderate success due to its specialisation in the luxury trade. The business was subject to a friendly takeover by Gallaher, a large British tobacco company which was attracted to the prestige value of the brand, in 1955.
Benson & Hedges held a Royal Warrant to supply the household of Queen Elizabeth II by 1956.
Gallaher sold the overseas rights to the Benson & Hedges brand outside North America to British American Tobacco in 1956.
The independent Benson & Hedges (Canada) Ltd was acquired by Philip Morris for around US$500,000 in 1958. The business was primarily focused on cigars.
Benson & Hedges introduced the Mayfair and Sterling brands to the British market from 1965.
Benson & Hedges was the leading king-size cigarette brand in Britain by 1966.
Estimates suggested that Benson & Hedges was the eighth highest-selling cigarette brand in the United States in 1973.
Benson & Hedges (Canada) merged with Rothmans in 1986 to form Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc, in which Rothmans held a 60 percent stake, and Philip Morris held a 40 percent stake.
The Benson & Hedges premises at 13 Old Bond Street were retained until at least 1998.
The Queen Elizabeth II Royal Warrant was withdrawn in 1999.
Japan Tobacco acquired Gallaher for £9.7 billion in 2007.
Philip Morris International acquired full control of Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc for about C$2 billion in 2008.
Benson & Hedges remains a leading brand of Japan Tobacco, Philip Morris USA, Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco as of 2019.
Parliament is the twelfth highest-selling cigarette brand in the world.