All posts by T Farrell

Taking the biscuit: a history of Peek Frean (Part II)

Peek Frean pioneered the modern British biscuit. The business introduced the Bourbon, Custard Cream, Marie and Garibaldi biscuit varieties.

You can read the first part of this history here.

Peek Frean becomes a limited company; introduces the mass-market biscuit
Peek Frean was registered as a limited company with a share capital of £500,000 in 1901. Peek Frean biscuits were distributed through 45,000 outlets.

Peek Frean held a Royal Warrant to supply biscuits to King Edward VII.

The shortbread-based Pat-A-Cake biscuit was launched in 1902. It was to prove a major success for the company as the first biscuit marketed at an affordable price. Sales in the first week totalled over twelve tons.

Arthur Carr (1855 – 1947) became chairman and managing director of Peek Frean from 1904. Carr massively increased the company’s advertising budget.

Nearly 400 million Pat-A-Cake biscuits weighing a total of 6.5 million lbs were sold in 1906. Annual sales for this single product line amounted to £160,000. As well as the Pat-A-Cake, 250 different varieties of biscuit were sold.

Peek Frean employed over 2,500 people by 1907.

Production of the long-established Pearl biscuit ended in 1907. The Bourbon, a cocoa-flavoured cream sandwich biscuit, was introduced in 1910.

Peek Freen's Family Circle biscuit assortment. The box likely dates from the 1980s
Peek Frean’s Family Circle biscuit assortment. The box likely dates from the 1980s.

Peek Frean was an enlightened employer for the period. Benefits included in-house medical and dentistry care (to which the company paid £3,000 a year in 1911), and a subsidised staff canteen. A third of company profits were spent on employee welfare by 1911.

A Bermondsey women’s strike in August 1911 saw 1,200 employees refuse to work. The strikers wanted higher pay and the abolition of short shifts. However Peek Frean management countered that strikers had intimidated non-striking staff and that their wages were higher than the Bermondsey average.

Peek Frean produced nearly 100 million shortbread biscuits in just three months in 1912. This was understood to constitute a record for the sale of biscuits.

Over 3,000 people were employed by 1912.

Peek Frean established the Meltis chocolate factory, with a staff of 130 people, in Bedford in 1913.

Peek Frean introduced the Custard Cream biscuit in 1913.

Sales doubled and profits almost quadrupled between 1900 and 1913.

Huntington Stone, a major shareholder, died in 1916 and left a gross estate valued at £239,580. He bequeathed around £200,000 to Christian missionary charities.

The Bermondsey site employed 4,000 people and covered six acres by 1917.

Peek Frean claimed that Pat-A-Cake was the most popular biscuit ever produced. As much as 75 tons, or ten million biscuits, could be produced in a single day by 1920. Other popular biscuit lines included the digestive, milk, petit beurre, thin arrowroot, Marie, ginger nuts and shortcake varieties.

Peek Frean merges with Huntley & Palmer
A high rate of income tax and death duties convinced the directors of Huntley & Palmers of Reading to accept Peek Frean’s invitation to merge in 1921. A holding company, Associated Biscuit Manufacturers, with a capital of £2.5 million, was formed.

Peek Frean acquired Britannia Biscuits of India, with a factory in Mumbai, in 1924.

Peek Frean had introduced Vita-Wheat, the first British wheat crispbread, by 1927.

Arthur Carr retired in 1927.

Twiglets, a savoury snack, were introduced in 1930.

Ellis Carr, a major shareholder, left a personal estate of over £1 million in 1930.

Peek Frean acquired the English subsidiary of Suchards of Switzerland, based at Bedford, in 1932.

Peek Frean had established an Australian subsidiary by 1934.

Peek Frean employed over 4,000 people across a twelve acre site by 1939. Over 300 different varieties of biscuit were produced. The company also manufactured its own biscuit tins; some three million a year.

Arthur Carr died in 1947 with an estate valued at £630,206.

Peek Frean provided one of three wedding cakes for the Royal Wedding of Princess Elizabeth, later Elizabeth II, in 1947. The 600 lb cake stood six-tiers tall.

Peek Frean established a factory across a seven-acre site in Ontario, Canada in 1950. The factory supplied the Canadian and the North Eastern United States markets. Peek Frean was consequently able to reduce its wholesale prices in America by 25 percent due to lower distribution costs.

Peek Frean acquired the Ashley Vale Biscuit Company, with a factory at Avonmouth, Bristol, in 1955.

There were 1,750 employees at Bermondsey in 1964.

Peek Frean closed the Bristol factory in 1965 and relocated production to Bermondsey. 350 to 400 jobs were lost.

The Meltis confectionery site at Bedford covered five acres and employed 1,300 people by 1966. Meltis was the largest producer of Turkish Delight in Britain, and the second largest producer of liqueur chocolates.

Meltis merged with Chocolat Tobler to form Tobler Meltis in 1967.

Sales at Peek Frean grew in the early 1970s, led by the popularity of it shortcake and Christmas puddings.

The Bermondsey site was subject to a £3.5 million investment in 1972 to become the most modern biscuit factory in Europe.

The loss-making Australian subsidiary, with seven percent of the market, was sold to Arnotts, a rival biscuit manufacturer, in 1975. Tobler Meltis was sold to Interfood, the owner of the Suchard brand.

Peek Frean is sold to Nabisco; subsequents owners
Nabisco, a large United States biscuit manufacturer, acquired Associated Biscuits for £84 million in 1982.

Peek Frean was the largest manufacturer of Christmas puddings in Britain by 1984. This was due to the fact that they were relatively low-priced, as they did not contain alcohol. Over 4.5 million Christmas puddings were sold every year.

The Peek Frean brand had become primarily associated with commodity and children’s biscuits by the mid-1980s.

Associated Biscuits was sold to BSN of France, manufacturers of the LU biscuit, in 1989. Nabisco retained the Canadian business, where it continued to produce biscuits under the Peek Frean brand.

The Bermondsey factory was closed with the loss of 1,022 jobs in 1989. The biscuit market was in decline, and the factory was operating at just half of its capacity. The site also suffered from high overheads due to its inner-city location and age. Production was transferred to Aintree and Leicestershire.

The India and Pakistan subsidiaries were divested for $44 million in 1989. Britannia was the largest biscuit manufacturer in India, and English Biscuit Manufacturers was the largest biscuit manufacturer in Pakistan.

Peek Frean advertising ended in 1990, and the brand began to be phased out from 1991.

BSN (now called Danone) sold its British and Irish biscuit operations to United Biscuits for £200 million in 2004.

Although no longer available in Britain, Peek Frean branded products continue to be sold in Canada and Pakistan.

Various former Peek Frean products are still available in Britain, including the Family Circle assortment, and the Twiglets savoury snack.

Wheeler & Co

Wheeler & Co became one of the largest soft drinks producers in Belfast.

Walter James Wheeler (1830 – 1890) and Dr Henry Whitaker (1833 – 1912) acquired a chemist’s business at 38 Apothecaries Hall, opposite Bridge Street, Belfast, in 1858. Whitaker had previously served as an apprentice pharmacist with Grattan & Co.

Wheeler & Whitaker acquired the lease to a factory on Murphy Street, Belfast, which had access to the Cromac springs, in 1864.

Wheeler & Whitaker was the first Belfast soft drink manufacturer to utilise the Cromac springs, and it was to prove well-suited for the production of carbonated drinks due to its purity and mineral content.

Wheeler & Whitaker was ranked as one of the “Big Five” producers of soft drinks in Belfast by 1871. An extensive export trade had been developed by 1877.

Wheeler & Whitaker was subject to a break-up in 1882. Dr Whitaker took control of the chemists’s business, and Wheeler took control of the soft drinks business.

W J Wheeler died in 1890 and left an estate of £16,932. He was remembered as a kindly man.

Frederick Wheeler (1862 – 1939) succeeded his father as managing director of Wheeler & Co. A driven and determined man, the business expanded substantially under his direction.

Wheeler converted the firm into a private limited company, with capital of £20,000. He led a focus on the export trade.

The First World War was to have a negative impact upon Belfast soft drink producers. Businesses struggled to import ingredients, and to export produce.

The Republic of Ireland gained independence in 1919, and erected tariffs against imported British goods.

Norman Walter Frederick Wheeler (born 1892), son of Frederick Wheeler, placed the business into voluntary liquidation in 1923.

Wheeler & Co was acquired by George A Davison. He was declared bankrupt in 1927.

Wheeler & Co was still in business as late as 1942.

Magnate personality: John Ellerman

John Ellerman was by far the richest man in Britain. How did he become so wealthy, and why is he so little known today?

Early life
John Reeves Ellerman (1862 – 1933) was born in Hull, a large port town on the Yorkshire coast. He was the son of Johann Herman Ellerman (1819 – 1871), a shipbroker and corn merchant who had emigrated from Hamburg by 1847.

His father died in 1871, and left a relatively modest estate of £600. For reasons that remain obscure, Ellerman subsequently spent much of his childhood in France. He was then educated at the King Edward VI School in Birmingham.

Ellerman inherited around £14,000 from his maternal grandfather in 1879, and with this money was able to train as a chartered accountant under William Smedley of Newhall Street, Birmingham. Smedley was a successful speculative investor, and almost certainly inspired the young Ellerman.

Ellerman subsequently became an accountant at Quilter Ball & Co, headed by Sir Cuthbert Quilter (1841 – 1911), one of the great accountants of the era. Quilter regarded Ellerman as one of the most promising accountants he had ever employed. Ellerman was offered a position as partner, but declined in order to establish himself independently.

J R Ellerman & Co, accountants of Moorgate Street in the City of London, was established in 1887. Ellerman soon enjoyed an annual income worth thousands of pounds.

Shipping interests
Frederick Richards Leyland (1832 – 1892), owner of the Leyland shipping line, died suddenly in 1892. Ellerman capitalised on the opportunity, and with a group of investors acquired the line for £770,000. This was an excellent price, as profits during the previous four years had averaged £121,159.

The new company had a share capital of £450,000. The assets acquired were excellent, and the modern fleet boasted a gross tonnage of 60,511. Existing management was continued.

Hard work, shrewdness and good luck would see Ellerman amass great wealth. He divested his accountancy business in order to focus on capital investment from 1895. Ellerman was the first prominent investor to have received formal accountancy training, and this was to afford him a significant advantage with regards to financial and legal knowledge.

The Leyland shipping line was sold to J P Morgan (1837 – 1913) in 1901. Morgan was paying “reckless prices”, and Ellerman gained £1.2 million in cash for his stake, a sale that represented a 33 percent premium over market prices.*

Ellerman established the London, Liverpool and Ocean Shipping Company with a share capital of £1.3 million. He invested a capital of £500,000.

Ellerman acquired the Leyland Mediterranean fleet of eleven vessels. He also acquired the Papayanni Steamship Co of Liverpool. Both assets were significantly undervalued. These lines formed the basis of the Ellerman shipping line.

Ellerman then acquired the City line, which ran between Glasgow and the West Indies, and controlled 400,000 tons of shipping. It was estimated that the purchase cost nearly £1 million.

Later in 1901 Ellerman acquired the Hall line and the Westcott and Lawrence line (with nine steamers and a gross tonnage of 15,000 tons).

Ellerman extends his interests to include brewing and the media
Ellerman was a quiet, unassuming figure. He avoided leading an ostentatious lifestyle and spent just five percent of his income, and reinvested the remainder. TIME magazine described his lifestyle as one of “almost miserly simplicity”. He was a modest man with great attention to the smaller details of a large business. He was remarkable for his kindness in offering business advice towards those who sought it. He retained the most highly-skilled managers from the businesses he acquired, and respected the decisions that they made when he was absent.

Ellerman identified the brewing industry, with the exception of the global brands of Bass and Guinness, as stagnant. Perceiving the industry as undervalued, he began to invest in breweries from 1897.

Ellerman became the largest shareholder in the Financial Times and one of the largest shareholders in the Daily Mail in 1904.

Ellerman was created a baronet in 1905.

Ellerman acquired the Bucknall line, which had 28 vessels and a large freight trade with South and East Africa, in 1908. Following the purchase Ellerman controlled 108 vessels with a combined tonnage of over 420,000.

Ellerman became the third largest shareholder in The Times in 1912. He also acquired the Sphere and Tatler.

Ellerman acquired over a third share of the Illustrated London News and Sketch in 1913.

Ellerman rendered valuable assistance to the Ministry of Shipping during the First World War. He also equipped and maintained the Ellerman Hospital at St John’s Lodge, Regent’s Park, London.

Ellerman made his most significant purchase with the acquisition of Thomas Wilson & Co of Hull for £4.1 million in 1916. Thomas Wilson & Co was the largest privately-owned shipping line in the world, with a fleet of 70 ships.

Following the Wilson & Co acquisition, Ellerman-controlled lines owned 204 vessels.

Ellerman was the richest man in Britain by 1916, worth, at his own estimate, £20 million. His income that year was estimated at £3 million.

Ellerman owned one eighth of British mercantile shipping tonnage by 1917.

Unfortunately, the Wilson purchase was to prove a rare misstep for Ellerman, due to a slump in global shipping following the First World War.

Ellerman was extremely shy of publicity. He sold his house in Eastbourne in the early 1920s after double-decker buses were introduced which would have allowed passengers to glimpse a view of his home.

Ellerman sold his controlling interest in the St Clement’s Press, owner of the Financial Times, to the Berry brothers in 1919. He sold his holding in The Times to John Walter and John Jacob Astor (1886 – 1971) in 1922.

Ellerman divested his illustrated newspapers, which included the Sphere, Tatler and Eve to the Inveresk Paper Company for around £3 million in 1926.

Ellerman controlled over two million tons of shipping and was the third largest owner of shipping in the world in 1927.

The Inland Revenue privately assessed Ellerman as easily the richest man in Britain in 1929, with a fortune valued at more than twice that of the next wealthiest individual.

Ellerman died in 1933 with a British estate valued at £36,684,994. It was estimated that he paid between £17 million and £20 million in wealth taxes during his lifetime.

Notes

  1. ‘J P Morgan in London and New York before 1914’ by Leslie Hannah (2011).

Milk the profits: a history of Mackeson Stout

Mackeson & Co was the first brewery to introduce milk stout.

The Hythe Brewery and the Mackeson family
The Hythe Brewery was established on High Street, Hythe, Kent in 1669.

Overseas version of Mackeson Stout

William Mackeson (1774 – 1821), a surgeon, became junior partner at the Hythe Brewery from 1801.

Following his death in 1821 the business was continued by his brother, Henry Mackeson (1772 – 1860).

Nine men were employed at the Hythe Brewery in 1851.

Henry Mackeson died in 1860, and his son, Henry Bean Mackeson (1813 – 1894) took control of the Hythe Brewery.

Henry Bean Mackeson was gentlemanly, genial, courteous, and well-respected. He employed 37 men in 1871, and 36 men in 1881. He served as Mayor of Hythe for nine consecutive years.

Henry Mackeson takes control of the business, and milk stout is introduced
Henry Mackeson (1861 – 1935), studied chemistry at Edinburgh and London. He became the head of the business following the death of his father in 1894.

Mackeson was persistent and hard working, and developed the business. He invested in new buildings and machinery, and updated the range of beers provided in order to meet changing customer preference.

Henry Mackeson was joined in partnership by his brother, George Lawrie Mackeson (1864 – 1950).

Mackeson & Co was incorporated with a share capital of £120,000 in 1900.

Mackeson & Co acquired various patents relating to using lactose, or milk sugar, in brewing from 1908. Stout was already recommended as a source of energy during convalescence, and Mackeson hoped that the addition of lactose would further increase its nutritional value. Mackeson Milk Stout, the first milk stout in the world, was introduced from 1909. 9 lbs (4.1 kg) of lactose were used in each 36 gallon barrel. The product was an immediate success.

Henry and George Lawrie Mackeson sold their shareholdings to H & G Simonds, a large brewery based in Reading, in 1920. The two brothers took the opportunity to enter into retirement.

Mackeson became a well-established brand throughout Kent. The brewery employed 120 people by 1929.

Mackeson is acquired by Whitbread
Whitbread, a large London brewer, acquired Mackeson & Co in 1929. Simonds sold up as the offer price was simply too good to refuse.

Whitbread afforded Mackeson Milk Stout nationwide distribution. The J Walter Thompson advertising agency was engaged to market the brand towards women, who it was reasoned would appreciate its smooth and sweet flavour. Over 50,000 barrels were sold in 1939, and the beer accounted for nearly ten percent of Whitbread production.

The name of the product was changed to “Mackeson Stout” from around 1942 onwards.

Sales gained momentum following the Second World War. Mackeson benefited from an increasing demand for bottled beers, which, although more expensive, provided consistent flavour and quality.

103,000 barrels of Mackeson were produced in 1948.

Mackeson Stout contained eight percent lactose in 1954.

Whitbread bottled beers were available in over half the licensed houses in Britain by 1955. Demand was such that Whitbread had to subcontract around 20 percent of its bottling to other companies.

60 percent of the £850,000 Whitbread advertising budget was dedicated to Mackeson in 1957. Mackeson accounted for almost half of revenue at Whitbread by 1960. Sales had effectively quadrupled during the 1950s, and 425,000 barrels of Mackeson were sold in 1961.

Mackeson held around a quarter of the stout market in Britain by 1963. Whitbread briefly experimented with a draught version of Mackeson at this time.

A reciprocal agreement was signed with Bass in 1965, who agreed to stock Mackeson Stout across its estate of 4,100 public houses in exchange for Whitbread selling Bass beers throughout their estate.

Mackeson was introduced to the South African market in 1967.

Mackeson had an ABV of over four percent in 1968, and sold for a premium price.

The Hythe brewery was closed in 1968 and Whitbread relocated production to the Exchange Brewery in Sheffield.

Mackeson had been introduced in cans by 1971.

Mackeson was withdrawn from sale in South Africa in 1972.

Mackeson was brewed under licence in Jamaica and Trinidad from 1973. It began to be brewed in Singapore from 1978 and Nigeria from 1979.

Sales of Mackeson had began to decline in Britain by the late 1970s.

British Mackeson had an ABV of 4.3 percent in 1988.

The Exchange Brewery was closed in 1993, and Whitbread relocated production to their Castle Eden, Co Durham and Samlesbury, Lancashire plants.

Mackeson XXX Stout was brewed under licence in the United States by the Hudepohl-Schoenling Brewing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio from around 2000.

The former Mackeson malthouse in Hythe (2007)

Whitbread sold its beer operations to Interbrew of Belgium for £400 million in 2000. Interbrew merged with AmBev to form Inbev from 2004.

Mackeson Stout was produced under contract by a number of brewers from 1999, including Young’s of Wandsworth, Ridley’s of Chelmsford, Cameron’s of Hartlepool and Hydes of Manchester. The Hydes Brewery was closed in 2012, and its production centre since this date remains unknown.

The ABV of Mackeson’s was reduced from 3 percent to 2.8 percent from 2012 in order to qualify for duty relief.

According to information kindly provided by InBev, Mackeson Stout currently contains 600g of lactose per hectolitre of final product as of 2020.

Sources
* British Newspaper Archive
* The Times Historical Archive
* The Story of Whitbread PLC 1742-1990 by Nicholas Barritt Redman
* Census, birth and death records
* Martyn Cornell
* Ron Pattinson

Beer we go again: E Smithwick & Sons

How did Smithwick’s rise from relative obscurity to become the largest ale brewer in Ireland?

Origins and the Edmond Smithwick era
The Smithwicks were a well-established and highly-respected Catholic family in Kilkenny, Ireland.

John Smithwick (1763 – 1842) entered into business as a wholesale and general grocer with premises on Kilkenny High Street. From modest beginnings Smithwick grew wealthy, and he leased a distillery at St Francis Abbey, Kilkenny, on behalf of his eldest son, Edmond Smithwick (1801 – 1876), from 1827.

St Francis Abbey is a ruinous former Franciscan abbey built in the early 13th century.

The brewery was built around the historic St Francis Abbey, as seen in this 2007 photograph

An adjoining brewery was acquired on lease from 1833. Ireland had relatively few breweries, numbered at just 207 in 1831, against 5,419 in England. Kilkenny was to prove an advantageous location for the production of beer, given that it was situated in one of the most best barley growing regions in Ireland. The brewery soon overtook the distillery to become the predominant business.

Edmond Smithwick hosted Daniel O’Connell (1775 – 1847), the Catholic emancipation campaigner, in 1840. Amongst this fervour of nationalistic mood, there was a revival of a campaign for Irish consumers to purchase Irish-made goods. Smithwick himself argued that if the middle classes supported Irish industry, lower taxes would ensue, as there would be fewer unemployed to support.*

Highly-regarded by the community, Edmond Smithwick was elected Mayor of Kilkenny in 1844.

Edmond Smithwick greatly extended and modernised the brewery in 1851. He also hired a highly experienced brewer.

Edmond Smithwick funded an all-expenses paid trip for over 100 employees to the Great Exhibition of Dublin in 1853.

His brother, Daniel Smithwick (died 1869), established a bottling works.

Edmond Smithwick had commenced exports to the British Empire by 1855.

The business traded as E Smithwick & Sons by 1861.

Edmond Smithwick was re-elected Mayor of Kilkenny in 1864 and 1865.

Edmond Smithwick had spent thousands of pounds on improvements to his site by 1867. It was one of the foremost industrial concerns in the south of Ireland. The brewery employed hundreds of people. Smithwick had a reputation as a fair employer who paid a good wage.

Edmond Smithwick acquired the precinct of St Francis’s Abbey for £3,100 in 1867.

Edmond’s sons take over the business
Edmond Smithwick died in 1877, and the business was continued by his three sons, John William Smithwick (1835 – 1894), Edmond Smithwick (1839 – 1912) and Daniel Smithwick (1840 – 1883).

The business was incorporated as E Smithwick & Sons in 1890.

The brewery employed around 400 people in 1900.

The market consolidates
The success of the company in the beginning of the twentieth century was credited to its chairman, Michael Buggy (1855 – 1935), a solicitor.

E Smithwick & Sons was one of only 25 breweries remaining in Ireland by 1917, and one of only 15 to brew stout, porter and ale.

James Sullivan & Co, a rival Kilkenny brewery with a production capacity of 20,000 barrels a year, entered into receivership in 1917, and the assets were acquired by E Smithwick & Sons in 1919. The purchase left E Smithwick & Sons as the sole surviving brewery in Kilkenny.

Strong growth under W A Smithwick
Walter Aloysius Smithwick (1908 – 1993), the grandson of John William Smithwick, became a company director from 1931. He was responsible for introducing a large sales team to the business, which was to prove highly successful in increasing revenue. Smithwick’s products had national distribution by 1935. Over 400 licensed establishments in Dublin were supplied by 1937.

E Smithwick & Sons was the oldest and most important industrial concern in Kilkenny by 1937, and employed over 140 people in the city.

E Smithwick & Sons won first prize for best bottle conditioned beer in a British Commonwealth competition in 1937.** Shortly afterwards, the beer was rebranded as Smithwick’s No.1.

The Second World War hampered production, with output reduced to just 6,000 barrels in 1942.

Walter Smithwick became chairman and managing director from 1947. He determined to make Smithwick’s the leading ale brand in Ireland. Sales grew quickly under his dynamic leadership, and improved distribution saw annual production reach 50,000 barrels by 1952.

The Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk was purchased for £37,500 in order to supplement brewing capacity in 1954. The news was greeted positively, as it presented an opportunity for W A Smithwick to introduce his superior management skills to the acquired business.

Smithwick’s Brewery was registered as a public company with a capital of £500,000 in 1956. That year Guinness, the large Dublin-based brewery, took a stake in the business.

The Dundalk purchase was to prove problematic. Public taste increasingly favoured keg beer, and Smithwick’s lacked sufficient capital to convert the Dundalk brewery for this purpose. The Dundalk brewery was sold to Guinness, who invested to convert the plant towards the production of Harp lager.

E Smithwick & Sons held over 60 percent of the Irish ale market by 1960, a total of around 60,000 barrels a year. The four products were Smithwick’s No.1, a deep gold ale, Smithwick’s Export Ale, Smithwick’s SS Ale, and Smithwick’s Barley Wine.

Time, a pasteurised beer, was introduced from 1960.

Vintage bottles of Smithwick’s Barley Wine

Smithwick’s Barley Wine won the Olympic Gold Medal at the World Beer Olympics in 1963.

Takeover by Guinness and investment
Guinness acquired a 60 percent interest in Smithwick’s for £750,000 in 1964. The rest of the business was acquired the following year for £490,000.

Smithwick’s had been slow to anticipate the increased demand for draught beer. It introduced a lager brand, which failed, in part because it lacked the marketing power of Guinness and rival English brewers. Smithwick’s was also struggling with the capital demands of investing in draught beer.

Walter Smithwick did not regret his decision to sell the brewery. He knew the business needed large amounts of capital if it was to remain competitive, and to fail to take the business public would have seen it struggle to survive. Smithwick understood that a workforce of 250 were dependant on the brewery for their livelihood.

A new brewhouse was established from June 1965.

Some Smithwick’s bottling had been transferred to Dundalk by 1968.

The Smithwick’s brewery was expanded in 1969.

Walter Smithwick retired in 1973.

Hop varieties in use in the early 1970s included Irish-grown Fuggles, Goldings and Bullion. Hop pellets were in use by 1985.

Budweiser was produced under licence at the Kilkenny brewery from 1987. A £1 million investment was made to enable lager production at the brewery.

Growth as an export brand
Kilkenny Irish Beer (c.5% ABV) was introduced, originally as an export-only product, from 1987. The Kilkenny name was chosen as opposed to Smithwick’s as it was easier for non-native English speakers to pronounce. The initial market was Germany.

Draught Smithwick’s for the Northern Ireland market was brewed at Dundalk by 1988. Smithwicks Ale bottling was transferred to Dundalk as part of a rationalisation drive from 1989.

Export sales of Smithwick’s and Kilkenny increased by over one third in 1994, with a large market in Canada.

Domestic sales of Smithwick’s declined every year from the mid-1980s, and ale, excluding stout, comprised just ten percent of the Irish beer market by 1995.

A reduced-strength (4.3% ABV) version of Kilkenny Irish Beer was introduced to the Irish market from 1995. A Guinness executive explained that it was a different beer from Smithwick’s. It was a premium-priced product, and was intended to revitalise the declining ale category, and prevent the newly-launched Caffrey’s, a rival Irish ale from Bass, from taking market share.

Dundalk brewed all bottled and canned Smithwick’s, including the Barley Wine, by 1995.

Production of Smithwick’s beer for the domestic market had been transferred to the Guinness-owned Cherry’s Brewery in Waterford by 1997.

43,000 hectolitres (75 million pints) of Kilkenny Irish Beer had been sold across 53 different countries in 1999. The beer was sold in 1,860 domestic Irish pubs.

The Kilkenny Brewery employed 150 people in 2000. It was an efficient site, but was suffering from capacity constraints.

Smithwick’s Barley Wine was discontinued in 2001.

The front of the St Francis Abbey brewery, Kilkenny (2012)

The Kilkenny and Dunalk breweries were closed in 2013, with production relocated to St James’s Gate, Dublin, the home of Guinness.

Smithwick’s remains a leading ale brand in Ireland, with estimated sales of around 58,000 barrels in 2020, according to data from Euromonitor.

Notes
* It remains unclear exactly which Mr Smithwick was speaking at this Kilkenny meeting, but Edmond Smithwick (1801 – 1877) is the most likely.
** The name of the awarding body was the Brewing Trade Review Bottled Beer Exhibition

Water way to go: Apollinaris

This is the story of how Apollinaris became the highest-selling mineral water in the world.

Establishment of the company and growth
The Apollinaris spring is situated in the German Rhineland. It is an alkaline and highly-aerated water, and contains sodium chloride and calcium, sodium and magnesium carbonates. The Apollinaris spring began to be commercially exploited, in a modest way, from 1852 onwards.

George Murray Smith (1824 – 1901) was the head of a successful London publisher. He first encountered Apollinaris spring water whilst dining with Ernest Hart (1835 – 1898), the editor of the British Medical Journal, in 1872. Smith appreciated its taste, and determined to acquire the spring.

George Murray Smith (1824 – 1901) in 1901

Smith partnered with Edward Steinkopff (1838 – 1906), a Frankfurt-born merchant, to establish a British company with the worldwide distribution rights to Apollinaris water in 1873.

The Apollinaris Company Limited had its head office at 19 Regent Street, London. Steinkopff became company chairman and Julius Charles Prince (1851 – 1914) was appointed as managing director.

Murray Smith was a skilled businessman, and he organised quicker, more efficient and safer distribution of Apollinaris from Germany. Meanwhile, Steinkopff was praised for his high energy, and his bold and prudent business decisions.

Company growth was to prove swift; just under 1.8 million bottles were sold in 1874, the figure had rise to over ten million bottles in 1881.

The brand soon established a prestigious reputation. Queen Victoria used Apollinaris as a mixer for Scotch whisky or claret. Over 19.5 million bottles were sold in 1895.

Foundation of a public company
Apollinaris acquired Johannis, a rival German mineral water producer, for around £400,000 in 1897.

Apollinaris & Johannis was formed as a public company with a capital of £2,380,000 from 1897. Steinkopff and Smith divested their shares, largely to Frederick Gordon (1835 – 1904), the pioneer of the first modern hotel in London. Gordon became president of the company.

Frederick Gordon (1835 – 1904)

Apollinaris & Johannis merged with A & F Pears, a struggling soap manufacturer, in 1898. The amalgamation was organised by Gordon, who insisted that there were cost-efficiencies in distribution and sales between the two companies, although the contemporary press remained sceptical.

Apollinaris & Johannis held Royal Warrants to supply the King and the Prince of Wales by 1902.

Over 30 million bottles of Apollinaris were sold in the 1905-1906 financial year.

Steinkopff died with an estate valued at £1.2 million in 1906.

Apollinaris was a popular culture staple, especially among the middle and upper classes. It was referenced by many leading novelists of the era, including Henry James, Edith Wharton and James Joyce.

A & F Pears was acquired by Lever Brothers in 1914.

War time troubles
Only Perrier could rival Apollinaris as the best known sparkling mineral water in Britain by 1914.

Apollinaris & Johannis had a capital of over £3 million by 1915. The company employed about 100 clerical staff and 60 to 80 warehouse staff.

Post-war economic chaos in Europe severely hampered company operations, and exports faced the challenge of increasing import tariffs across the world.

Apollinaris & Johannis was forced to diversify, and a range of British-produced soft drinks had been introduced under the Presta brand by 1930. The company name was changed to Apollinaris & Presta from 1931.

Apollinaris was rendered increasingly expensive as the value of the German currency grew throughout the 1930s.

The German government had introduced a moratorium by 1936 which prevented Apollinaris & Presta from withdrawing funds from the Nazi-controlled country. Exports from Germany had been highly restricted by 1939.

Apollinaris & Presta was appointed sole distributor of Perrier water in the United Kingdom and Ireland from 1938-9.

Decline
The Apollinaris spring was expropriated by Heinrich Himmler’s SS from 1943.

British rationing controls restricted the company from producing Presta soft drinks between 1943 and 1948.

Control of the Apollinaris spring and bottle works were regained in 1947-48. The site had been starved of investment during the war years.

Apollinaris & Presta entered into financial difficulty, and lost its stock market quotation in 1955. The spring and bottling works were acquired by Dortmunder Union, a German brewery. Schweppes acquired Presta and the distribution rights for Apollinaris across the British Commonwealth and the Americas.

Schweppes acquired a 28 percent stake in Apollinaris from 1991. Schweppes acquired the 72 percent of Apollinaris that it did not already own from Brau & Brunnen, the successor to Dortmunder Union, for €151 million in 2002.

Apollinaris was acquired by Coca-Cola for an undisclosed sum in 2006.

Apollinaris remains popular in Germany, where it is the second highest-selling sparkling mineral water. Presta is also still sold in Germany.

Meta post #3: historical context

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.

A history of Lambert & Butler

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.

Raising the Barr: a history of Irn-Bru

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 establishes the business
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.

A G Barr enters the business
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.

The largest soft drinks manufacturer in Scotland
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 employed around 100 people by 1931, and was the largest soft drinks factory in Britain.

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 (born 1907) became chairman from 1947.

A G Barr becomes a public company
A G Barr & Co was registered as a public company in 1965.

A G Barr overtook Tizer of Manchester to become the fourth largest soft drink manufacturer in Britain in the late 1960s. Irn-Bru dominated the Scottish soft drink market, and was introduced to England in 1970.

Tizer was acquired for £2.5 million in 1972. A G Barr wanted access to the company’s distribution network in England to promote sales of Irn-Bru. Tizer had been struggling with falling sales for a number of reasons: drinks were not sold in cans, there was no advertising budget, there were no sales to the supermarkets and the flavour essences used had been subjected to cost-cuts.

The Tizer purchase transformed A G Barr into the largest specialist soft drinks manufacturer in Britain.

A G Barr reformulated Tizer to recapitulate how it tasted the 1930s.

Robin Barr (born 1938) 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.

The Mansfield site was closed in 2011, with production relocated to Scotland.

Only Robin Barr and one other unnamed individual know the 32 secret ingredients for Irn-Bru. Robin Barr personally mixes the 32 ingredients himself.

King-sized: a history of Rothmans of Pall Mall

Rothmans established the largest mail-order cigarette business in Britain. Rothmans later grew to become the fourth largest cigarette manufacturer in the world.

Establishment
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.

Louis Rothman (1868 – 1926), date unknown

Rothman emigrated to Britain at the age of 17. He worked for a cigarette manufacturer for two years before entering into business for himself. 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).

Rupert retained Sydney Rothman 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. Rupert introduced the king-size filter-tip cigarette, 20 percent larger than the standard product, to the Rothmans range, and sales grew rapidly.

Rothmans King Size cigarette advertisement, c. mid 1960s

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.

Notes
* The Rothman’s Pall Mall cigarette is not connected to the Pall Mall cigarette manufactured by R J Reynolds in the United States.