All posts by Thomas Farrell

I run this website as a hobby, but feel free to contactontact me for research and copywriting services.

Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa

As an energy-restorative, Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa was the Lucozade of its era. It was one of the highest-selling cocoa-based drinks in Britain.

William Tibbles (1834 – 1912) was born into impoverished circumstances in Leicester, the English Midlands. The family lived in the workhouse during the 1851 Census.

Tibbles was a frame work knitter and medical practitioner in the 1861 census. No evidence has been uncovered that suggest that Tibbles ever underwent any medical training.

Tibbles claimed that botanicals had cured him of consumption in 1867. He began to sell coca and its concentrated extract, cocaine, as a general cure for debility and consumption, from 1871. He was advertising Tibbles Concentrated Essence of Composition and Cocaine by 1876.

Later, Tibbles invented Vi-Cocoa, a mixture of malt, hops, kola and cocoa. He licensed the recipe and naming rights to Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa Ltd, a company formed to exploit his product. Advertisements for Vi-Cocoa first appear from 1893.

The company was renamed as Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa (1898) Ltd from 1898 with a capital of £400,000. Tibbles retired soon afterwards. The company was probably overvalued, with high sales heavily dependent on unsustainable levels of advertising.

The concern was renamed the Watford Manufacturing Company in 1907. Over 1,000 people were employed by 1914.

The company did not pay a dividend between 1908 and 1918. Nominal capital was increased from £250,000 to £1 million in 1918, with Lord Leverhulme (1851 – 1925) becoming the largest single shareholder. Leverhulme was increasingly concerned with food manufacturers at this time, and the paternalistic reputation of the Watford Manufacturing Company was in sync with his own views.

Construction of a large new factory begun in 1918-19, but was never completed due to liquidity issues. The company had benefited from healthy sales during the First World War, aided by military contracts. However the wartime boom was followed by a post-war economic slump.

In 1919-20 company capital was increased to £3 million.

The Watford Manufacturing Company entered into liquidation in 1922. Lord Leverhulme purchased the company assets for £543,000 in cash to ensure that all creditors were paid, as well as in all likelihood, to protect his own reputation.

The Financial Times commented after the liquidation that the downfall of the company was as a result of an excessive valuation of the company.

Leverhulme almost immediately sold the site and brands to Planters Products Ltd, who continued to produce Vi-Cocoa. The product continued to be advertised as late as 1945.

Meta post #1: The influences of this blog

What inspired me to create letslookagain.com?

I was originally inspired to create this blog by a number of creative and intelligent individuals such as Malcolm Gladwell (born 1963) , Adam Curtis (born 1955), Niall Ferguson (born 1964) and Christopher Hitchens (1949 – 2011). These figures regularly challenged the established consensus, and this encouraged me to examine the historical data for myself. Whist not always agreeing with their conclusions, they demonstrated that the historical narrative was open to challenge and question, and that such examination could be written in a lively and engaging way.

I was greatly inspired by the brewing historians Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson. Through their excellent blogs they have highlighted how much of history, even published academic history, is demonstrably wrong or incorrect. Often sloppy half truths are repeated confidently as fact.

Websites such as Wikipedia and Grace’s Guides were also influential as they demonstrated just how useful this kind of website can be, but also highlighted how there was a large gap of high quality research coverage of all sorts of areas.

In terms of business historians, there are lots of good ones, but I particularly admire Geoffrey Jones.

Making bacon: Henry Denny & Sons

Henry Denny & Sons was the largest bacon producer in Europe.

Henry Denny (1790 – 1870) was the son of a Protestant shoemaker in Waterford, Ireland. He established himself as a provisions merchant in Waterford, initially in partnership with a Simon Max, but began trading independently from 1820.

Waterford was the centre for pig production in Ireland, however Denny’s principal trade was in butter as late as 1839. It is not until 1846 that we see him described as a bacon merchant.

Henry Denny was elected Mayor of Waterford in 1854. Abraham Denny (1820 – 1892), a trained architect, joined his father in the business from 1855. Abraham Denny is said to have been instrumental in expanding the business.

The firm introduced improvements to existing curing techniques. It was granted a patent for a process that cured bacon with ice in 1857. Known as “mild curing”, it made the bacon more palatable by using much less salt for preservation. In an era before refrigeration, large shipments of ice had to be ordered in from Norway.

Improved preservation techniques allowed Irish meat to be exported year round, and the firm used over 1,000 pigs every week by 1866.

Henry Denny died of bronchitis in 1870 .and the business was continued by Abraham Denny.

E M Denny & Co was established as the London agent for Henry Denny & Sons. It was managed by Edward Maynard Denny (1832 – 1905) and Thomas Anthony Denny (1819 – 1910), cousins of Abraham Denny.

Henry Denny & Sons operations were extended to Limerick in 1872.

The works at Waterford probably represented the largest bacon curing plant in Europe by 1882.

Operations were extended to Cork in 1889.

Henry Denny & Sons went public in 1891 with a capital of £400,000. The company was one of the largest employers in Waterford.

Operations had been established in Hamburg, Germany by 1892.

Abraham Denny died in 1892 with personalty valued at £174,967. He was succeeded by his son, Charles Edward Denny (1849 – 1927) .

Due to an insufficient supply of pigs in Ireland, Henry Denny & Sons acquired a Danish meat company in 1894. The company introduced Irish meat curing techniques to Denmark.

The original Denny site on Queen Street, Waterford, had become too small for the company’s needs by 1898, and the factory of Richardsons of Morgan Street was acquired.

Edward Maynard Denny died in 1905. He left a gross estate valued at £584,789.

Thomas Anthony Denny died in 1910 with a gross estate valued at £226,150. He had been a prominent supporter of the Salvation Army.

Over 3,000 pigs were used every week by June 1914. The company was a substantial supplier of Irish bacon to the British armed forces during the First World War.

Henry Denny & Sons was advertising itself as the largest bacon producer in Europe by 1919.

Charles Edward Denny died in 1927, with an English estate valued at £475,248 and an Irish estate valued at £66,277.

The factory on Morgan Street, Waterford, was the largest of its kind in the British Isles by 1933. 400 workers were employed during peak periods. The site could handle up to 4,000 pigs every week.

Inside the sausage room at Denny’s Waterford factory, 1937

A Wiltshire cure bacon factory was opened in Portadown, Northern Ireland in 1935. It initially had a capacity to process 2,000 pigs a week, and employed a workforce of 200.

J & T Sinclair was acquired in 1963.

Due to overcapacity in the industry, the Cork factory was closed in 1968, with the loss of 160 jobs out of a total of 180.

The Waterford site was closed in 1972 due to overcapacity in the industry, and the cost of modernising the factory.

The company began to seriously struggle as the bacon market became oversaturated. The Irish operations were acquired by Kerry Foods for around £1.5 million in 1982. The company employed 300 people. Kerry already supplied much of the pigs for Denny products.

Stocking trade: N Corah of Leicester

N Corah operated the largest hosiery factory in Britain.

Nathaniel Corah (1776 – 1832) was a Baptist from the Leicestershire village of Bagworth. Trained as a framesmith in the local knitting industry, Corah established business as a hosiery trader in Leicester in 1815.

Corah would purchase hosiery at the Globe on Silver Street in Leicester and sell it in Birmingham.  Initially he was assisted by his wife Sarah (1784 – 1856).

The Globe on Silver Street, Leicester, is still trading

The trade was to prove successful, and by 1824 Corah was able to purchase the freehold of a block of buildings in Union Street, Leicester to house his increasing stocks.

Corah’s sons, John, William and Thomas entered into the business as partners from 1830, and the firm began to trade as N Corah & Sons.

The firm moved to a purpose-built factory on Granby Street in 1845. The relocation allowed for the introduction of steam-power to manufacture.

John Harris Cooper (1832 – 1906) joined N Corah & Sons in 1846. The firm employed around 1,000 old hand frames for stocking manufacturing.

Following the completion of his seven year apprenticeship, Cooper became involved in management at the firm.

John Harris Cooper and Edwin Corah (1832 – 1880) acquired the business in 1857.

The business relocated to St Margaret’s Works in Leicester in 1865. Named after the parish in which it was located, the site originally had a floor space of two acres. The firm introduced the St Margaret’s trademark for clothing at this time. A large beam engine was operated from 1866.

By 1872 the firm employed a workforce of 1,500 and produced about 2,000 tons of product annually.

Upon the death of Edwin Corah in 1880, John Arthur Corah (1846 – 1917) and Alfred Corah joined Cooper in partnership, and the firm began to trade as N Corah, Sons & Cooper. J A Corah had previously managed the Liverpool branch of the business, and Alfred Corah had managed the Birmingham branch.

Electric lighting was installed at the St Margaret’s Works from 1883. The firm paid wages substantially above average, and thus avoided strike action by its workers. The firm was a substantial benefactor to various charitable causes, especially the elderly poor of Leicester.

During the First World War, 50 percent of the male staff at Corah joined the forces. The firm produced ten million articles of knitwear, over 70 percent for government contracts.

John Arthur Corah died in 1917 with a gross estate valued at £143,208.

N Corah & Sons was incorporated as a private company in 1919. The St Margaret’s Works was the largest factory of its kind in Britain and probably the largest single-site hosiery works in the world. 2,500 people were employed on a five acre site. Production largely consisted of hosiery and other woollen goods. That year, King George V visited the factory, partly in recognition of Corah’s contribution to the war effort.

The firm developed a strong relationship as a supplier to Marks & Spencer from 1926.

Authorised capital was increased to £750,000 in 1939. 4,500 people were employed.

During the Second World War, half the company’s staff either went into the armed services or were transferred to munitions production. During the war, some 26 million articles were produced. The engineering department was largely given over to producing gun parts and parts for tank landing craft.

N Corah & Sons was converted into a public company in 1946. Marks & Spencer was the principal customer. The St Margaret’s Works in Leicester covered six acres and was the largest hosiery factory in Britain. Around 2,500 people were employed.

Marks & Spencer was a dynamic retailer, and Lord Marks encouraged Corah to be more ambitious. Marks & Spencer made the transition from a low-cost retailer to a quality purveyor from 1951. As a major supplier, Corah too entered this transition. Encouraged by Marks & Spencer, Corah entered into a policy of long-term planning and development.

To reflect the success of its trademark, the company name was changed to N Corah (St Margaret) Ltd in 1954.

The St Margaret’s Works covered a floor space of twelve acres by 1965. Corah employed 6,500 people across the company.

As late as 1978, Marks & Spencer accounted for 75 percent of sales.

Corah entered into difficulty in the 1980s. It acquired Reliance, a fellow M&S supplier, but struggled to integrate the business. This was followed by a strike at one of its factories.

Meanwhile, tastes in fashion began to change. The struggling knitwear division was closed in 1988 with the loss of nearly 800 jobs.

Corah sold its sock division to Courtaulds for £7.5 million in cash in 1988.

Corah was acquired by Charterhall, an Australian investment group, for £27.2 million in 1988. Charterhall entered into administration in 1990.

Coats Viyella, the largest textiles company in Britain, acquired Corah for around £25 million in cash in 1994.

Message in a bottle: Newcastle Brown Ale

This is the story of how Newcastle Brown Ale became the highest selling bottled beer in Britain, and came to make significant sales in the United States.

John Barras & Co

Established on Bath Lane, Newcastle in 1867 by Bells, Robson & Co, the Tyne Brewery was said to be the largest in the North of England. However the business entered into financial difficulty, and in 1884 it was acquired by John Barras & Co of Gateshead, after their own brewery site was purchased by the North Eastern Railway.

John Barras & Co was operated by Charles John Reed (1820 – 1908), who had leased the brewery since 1861, after marrying into the founding Barras family.

A masterstroke of Reed was to appoint Thomas Watson Lovibond (1849 – 1918) as head brewer and manager from 1887. Lovibond was scientifically trained at a time when almost all brewers lacked such formal education, and he was to have a significant impact upon the future success of the business.

Traditionally brewing mild ale, John Barras & Co was brewing pale ale by 1889, in order to compete with rival products from Burton upon Trent and Edinburgh. Lovibond also introduced greater standardisation of product quality.

Newcastle Breweries

John Barras & Co merged with four local brewers in 1890: W H Allison of North Shields, J J & W H Allison of Sunderland, Swinburne of Gateshead and Carr Brothers & Carr of North Shields to form Newcastle Breweries.

The Tyne Brewery was regarded as one of the largest and best equipped breweries in the North of England, and all production was centralised there. As a result, the output of the brewery was doubled from 900 to 1,800 barrels a week.

The amalgamation was to prove highly successful. Forster’s Bishop Middleham Breweries was acquired in 1910.

The Colonel Porter era

James Herbert Porter (1891 – 1973) was the son of a master brewer in Burton upon Trent. He joined Newcastle Breweries as a trainee brewer in 1909. The model of an English gentleman, Porter was a highly courteous and mild-mannered man.

Porter fought during the First World War, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Newcastle Exhibition, a cask beer, was introduced from 1920.

After the war, sales of bottled beers began to increase, influenced by the inconsistent quality of cask beer. Colonel Porter determined to develop a high quality bottled beer of his own.

Newcastle Breweries opened one of the largest and best-equipped bottling plants in Britain in June 1925.

Colonel Porter, by now promoted to assistant brewer, and Archdale Mercer Jones (1881 – 1954), manager of the bottling works, laboured for three years to perfect the recipe for Newcastle Brown Ale. Porter created its distinctive taste by blending a strong aged beer with a light pale ale.

Newcastle Brown Ale was launched in April 1927. The sole ingredients were malt, hops, sugar and yeast and it boasted an ABV of 6.25 percent. Originally it was filtered but was not subject to pasteurisation.

Newcastle Brown Ale enjoyed immediate success. It was a quality product brewed to vigorous scientific methods and high standards, and sold at a reasonable price. Perhaps as a result, Colonel Porter had been promoted to head brewer by September 1927. Newcastle Brown Ale was named as the best bottled beer in Britain at the 1928 Brewers Exhibition in London.

The blue star logo was introduced in 1928. Each point on the star represented one of the five businesses that combined to form Newcastle Breweries.

Newcastle Brown Ale ABV had been reduced to around 5.5 percent by 1931.

Colonel Porter was promoted to the Newcastle Breweries board of directors in 1931.

During the Second World War Newcastle Breweries encountered material shortages, and as a result brewed lower strength beers out of necessity. However the company refused to compromise the quality of Newcastle Brown Ale, which went unchanged, although by necessity production represented just a small fraction of demand.

Although sales remained confined to the North East of England, 300 million bottles had been produced by 1952.

Colonel Porter was appointed chairman of Newcastle Breweries in 1955.

The Tyne Brewery occupied 6.5 acres by 1956. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale had continued to grow and the brewer’s bottling facility had reached capacity. A new bottling plant entered production from 1959.

John Rowell & Son of Gateshead was acquired in 1959 to bring the total number of Newcastle Breweries controlled premises to around 700.

Scottish & Newcastle

Newcastle Breweries merged with Scottish Brewers to form Scottish & Newcastle in 1960. Colonel Porter was appointed vice chairman. Newcastle Brown Ale was a leading product of the new company, alongside McEwan’s Export and Younger’s Tartan Special. The merger afforded Newcastle Brown Ale a wider network for distribution.

In the early 1960s Scottish & Newcastle began to produce Newcastle Brown Ale in brown bottles instead of clear ones. This was to protect the beer from UV rays, which can have a negative impact on taste. However drinkers complained about the change, and the decision was swiftly reversed.

Distribution of Newcastle Brown Ale throughout the Midlands and the South of England had begun by the late 1960s. The Tyne Brewery was producing over one million barrels of beer a year by 1972, however increased national sales of Newcastle Brown Ale saw the facility struggle to meet demand.

Domestic sales of Newcastle Brown Ale peaked in 1974, after which sales of bottled beers began to enter into a steady decline. The appeal of bottled beer had been its consistency, but with the increasing quality and distribution of keg beer, its unique selling point was lost.

By 1977 a total of 7.5 million barrels of Newcastle Brown Ale had been produced since it was introduced in 1927.

Newcastle Brown Ale was the highest selling packaged ale in Britain by 1980. It was sold in over 97 percent of off licences in England and Wales and more than 90 percent of supermarkets and grocers.

It is believed that Newcastle Brown Ale ceased to be a blended beer from the early 1980s onwards.

A new £3 million bottling plant was opened in 1984. The Tyne Brewery had grown to cover 14 acres by 1985. 1,200 people were employed there in 1988.

Scottish & Newcastle was the fifth largest brewer in Britain by 1988.

Newcastle Exhibition was the highest selling draught ale in the North East of England by 1989.

Newcastle Brown Ale underwent a resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s with increased distribution in the South of England, as well as a strong presence in student union bars. Marketing efforts dissociated the drink from its working class roots in an attempt to position it as a premium product.

Scottish & Newcastle took direct control of its United States product distribution from 1990 onwards. With American headquarters in San Francisco, by the mid-1990s the brand had gained significant traction in the United States.

Newcastle Brown Ale was a pasteurised beer by 1994. The pasteurisation process increases the shelf life of the product, but critics contend that it reduces the delicate aromas of beer.

The brewery borehole water source lacked sufficient purity by 1995, and purified water from reservoirs was instead used, to which Scottish & Newcastle added gypsum and epsom before brewing.

Scottish & Newcastle acquired Courage in 1995 to become the largest brewer in Britain.

230,000 hectolitres (140,000 UK barrels) of Newcastle Brown Ale were exported to the United States in 1998. The majority of Newcastle Brown Ale production was shipped to the United States by 2001.

The Tyne Brewery was closed in May 2005. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the Federation Brewery in nearby Dunston, Gateshead.

Newcastle Brown Ale was among the top fifty highest-selling beers in the United States by 2006.

Bottling of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, from 2007.

Scottish & Newcastle was acquired by Heineken, a Dutch brewer, in 2008.

Heineken closed the Federation Brewery in May 2010, and Newcastle Brown Ale production was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery.

Caramel colouring, apparently used to darken and flavour Newcastle Brown Ale since its inception, was replaced with roasted malt from 2015, amid US health concerns.

Production of Newcastle Brown Ale for export was relocated to the Zouterwoude Brewery in the Netherlands from 2017.

Newcastle Brown Ale will be brewed by Heineken in the United States from 2018. The packaging lists its ingredients as malted barley, roasted malt and Centennial and Chinook hops.

A capsulated history of Beecham’s pills

Beecham’s was the largest patent medicine manufacturer in the world by 1913, with well over a million pills sold every day.

Thomas Beecham (1820 – 1907) was born in Oxfordshire to humble circumstances. He worked as a shepherd and used his knowledge of herbs to tend his animals.

A coarse yet charismatic character, Beecham began to manufacture pills from 1847. Beecham’s Pills, comprised of aloes, ginger and soap, had a mild laxative effect.

Beecham relocated to the booming mill towns of the North West of England. He sold his pills from a market stall in Wigan, Lancashire. He relocated to nearby St Helens in 1859.

The business was run by the family and a small number of employees until the late 1870s.

Thomas Beecham’s son Joseph (1848 – 1916) had effectively taken control of the company by the 1880s. Joseph Beecham was described as “[i]n personal appearance … the quiet, pipe-smoking, tweed-clad type of Englishman. He has neither business nor artistic pose, and is modesty itself.”

Beecham pills had the highest sale of any patent medicine in the world by 1885. A new factory, powered by electricity, was opened at St Helens in 1886.

250 million pills were sold in 1890, a quarter of all factory-made pills in Britain.

A factory was leased in Brooklyn, New York from 1890 in order to manufacture Beecham pills for the American market.

Thomas Beecham handed over full control of the business to Joseph in 1895.

Joseph Beecham spent £100,000 a year on advertising by 1895. The factory had 120 employees, all men.

After it was discovered that he was engaged in adultery, Joseph Beecham was divorced by his wife in 1901.

Joseph Beecham had an annual income of £20,000 by 1903.

American sales doubled between 1906 and 1913. A new factory in Brooklyn was purchased in 1910. Joseph Beecham made frequent trips across the Atlantic to attend to his American business.

The New York Times reported that Joseph Beecham was the third richest man in England by 1909, with a fortune valued at US$130 million. Joseph Beecham was knighted in 1912, in recognition of his philanthropic work.

Beecham spent US$5 million on advertising between 1903 and 1913, and was one of the most extensive newspaper advertisers in the world.

Over 450 million Beecham pills were sold worldwide in 1913. The annual advertising budget was $5 million.

Before his death, Sir Joseph Beecham handed the American business to his son, Henry Beecham (1888 – 1947).

Sir Joseph Beecham died in 1916, and had an estate valued at £1.5 million. The British business was passed to his two sons, Henry and Thomas Beecham (1879 – 1961).

Henry Beecham was convicted of manslaughter in 1921 after speeding in his car. He was sentenced to twelve months in prison.

Philip Hill (1873 – 1944) acquired the business, largely from Thomas Beecham, for £2.8 million in 1924.

Hill was a skilled entrepreneur, and established a new laboratory. The company’s first pharmaceutical product, an aspirin-based cold and flu powder, was introduced in 1926.

The Veno Drug Company of Manchester, a manufacturer of cough syrup, was acquired in 1928.

Beecham’s Pills was incorporated as a public company in 1928.

Macleans, a toothpaste manufacturer, and Lucozade, a medicinal drink, were acquired in 1938. Also that year, Eno Proprietaries and County Perfumery, the manufacturer of Brylcreem, were both acquired, the latter for £580,000.

Eno Proprietaries, best known for its Fruit Salts product, provided Beecham with an international distribution network.

Following the death of Philip Hill in 1944, Stanley Holmes (1878 – 1961) became company chairman.

A single product, Lucozade, provided one third of Beecham’s British profits in 1949.

Beecham was dedicating a significant amount of revenue to product research and development by the 1950s.

H W Carter, the manufacturer of Ribena, was acquired in 1955. Thomas & Evans, the manufacturer of Corona soft drinks, was acquired in 1958.

Beecham was the second largest advertiser in Britain by 1960.

Horlicks was acquired in 1969.

Production of Beecham’s Pills ended in 1998. The manufacturer recommended consumers use Milk of Magnesia as a substitute.

Whiff of success: Henri Wintermans

Henri Wintermans is the largest cigar brand in the world.

Sjaak and Henri Wintermans (1886 – 1975), two brothers, established a cigar manufacturing business in Duizel in the Netherlands in 1904. They traded as A Wintermans & Sons, in honour of their father.

Sjaak concentrated on sales and Henri concentrated on buying and blending tobacco.

A Wintermans & Sons captured a substantial proportion of the Dutch market but Henri amicably left the partnership to establish his own cigar manufacturing business in 1934.

Henri relocated to the neighbouring town of Eersel, and his son Adriaan entered the business. Adriaan Wintermans took over management from 1945 onwards.

Wintermans identified the post-war Dutch cigar market as over-saturated, and decided to look to export sales to drive his business forward. Before long Britain was the company’s largest market for sales.

The Cafe Creme cigarillo was launched in France in the early 1960s. Henri Wintermans was by far the most popular Dutch cigar brand in the United Kingdom by 1965.

Adriaan Wintermans had a clear vision for the European cigar market, but he lacked the financial capital to realise his ambition. He felt that the company could best realise its potential as part of a larger concern. He sold Henri Wintermans to British American Tobacco for just under £2 million in 1966. BAT was the largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the world.

Adriaan Wintermans was appointed head of BAT’s European cigar business.

Over 500 million Henri Wintermans cigars were produced in 1971.

Just two percent of Henri Wintermans sales were in the Netherlands by 1972. Over 62 percent of sales were to the United Kingdom, and Henri Wintermans had around 15 percent of the UK cigar market.

Henri Wintermans increased sales by over 500 percent between 1966 and 1972. Production capacity was increased by 75 percent in 1972 to cope with rising demand.

Henri Wintermans was the leading cigar exporter in the world by 1977. It was the highest selling imported cigar brand in Britain by 1978.

Wintermans Cafe Creme was number two in the British miniature cigar market by 1983.

Broadsheet festive “banter”. A 1986 Henri Wintermans advertisement in the Daily Telegraph

Over 600 million Henri Winterman cigars were sold in 1990.

Henri Wintermans was sold to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group in 1996 for £55 million.

Henri Wintermans products are still manufactured in Eersel. The vast majority of sales are in Europe.

Running the show: Reebok

J W Foster & Sons produced some of the most highly-regarded running shoes in the world in the 1920s. Rebranded as Reebok, its fashion shoes became highly successful in the 1980s.

Joseph William Foster (1881 – 1933) was a cobbler and keen amateur runner. He developed a spiked running shoe in 1895. He began to manufacture shoes for other runners, and in 1900 he established his shoe manufacturing business at 57 Deane Road, Bolton.

The firm was trading as J W Foster & Sons by 1910. This was presumably an attempt to make the firm seem larger or longer-established than it really was, as his sons at the time were eight and four years old.

Production switched to army boots during the First World War.

Foster’s running shoes were the elite athletic item of their era. A large number of professional athletes used his shoes.

J W Foster & Sons advertised that 90 percent of English and Scottish football league clubs used their shoes by 1922. The firm also supplied the 1924 British Olympic track team.

J W Foster & Sons advertisd itself as the oldest manufacturer of completely hand-made running shoes in the world by 1926.

C Ellis broke the one mile record in 1928 wearing Foster’s shoes. Percy Williams (1908 – 1982) used Foster’s shoes to win the 100m and 200m races at the 1928 Olympic games.

Joseph William Foster died in 1933 and left an estate valued at £5,598. His two sons, John William Foster (born 1902) and James William Foster (1906 – 1976) took over the business.

Production switched to army boots during the Second World War.

In the post-war period the firm entered the football and rugby boot market.

German rivals Adidas and Puma began to enter the athletic shoe market, with cheaper and better models. The founder’s grandsons, Joseph William Foster (born 1935) and Jeffrey William Foster (1933 – 1980), became frustrated at their fathers’ lack of vision, and established Reebok in Bury in 1958, in order to manufacture their own athletic shoes. Joseph William Foster was the chairman and managing director.

The Reebok brand was well known throughout the North West of England by the 1970s. Reebok absorbed J W Foster & Sons in 1976.

Paul Fireman (born 1944), a marketer for outdoor equipment, lobbied Joseph William Foster for the license to sell Reebok shoes in North America. Eventually Foster relented, and sold the American sales rights to Fireman for $65,000 in 1979.

Reebok logged US sales of around $300,000 in 1980.

By this time the components came from the original factory in England, but the shoes were assembled in South Korea.

Demand for its shoes was such that soon Reebok USA suffered cash flow problems. Stephen Rubin (born 1937) acquired 55 percent of Reebok USA for $77,500 in August 1981. Rubin brought to the company knowledge of the sports shoe market, and experience with Asian outsourcing.

Reebok identified the growing market for aerobics, and launched two shoes, Freestyle and Energizer, in 1982. Total US sales had climbed to $12.9 million by the end of 1983. Meanwhile, Nike was suffering a downturn, which allowed Reebok to flourish.

A 1985 advertisement for the Reebok Freestyle

Reebok International and Reebok USA merged in April 1984. Stephen Rubin maintained his 55 percent stake and was named chairman of Reebok International. Paul Fireman was named President and CEO of Reebok International, and held the remaining 45 percent share.

Reebok headquarters were relocated from Bolton, England to Avon, Massachusetts. The site had 52 employees. The relocation was based on the fact that most Reebok sales were in the US.

Warehouse and office facilities were maintained in Bolton, and Foster remained President of Reebok International.

In 1984 all the lasts, dies and markings were made in England. Research and development took place in England and South Korea.

Stephen Rubin pushed for Reebok International to go public, which it did in 1985.

1985 sales totalled over $300 million.

Due to growth, head office was moved from Avon to Canton in 1986.

Rockport was acquired in 1986 for $118.5 million in cash.

Foster retired as President of Reebok International in 1990, but remained in a consultancy position.

The cost-conscious Rubin clashed with Fireman, who argued for lavish marketing campaigns. Rubin sold his stake in Reebok for $770 million in 1991.

Reebok was acquired by Adidas for £2.1 billion in 2005.

Adidas closed down the Reebok head office in Bolton in 2009, ending the brand’s association with its home town.

Foster steeped down from his consultancy position in 2015.

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.

Party Rings, a leading Fox’s product

Michael Spedding (1834 – 1927) was born into humble beginnings at Marsh, Huddersfield in Yorkshire. He received just three months of schooling, as well as some Sunday school teaching.

By the age of 13 he was working at a cotton mill in Meltham. With encouragement from his grandfather he walked to Batley to find work. He was poor, and would sometimes spend nights in barns.

Spedding married Susan Fox (1834 – 1895), the daughter of a bone setter, in 1854.

Spedding established himself as a food seller from 1863. Eventually he began to concentrate on the confectionery trade, with a focus on brandy snap biscuits.

Spedding took over the bone setting business of his father in law in 1877.

Spedding had been joined in business by his daughter Hannah and his son in law Fred Ellis Fox (1871 – 1938) by 1891.

The firm began to trade as F E Fox & Co from 1897, and Spedding retired in 1900. Brandy snaps continued to be the major product.

F E Fox was joined by his son, Michael Spedding Fox (1896 – 1963), and the firm began to trade as F E Fox & Son.

F E Fox & Son relocated to a new site at Batley in 1927.

Michael Spedding died in 1927 as one of the oldest men in his district.

F E Fox & Son was incorporated as a private company in 1938.

F E Fox died in 1938 and left an estate valued at £19,243. Michael Spedding Fox became managing director of the company.

F E Fox & Son Ltd had around 500 employees by 1955.

F E Fox & Son won a valuable contract to produce biscuits for Marks & Spencer in 1958. The contract accounted for half of all production.

F E Fox & Son required capital to fulfil its ambitions of becoming a nationally recognised company. The firm went public in 1960 as Fox’s Biscuits with an authorised share capital of £400,000. There were around 950 employees.

The offices at Batley in 2007

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.

Northern Foods invested £20 million to increase production at Fox’s biscuits in 1987.

Fox’s Biscuits was best known for its Rocky and Party Rings biscuits by the 1990s.

Northern Foods was acquired by 2 Sisters Food Group in 2011.

The non-core Fox’s Biscuits business was identified as a potential divestment for 2 Sisters in 2016, with an estimated sale price of £250 million.

There are three Fox’s Biscuits factories as of 2017, located at Uttoxeter, Batley and Kirkham near Preston. The division employs over 3,000 people. The company has a large contract and own-label business, producing Farley’s Rusks for Heinz, for example.

In 2017 reports emerged that Fox’s might be merged with Burton Foods.

The highs and l’eaus of Perrier

Perrier is the best known sparkling mineral water in the world. The iconic French product was introduced to the global market by an Englishman, St John Harmsworth.

William Albert St John Harmsworth (1876 – 1933) was the son of an unsuccessful alcoholic London barrister and a strong-willed mother.

Slight and nervous as a boy, Harmsworth attended Henley House School at St John’s Wood, London. There he was a pupil of H G Wells (1866 – 1946), later the author of The Time Machine (1895) and The War of the Worlds (1898). Harmsworth was not the most academically-minded of pupils according to Wells, but he did grow to be charming, likeable, athletic and handsome.

William Albert St John Harmsworth c.1900

Harmsworth followed his education with work as a director at Amalgamated Press, a newspaper empire created by his elder brother Alfred (1865 – 1922), which included the Daily Mail, the highest-selling newspaper in the world.

His brother 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 on the British market at the time. To the horror of his family he sold his shares in Amalgamated Press in order to acquire the Les Bouillens estate in early 1903.

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.

This image illustrates the distinctive “club-shaped” Perrier bottle

French culture was considered aspirational, and the water may have benefited from an assumed link with the champagne houses of Perrier-Jouët and Laurent-Perrier, to which it had no affiliation. Perhaps to encourage the association, the water was originally marketed with “the champagne of table waters” slogan.

The London office was relocated to 45 and 47 Wigmore Street in November 1905.

Harmsworth broke his spine in a tragic motor accident in 1906. Paralysed from the waist down, he channelled his energies into developing the mineral water business.

A keen sportsman, Harmsworth was able to maintain his interest in swimming, and had a pool installed at his London address of 7 Hyde Park Terrace.

United States sales were pursued from 1907.

Perrier was registered as a private limited company to acquire the share capital of La Compagnie de la Source Perrier in 1908.

A glassworks was established in Vergeze in 1912.

Perrier was granted a Royal Warrant from King George V in 1911. Millions of bottles were sold every year by 1912.

Perrier was a well-established rival to Apollinaris by 1914. Perrier was able to gain market share from Apollinaris during the First World War by using advertisements to highlight the German origins of its competitor.

During the First World War, much of production was distributed to the Allied armies in France, Salonika and Egypt.

Harmsworth negotiated a contract to be the exclusive supplier of bottled water to the restaurant cars of Wagons-Lits in France and Germany in 1927.

The London office had been relocated to Bear Wharf, 27 Bankside by 1931.

By 1933 Harmsworth had a small stake in the French company, the Compagnie de la Source Perrier, and a large holding in the English company Perrier Limited, which held the British distribution rights.

Harmsworth died in 1933 and left an estate valued at £82,976. His estate was left to his brother Vyvyan George Harmsworth (1881 – 1957) and his three sisters.

Perrier Ltd had an authorised capital of £110,000 in 1935. The directors were Vyvyan Harmsworth, M Harmsworth and H Banks, who had been secretary to St John Harmsworth.

Perrier had never been hugely profitable, and the rest of the family lacked the faith in the brand that Harmsworth had. The family had granted the Britain and Ireland distribution rights for Perrier to Apollinaris by May 1939.

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. Sales to the German army represented 40 percent of turnover between 1941 and 1944.

After the liberation of France, the Harmsworth family looked to sell the business, which was loss-making and required substantial investment. Gustave Leven (1915 – 2008) was working at his family stockbroking firm in Paris when his father asked him to find a buyer for Perrier in 1946. He visited the bottling plant, which was in need of reorganisation. He witnessed workers fill bottles by plunging them into the spring by hand, and sometimes using their feet to help put the bottle caps on.

Leven identified a strong brand that had considerable scope for improvement, and with four partners acquired the company for £100,000. Ten million bottles were sold in 1946.

Annual sales had risen to 150 million bottles by 1952. By introducing mass advertising to a staid industry, Perrier was able to gain considerable market share in France. Perrier was the highest-selling mineral water in France by 1962, with a 25 percent market share.

Leven installed a glass bottle manufacturing plant at Vergeze in 1973. Perrier held half of the French bottled water market by the mid 1970s.

Perrier was distributed in Britain by Schweppes and Grand Metropolitan by the early 1970s. 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; this had risen to 200 million by 1979. In Britain and the United States, Perrier tapped into a growing aspirational culture, and an increasing health and fitness movement.

Rising sales in the United States saw a second factory opened at Vergeze in 1978. The new factory had an annual production capacity of nearly 400 million bottles, adding to the existing factory’s capacity of 350 million bottles.

The Vergeze site employed 2,500 people by 1983 and Perrier was sold in 119 countries. 25 percent of sales were in the United States by 1984.

Perrier held 60 percent of the British bottled water market by 1988. Nearly 100 million bottles a year were sold in the UK by 1990.

The brand peaked in 1989, when 1.2 billion bottles were sold, with half exported to the United States.

In March 1990 it was reported that Perrier contained a minimal amount of a carcinogen, because a filter meant to catch naturally occurring benzene from the spring had not been changed. 160 million bottles had to be recalled from 120 countries, for which the company was not insured.

A cancer specialist stated that an individual would have to consume a quart of Perrier every day for an entire lifetime to consume a harmful amount of benzene, but Leven decided that a total product recall was essential to preserve the reputation of the brand. Despite the expedient and responsible reaction of Leven, production levels dropped by one third in the wake of the scandal. A few months later, Leven stepped down as company chairman.

Nestle acquired Perrier in 1992, in a deal which valued the company at £1.4 billion (US$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 requests throughout the 1980s. Faced with stagnant sales, Nestle found that it was unable to continue to accommodate union demands. Nestle failed to make a profit from Perrier between 1992 and 2004.

Production levels crossed the one billion bottle threshold again in 2013. According to data from Euromonitor, Perrier held six percent of the global carbonated bottled water market by value in 2016, and its share is growing.

Nestle installed a new production line at the Perrier plant in 2017. It plans to add three more lines by 2020, bringing the total to 15.