All posts by Thomas Farrell

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

Curry favour: J A Sharwood

Sharwood’s is the leading Asian food brand in Britain.

James Allen Sharwood (1859 – 1941) was a City of London merchant. He initially worked in insurance, before moving into wine and spirits distribution. He entered the wholesale grocery distribution market in 1888.

Sharwood was born to a Scottish mother, who taught him the importance of being thorough. He had a great interest in travel and learning foreign languages. He was intelligent, hard-working, and innovative.

Sharwood was introduced by a family friend to Lord Dufferin (1826 – 1902), the Viceroy of India. Dufferin asked Sharwood to bring his French chef some supplies from Europe.

Legend has it that the grateful chef recommended that Sharwood visit P Vencatachellum at No. 1 Pophams Broadway in Madras. Vencatachellum blended a famed curry powder, including turmeric from Chittagong, coriander from Kerala, chillis from Orissa, and four secret ingredients. The mix impressed Sharwood, and he arranged to distribute Vencat curry powder in Britain.

Green Label mango chutney was introduced from 1889.

The Northern Meat Preserving Co was acquired in 1891.

J A Sharwood was incorporated in 1899 as a limited company with capital of £50,000.  A factory, the Offley Works, was established at Vauxhall.

F A Bovill & Co of City Road, London, a preserve manufacturer, was acquired in 1900.

J A Sharwood was advertising itself as “the largest dealers in Indian condiments in the world” by 1933.

James Allen Sharwood retired to South Africa. He died in 1941 and his effects in England were valued at £7,296.

Cerebos, a British foods company, acquired J A Sharwood in 1962 for £982,047. The Offley Works was divested and production was relocated to Greatham, Hartlepool.

Close but no cigar: Cope Brothers

Cope Brothers was the second largest tobacco manufacturer in Britain, and pioneered the employment of women in the sector.

George Cope (1823 – 1888) and Thomas Cope (1827 – 1884) began to sell cigars, snuff and tobacco from 63 Paradise Street, Liverpool in 1848. Trading as Cope Brothers, by 1853 the firm was undertaking its own manufacturing from premises on Lord Nelson Street.

George managed the manufacturing arm of the firm, while Thomas was responsible for the business as a whole.

Cope Brothers was one of the first tobacco manufacturers in Britain to employ a female workforce. Cope Brothers began to employ women following a factory strike in 1858. Female workers proved capable, so the policy was continued until the factory employed around 700 women and girls by 1871, out of a total of 774 employees.

Cope’s Christmas entertainment at St George’s Hall in 1864. Taken from the Illustrated London News.

The Cope Brothers factory was spacious and well-ventilated. Charles Dickens and Emily Faithfull were given tours and reported favourably. Shifts were of six to eight hours in duration. The girls were generally the daughters of shopkeepers, warehousemen and clerks.

Cope Brothers employed 1,400 women and girls by 1879. The factory ran almost the entirety of one side of Lord Nelson Street by 1882.

Thomas Cope died in 1884, and left an estate valued at £199,000.

Cope Brothers was converted into a private limited liability company in 1885. It had a capital of £350,000.

George Cope died in 1888. He was succeeded as managing director by his nephew, Thomas Henry Cope (1867 – 1913).

Cope’s Tobacco Works in 1889

The regular workforce at the Liverpool factory totalled 1,500 people by 1892, many of them women and girls. With four percent of the British tobacco market, Cope Brothers was second only to Wills of Bristol.

The formation of Imperial Tobacco in 1901 created a giant in the industry. In a defensive move, Cope Brothers acquired Richard Lloyd, tobacco manufacturers best known for the Old Holborn brand, in 1902. Robinson & Barnsdale Ltd, tobacco manufacturers of Nottingham, was acquired in 1905.

Escudo Navy De Luxe pipe tobacco was introduced by Cope Brothers in 1912.

H C Lloyd & Son Ltd of Exeter was acquired in 1924.

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

Cope Brothers was acquired by Gallaher in 1952, in an exchange of shares. The Liverpool factory appears to have been closed shortly afterwards. At the time, purchase of American tobacco was limited by quotas from the Government, and Gallaher acquired Cope Brothers to increase its quota allowance. Gallaher was also attracted by the strength of the Old Holborn brand.

Cope Brothers remained a major Gallaher subsidiary as late as 1969.

Escudo Navy De Luxe pipe tobacco and Old Holborn are still sold as of 2017.

How the cookie crumbles: United Biscuits (Part II)

For Part I of this history of United Biscuits, click here.

United Biscuits produces McVitie’s Digestives, Jaffa Cakes, Jacob’s cream crackers and Carr’s water biscuits.

Two Scottish biscuit manufacturers, McVitie & Price and Macfarlane Lang merged in 1948 to form United Biscuits, with a capital of £3.5 million. The businesses continued to trade under their respective names.

The Harlesden, London facility became the first fully-automated biscuit factory in the world in 1948, increasing output by 1000 percent.

McVitie & Price produced around 450 different products in 1939. This had been streamlined to about twelve major lines, with corresponding cost efficiencies, by 1959.

United Biscuits held nearly 70 percent of the digestive biscuit market by 1959. It was also a leader in the sale of Rich Tea biscuits.

United Biscuits was the largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain by 1962.

William Crawford & Sons, the largest privately-owned biscuit manufacturer in the United Kingdom, was acquired in 1962 in a mostly share-based transaction which valued the company at £5.9 million.

United Biscuits increased its capital from £9 million to £13 million in 1963. Hector Laing (1923 -2010) became managing director of United Biscuits in 1964.

United Biscuits entered the packaged cake market in 1964. The company had taken a 14 percent share of the market by 1968, winning market share from J Lyons.

William Macdonald & Sons of Glasgow was acquired in 1965 for £2.8 million in cash and shares. The firm had introduced the Penguin chocolate-coated biscuit in 1932. It was experiencing strong growth, and held almost 20 percent of British chocolate biscuit exports.

The United Biscuits subsidiaries were absorbed into a single operating company in 1965. The company announced plans to close four of its nine factories, and to greatly increase production at Glasgow and Liverpool in 1966.

The McVitie & Price factory in Edinburgh was closed in 1967 with the loss of 541 jobs. The Macdonald factory at North Cardonald, Glasgow was closed with the loss of 497 jobs. The Crawford factory in Leith was closed in 1970 with the loss of 703 jobs, and the Macdonald factory at Hillington, Glasgow was closed with the loss of 497 jobs. The factories that were closed had no room for expansion, and it made economic sense to rationalise production at a smaller number of larger sites.

The Macfarlane Lang factory at Tollcross, Glasgow was doubled in size at a cost of £2.3 million in 1969. The labour force was increased from 250 to 1,350. The factory would supply the Scotland, Northern Ireland and North of England markets.

The Crawford factory at Liverpool increased capacity by 50 percent following a £2 million investment in the 1970.

Sales of the McVitie’s brand doubled between 1962 and 1967, and McVitie’s had by far the most brand recognition in its category. The McVitie’s Chocolate Home Wheat (a chocolate digestive) was its highest seller.

Meredith & Drew was acquired in 1967. Following the acquisition, United Biscuits produced over one third of all biscuits consumed in Britain.

Kenyon, Son & Craven, with the KP salted peanuts brand, was acquired in 1968 in a share exchange which valued the private company at £3.5 million.

United Biscuits was the largest biscuit manufacturing company in Europe by 1969.

Hector Laing became company chairman in 1972. That year, the firm took over the biscuit interests of Cavenham, which included Carr’s of Carlisle and Wright’s of South Shields.

The South Shields factory was closed in 1973 with the loss of 823 jobs.

A total of four factories and four offices were closed in the early 1970s in a spate of rationalisation. The McVitie, Crawford and Macfarlane sales teams were merged in the early 1970s.

United Biscuits acquired Keebler, the second largest US biscuit manufacturer, in 1974.

United Biscuits employed 36,000 people in 1976. Its products were sold in 92 countries. The company controlled 41.6 percent of the British biscuit market, and boasted eight out of the ten highest selling products.

Not every venture was a success however, and United Biscuits was prepared to admit defeat when appropriate; in 1977 the company withdrew from the packaged cakes market.

By 1978 United Biscuits sold 75 million biscuits every day.

In 1980 it was announced that the former Macfarlane Lang factory at Osterley, West London would be closed with the loss of 2,000 jobs.

The Hobnob biscuit was introduced in 1985.

In an admission of defeat in the American snacks market, Keebler was divested for $500 million in 1995.

United Biscuits employed 22,500 people in 22 countries in 1999.

Jacob’s, a Liverpool biscuit manufacturer, was acquired from Danone of France for £200 million in 2004.

United Biscuits was acquired by private equity firms Blackstone and PAI Partners for £1.6 billion in 2006.

In 2012 the snacks division of United Biscuits, including Hula Hoops crisps and KP nuts, was sold to Intersnack of Germany, manufacturer of Pom-Bear crisps and Penn State pretzels, for £504 million.

In 2013 United Biscuits was sold to Yildiz Holding of Istanbul for over £2 billion to create the third largest biscuit manufacturer in the world, behind Mondelez and Kellogg.

From 2014 United Biscuits rebranded all of its sweet biscuits under the McVitie’s name, and all of its savoury biscuits under the Jacob’s name. McVitie’s gained the Club, Fig Rolls, BN and Iced Gems products from Jacob’s, whilst Jacob’s gained the Cheddars snacks products. The Crawford’s name was repositioned as a value brand, and products such as Family Circle were rebranded as McVitie’s.

 

Go nuts: Kenyon Son & Craven

Today, the KP brand is best known for peanuts, crisps and chocolate dip pots.

Charles Kenyon (1832 – 1893) was born at Brierley, South Yorkshire. He served an apprenticeship to a confectioner in Barnsley, before establishing his own business on College Street, Rotherham, from 1853. His principal product was jam.

Kenyon relocated production to Morpeth Street in Rotherham to cope with increasing demand, and was joined by his son, Harry Kenyon (1862 – 1932). He employed 27 people (five men, five boys, eight women and nine girls) by 1881.

Charles Kenyon became an alderman, representing the Liberal party. A keen Wesleyan Methodist, it was through the church that he met Matthew Smith Craven (1845 – 1923), who produced jam from a large factory on Scarborough Street in Hull.

Kenyon and Craven merged their interests in 1891, and the firm was incorporated as Kenyon, Son & Craven. Pickles, sauces and confectionery were produced, as well as jam.

The Hull factory was divested in 1930, and all production was concentrated at Rotherham.

Harry Kenyon died in 1932, and left a gross estate valued at £2,081.

Simon Heller (1906 – 1989) of the Leeds-based Hercules Nut Company became chairman in 1943. A new 40,000 sq ft factory at Eastwood, Rotherham was established in 1947. After his factory in Leeds burned down, Heller acquired Kenyon, Son & Craven in 1948, and began to produce roasted and salted hazelnuts.

KP salted peanuts were introduced in 1953, and soon achieved nationwide distribution. Kenyon, Son & Craven almost single-handedly created the salted peanut category in Britain, and achieved national dominance of KP Nuts with very little advertising.

Manufacture of other products was discontinued in order to concentrate on peanuts. Kenyon, Son & Craven employed over 1,500 people by 1965.

Kenyon, Son & Craven was acquired by United Biscuits in 1968 in a share exchange which valued the private company at £3.5 million. Kenyon Son & Craven was the largest nut processor in Europe by 1970.

Simon Heller died in 1989 and left an estate valued at £3.8 million.

H J Packer of Bristol

H J Packer was the largest low-cost chocolate manufacturer in the world.

Edward Packer (1848 – 1887) was a Quaker who worked for J S Fry & Sons of Bristol, a chocolate manufacturer, in the 1870s.

Edward Packer left Fry to commence chocolate manufacture for himself in 1881. He worked from his house at 11 Armory Square, and was assisted by his wife. Soon he employed eight people.

Packer entered into partnership with Henry John Burrows (born 1853). Unfortunately, trade immediately declined, and all employees other than members of the Packer family had to be laid off. The partnership was dissolved leaving Burrows as sole proprietor from 1884. Burrows added his own initials to the company name, and began trading as H J Packer & Co.

Caleb Bruce Cole (1862 -1912) was a confectionery salesman in Bristol. His contact with H J Packer & Co impressed him, and his father lent him £1,000 to buy the business in 1886. Around nine people were employed.

Cole identified a gap in the market, and began to manufacture high quality chocolate at an affordable price. The chocolates found a keen market among children.

Cole subverted the notion that low-cost food production need sacrifice standards of cleanliness or provision for the workforce.

In 1896 Cole was joined by his brother Horace, and William John Mansfield (1846 -1912) was employed as general manager.

A new factory was opened at Greenbank, Bristol in 1903. It covered four acres and was the largest low-cost chocolate factory in the world. Greenbank was situated on a major railway line, which allowed for convenient distribution. Two large dining halls, each with a capacity of 400 people were erected, and food was available to workers at cost price.

H J Packer & Co became a limited company in 1908.

Carsons Ltd of Glasgow, with a share capital of £50,000, was acquired in January 1912. A high quality manufacturer, Carsons had been the first company to introduce tray chocolates.

Charles Bruce Cole died in June 1912. A progressive man, he was described as quiet and likeable. He left an estate valued at £259,937.

H J Packer & Co had a capital of £750,000 and employed 1,000 people by 1912.

A dedicated Carsons chocolate factory was opened in Bristol in 1913..

By 1922 Packers was the fourth largest chocolate manufacturer in Britain, and the largest manufacturer of low-cost chocolate in the world.

The company struggled during the Great Depression.

Suffering from overcapacity, the Carsons factory was divested in 1960.

The company name was changed to Carsons Ltd in 1962. The Carsons brand had become well known as Britain’s largest producer of chocolate liqueurs, chocolates filled with some of the leading spirits, liqueur and fortified wine brands in the world.

Until 1961 liqueur chocolates could only be sold from licensed premises. This opening up of the market provided an opportunity.

Cavenham Foods, managed by James Goldsmith (1933 – 1997), gained control of Carsons in 1964.

Goldsmith immediately divested all the Carsons chocolate lines except for liqueur chocolates, the only sector of the market which was experiencing a growth in sales. The liqueur chocolate market was largely dominated by imported brands such as Lindt, Ringer, Rademaker and Trumpf.

Carsons held over 29 percent of the liqueur chocolate market by 1966. This was achieved with minimal advertising. Instead Carson’s benefited from the advertising campaigns of spirits brands that were inside their chocolates; names such as Harvey’s Bristol Cream and Hennessey brandy.

By 1966 Carsons liqueurs were being marketed under the Famous Names brand.

Elizabeth Shaw, an upmarket chocolate manufacturer, was acquired in 1968.

Carsons held over 40 percent of the chocolate liqueur market in Britain by the late 1970s.

Cavenham Confectionery was subject to a management buyout in 1981, and the company renamed itself Famous Names Ltd. It was acquired by Imperial Tobacco in 1985.

In 1988 management bought control of Famous Names Ltd, which was renamed Elizabeth Shaw Ltd. In 1990 Elizabeth Shaw Ltd was acquired by Leaf of Finland.

Elizabeth Shaw closed its outdated Greenbank factory in 2006. Production was relocated to factories across Britain and Europe.

Comfort for the table: Epps Cocoa

Epps was the leading brand of cocoa in Victorian Britain.

James Epps (1821 – 1907) was the son of a Calvinist London merchant.

His brother, Dr John Epps (1805 – 1869), was one of the pioneers of homeopathy in Britain. He established premises at Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury, and was joined by his brother James from 1837.

Epps’ cocoa was first sold from 1839 for the use of patients for whom tea and coffee were restricted. It was an instant cocoa powder, made by adding hot water or milk.

The almost prohibitive duty on cocoa was greatly reduced in 1832, allowing the market to grow exponentially. Easily prepared cocoa had been difficult to procure, and the fat in the raw material was unpalatable for many. Dr John Epps discovered a way to make it more appetising, mixing the cocoa with 20 percent West Indies arrowroot and 13 percent sugar.

Dr John Epps was not the first person to invent soluble cocoa powder, but James Epps was largely responsible for presenting the product to the mass market.

He heavily advertised Epps’ Cocoa, and by 1855 had coined a distinctive slogan, “grateful and comforting”.

Epps’ Cocoa was initially produced under contract by Daniel Dunn of Pentonville Road, who had invented instant cocoa powder in 1819.

Epps had established his own factory at 398 Euston Road, London by 1863. He installed his nephew, Hahnemann Epps (1843 – 1916), as manager.

A new steam-powered works was established at Holland Street, Blackfriars in 1878. Epps was the largest cocoa powder producer in Britain, with an output of nearly five million pounds a year. At its peak the firm processed half of all cocoa imports into Britain.

Steam Cocoa Mills, Holland Street, London
Steam Cocoa Mills, Holland Street, London

A short and slight man, James Epps kept a low public profile, unlike his gregarious brother John. He was known only for his work in business, and had few outside interests. He allowed his portrait to be taken only once, and not once did he grant an interview or issue a public statement. He was a hard worker, keen on a bargain, and somewhat of a control freak. Despite his massive wealth he lived in an unfashionable area of London.

The business was converted into a private joint stock limited company in 1893 known as James Epps & Co. The directors were James Epps, Hahnemann Epps and James Epps Jr (1856 – 1905), and the company had a capital of £200,000.

Epps’ Cocoa had been overtaken in sales by Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa and Rowntree by 1898.

James Epps Jr (also known as Willie James Epps), the only son of James Epps, died of a heart attack in Jamaica in 1905. His gross estate was valued at £162,422.

James Epps died in 1907 and his gross estate was valued at £735,387. This was a larger estate than contemporaries in the food industry such as Jeremiah James Colman (1830 – 1898), Alfred Bird (1849 – 1922) or James Horlick (1844 – 1921).

The estate was inherited by his nieces and nephews, principally James Washington Epps (1874 -1955). Hahnemann Epps became chairman and James W Epps became managing director of James Epps & Co.

Taylor Bros Ltd, a London cocoa manufacturer, was acquired in 1907-8.

Epps’ Cocoa powder had been reformulated to include 44 percent sugar, 40 percent cocoa and 16 percent West Indies arrowroot by 1924.

James Epps & Co was acquired by Rowntree of York in 1926 for £70,000. The Epps factory was closed in 1930.

Engineering success: S Pearson & Son

The Pearson group of companies was by far the largest British business in 1919.

Weetman Pearson (1856 – 1927) was the proprietor of S Pearson & Son, a large public works contractor. He had been single-handedly responsible for taking the firm from a regional to an international player. In 1890 he embarked upon a £2 million project to provide a drainage canal for Mexico City, which had experienced seasonal flooding. Mexico City’s Grand Canal was completed in 1896, on schedule and on budget.

Around the turn of the century, Pearson built three harbours, Vera Cruz, Salina Cruz and Puerto Mexico, as well as the Tehuantepec railway (completed 1905) which connected the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Pearson began to acquire oil concessions in Mexico from 1901. He was encouraged by President Porfirio Diaz (1830 – 1915), who was keen to develop a rival to the US oil companies already operating in the country.

S Pearson & Son employed 60,000 men by 1905, and it was the largest engineering firm in the world.

Having struck oil, Pearson agreed to supply C T Bowring, the largest distributor of petrol in Great Britain, with oil at a fixed price. Unfortunately, his well ran dry, and he was forced to buy oil at inflated prices from his rival, Standard Oil, in order to fulfil the contract.

In a huge stroke of luck, Pearson made a large oil discovery in 1908. Dos Bocas was the largest oil deposit yet found in the world.

The Mexican Eagle Co was formed to exploit this field in 1908.

Mexican Eagle went public in 1910, with a capital of £3 million. Its production output over the next two years was estimated at 750,000 tons. Mexican Eagle was recognised as a strong competitor to J D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Co.

Standard Oil and Royal Dutch Shell virtually controlled the global oil market at this time. As Pearson did not want to be reliant on them, he established the Eagle Oil Transport Co to process and distribute his raw product.

The Anglo-Mexican Petroleum Co was registered in 1912 to market the product outside of Mexico.

The value of Mexican Eagle tripled between 1910 and 1913. Between 1912 and 1913, the company held an estimated 50 percent market share for fuel products in Great Britain. Production in 1913 was 11 million barrels.

By 1914 Mexico was the third largest oil producer in the world after the United States and Russia, and Pearson controlled around 60 percent of the country’s output.

Mexican Eagle produced nearly 19 million barrels of oil in 1919.

Eagle Oil Transport had a capital of £3 million in 1919. Mexican Eagle had a capitalisation of nearly $56 million.

With a market capitalization of £79 million, the Pearson group of companies ranked as by far the largest business in Britain by 1919, with a valuation more than 25 percent higher than its nearest rival, Burmah Oil.

Pearson sold 35 percent of the ordinary capital of Mexican Eagle and 50 percent of the shares of Anglo-Mexican to the Shell Transport & Trading Co for a reported £10 million in 1919. Shell representatives were given a majority on both boards of directors.

The merger represented the takeover of the largest British company by the largest European company. The Shell companies had an output of oil in 1918 roughly double that of Mexican Eagle, around 40 million barrels.

Shell invested heavily to increase production in Mexico. Mexican Eagle produced over 32 million barrels in 1920. An estimated 50 million barrels were shipped in 1921. The company had a daily capacity of well over 100,000 barrels.

Pearson died in 1927 with an estate valued at £4 million. According to his obituary in the Manchester Guardian, he “never lost his accent and pleasant Yorkshire ways”.

Pearson had struck lucky again, by cashing out at the right time. Mexican Eagle share prices declined by 89 percent between 1920 and 1930.

By the early 1930s, Mexican Eagle, in common with its competitors, was decreasing its investment in Mexican oil. The Mexican oil industry was nationalised by the government in 1938.

Appeeling: Frank Cooper’s marmalade

Frank Cooper’s is one of the best known marmalade brands in Britain.

Sarah Cooper (1848 – 1932) filled the first jars of Frank Cooper marmalade in 1874, using a recipe from her mother. Her husband, Frank Cooper (1844 – 1927), owned a grocery business on 83-84 High Street, Oxford, formerly the premises of the Angel Hotel.

Sarah Cooper continued to produce the marmalade in the kitchen of the Angel Hotel, Oxford, until she entered retirement in 1899. Production was relocated to a purpose-built factory on Park End Street, Oxford in 1901.

The business was registered as Frank Cooper Ltd in 1913. The company had a Royal Warrant from the King by 1914.

Sarah Cooper died in 1932. In her obituary the Yorkshire Post went as far as to describe her as the founder of the company.

The company employed about 100 people by 1938.

Production of the marmalade was relocated to Botley Road, Oxford, in the former premises of an ice rink, in 1947.

One quarter of the company’s capital of £350,000 was offered to the public in 1961, it’s first public offering.

An eleven acre site was acquired at Wantage to provide additional production capacity in 1963. Around 15 percent of production was exported overseas by 1964.

Frank Cooper Ltd was acquired by Brown & Polson for £866,250 in cash in 1964. The company cited increasing costs and a lack of capital as its motivation for agreeing to the takeover.

Brown & Polson was able to afford Frank Cooper’s range of five marmalades and eleven jams and jellies wider distribution.

Brown & Polson relocated production of Frank Cooper’s to its factory in Paisley, Scotland in 1967.

Heinz acquired the Frank Cooper’s brand in 1997. By this time the product was manufactured at a site in Redditch, Worcestershire.

It was later acquired by Rank Hovis McDougall, a large British consumer foods group. RHM was acquired by Premier Foods in 2006. Premier sold its sweet spreads business to Hain Celestial in 2012.

The NICE biscuit makers: Huntley & Palmer (Part II)

This article continues from Part I. Part II chronicles the decline of Huntley & Palmer.

George Palmer (1818 – 1897), the driving force behind the firm, died in 1897 and the following year Huntley & Palmer was registered as a private limited company. The company had 4,000 employees in 1899.

Huntley & Palmer was the 38th largest British industrial company in 1905, with a capital of £2.4 million (c. £255 million in 2014). It had 6,500 employees.

Huntley & Palmer introduced the coconut-flavoured NICE biscuit in 1904. Iced gems were introduced in 1910. The company pioneered the manufacture of cakes for grocers shops.

Huntley & Palmer, as late as 1910, largely eschewed advertising.

By 1911 the company had a regular staff of 7,000, not counting the additional workers taken on during peak times. That year, Huntley & Palmer was accused of dismissing without notice workers who were affiliated with trade unions, although company officials denied the accusation.

By 1914 almost half of production was exported, 50 percent of which was destined for the Far East and Africa. The export trade was slow to rebuild after the First World War; in 1924 only 25 percent of output was exported. Meanwhile, domestic sales declined as H&P failed to introduce new products or update existing ones. Marketing was poor, with inadequate advertising, fewer salesman than other firms and no depots outside Reading.

It has been argued that Huntley & Palmer had too many product lines to produce efficiently, and that the Palmer family paid themselves overly generous dividends and salaries, funds which might otherwise have been reinvested into the business.

By 1920 Huntley & Palmer operated 24 acres of factories across 36 acres of floorspace. 90 percent of the thousands of tons of flour used annually was grown and milled in the area around Reading. The Osborne (similar to a digestive) was their most popular biscuit, followed by the Marie (rich tea) and the Ginger Nut.

High income tax and death duties persuaded H&P to merge with Peek Frean of London, under a holding company called Associated Biscuit Manufacturers, in 1921. Individual production and marketing strategies were maintained by the two companies.

By neglecting the commodity category of the biscuit market, ABM’s domestic market share had declined to 15 percent.

William Howard Palmer died in 1923 with an estate valued at £536,794.

In 1923 a factory was opened near Paris. At the time it was decried in Britain as the transfer of jobs overseas.

In 1924, 80 percent of the 6,000 strong workforce at the Reading factory went on strike. The dispute, regarding worker efficiency, was settled within three days. Huntley & Palmer agreed to recognise the worker’s union.

By 1927 Peek Frean turnover and profits had exceeded those of Huntley & Palmer. Peek Frean installed automated biscuit plants in the early 1930s, but H&P did not do so until 1938.

In 1935 ABM employed 7,245 people.

Two large rivals emerged: by 1938 the value biscuit manufacturer George Weston Ltd had established production volumes that equalled ABM. In 1948 the Scottish firms McVitie & Price and MacFarlane Lang merged to form United Biscuits, with 3,350 employees.

In 1949 factories were opened in Canada, the United States and Australia. In 1954 the Peek Frean factory employed 3,700 and the Huntley & Palmer factory employed 3,000. A new factory was opened in Huyton, Liverpool in 1955.

The Cornish Wafer was H&P’s highest selling biscuit by 1954. Associated Biscuits concentrated on cream, savoury and assorted biscuits. Around 15 to 20 percent of production was exported in 1959.

Jacob’s, the third largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain, was acquired by ABM in 1960. ABM was reorganised as Associated Biscuits in 1969. In 1972 AB employed 9,856 people. From 1972 the company dedicated the vast majority of its advertising spend on the Jacob’s brand. One third of sales came from overseas, with factories in Australia, Canada and India.

Associated Biscuits had an 18 percent share of the British biscuit market by 1976. It was behind United Biscuits with 40 percent. The Reading factory was closed that year, and production was relocated to Liverpool.

In 1982 Associated Biscuits employed over 14,000 people in Britain, and 3,100 overseas.

Nabisco, the American manufacturer of Shredded Wheat and Ritz crackers, acquired Associated Biscuits in 1982. Nabisco was interested in the Huntley & Palmer brand, as well as its worldwide distribution network, particularly in Singapore, Canada, France and Germany.

The Huyton factory was closed in 1984 with the loss of 770 jobs, and production was relocated to Aintree, Liverpool.

Huntley & Palmer was positioned as the Associated Biscuits premium sweet biscuit brand. However by 1988 it counted for just five percent of company production by weight.

Nabisco did not successfully manage their British biscuit operations. Their market share in biscuits declined to 11.7 percent by 1988, and they were forced to reverse their decision to discontinue production of Bath Oliver biscuits following popular protest.

The Peek Frean factory at Bermondsey was closed in 1989 with the loss of 1,022 jobs. The site was closed due to high overheads and traffic congestion. Production was transferred to Aintree and Leicestershire.

Associated Biscuits was acquired by BSN of France in 1989.

The Huntley & Palmer brand was phased out in favour of the Jacob’s name in 1990. It made sense to concentrate resources behind a single brand, and the Jacob’s name was better known, and believed to have a more contemporary image than the Huntley & Palmer brand. Huntley & Palmer products subjected to a re-branding included Romany and Crumbles.

The head office was relocated from Reading to Liverpool in 1996.

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

Former Huntley & Palmer products such as Lemon Puffs and Cornish Wafers are still sold under the Jacob’s brand, and Thin Arrowroots under the McVitie’s name.

Unravelled: Belfast Ropework

The Belfast Ropework Co was the largest ropemaker in the world.

The Belfast Ropework Co was established in 1876. The managing director was William Holmes Smiles (1846 – 1904), the son of Self Help author Samuel Smiles. G W Wolff, of the Belfast shipbuilding firm Harland & Wolff, was the chairman.

Initially, 50 people were employed on a four acre site at Connswater, Belfast. The business grew in tandem with the growth of the Belfast shipbuilding industry. 300 people were employed at the works by 1880.

It was the largest rope works in the world by 1895. By 1913 the site covered 34 acres and the firm employed 3,600 workers.

In 1919 over 3,500 workers were employed, as well as a staff of over 150 clerks. The company served over 100,000 customers. The Belfast site covered over 40 acres.

The company remained the largest ropemaker in the world in 1935, however it entered into decline following the end of the Second World War.

The company still operated the largest single rope factory in the world in 1957. The company employed 1,000 people in 1968.

Belfast Ropework merged with other Belfast textiles firms including McCleery L’Amie to form a company with capital of £3.2 million in 1970.

Belfast Ropework changed its name to McCleery L’Amie Group in 1972.

The company stopped using hemp to produce rope, and switched to solely synthetic fibres in 1973.