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 and public offering
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.
20th century continued growth
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.
Beecham was the eleventh most highly-valued public company in Europe by 1982.
Production of Beecham’s Pills ended in 1998. The manufacturer recommended consumers use Milk of Magnesia as a substitute.
Henri Wintermans is the highest-selling 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.
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.
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.
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.
Fox’s Biscuits employs 2,000 people. An extensive own-label producer, it is best known for the Rocky and Party Rings biscuits.
Michael Spedding (1834 – 1927) was born to a humble family in Marsh, Huddersfield, Yorkshire. He received just three months of formal education, supplemented with some Sunday school teaching.
Spedding worked at a cotton mill in nearby Meltham by the age of 13. His grandfather encouraged him to relocate to Batley to find work. Spedding was poor, and made the 15-mile journey on foot. His economic position was such that on some nights he would sleep 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. He began to concentrate on the confectionery trade, with an initial focus on brandy snap biscuits.
In addition to his confectionery business, Spedding took over the bone-setting business of his father in law from 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 as one of the oldest men in his district in 1927.
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 business went public in 1960 as Fox’s Biscuits with an authorised share capital of £400,000. There were around 950 employees.
Parkinson’s Biscuits of Kirkham, Preston was acquired in 1966.
J Lyons & Co held a 25 percent stake in Fox’s Biscuits 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.
Reports emerged in 2017 that Fox’s might be merged with Burton Foods, but ultimately nothing came of it.
There are three Fox’s Biscuits factories as of 2019, located at Uttoxeter, Batley and Kirkham near Preston. The division employs 2,000 people. The company has a large contract and own-label business, producing Farley’s Rusks for Heinz, for example.
The Elkes brand is still used by Fox’s to market its budget range of biscuits.
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.
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.
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.
Before being absorbed into United Biscuits, Crawford’s was the longest-established biscuit manufacturer in Britain. The brand continues today as the economy sister brand to McVitie’s.
Origins and early growth
Ship biscuits were first produced at 31 Shore, a public house in Leith, Edinburgh, from 1813. Robert Mathie (1790 – 1863) took over the business from 1817. He employed five men by 1851.
Mathie retired and sold the business to William Crawford (1818 – 1889) in 1856. Crawford immediately opened an outlet on 14 Leith Street, Edinburgh to extend his customer base.
Crawford was a master baker employing six men and one boy by 1861. He relocated his Edinburgh outlet to 2 Princes Street from 1866.
Crawford employed five men and one boy in 1871.
Crawford established a custom-built factory at Elbe Street, Leith in 1879. The business traded as William Crawford & Sons from 1880. By this time the ship biscuit had been replaced as the leading product by the wheat meal biscuit (similar to a digestive).
William Crawford died as a well-respected figure in Leith and Edinburgh in 1889. He was succeeded as principal of the firm by his son, William Crawford (1858 – 1926), a man of a retiring disposition. It would be due to the efforts of the son that the family firm would grow to national scale.
The Elbe Street factory was described as “large” by 1891.
Establishment of a Liverpool factory
William Crawford sent two of his brothers, Archibald Inglis Crawford (1869 – 1940) and James Shields Russell Crawford (1863 – 1927), to establish a subsidiary in Australia in 1897. The brothers were due to set sail from Liverpool, but instead decided to stay put, and established the Fairfield Works on Binns Road in the city.
Crawford products around this time included wheat meal, shortbread, currant and rich tea biscuits, as well as cream crackers.
William Crawford & Sons had established national distribution by 1900.
William Crawford & Sons of Leith was registered as a limited liability company with a capital of £251,000 in 1906. The Crawford family controlled the company.
The Leith factory was largely rebuilt in 1906, and covered a quarter of an acre. The factory employed 150 men and boys by 1911.
Alexander Hunter Crawford (1865 – 1945), a leading Edinburgh architect, joined the company from around 1920.
William Crawford & Sons employed hundreds of people at its factories at Leith and Liverpool by 1923. By this time the company claimed to be “the oldest of the biscuit manufacturers”.
Company capital was increased to £700,000 in 1924.
William Crawford died with an estate valued at £876,211 in 1926.
Archibald Inglis Crawford died in 1940 with an estate valued at £1,015,886.
Douglas Inglis Crawford (1904 – 1981), son of Archibald, became company chairman from 1946. His father had instilled in him the values of honesty and integrity.
Takeover by United Biscuits
William Crawford & Sons was the largest privately-owned biscuit manufacturer in Britain by 1962. Best known for shortbread, it employed 4,000 workers across Leith and Liverpool.
The privately-owned company was still largely in Crawford family hands when it was acquired in a friendly takeover by United Biscuits for £6.25 million in 1962. Douglas Crawford was appointed vice chairman of United Biscuits.
United Biscuits closed the Leith factory in 1970, with the loss of 703 jobs. Meanwhile an investment of £2 million saw production increased by 50 percent at the Liverpool plant.
The Crawford factory was the longest-established and largest of all United Biscuits factories. It was also the most progressive in terms of employee relations. The site covered seventeen acres and employed 4,000 people by 1977. The Tuc biscuit and Tartan shortbread were its leading products.
Douglas Crawford died with a net estate of £252,431 in 1981.
United Biscuits wound-down manufacturing operations at Liverpool between 1984 and 1987. 934 full time and over 1,000 part time jobs were lost. Some administrative functions are maintained at the site.
The Crawford name was repositioned as an economy brand from 2014. The Crawford’s (formerly Peek Frean) Family Circle was rebranded under the McVitie’s name.
John Corbett was by far the largest producer of salt in Britain.
John Corbett (1817 – 1901) was born to Joseph Corbett, a Shropshire farmer. Joseph Corbett relocated to Birmingham, where he established a successful canal freight business.
John Corbett left school at the age of ten, and began to drive one of his father’s canal boats. He was eventually promoted to canal boat captain. During this period Corbett observed that salt was one of the major freight goods.
In his spare time, as well as on canal boats, Corbett would read mechanical books, with the aim of becoming an engineer. He served a five year apprenticeship at the Leys Ironworks in Stourbridge from 1840.
John Corbett was taken into partnership by his father in 1846. However, with increased competition from the railways, the firm was sold to the Grand Junction Canal Company in 1849.
John Corbett went to work at the Stoke Prior Salt Works near Droitwich. He began as an engine driver, before working as an outrider, and finally as a cashier. Corbett was learning the salt business at all levels.
Corbett acquired the lease of the Stoke Prior Salt Works in 1852. The works had an annual production of 26,000 tons. Two successive companies had failed to make a success of business. Corbett studied the previous failures and endeavoured to make a success of it.
The Stoke Prior Salt Works produced salt from springwater. Underground springs passed through a salt bed, which gave the water a salt content of 38.4 percent, according to an 1886 study, a higher level than even the Dead Sea.
Corbett used his engineering ability to introduce improved salt refining techniques. Identifying distribution as the most profitable area of the salt industry, he acquired his own canal boats, and later trains, to transport his product. To increase export sales he established agents overseas.
Corbett also hired the best people he could afford, and looked after his employees. He was a model employer, and built a village for his workers including a school, church and social clubs. Corbett was also a dedicated philanthropist, establishing a 40 bed hospital in Stourbridge, as well as gifting Salters Hall to Droitwich.
Throughout his career, Corbett remained a hands-on proprietor, deeply engaged in the management of his business. He was an incredibly keen businessman, and a hard worker, beginning his working day at 6am, and often sleeping above his work offices.
By character Corbett was a quiet, likeable man. He was thoughtful, intelligent and interested in the arts and travel. Despite his immense wealth he lived a plain life, and drank in moderation.
Corbett was the largest salt manufacturer in Worcestershire by 1879.
Salt was the largest manufacture by tonnage in Britain after coal and iron in 1879. Between one and two million tons were produced each year, and thousands of people were employed in the industry.
Corbett was producing 200,000 to 300,000 tons of salt every year by 1886. The works covered around 30 acres. High quality table salt was the main product, sold under the “Black Horse” brand.
Men were limited to an eight hour day, and women to seven. Corbett paid his workers a premium of around 15 percent against the industry average. In his entire career, Corbett never suffered a strike that lasted 48 hours or more.
According to an industry estimate, John Corbett held nearly 50 percent of the British salt producing industry by 1888 and the Stoke Prior Salt Works was the most valuable enterprise of its kind in Britain.
The Salt Union Ltd was formed in 1888 as a merger of various salt interests across the country, including the Stoke Prior Salt Works, which were acquired at the cost of £660,000. Salt Union had a capital of £3 million and produced two million tons of salt every year.
Corbett became deputy chairman, a managing director, and by far the largest shareholder in the concern.
The Salt Union was immediately accused of attempting to rig the market and raise prices. It was alleged in The Standard that salt prices to the strategically important alkali industry had increased by 80 percent.
As a consequence of the price increase, exports slumped by 20 percent, and many people were put out of work. Corbett initially defended the company, arguing that producers had been operating at an unsustainable loss for a considerable period of time, and that the price adjustment merely reflected a correction of the market.
Corbett was to regret joining the Salt Union. After selling out to the company, he realised that it had entered into a number of imprudent contracts. The company had a lack of focus and direction, and his recommendations for the business were ignored. As a result, Corbett resigned his post as deputy chairman and managing director in 1890.
The Salt Union rapidly lost market share. Its attempt to exploit its monopoly position simply allowed its competitors to undercut it. Furthermore, an improved table salt was introduced by rival Cerebos in 1894.
Corbett died in 1901. His gross estate was valued at £412,972. An obituary in the Daily Telegraph heralded him as the “Salt King”.
The Salt Union was acquired by ICI in 1937. The works closed in 1972 due to cheaper foreign imports.
Bell Brothers was the second largest producer of pig iron in the North of England.
Thomas Bell (1774 – 1845) was born at Lowhurst, Cumberland. In 1808 he entered the business of Losh & Co of Newcastle upon Tyne, a firm of merchants which was branching out into the manufacture of alkali and iron.
He became a partner in the firm, which became known as Losh, Wilson & Bell.
His sons, Isaac Lowthian Bell (1816 – 1904) and John Bell (1818 – 1888) established Bell Brothers in 1844. Initially they leased an iron smelting works at Wylam on Tyne.
Lowthian Bell was the senior partner. Educated in the sciences at the Sorbonne in France, he spoke fluent German, Danish and French. Bell would later be heralded as the first scientifically trained ironmaster.
John Vaughan discovered sizeable deposits of ironstone (from which iron ore could be extracted) at Eston in the Cleveland hills near Middlesbrough.
John Bell made his own ironstone discovery at Normanby, and leased the land from the Ward Jackson family. Two blast furnaces were erected at Port Clarence, Cleveland in 1853. Three more were built the following year.
Bell Brothers was registered as a limited liability company in 1873. The company remained entirely family controlled.
Two new blast furnaces were opened in 1874, and the company announced plans to increase capacity to 750 tons of iron per day.
Bell Brothers pioneered the Teesside salt industry. The company began to bore salt from 1882, and by the end of the year had a productive capacity of up to 400 tons of salt a week. The salt was sold to Tyneside chemical manufacturers, who used it to produce alkali. By April 1883 the company was produced 860 tons of salt a week.
By this time, Teesside was the largest producer of iron in the world.
Bell Brothers operated twelve blast furnaces at Port Clarence by 1877. The company also operated ironstone mines, limestone quarries and collieries. Around £1 million in capital was invested in the business. The company was second only to Bolckow Vaughan in pig iron production in the North of England.
By this time Thomas Hugh Bell (1844 – 1931), the son of Lowthian Bell, was responsible for managing the business.
Bell Brothers announced plans to develop a steel works at Port Clarence in 1887. The works would use the Siemens-Martin process, instead of the established Bessemer process, to manufacture steel from Cleveland pig iron. The strategy allowed the company to exit the increasingly competitive iron market.
Bell Brothers employed 4,500 men in 1898. The company had an authorised capital of £825,000.
Bell Brothers divested its salt interests to Salt Union Ltd and Brunner Mond Ltd in 1899.
Dorman Long acquired half of Bell Brothers from Thomas Hugh Bell in 1899. The remaining half was acquired from Lowthian Bell in 1902.
Lowthian Bell became chairman of Dorman Long. With a capital of £1 million, the merged company was the largest iron and steel manufacturer in the North of England.
Bell Brothers produced 360,000 tons of pig iron in 1903. The number of blast furnaces had been reduced to eight by 1905.
Lowthian Bell died in 1904 and his estate was valued at £768,676.
The Bell Brothers subsidiary was formally liquidated in 1923.
T Wall & Sons was the largest ice cream manufacturer in the world.
Richard Wall (1777/8 – 1838), pork butcher, was apprenticed to Edmund Cotterill, a pork butcher in St James’ Market, London. He became a partner, and was the sole proprietor from 1807.
Richard Wall received his first Royal Appointment as “pork butcher to the Prince of Wales” in 1812. This was renewed when the prince succeeded as George IV in 1820, and by William IV in 1830.
Richard Wall leased larger premises at 113 Jermyn Street from 1834.
Wall died in 1838 and was succeeded by his widow, and then his son, Thomas Wall (1817 – 1884).
Thomas Wall Jr (1846 – 1930) became partner in 1870. He was joined by his brother Frederick C Wall (1855 – 1924) from 1878 and the firm became known as Thomas Wall & Sons.
Thomas and Frederick Wall transformed the firm into the best-known sausage business in Britain. Queen Victoria was supplied with sausages on a weekly basis from the Jermyn Street shop. The sausages for the monarch had a special recipe including freshly laid eggs and hand-chopped mince.
The firm was beginning to wholesale across Britain by 1900. Increasing demand saw a factory opened at Battersea in 1903.
The business was registered as T Wall & Sons Ltd in 1905, when it acquired an Acton rival.
The six acre Friary House and grounds in Acton was acquired in 1919, and a large sausage factory was built there.
William Hesketh Lever (1851 – 1925) acquired the company in 1920. He sold the business to Lever Brothers in 1922, which from 1929 became a part of Unilever. At Lever’s request, the company began to produce ice cream during the summer months, when sausage sales slacked off. Production began in 1922 at a rate of 150 gallons a week.
Thomas Wall Jr was devoted to charities dedicated to the education of young people. The capital released from the sale of his company allowed him to established the Thomas Wall Trust, with capital of £233,000, to fund students at schools and universities. Wall died in 1930 with an estate valued at £288,116. The bulk of his estate went to the Thomas Wall Trust.
Seven million tons of ice cream were produced in 1945.
T Wall & Sons was the largest manufacturer of sausages and meat pies in Britain by 1954. They had a factory at Willesden.
A new sausage factory was opened at Godley, Cheshire in 1955. It had a weekly output of 350 tons.
Much of the meat business was relocated to Atlas Road, Park Royal, London from 1956, with Acton left to concentrate on ice cream production. The Acton factory employed 4,000 people by 1960.
20 million tons of ice cream were produced every year by 1960, and Wall’s was the largest manufacturer of ice cream in the world.
Mattessons, a processed meat manufacturer, was acquired in 1965.
Robert Lawson & Sons of Aberdeen was acquired for £2.6 million in 1965. Lawson had the largest bacon factory in Scotland, and had a valuable contract to supply Marks & Spencer.
Eno’s Fruit Salts became one of the best known branded medicines in the world.
James Crossley Eno (1827 – 1915) served as an apprentice chemist before opening a small shop of his own on Groat Market in Newcastle upon Tyne.
Eno’s Fruit Salts were being marketed by 1874. First developed for hungover sailors, Eno’s Fruit Salts were sold as an indigestion remedy. The sailors helped to establish the reputation of the product overseas.
Eno soon found himself unable to meet increasing demand for his product, and left Newcastle to establish a factory at New Cross, London, in 1876. The business employed 50 people by 1884.
Eno’s Fruit Salts consisted of sodium bicarbonate, tartaric acid and citric acid, according to a 1903 analysis for the British Medical Journal.
Harold F Ritchie (1881 – 1933) of Toronto was the agent for sales in Canada from 1907.
J C Eno died in 1915. His estate had a gross value of £1.6 million.
The business was acquired by Harold F Ritchie for a reported £1.5 million in 1928.
Eno Proprietaries Limited had a paid-up share capital of £2 million in 1934.
Eno’s Fruit Salts had become one of the best known proprietary medicines in the world. The product was sold in 83 countries. It was advertised in 73 countries using 26 different languages.
The principal factory was in London, but there were two large factories in North America, and nine smaller factories across the rest of the world.
Eno Proprietaries was acquired by Beecham for £1 million in 1938.
Eno’s Fruit Salts remained a major Beecham product as late as the 1970s.
Now owned by GlaxoSmithKline, Eno is still widely sold across the world as an antacid for the relief of indigestion. Latin America and Asia are its largest markets.