Category Archives: Food

Spice of life: Drysdale Dennison

Drysdale Dennison was the largest importer of pepper into Britain.

Wallis & Co was a mustard, chicory (a popular coffee substitute) and spice merchant of 20 Duke Street, London Bridge. The Wallis family were Quakers from Northamptonshire.

Andrew Drummond Drysdale (1830 – 1867), originally from Perth in Scotland, was the manager of Wallis & Co by 1857.

Drysdale had entered into the firm as a partner by 1864, and the business began to trade as Wallis & Drysdale.

Andrew Drummond Drysdale died in 1867, and his stake passed to his brother, Hector Drummond Drysdale (1828 – 1902).

Hector Drysdale bought out the Wallis family stake to take full control of the business in 1878. By this time there were premises on 131 Upper Thames Street and Dock Street. The location close to the Thames was convenient for receiving imported spices.

The firm was trading as Drysdale Dennison by 1883. It was one of the best known pepper merchants in the world.

James Samuel Gray (1876 – 1935) joined the company in 1889.

Gray merged White Palmer, a long-established London spice merchant, with Drysdale Dennison to form the British Pepper and Spice Co Ltd, a public company with a nominal capital of £160,000, in 1933. The office was at 31 Queen Victoria Street, Eastcheap.

The head office was relocated to 7 New Court, Lincoln’s Inn in 1948.

Drysdale Dennison was the largest importer of pepper in Britain by 1959. The factory was located just off Petticoat Lane in London.

Burton Son & Sanders of Ipswich, specialist food manufacturers and distributors to the bakery trade, acquired the British Pepper & Spice Co in 1967.

Amidst falling profits at Burton Son & Sanders, Matthews Holdings, a food retailer, acquired the company for £1 million in 1969.

Matthews Holdings and S W Berisford merged their spice and pepper interests in a joint venture called British Pepper & Spice in 1971.

British Pepper & Spice Co was acquired by Hunter Saphir in 1987.

The factory and head office of British Pepper & Spice was located in Northampton by this time. 160 people were employed there in 1993.

Hunter Saphir was acquired by Albert Fisher for £29 million in 1993, and two months later British Pepper & Spice was sold to Burns Philip of Australia for £25 million in cash.

British Pepper & Spice was subject to a management buyout for £7.6 million in 1998.

British Pepper & Spice was acquired by SHS Group of Belfast, which owns brands such as WKD and Shloer, in 2004.

Still based in Northampton, British Pepper & Spice is a major supplier of supermarket own-label herbs and spices, as well as for producers such as Heinz and Premier Foods.

Fillerys Toffees of Birmingham

Fillerys Toffees was established in 1923 by a consortium of four investors led by Robert Harold Mayhew (1874 – 1965). The factory was located on Warwick Road in Greet, south Birmingham.

The site covered four acres by 1927, and due to increasing sales, 24 hour production was introduced from 1930.

Fillerys Toffees was incorporated as a public company in 1934. Herbert E Morgan was chairman. The company had an authorised and issued capital of £100,000 by 1935. Around 300 workers were employed.

Fillerys led the toffee industry as one of the most efficient producers by 1942. Fillerys targeted the higher quality market.

During the Second World War, most of the factory was given over to munitions manufacturing for the war effort.

Under a Government scheme to encourage industrial efficiency, Fillerys Toffees were produced under contract by Rowntree of York between 1942 and 1946.

The company had established nationwide sales distribution by 1949.

The end of sugar rationing in 1954 saw a boom in confectionery sales. Fillerys Toffees won a prestigious and valuable contract to supply confectionery for Marks & Spencer.

The sugar confectionery boom was over by the end of the 1950s, as increasing prosperity saw consumers increasingly switch to chocolate products. As a result, the industry began to consolidate in order to reduce costs.

Fillerys was acquired by J A & P Holland of Southport in 1960 to create the largest toffee manufacturer in Britain, and possibly the world.

Cavenham Foods acquired J A & P Holland in 1965. The Fillerys factory was closed down in March 1966, and production was transferred to Southport. The reason given was that the Fillerys factory did not have room for expansion. About 230 workers lost their jobs.

Planet Mars: A Transatlantic Chocolate Dynasty

This post focuses on the history of Mars confectionery in the UK. Many of the products for which Mars are best known, such as Skittles, Twix and Galaxy chocolate, were originally developed and sold in Britain.

American origins
Franklin Clarence Mars (1883 – 1934) entered the wholesale confectionery business in Tacoma, Washington, from 1910.

Mars relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1920, where he formed the Mar-O-Bar company and began to manufacture chocolate bars. The business struggled until his son, Forrest Edward Mars (1904 – 1999), suggested that Mars create a chocolate bar influenced by a malted milkshake. On the back of this idea, the Milky Way bar was introduced from 1923.

The Milky Way bar was an immediate success. Sales exploded without the help of advertising. The product enjoyed a cost discount against rival chocolate bars, due to a filling made of relatively low-cost nougat.

Mars was one of the largest confectionery manufacturers in America by 1930. The Snickers bar was launched in 1930, and 3 Musketeers was launched in 1932.

Forrest E Mars graduated from Yale University with a degree in industrial engineering in 1928. He initially worked as a superintendent at his father’s factory. Meanwhile, he read voraciously on business methods, especially those used by DuPont, a large chemicals company, and business tycoon John D Rockefeller (1839 – 1937).

A brash and ambitious man, it wasn’t long before Forrest Mars clashed with his father. He deemed management as lax, and considered product quality to be inconsistent. Mars resented how his father cut costs by using low-quality chocolate in his products. He also harboured ambitions for Mars to expand its overseas sales.

Forrest Mars demanded a one third stake in the company. His father refused, but in recognition of his contribution he was given $50,000 and the foreign rights to Mars products, and told to establish a business for himself.

To gain an understanding of European confectionery manufacturing methods, Mars worked incognito at the plants of Tobler and Nestle in Switzerland, a case of industrial espionage he would later openly confess to.

Establishment of Mars UK
Mars took what he learned in Switzerland, and leased a single room factory in Slough, a small industrial town outside London, from May 1932. England was chosen for the European base because Mars could speak the language. He initially employed a staff of eight.

Original confectionery manufacturing equipment from the Slough factory

Mars understood that British confectionery tastes differed to those of his native land. His first product was an Anglicised version of the Milky Way, which he called the Mars bar. Introduced from August 1932, the product was initially entirely handmade. Instead of the Hershey chocolate used in the US, the Mars bar used a Cadbury chocolate coating, and the toffee was sweeter.

Within a year, two million Mars bars had been sold, and 100 people were employed. The product was advertised nationwide by 1934. Mars boosted sales by advertising his confectionery as a nutritious food product.

The British Milky Way, a different product to the American Milky Way, was launched in 1935. Not all of the early product introductions were a success; short lived confectionery lines included the So Big bar and a vanilla version of the Mars bar.

Forrest Mars was a great believer in scientific management as a driver of profitability. He also had a fanatical dedication to quality. However he could also be cruel and demanding, and on occasions he demonstrated a volatile temper. However for upholding his high standards his managers were rewarded handsomely.

Franklin Mars died in 1934 and control of Mars Inc passed to his widow, Ethel V Mars (1888 – 1945).

Maltesers were introduced in Britain from 1936.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Mars returned to the United States. There he established a business producing M&Ms, a product that he had developed based on Smarties, a British confection manufactured by Rowntree.

Rowntree agreed not to compete with M&Ms in the US in exchange for the production rights to the Mars bar in South Africa, Canada and Australia.

The Bounty bar was launched in the United Kingdom in 1951. It had similarities to Mounds, an American chocolate bar produced by Peter Paul.

Mars was the third largest chocolate manufacturer in Britain by 1960.

Starburst (originally known as Opal Fruits) and the Galaxy chocolate bar were introduced in the United Kingdom in 1960.

The “Mars a day” slogan was introduced in Britain from 1960.

Forrest Mars gains control of Mars Inc
Forrest Mars gained control of Mars Inc in 1964. An egalitarian, he quickly dismantled the executive dining room and dismissed the French chef. The art collection was sold off. Private offices were opened up with glass panels to improve communication. Executives were obliged to clock in and out the same as everyone else. However to compensate for his strict demands, Mars raised salaries by 30 percent. Mars also increased the proportion of chocolate in each bar.

Forrest Mars resigned as president and chief executive officer of Mars Inc in 1967. In his place he appointed Alfred Baxter (1913 – 1986), a Unilever veteran from England.

Mars had opened a second factory in Slough, located on Liverpool Road, by 1966.

The Twix was first produced in the United Kingdom from 1967.

Forrest Mars retired in 1969. He handed ownership of the company over to his two sons in 1973.

The Mars factory in Slough, c.2014

Skittles were first introduced in Britain in the 1970s.

Mars won a Queen’s Award for Export in 1979. Chocolate bars were exported to over 100 different countries. The Slough factory employed 4,000 people.

Slough produced two million Mars bars a day by 1982. With annual sales of £100 million, it was the highest selling chocolate confectionery in the United Kingdom.

Mars announced it would close its Liverpool Road factory, with the loss of 500 jobs, over the course of two years, in 2005. Production of Twix bars was relocated to France and Germany. Starburst manufacturing was transferred to the Czech Republic.

The Dundee Road plant received a £45 million modernisation investment, and continues to produce Mars bars, Snickers, Galaxy and Maltesers.

Mars opened a new £7 million research and development facility at Slough in 2012.

Slough is the European headquarters for Mars confectionery. The Dundee Road plant employed 1,000 people and produced 2.5 million Mars bars a day in 2013.

Mars remains a privately-held company controlled by the Mars family. Research by Statista indicated that Mars had the largest share of the global chocolate market in 2016, at 14.4 percent.

All gone to Pott: a history of Pott’s vinegar

Pott & Co built what was probably the largest vinegar brewery in Britain, and grew to control 25 percent of the market.

Rush family establishment
William Rush (1611 – 1668) began to brew vinegar at Castle Street, Southwark, London, from 1641. The premises had previously belonged to a gardener, who had used the land to rear hogs.

In an age before artificial refrigeration, vinegar was a much more important commodity than it is today, due to its preservative effect on foodstuffs.

A single vessel at the brewery held 50,000 gallons of vinegar by 1790.

Pott family acquisition
The Rush family operated the brewery until 1790 when it was acquired by Robert (died 1824) and Arthur Pott, whose family had brewed vinegar at Mansell Street, Whitechapel since 1720.

Robert and Arthur Pott rebuilt the entire site across five or six acres, to create perhaps the largest vinegar brewery in England by 1795.

Charles Arthur Pott and William Pott (1795 – 1878) were the partners by 1833. The firm was the third largest vinegar brewer in Britain by this time, with 14 percent of the market.

Charles and William Pott held a 25 percent share of the British vinegar market by 1844. The firm held a stock of 746,139 gallons of vinegar that year.

The brewery site covered five acres by 1846.

An examination of vinegars by The Lancet praised the purity of Pott’s vinegar in 1852.

The brewery possessed one of the principal wells of London in 1862.

The business traded as R W C Pott by 1866.

By 1876 the business traded as A W R & N Pott.

By 1884 the business traded as R & N Pott. Robert (1825 – 1894) and Norbury Pott (1838 – 1924), sons of William Pott, controlled the business.

Robert Pott was head of the concern until his death in 1894.

The brewery was operated by Robert Bertram Pott (1861 – 1944), son of Robert Pott, and Norbury Pott by 1900.

The family sold the brewery to Beaufoy & Co, its long-established London rival, in 1902.

From little acorns: Ye Olde Oak

Ye Olde Oak is the leading hot dog brand in Britain.

Frank Rowland Smith (1894 – 1945) was born in Wandsworth, London. His father had emigrated from Lincolnshire to work as a provisions merchant.

Two brothers, R W Smith and Robert Rowland Smith (1902 – 1968), managed the firm by 1949.

Rowland Smith & Son introduced its line of canned meats under the Ye Olde Oak brand in 1949. Ye Olde Oak became the first canned meat brand in Britain to be advertised on colour television in 1956.

Rowland Smith & Son was based at St Thomas Street, London by 1961. By this time the company was best known for canned meats.

Robert Rowland Smith, chairman, died in 1968.

Ye Olde Oak was the major British tinned ham brand, with one third of the market by 1973. Unlike today, tinned ham was considered a relatively upmarket product in the 1970s.

Struik Foods of the Netherlands began to supply Ye Olde Oak with frankfurters from 1979.

The Rowland Smith brothers had no obvious heirs to inherit the company. They approached Hans Struik (born 1940), who acquired the company in 1984.

The company name was changed to Ye Olde Oak Ltd in 1985.

An investigation for The Times in 2005 found that Ye Old Oak hot dogs contained 50 percent meat, but less than that when collagens and fat were excluded.

A 2005 study by Which? magazine found Ye Olde Oak tinned ham contained 37 percent water and just 55 percent meat.

Hill Evans & Co of Worcester

Hill Evans operated the largest vinegar brewery in the world by 1881, but the firm is almost forgotten today.

Cowell, Crane & Kilpin established themselves as British Wine manufacturers on Foregate Street, Worcester in the 1760s.

William Hill (1788 – 1859), a Wesleyan Methodist from Stourport, and Edward Evans (1788 – 1871), a Welsh chemist, acquired the firm from Charles Kilpin (1770 – 1845) in 1829.

Hill and Evans branched out into the production of vinegar. It was not only a highly important commodity for its use as preservative in an era before refrigeration, but the process also utilised the waste from the British Wine production.

Hill Evans was the sixth largest brewer of vinegar in Britain, and the largest producer outside of London, by 1844. 153,875 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1848.

Edward Bickerton Evans (1819 – 1893) and Thomas Rowley Hill (1816 – 1896) had joined their fathers in partnership by 1848. It was the two sons, especially Rowley Hill, who provided the impetus and drive for the business to develop scale. Rowley Hill had been barred from Oxbridge due to his Congregationalist faith, and instead received an education at University College, London.

The Hill Evans works held hundreds of thousands of gallons of vinegar stocks by 1852.

An 1852 chemical analysis of Hill Evans vinegar commissioned by The Lancet, a leading medical journal, asserted that the firm used sulphuric acid, a widely exploited adjunct which reduced maturation times. Hill Evans & Co refuted this, challenging the editor to conduct “the most rigid analysis of their vinegar…by chemists of acknowledged reputation”.

Eminent scientists such as Dr Lyon Playfair (1818 – 1898) were afforded free access to the entirety of the Hill Evans site, as well as their brewing records for the last twenty years. The Lancet was subsequently forced to back down in a rare and humiliating defeat, and acknowledged that sulphate of lime, naturally occurring in the local water, had been mistaken for sulphuric acid.

Bickerton Evans and Rowley Hill were the sole proprietors of the firm by 1858. Rowley Hill was a generous benefactor, with a strong work ethic and high integrity. Bickerton Evans was a down-to-earth Baptist. Hill Evans established a reputation as a model employer.

1,048,229 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1858. This had risen to an annual output of two million gallons of vinegar by 1866, and the firm was by far the largest vinegar producer in Britain, employing around 100 people.

Hill Evans was the largest producer of British Wine in Britain, with an annual production of 130,000 gallons in 1868. By this time the firm had established a London depot at Eastcheap.

Built in around 1870, the filling hall on Pheasant Street contained the large vinegar used vats for storage

Continuing growth saw the firm build a small private railway in 1870 to connect it to the Great Western & Midland Railways.

Rowley Hill and Bickerton Evans retired from the firm in 1874, and distributed a bonus of £1,173 among their 118 employees. They were succeeded by Edward Wallace Evans (1847 – 1901), Thomas William Hill (1843 – 1898) and Edward Henry Hill (1849 – 1911).

Edward Wallace Evans was an excellent businessman, and much of the subsequent growth of the firm was credited to him.

Hill Evans was the largest vinegar brewery in the world by 1881, with annual production of two million gallons a year. A single mash tun had a capacity of 12,307 gallons. There were eleven fermenting vats, each with a capacity of 15,000 gallons. A single storage vat with a capacity of 114,821 gallons was the largest vat in the world. All told, the brewery had a storage capacity of 500,000 gallons of vinegar. The brewery held more than 100,000 casks.

Rowley Hill died in 1896. He left a personal estate valued at £170,322.

Hill Evans became a limited company in 1900, with a share capital of £150,000, in order to pay out the share of the company owed to Thomas William Hill, who had recently died. It was probably the largest business of its kind in the United Kingdom. It had an annual capacity of 1.5 million gallons of vinegar production. Edward Henry Hill became chairman.

Lea & Perrins used Hill Evans vinegar to make their Worcestershire sauce, and Charles William Dyson Perrins (1864 – 1958) joined the Hill Evans board of directors.

In later life Wallace Evans suffered from gout in his hands, and on the advice of his doctor, bandaged his hands in cotton wool. After Evans attempted to light a cigar whilst reading a letter, the wool set alight. Evans died from shock as a result of the subsequent burns in 1901. Curiously, he left a relatively modest net personalty of £10,876. The only son of Wallace Evans appears to have played no active part in the business.

The works covered around seven acres by 1907. Exclusively English grain was used for brewing. The company probably still had the largest vinegar brewing capacity in the world.

Edward Henry Hill died in 1911 and left a net personalty of £147,081. A generous benefactor, he died unmarried.

After the founding families ceased to be involved in management, Hill Evans appears to have been milked as a cash cow, with little inward investment.

Increased competition saw the company suffer from reduced profitability in the early 1960s. Hill Evans lacked the scale of its larger rival British Vinegar.

Hill Evans entered voluntary liquidation in 1967, and the vinegar works were closed. Grade II listed, the vinegar works building is now used by the Territorial Army.

Making bacon: Henry Denny & Sons

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

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

Waterford was the centre for pig production in Ireland, however pigs were generally exported alive to ensure freshness, as curing techniques in an era before artificial refrigeration were crude, and relied on an excessive amount of salt.

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 as Mayor of Waterford in 1854.

Denny introduced improvements to existing curing techniques. He began to cure bacon with ice from 1854. Known as “mild curing”, it made the bacon more palatable by using much less salt for preservation. Large shipments of block ice had to be imported from Norway. Denny was granted a patent for this process from 1857.

The ice curing process allowed bacon to produced during the summer months for the first time. Irish meat could now be exported year round.

Abraham Denny enters the business
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.

Denny & Co used over 1,000 pigs every week by 1866. Denny was challenged only by its Waterford rival Richardson & Co for the position of the largest bacon curer in Ireland.

London was the principal market for Waterford bacon, and Edward Maynard Denny (1832 – 1905), son of Henry Denny, was sent to the capital to act as a sales agent for the business from 1866. He was joined by his brother Thomas Anthony Denny (1819 – 1910).

An average of about 2,000 pigs a week were used by 1868.

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

Henry Denny & Sons opened a factory in Limerick from 1872.

62,886 pigs were killed in 1876.

150 people were employed by 1877, shared equally between the Waterford and Limerick plants.

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 was the largest bacon curer in Ireland by 1890, and one of the largest employers in Waterford. An extensive export trade to Europe had been developed by this time.

Public listing of Henry Denny & Sons
Henry Denny & Sons went public with a capital of £400,000 in 1891.

Operations had been established in Hamburg, Germany by 1892.

Abraham Denny died with a personalty valued at £174,967 in 1892. 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.

Waterford operations outgrew the original site on Queen Street,  and the plant was relocated to the former Richardson & Co factory on Morgan Street.

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

Thomas Anthony Denny died with a gross estate valued at £226,150 in 1910. 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.

Cook & McNeily, bacon curers of Sligo, was acquired in 1936.

J & T Sinclair, bacon curers of Belfast, was acquired in 1960.

Overcapacity and sale of the company
The Cork factory was closed due to overcapacity in the industry in 1968. 160 jobs out of a total of 180 were lost.

The Waterford site was closed in 1972 due to continued overcapacity in the industry, and the outdated nature of the site.

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.

Rocky road: Fox’s Biscuits

Fox’s Biscuits employs 2,000 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 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.

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 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.

Biscuity history: William Crawford & Sons

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.

The Fairfield Works, Binns Road, Liverpool (2013)

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.

Douglas Inglis Crawford (1904 – 1981)

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 McVitie’s, Crawford and Macfarlane sales teams were merged in the 1970s.

Douglas Crawford retired in 1974.

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.

The Salt King: John Corbett

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.