Category Archives: Food

Rocky road: Fox’s Biscuits

Fox’s Biscuits employs over 3,000 people. An extensive own-label producer, it is best known for the Rocky and Party Rings biscuits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parkinson’s Biscuits of Kirkham, Preston was acquired in 1966.

J Lyons & Co held a 25 percent stake in the company by 1974.

Fox’s Biscuits was acquired by Northern Foods in 1977. Following the merger of their interests, Northern Foods supplied Marks & Spencer with around 40 percent of its cake and biscuits.

Alfred Henry Fox died in 1977 with an estate valued at £124,375.

Fox’s Biscuits had emerged as one of the strongest brands at Northern Foods by the 1980s.

Fox’s Biscuits employed over 2,000 people by 1986.

Elkes Biscuits of Uttoxeter was acquired in 1987.

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

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

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

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

William Crawford & Sons

Crawford’s biscuits survives as the economy sister brand to McVitie’s.

Ships biscuits were first produced at 31 Shore, a public house in Leith, Edinburgh, from 1813. Mr Mathie took over the business from 1817.

William Crawford (born 1818) succeeded Mr Mathie as a manufacturer of ships biscuits at 31 Shore in 1856.

Crawford was a master baker employing six men and one boy by 1861. He employed five men and one boy in 1871.

Crawford established a custom-built factory at Elbe Street, Leith in 1879.

William Crawford sent two of his sons, Archibald Inglis Crawford (1869 – 1940) and James Crawford to establish a subsidiary in Australia in 1897. Having booked their voyage from Liverpool, they reconsidered emigration after sensing opportunity, and instead established the Fairfield Works in the city.

William Crawford & Sons of Leith was registered in 1906 as a limited liability company with a capital of £251,000. The Crawford family controlled the company.

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 (1858 – 1926) died in 1926 with an estate valued at £876,211. It was due to his efforts that the company grew to a national scale. He was of a retiring disposition.

Kenneth Crawford (1906 – 1936) died tragically in an air crash in 1936. His estate was valued at £155,922.

Archibald Inglis Crawford (1870 – 1940) died in 1940. He left an estate valued at £1,015,886.

Douglas Inglis Crawford (born 1905) was company chairman by 1956. The privately-owned company was still largely in Crawford family hands.

William Crawford & Sons was acquired by United Biscuits for £6.25 million in 1962.

United Biscuits closed the Leith factory in 1970, with the loss of 703 jobs. Meanwhile production at Liverpool was increased by 50 percent, following an investment of £2 million.

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

3,000 people were employed at the Crawfords factory in Liverpool in 1976. It was the oldest and largest of all United Biscuits factories. It was also the most progressive in terms of employee relations.

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.

D S Crawford, the Scottish bakery chain subsidiary , was subject to a management buy out in 1990.

The Crawford name was repositioned as an economy brand from 2014. The Crawford’s 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 model 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 very 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.

Ice to meat you: T Wall & Sons

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, and a factory was opened at Battersea.

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 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.

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.

The Acton factory concentrated on ice cream production from 1956, and much of the meat business was relocated to Atlas Road, Park Royal, London. 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 in 1965 for £2.6 million. Lawson had the largest bacon factory in Scotland, and had a valuable contract to supply Marks & Spencer.

113 Jermyn Street remained as a Wall’s shop, where all Wall’s products could be purchased, as late as 1970.

The Atlas Road site was closed around 1978. The Friary, Acton, ice cream plant was closed in 1988.

The meat business was sold to Kerry Group in 1994. The Wall’s ice cream business is still operated by Unilever.

C & E Morton

C & E Morton was a large packaged food producer.

John Thomas Morton (1828 – 1897) established a small factory producing preserved foods in Aberdeen in 1849.

By 1851 he had established a base in London. Almost all production by J T Morton was for the export market.

Morton was a dedicated Puritan, and devoutly observed the Sabbath. He was reserved, with very few close associates. His only known sentiment was towards his mother. He was hard, but just and honest.

The head office was relocated to Leadenhall Street in the City of London in 1866.

A factory was established at Millwall around 1872, in a former oil factory belong to Price & Co. Millwall Football Club was established by J T Morton tinsmiths in 1885.

By the 1880s the Aberdeen factory employed hundreds of workers.

John Thomas Morton died in 1897 an extremely wealthy man. He left a personal estate valued at £786,719. He dedicated over half of his wealth to churches and charities. His manager, who had been with the company for nearly 40 years, and helped to build his fortune, received nothing.

The business was inherited by his two sons, Charles Douglas Morton (born 1861 – 1944) and Edward Donald Morton (1866 – 1940).

C D Morton was an energetic and generous man. The two brothers established agents in overseas markets, which increased sales. They travelled the world extensively to attend to their overseas trade.

By 1897 there were factories at Millwall, Aberdeen and Falmouth in Cornwall.

C & E Morton was a substantial supplier of food to the military during the Boer War.

C & E Morton was registered as a public company in 1912 with a capital of £650,000. There were premises at Leadenhall Street, Millwall, Lowestoft, Aberdeen and Mevagissy, Polruan and West Looe in Cornwall.

1,500 workers at the Millwall factory went on strike in March 1914, in protest against girls under the age of 18 being hired, which allegedly threatened to undercut their wages. The strike resulted in a victory for the workers.

Morton was singular among preserved provisions manufacturers in normally refusing to hire under 18 year olds. They claimed that they had been drive to do so because of difficulties in sourcing sufficient labour. They also asserted that their factory workers were among the highest paid in London.

During the First World War the company continued to pay half wages to its staff who were serving in the armed forces.

There were plans for Crosse & Blackwell to acquire C & E Morton in 1926, but the proposed deal fell through due to an uncertain economic climate.

In the 1930s increasing import tariffs overseas hurt the business. Factories were established overseas.

There were three large factories at Millwall, Cubitt Town and Lowestoft by 1939. Thousands of people were employed. The Lowestoft site was the largest herring cannery in Britain.

E D Morton died in 1940 and left an estate valued at £213,295.

Beecham, a consumer goods group, acquired the struggling C & E Morton for £180,000 in 1945. Beecham concentrated production at Lowestoft.

Morton Brands was sold to Hillsdown Holdings in 1986 for £8.5 million. The Lowestoft factory produced tinned vegetables and fruit fillings. 160 people were employed and the assets had a book value of £6 million.

The Lowestoft factory was closed down in 1988, and the Morton brand name was phased out.

The Morton brand name is still used for tinned goods in India, although the former subsidiary has been independent since 1947.

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.

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.