Category Archives: Food

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; a highly important commodity for its use as preservative in an era before refrigeration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operations were extended to Cork in 1889.

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

Operations had been established in Hamburg, Germany by 1892.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

J & T Sinclair was acquired in 1963.

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

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

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

Rocky road: Fox’s Biscuits

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

Party Rings, a leading Fox’s product

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The offices at Batley in 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elkes Biscuits of Uttoxeter was acquired in 1987.

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

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

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

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

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

Biscuity history: William Crawford & Sons

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

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 removed 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 by the wheat meal biscuit (similar to a digestive) as the leading product.

William Crawford died in 1889 as a well-respected figure in Leith and Edinburgh. 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 his efforts that would see the family firm grow to national scale.

The Elbe Street factory was described as “large” by 1891.

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. He had been raised by his father to value honest and integrity.

Douglas Inglis Crawford (1904 – 1981)

The privately-owned company was still largely in Crawford family hands when it was acquired by United Biscuits for £6.25 million in 1962. D I 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 at Liverpool increased by 50 percent.

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

D I Crawford retired in 1974.

The Crawfords 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.

D I Crawford died in 1981 with a net estate of £252,431.

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.

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 (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.

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.

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 Acton ice cream plant was closed in 1988.

The meat business was sold to Kerry Group of Ireland in 1994. The Wall’s ice cream business remains a subsidiary of Unilever.

A sporting chance: C & E Morton

C & E Morton was a large packaged food producer. Its workers established Millwall Football Club.

John Thomas Morton (1828 – 1897) established a small factory producing preserved foods in Aberdeen in 1849. He had established a base in London by 1851. Almost all production by J T Morton was for the export market.

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

The Aberdeen factory employed hundreds of workers by the 1880s.

When John Thomas Morton died in 1897 he was 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.

An additional factory had been established at Falmouth, Cornwall by 1897.

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 with a capital of £650,000 in 1912. 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 they argued 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 driven 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.

Increasing import tariffs overseas hurt the business during the 1930s. Factories were established overseas to circumvent these charges.

There were three large factories at Millwall, Cubitt Town and Lowestoft in 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 large 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 for £8.5 million in 1986. 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 born in Islington, London. He was named for his grandfather, a prosperous Fenchurch Street wholesale druggist.

Sharwood’s mother was a Scottish schoolmistress, who instilled in him the importance of paying attention to details.

Sharwood’s father was an excellent chemist, but a spoiled man. He spent extravagantly, and was sent to debtor’s prison after he was declared bankrupt in 1864. His marriage ended in divorce. J A Sharwood was to meet his father only once, in 1890, before he died in the workhouse in 1894.

J A Sharwood attended the Heath Mount School in Hampstead, and then went on to work in the City of London. He initially worked in insurance, before working as a manager for a wine and spirits distributor.

J A Sharwood established himself as a wholesale grocer on Carter Lane from 1888. Green Label mango chutney was introduced a year later.

Sharwood was to prove himself intelligent, hard-working, and innovative. He had a keen interest in overseas travel and was fluent in French and German.

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.

Lord Dufferin (1826 – 1902) as Viceory of India

Legend has it that the grateful chef recommended that Sharwood visit P Vencatachellum at No. 1 Popham’s Broadway in Madras. Vencatachellum made a famed curry powder, which blended stone-ground 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 from 1893.

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

White Label Worcestershire Sauce was the main product by 1900. It was aged for five years.

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

J A Sharwood supplied the prestigious Cunard ocean liners with foodstuffs from 1902.

Sharwood had retired by 1927 and settled in Cape Town, South Africa.

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

Sharwood died in 1941 and his effects in England were valued at £7,296.

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

Sharwood’s dominated the chutney market by the 1970s.

Sharwood’s had a Royal Warrant from Queen Elizabeth II, to supply chutney and curry powder, by 1975.

Sharwood’s sales doubled between 1989 and 1994, as the British market for Indian groceries grew. Sharwood’s held 74 percent of the mango chutney market by 1991.

The Greatham factory was closed in 2001, and Sharwood’s production was relocated to Wythenshawe, Manchester.

RHM was acquired by Premier Foods for £1.2 billion in 2007. The Wythenshawe factory was closed in 2009, and Sharwood’s production was relocated to Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

According to food blogger Gareth Jones, the Sharwood archive was accidentally disposed of by a rookie marketer, and is no more.

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, North 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.

As of 2017 the Harlesden site is the largest biscuit factory in Europe. The facility employs 580 workers. 22 different lines are produced, including Digestives, Hob Nobs and Mini Cheddars.

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.