Category Archives: Spreads & sauces

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.

Vast vats: Hill Evans & Co of Worcester

Hill Evans was the largest vinegar brewer in Britain for most of the Victorian era. It grew to become the largest vinegar brewery in the world.

Hill & Evans
Cowell, Crane & Kilpin was established 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 business from Charles Kilpin (1770 – 1845) in 1829.

Hill and Evans branched out into the production of vinegar from 1830. Vinegar was an important commodity, used as a preservative in an era before refrigeration. The vinegar-making process also utilised the waste from British Wine production.

A vinegar brewery was established at Lowesmoor, Worcester. Hill and Evans devoted themselves to producing the purest malt vinegar, and utilised the most efficient and up-to-date production methods.

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

The sons enter the business
Thomas Rowley Hill (1816 – 1896) and Edward Bickerton Evans (1819 – 1893) 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 further scale. Rowley Hill had been barred from Oxbridge due to his Congregationalist faith, and instead received an education at University College, London.

Hill Evans produced 426,546 gallons of vinegar in 1852.

Dispute with The Lancet
The Lancet, a leading medical journal, commissioned a chemical analysis of leading vinegars in 1852, and asserted that Hill Evans used sulphuric acid, a widely exploited adjunct which reduced maturation times. Hill Evans & Co refuted this, challenging the editor of the journal 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 previous twenty years. The Lancet was subsequently forced to back down in a rare and humiliating defeat, and conceded that sulphate of lime, which occurred naturally in the local water, had been mistaken for sulphuric acid.

The sons become sole proprietors
Thomas Rowley Hill and Edward Bickerton Evans were the sole proprietors of the business 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. The following year 1,208,600 gallons were produced, which positioned Hill Evans as the largest manufacturer of vinegar in Britain.

Lea & Perrins used Hill Evans vinegar to make their Worcestershire sauce from at least 1862.

The vinegar manufacturing process
In 1862 there were eight fermenting vessels for producing vinegar, each with a capacity of 16,000 gallons.

There were thirty vats, each with a capacity of 8,000 to 12,000 gallons, for the acidification of the brew. The brew would be held in these vats for around a month, with birch branches used to oxidise the liquid. When this process was complete, beechwood chips were used to fine, or clarify, the vinegar.

There were around twenty storage vats for the finished product, with five vats reckoned to have a capacity of 80,000 gallons each.

The finished product was actually of pale straw colour, so caramel (burnt sugar) was added as a final process to darken the product in accordance with customer preference in the English market.

Continued development
A new vat was introduced in 1863 with a capacity of 114,645 gallons. It was the largest vat in the world, and far larger than its closest rival, an 80,000 gallon vessel at the Guinness brewery in Dublin.

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

Hill Evans had an annual output of two million gallons of vinegar by 1866, and was by far the largest vinegar producer in Britain. Around 100 people were employed.

Hill Evans had established a London office and warehouse on the site of the former Boar’s Head Inn in Eastcheap by 1867.

Hill Evans was the largest producer of British Wine by 1868, with an annual output of 130,000 gallons.

Hill Evans constructed a small private railway branch in 1870, which linked it to the Great Western & Midland Railway.

The third generation enter the business
Thomas Rowley Hill and Edward Bickerton Evans retired from the business 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 accounted the largest vinegar brewery in the world in 1881, based on its 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. All told, the brewery had a storage capacity of 500,000 gallons of vinegar. The brewery held more than 100,000 casks.

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

The works covered over six acres by 1900. The brewery had an annual capacity of 1.5 million gallons of vinegar, and was probably the largest business of its kind in Britain.

Hill Evans becomes a limited company
Hill Evans became a limited company from 1900, with a share capital of £150,000. The conversion allowed the business to pay out the share of the company owed to Thomas William Hill, who had recently died.

Edward Henry Hill became chairman and Charles William Dyson Perrins (1864 – 1958) of Lea & Perrins joined the board of directors.

In later life Edward Wallace Evans suffered from gout in his hands, and bandaged his hands in cotton wool on the advice of his doctor. Evans attempted to light a cigar whilst reading a letter, and accidentally set the wool alight. Evans suffered serious burns, and died from shock in 1901. Curiously, he left a relatively modest net personalty of £10,876. The only son of Edward 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.

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 into voluntary liquidation in 1967, and the vinegar works were closed. The Grade II listed vinegar works building are used by the Territorial Army as of 2019.

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.

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-born 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, and was then employed 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 intelligent, hard-working, and innovative. He had a keen interest in overseas travel and was fluent in French and German.

A family friend introduced Sharwood 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 product 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 entered into retirement by 1927, and he 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 the Cerebos site in Greatham, Hartlepool.

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

Sharwood’s held 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.

Company headquarters were relocated from London to Egham in Surrey from 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 company archive was accidentally disposed of by a novice marketer, and no longer exists.

Appeeling: Frank Cooper’s marmalade

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

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

William Frank Cooper (1874 – 1952), eldest son of Frank Cooper, was manager of the business by 1894.

Sarah Cooper continued to produce the marmalade in the kitchen of the Angel Hotel, Oxford, until she entered into retirement in 1899.

Production was relocated to a purpose-built factory on Park End Street, Oxford from 1901.

Frank Cooper held a Royal Warrant to supply the King by 1913.

The business was registered as Frank Cooper Ltd in 1914, with a capital of £40,000. William Frank Cooper was appointed managing director.

Frank Cooper died in 1927 and left a net personalty of £47,746.

Sarah Cooper died in 1932. In an obituary the Yorkshire Post described her as the founder of the company.

Frank Cooper Ltd employed about 100 people by 1938.

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

William Frank Cooper died in 1952 with a net estate valued at £39,345.

Secret agent James Bond consumed Frank Cooper’s marmalade in From Russia With Love (1957) by Ian Fleming.

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

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

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

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

Frank Cooper production was relocated to the Brown & Polson factory in Paisley, Scotland from 1967.

The company continued to operate the original Oxford shop, which latterly also functioned as a museum, until its closure in 1992.

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

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

The sweet and sour history of Haywards pickles

Haywards is the leading pickled vegetable brand in Britain.

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Robert Hayward (born 1847) was born in Lambeth, London. He was a dedicated Baptist. Hayward established his pickle manufacturing business at Montford Place, Kennington, in 1869. He initially distributed his wares from a horse and cart.

Hayward Brothers was established when Robert was joined by his brother Henry Hayward (1852 – 1925) from 1880. Three men and five boys were employed at the business by 1881.

Two nephews of Robert Hayward; George Charles Hayward (died 1931) and Joseph Robert Hayward (1870 – 1933), established a subsidiary at Christchurch, New Zealand in 1890. They sold pickles and sauces under the Flag Brand name. It was the largest pickle business in New Zealand by 1896 with over 50 employees, and exports had commenced to Australia. Factory floor space covered 21,000 square feet by 1903. Hayward Brothers operated the largest malt vinegar brewery in New Zealand by 1908.

A large three storey storehouse on Bowden Street, Kennington, was destroyed by fire in 1895.

Hayward Brothers was incorporated as a private limited company in 1898. Robert Hayward was chairman and two of his sons, George Joy Hayward (1873 – 1953) and Frank Tresidder Hayward (1876 – 1960), joined as directors alongside his brother Henry.

200,000 bottles of Haywards Military Pickle were sold in London in 1905. By this time it was the company’s leading product line.

The business grew quickly, and the Kennington factory was extended in 1907.

Military Pickle was the highest-selling pickle in Britain by 1911.

Henry Hayward died in 1925 and left an estate valued at £28,719.

A V-1 flying bomb caused significant damage to the factory in 1944.

George J Hayward died in 1953 with an estate valued at £16,384.

Edward Manwaring Ltd acquired the Haywards pickles trademark in 1956. Production was relocated to their factory on the Bird in Bush Road, London. The Montford Place factory became the production site for Beefeater London Dry Gin from 1958.

Hayward’s Food Products was acquired by the Melbray Group for £473,000 in 1963. The Manwaring family remained the largest shareholders.

Melbray Group acquired Harry Peck & Co, a canned meat concern, in 1964 and merged it with Haywards to form Hayward-Peck. Peck’s products were canned tongue, and meat and fish pastes, including own-label produce for Harrod’s.

Hayward-Peck had been mainly based in the South East of England, but a national distribution network was established from 1964.

Hayward Peck was acquired by Brooke Bond-Oxo for £1.5 million in 1970.

A new pickle factory was opened at Bury St Edmunds from 1978. The company employed 150 people by 1989.

Haywards Pickles was sold to Hillsdown Holdings (later Premier Foods) in 1989 for an undisclosed price. Haywards was the market leader in the sour pickle market, with a 14 percent share and an annual turnover of around £10 million.

Hayward’s main products were sweet, sour and mixed pickles in 1996. The company employed 120 people and had an annual turnover of around £10 million. Haywards sweet Military Pickle was still available as late as 1997, but has since been discontinued.

Premier Foods sold its vinegar and sour pickles business, including Haywards, to Mizkan of Japan for £41 million in 2012.

As of 2016, Haywards vegetables in vinegar are produced at Middleton, Manchester, and Hayward’s pickles are manufactured at Bury St Edmunds.

Edward Manwaring

Edward Manwaring (1842 – 1884) was born in Burwash, Sussex, the son of an innkeeper. He served an apprenticeship with a grocer who dealt in imported foodstuffs.

Manwaring established his own pickles business on Old Kent Road, London in May 1863. He was aided by a £100 loan from the Samuel Wilson Trust. By 1871 he employed eight men and five boys in Camberwell.

Edward Manwaring (1866 – 1931) was born in Camberwell, London. Following the death of his father in 1884 he took over the business.

Edward Manwaring was chairman and managing director of the company until his death in 1931. His estate was valued at £51,431.

Edward Manwaring Limited acquired the Haywards pickles brand in 1956. The company renamed itself Haywards Food Products.

The business was managed by great grandsons of the founder, Edward and Stuart Wade, by the 1960s.

Haywards Food Products was acquired by Melbray Food Group in 1963 for £450,000.

Yeast resistance: Marmite

Marmite is a thick, black yeast extract product. Around 25 million jars are sold every year.

marmite_-_Feb_2013

Marmite was invented by German scientist Justus von Liebig (1803 – 1873) in the late nineteenth century.

The Marmite Food Extract Company was incorporated in Britain in 1902, and was headed by a retired Swiss sugar merchant called Frederick Wissler. Marmite was initially produced at Mincing Lane, London.

Production had been relocated to a disused malt house at Cross Street in Burton upon Trent by 1906, and a Mr Schmidt was manager of the company. Mincing Lane House, London, became the company headquarters. As a centre of British brewing, Burton provided ample supplies of yeast, the principal ingredient of Marmite.

Marmite enjoyed a growing reputation as a health product, and it was added to soldiers’ rations during the First World War as a Vitamin B1 deficiency preventative.

Following the death of the company’s first chairman, Marmite was acquired by Bovril in 1924.

A second factory was opened at Vauxhall, London, in 1927.

The Burton factory relocated to nearby Wellington Road from 1952.

The Vauxhall factory was closed in 1967.

A new £1 million factory was opened in Burton upon Trent to produce both Bovril and Marmite from 1968. The factory employed 450 people.

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company, acquired Marmite in 2000.

A less viscous version of Marmite was launched in squeezy bottles in 2006.

The Burton factory produced 25 million jars of Marmite every year as of 2015. Around 15 percent of the total is exported, mostly to former British colonies. Sri Lanka is a major market, where it is mixed into porridge.

A mixture of ale and lager yeasts are used to create Marmite. Much of the yeast is still sourced from the Molson Coors (formerly Bass) and Marston’s breweries in Burton. The automated factory employs around 60 people. Marmite is matured for seven days before distribution.

Playing ketchup: Geo Watkins

Geo Watkins is the only remaining national producer of mushroom ketchup in Britain.

George Watkins founded his grocery business in 1830. The Watkins family were Quakers.

A George William Watkins is described as an oilman/Italian warehouseman of 308 Oxford Street, London in 1843.

The firm of George Watkins was based at Kentish Town by 1850.

The grocers and Italian warehousemen partnership of George Watkins, Alfred Robinson and George William Watkins of 4 Portland Place, St John’s Wood, was dissolved in 1857.

The firm was best known for its Winchester Sauce in the 1860s.

The firm was based at 116 Bayham Street, Camden Town by 1867.

Crosse & Blackwell distributed the firm’s products in export markets by 1870.

Digestive Relish, a pickle, was their best known product from the 1870s. Digestive Relish was still being advertised as late as 1923.

Presumably, the firm entered into receivership around 1923, in what was a difficult time for food manufacturers.

G Costa & Co of Aylesford, Kent, best known for Blue Dragon oriental sauces, relaunched the Geo Watkins brand in 1985, as a range of traditional English sauces.

A Geo Watkins piccalilli was available until 1996. A Geo Watkins brown sauce was discontinued in the 2000s.

G Costa was acquired by Associated British Foods, owner of Patak’s and Levi Roots ethnic sauces, in 2003.

Two products are manufactured under the Geo Watkins brand as of 2016; mushroom ketchup and anchovy sauce.

 

Keen as mustard: Keen Robinson

Keen & Co was perhaps the largest mustard manufacturer in the world before it was overtaken by Colman’s in the 1860s.

Thomas Keen established a mustard factory at Garlick Hill in the City of London in 1742. Keen & Co was the first commercial producer of mustard powder in the capital (the main production centres at the time being Durham and Tewkesbury).

Mustard became an increasingly popular condiment throughout the eighteenth century.

The business traded as Sutton, Keen & Smith by 1794.

The entire factory was destroyed by fire in 1806.

The business traded as Keen, Son & Co by 1818.

A Joseph Teale exited the business in 1824, leaving John Keen, John Henry Keen and James Keen (1780 – 1849) as partners.

John Keen retired in 1828, leaving Thomas (1800 – 1862) and James Keen as sole partners.

The business was known as Keens & Welch by 1841. James Keen left the partnership in 1849, leaving Thomas Keen and John Welch (1805 – 1856).

Thomas Keen was a wealthy man by 1851; he kept nine servants in his household.

Thomas Keen died in 1862, and Thomas Keen & Son was merged with Robinson & Bellville of Holborn, manufacturers of patent barley. The merged firm traded as Keen Robinson Bellville & Co.

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Keen’s mustard was described as “world famous” in the Morning Post in 1868.

William John Bellville (1829 – 1891) was sole proprietor of the firm by 1876.

Keen operated the largest mustard factory in London by 1881, and it was supposedly the oldest mustard factory in the world. Additional factory premises were acquired at Denmark Street, London, in the 1880s.

William John Bellville died in 1891 with an estate valued at £638,000. The firm was inherited by his wife, Emma Bellville (born 1847).

The Garlick Hill premises was said to the oldest factory in the City of London by 1892. It spanned five floors. Most mustard seed was grown in the East of England, although some was imported from the Netherlands. There were extensive granaries in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire and Boston, Lincolnshire. The firm employed over 1,000 people, and was notable for not employing women, except for in sack mending.

The firm became a registered company from 1893 and changed its name to Keen Robinson. It had capital of £300,000.

Keen Robinson was acquired by J & J Colman of Norwich, a rival mustard manufacturer, in 1903. Frank Ashton Bellville (1870 – 1937) joined the Colman’s board of directors.

It appears that Keen’s mustard advertising was immediately withdrawn following the merger, in favour of the Colman’s brand.

Emma Bellville and her son, William John Bellville (1868 – 1937) had thirteen servants between them at their home at Stoughton Grange, Leicester by 1911.

Manufacturing was centralised at the Carrow Works in Norwich, the site of Colman’s production, from 1925.

The two brothers and heirs to the Keen Robinson fortune both died in 1937. Frank Ashton Bellville left an estate valued at £394,397, and William John Bellville left an estate valued at £393,709.

The Keen’s mustard brand appears to have been phased out in Britain after 1945.

Colman was sold to Unilever in 1995.

The Australian rights to the Keen’s brand, where it remains popular, were acquired by McCormick & Co in 1998.

Unilever still produce Keen’s mustard for the Canadian market.