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.
The firm was the third largest vinegar brewer in Britain by 1834, with Charles Arthur Pott and William Pott (1795 – 1878) as the partners.
Charles and William Pott held a 25 percent share of the British vinegar market by 1844.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Frank Cooper’s is one of the best known marmalade brands in Britain.
Frank Cooper (1844 – 1927), owned 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.
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 in 1901.
The business was registered as Frank Cooper Ltd in 1913. The company had a Royal Warrant from the King by 1914.
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.
Secret agent James Bond consumes 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 in 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.
Hayward’s is the leading pickled vegetable brand in Britain.
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 with a single horse and cart.
Hayward Brothers was established in 1880 when Robert was joined by his brother Henry (1852 – 1925). Three men and five boys were employed at the firm 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. By 1896 it was the largest pickle company in New Zealand 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 limited company in 1898.
The Kennington factory was extended in 1907.
200,000 bottles of Haywards Military Pickle were sold in London in 1905. By this time it was the company’s leading product line. By 1911 it was the highest selling pickle in Britain.
In 1914 Robert Hayward was chairman, and his fellow directors were his brother Henry Hayward, and his two sons, George Joy Hayward (1873 – 1953) and Frank Tresidder Hayward (1876 – 1960).
When Henry Hayward died in 1925 he 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. They relocated production to their factory on the Bird in Bush Road, London. The Montford Place factory became the production site for Beefeater London Dry Gin in 1958.
Hayward’s Food Products was acquired by the Melbray Group for £473,000 in 1963. The Manwaring family remained the largest shareholders.
In 1964 Melbray acquired Harry Peck & Co, a canned meat concern, 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.
A new pickle factory was opened at Bury St Edmunds in 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 Hayward’s, 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 (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.
Marmite is a thick, black yeast extract product. Around 25 million jars are sold every year.
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, headed by a retired Swiss sugar merchant called Frederick Wissler. Marmite was initially produced at Mincing Lane, London.
By 1906 production had been relocated to a disused malt house at Cross Street in Burton upon Trent, 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.
The product’s reputation grew as a health product, and during the First World War it was added to soldiers’ rations to prevent Vitamin B1 deficiency.
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 about a mile to Wellington Road in 1952.
The Vauxhall factory closed in 1967.
A new factory to produce both Bovril and Marmite was opened in Burton upon Trent at a cost of £1 million in 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 produces 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. Before distribution, Marmite is matured for seven days.
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.
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 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 marketing was withdrawn immediately 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.