Category Archives: Spreads & sauces

The Salt King: John Corbett

John Corbett was by far the largest producer of salt in Britain.

John Corbett (1817 – 1901) was born to Joseph Corbett, a Shropshire farmer. Joseph Corbett relocated to Birmingham, where he established a successful canal freight business.

John Corbett left school at the age of ten, and began to drive one of his father’s canal boats. He was eventually promoted to canal boat captain. During this period Corbett observed that salt was one of the major freight goods.

In his spare time, as well as on canal boats, Corbett would read mechanical books, with the aim of becoming an engineer. He served a five year apprenticeship at the Leys Ironworks in Stourbridge from 1840.

John Corbett was taken into partnership by his father in 1846. However, with increased competition from the railways, the firm was sold to the Grand Junction Canal Company in 1849.

John Corbett went to work at the Stoke Prior Salt Works near Droitwich. He began as an engine driver, before working as an outrider, and finally as a cashier. Corbett was learning the salt business at all levels.

Corbett acquired the lease of the Stoke Prior Salt Works in 1852. The works had an annual production of 26,000 tons. Two successive companies had failed to make a success of business. Corbett studied the previous failures and endeavoured to make a success of it.

The Stoke Prior Salt Works produced salt from springwater. Underground springs passed through a salt bed, which gave the water a salt content of 38.4 percent, according to an 1886 study, a higher level than even the Dead Sea.

Corbett used his engineering ability to introduce improved salt refining techniques. Identifying distribution as the most profitable area of the salt industry, he acquired his own canal boats, and later trains, to transport his product. To increase export sales he established agents overseas.

Corbett also hired the best people he could afford, and looked after his employees. He was a model employer, and built a model village for his workers including a school, church and social clubs. Corbett was also a dedicated philanthropist, establishing a 40 bed hospital in Stourbridge, as well as gifting Salters Hall to Droitwich.

Throughout his career, Corbett remained a hands-on proprietor, deeply engaged in the management of his business. He was an incredibly keen businessman, and a hard worker, beginning his working day at 6am, and often sleeping above his work offices.

By character Corbett was a quiet, likeable man. He was thoughtful, intelligent and interested in the arts and travel. Despite his immense wealth he lived a plain life, and drank in moderation.

Corbett was the largest salt manufacturer in Worcestershire by 1879.

Salt was the largest manufacture by tonnage in Britain after coal and iron in 1879. Between one and two million tons were produced each year, and thousands of people were employed in the industry.

Corbett was producing 200,000 to 300,000 tons of salt very year by 1886. The works covered around 30 acres. High quality table salt was the main product, sold under the “Black Horse” brand.

Men were limited to an eight hour day, and women to seven. Corbett paid his workers a premium of around 15 percent against the industry average. In his entire career, Corbett never suffered a strike that lasted 48 hours or more.

According to an industry estimate, John Corbett held nearly 50 percent of the British salt producing industry by 1888 and the Stoke Prior Salt Works was the most valuable enterprise of its kind in Britain.

The Salt Union Ltd was formed in 1888 as a merger of various salt interests across the country, including the Stoke Prior Salt Works, which were acquired at the cost of £660,000. Salt Union had a capital of £3 million and produced two million tons of salt every year.

Corbett became deputy chairman, a managing director, and by far the largest shareholder in the concern.

The Salt Union was immediately accused of attempting to rig the market and raise prices. It was alleged in The Standard that salt prices to the strategically important alkali industry had increased by 80 percent.

As a consequence of the price increase, exports slumped by 20 percent, and many people were put out of work. Corbett initially defended the company, arguing that producers had been operating at an unsustainable loss for a considerable period of time, and that the price adjustment merely reflected a correction of the market.

Corbett was to regret joining the Salt Union. After selling out to the company, he realised that it had entered into a number of imprudent contracts. The company had a lack of focus and direction, and his recommendations for the business were ignored. As a result, Corbett resigned his post as deputy chairman and managing director in 1890.

The Salt Union rapidly lost market share. Its attempt to exploit its monopoly position simply allowed its competitors to undercut it. Furthermore, an improved table salt was introduced by rival Cerebos in 1894.

Corbett died in 1901. His gross estate was valued at £412,972. An obituary in the Daily Telegraph heralded him as the “Salt King”.

The Salt Union was acquired by ICI in 1937. The works closed in 1972 due to cheaper foreign imports.

Curry favour: J A Sharwood

Sharwood’s is the leading Asian food brand in Britain.

James Allen Sharwood (1859 – 1941) was a City of London merchant. He initially worked in insurance, before moving into wine and spirits distribution. He entered the wholesale grocery distribution market in 1888.

Sharwood was born to a Scottish mother, who taught him the importance of being thorough. He had a great interest in travel and learning foreign languages. He was intelligent, hard-working, and innovative.

Sharwood was introduced by a family friend to Lord Dufferin (1826 – 1902), the Viceroy of India. Dufferin asked Sharwood to bring his French chef some supplies from Europe.

Legend has it that the grateful chef recommended that Sharwood visit P Vencatachellum at No. 1 Pophams Broadway in Madras. Vencatachellum blended a famed curry powder, including turmeric from Chittagong, coriander from Kerala, chillis from Orissa, and four secret ingredients. The mix impressed Sharwood, and he arranged to distribute Vencat curry powder in Britain.

Green Label mango chutney was introduced from 1889.

The Northern Meat Preserving Co was acquired in 1891.

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

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

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

James Allen Sharwood retired to South Africa. He died in 1941 and his effects in England were valued at £7,296.

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

Appeeling: Frank Cooper’s marmalade

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

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

Sarah Cooper continued to produce the marmalade in the kitchen of the Angel Hotel, Oxford, until she entered 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 her obituary the Yorkshire Post went as far as to describe her as the founder of the company.

The company 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.

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.

Brown & Polson relocated production of Frank Cooper’s to its factory in Paisley, Scotland in 1967.

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

It 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

Hayward’s is the leading pickled vegetable brand in Britain.

14152014_10153861552651463_397476889_o

Robert Hayward (born 1847) was born in Lambeth, London. He established his pickle manufacturing business at Montford Place, Kennington, in 1869.

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.

Relations of the family, 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.

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.

Hayward Peck was sold to Brooke Bond-Oxo for £1.5 million in 1970.

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

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, 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.

In 1927 a second factory was opened at Vauxhall, London.

The Burton factory relocated to Wellington Road, Burton, in 1952.

The Vauxhall factory closed in 1967.

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

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

As of 2015, the Burton factory produces 25 million jars of Marmite every year. 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.

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.

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

By 1850 the firm of George Watkins was based at Kentish Town.

In 1857 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 the 1860s the firm was best known for its Winchester Sauce.

By 1867 the firm was based at 116 Bayham Street, Camden Town.

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

From the 1870s Digestive Relish, a pickle, was their best known product. 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.

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

In 2003 G Costa was acquired by Associated British Foods, who owned Patak’s and Levi Roots ethnic sauces.

As of 2015 only two products are manufactured under the Geo Watkins brand; 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.

keens-1992-057g-tin-front-10449CBB

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.

By 1794 the business traded as Sutton, Keen & Smith. In 1806 the entire factory was destroyed by fire.

By 1818 the company traded as Keen, Son & Co.

In 1824 a Joseph Teale exited the partnership, leaving John Keen, John Henry Keen and James Keen (1780 – 1849).

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

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 kept nine servants in his household in 1851.

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

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

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

By 1881 Keen operated the largest mustard factory in London, 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).

By 1892 the Garlick Hill premises was said to the oldest factory in the City of London. It sprawled across 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 was registered in 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.

In 1911 Emma Bellville and her son, William John Bellville (1868 – 1937) had 13 servants between them at their home at Stoughton Grange, Leicester.

Production 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 Ashston Bellville left an estate valued at £394,397, and William John Bellville left an estate valued at £393,709.

In 1995 Colman sold its condiments arm to Unilever.

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

Keen’s mustard also remains available in the Canadian market.

Biblical proportions: Henry Sarson & Sons

Sarson’s is the leading brand of malt vinegar in Britain.

Sarson’s “Pure Malt Vinegar” was being advertised in the press by 1842.

James Thomas Sarson (born 1821), vinegar dealer of Brunswick Place, City Road, London was declared bankrupt in 1847.

James Thomas Sarson was described as a vinegar and mustard merchant in 1851. His brother Henry (born 1825) is also described as a vinegar merchant. The business was small-scale at this time.

The business was known as Sarson & Son by 1860.

From 1861 Sarson & Son branded its product as “Virgin Vinegar” to indicate its purity at a time when food adulteration was rife. Most vinegar brewers added sulphuric acid to their product to decrease the necessary fermentation period.

Henry Sarson employed 20 people, including four carmen, four van boys, three clerks, three women and six salesmen, by 1881.

Henry Sarson sold his share in the partnership in 1893, leaving his two sons, Henry Logsdail Sarson (1861 – 1918) and Percival Stanley Sarson (1868 – 1951), to manage the business. The brothers converted Sarsons into a private limited company.

Over one million gallons of vinegar were brewed in 1913.

Crosse & Blackwell acquired both Sarson’s and Champion & Slee, another large London vinegar brewer, in 1929. The merger brought together the three largest vinegar brewers in the South of England.

The Crosse & Blackwell vinegar interests were merged with those of Distillers and Beaufoy Grimble in 1932 to form British Vinegars with a capital of £450,000.

Over five million gallons (around 23 million litres) of vinegar were brewed in 1950.

The Virgin Vinegar brand name was phased out in the 1950s.

Holbrooks & Co, with a vinegar brewery in Stourport, was acquired in 1954.

A site was acquired from the Co-op at Middleton, Manchester in 1968.

Nestle of Switzerland took full control of British Vinegar in 1979.

The London vinegar brewery was closed in 1991, and Middleton became the sole production site.

Sarson’s vinegar was the leading vinegar brand in Britain by 1999, with around a third of the market.

Sarson’s was acquired by Premier Foods in 2002. Over 5.5 million litres were sold every year. Mizkan of Japan acquired Sarson’s in 2012.

John Moir & Son: can I have some Moir?

John Moir was a pioneer in the early tinned fish and meat trade. Defunct in Britain since the 1920s, it remains a leading dessert brand in South Africa.

John Moir (1766 – 1833) was a provisions merchant from Musselburgh, Scotland. He established premises at 56 Virginia Street, Aberdeen. Around 1812 he became the first person in Britain to mass produce tinned fish, initially salmon. Soon, tinned meats, game, soup and vegetables were also sold.

Benjamin Moir (1807 – 1872) joined the firm which began trading as John Moir & Son. He was regarded as an excellent businessman.

The firm won extensive contracts to provided preserved meats to British and French troops during the Crimean War in the mid 1850s.

John Moir & Son was the largest preserved food manufacturer in Scotland by 1868, and held a Royal Warrant from the Duke of Edinburgh. Annual preserved meat production averaged around 2.5 million lbs.

Benjamin Moir died unmarried in 1872, and the business was transferred to his nephew, John Moir Clark (1836 – 1896). The firm was to greatly expand under his leadership.

King Alphonso XII of Spain granted the company the exclusive concession to pulp oranges for export in Seville in 1877. Close to the source of the fruit, it avoided wastage losses which occurred during transit, and allowed the company to use the freshest oranges.

There were factories at Glasshouse Fields, Brook Street, London; Aberdeen and Seville by 1878. The head office was at 148 Leadenhall Street, London.

The firm became a limited company in 1881 with a capital of £150,000. The firm had over 10,000 wholesale customers.

In 1882 an American factory was opened at Wilmington, Delaware.

In 1888 company capital was reduced to £50,000 due to profit losses sustained in America and elsewhere. The Delaware factory was divested.

In 1898 the head office was relocated to 9-10 Great Tower Street, London.

The company had a valuable contract to supply rations to the British Army during the Boer War.

In 1901 King Edward VII awarded John Moir & Son a Royal Warrant for preserved provisions.

Robert Falcon Scott took Moir tinned meet with him on his fatal expedition to the Antarctic.

The company benefited from extensive military contracts during the First World War.

In 1920 a small factory was acquired in Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa.

The wartime economic boom was soon followed by a slump, which hit the preserved foods industry hard. Between 1920 and 1925 the British business made successive profit losses due to low sales. The South Africa subsidiary remained profitable.

The company rejected numerous takeover offers in 1925, and instead entered steady decline. In 1927 the Virginia Street premises in Aberdeen was sold off. In 1933 company capital was reduced from £150,000 to £45,000.

In 1948 the South African subsidiary was divested.

The company entered voluntary liquidation in 1950 and the London premises were sold off.

However the South African branch prospered, and as of 2015, Moir’s is the leading brand in that market for jellies, custard powder and instant desserts.