Category Archives: Spreads & sauces

Biblical proportions: Henry Sarson & Sons

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

Sarson’s asserts that Thomas Sarson established himself as a vinegar brewer on Craven Street, London, from 1794. I have not been able to independently verify this, but I have no reason to doubt its veracity.

A Mr Sarson was certainly established as a vinegar brewer on Craven Street, City Road, London, by 1822.

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.

Sarson was advertised as a high quality vinegar. By 1871 it was sold only in capsulated bottles to prevent tampering, and sold through 3,523 outlets.

Henry Sarson employed 20 people, including four carmen, four van boys, three clerks, three women and six salesmen, by 1881. The business was still a relatively modest concern.

Henry Sarson sold his share in the partnership in 1893, leaving his two sons, Henry Logsdail Sarson (1861 – 1918) and Percival Stanley Sarson (1867 – 1951), to manage the business. The brothers converted Sarsons into a private limited company. Percy Sarson was a keen businessman, with a feisty personality.

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.

The Stourport brewery was closed in 1999 with the loss of 22 jobs. Production was relocated to the larger Middleton site.

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

When 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.

Sarson’s is made from a 9.5 percent alcohol barley wine that the company brews itself. The vinegar is matured for seven days in huge oak vats.

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.

An American factory was opened at Wilmington, Delaware in 1882.

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

The head office was relocated to 9-10 Great Tower Street, London in 1898.

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

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

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.

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

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. The Virginia Street premises in Aberdeen were sold off in 1927. Company capital was reduced from £150,000 to £45,000 in 1933.

The South African subsidiary was divested in 1948.

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

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.

Oh figs: Batger & Co

Batger & Co was one of the largest confectioners in Britain by the early twentieth century. It was best known for Chinese Figs, Jersey Caramels and Silmos Lollies.

The Batger family had a background in the London sugar trade. The business claimed that it was established by a Miss Batger in 1748.

By 1783 John Batger was based at 16 Bishopsgate Street, London, where he had established a confectionery business by at least 1814.

Batger & Co had a four-storey factory at 15-16 Bishopsgate Street by 1847.

Batger & Co was acquired by Samuel Hanson & Son of Botolph Lane in 1856.

A new factory was established at 103 Broad Street, Ratcliff, London in 1863.

Frederick Machin (1826 – 1902) and Samuel Hanson (1804 – 1882) had control of Batger & Co by 1864.

The Bishopsgate premises were divested in 1867.

Batger & Co employed 200 people by 1871. “Harlequin” Christmas crackers began to be produced from 1872.

The factory covered two acres, all built upon, by 1875. 450 people were employed; rising to 550 at Christmas and 700 during the English fruit season, when jam was made. Around 2,000 tons of sugar and 1,000 tons of English fruits were used each year. Machinery was used extensively.

Frederick Arnold was the general manager of the company from 1855. He was a kind man and an effective manager. He led a content workforce, for whom annual excursions were organised. Arnold was dismissed in 1880 for extensively stealing from the company, and sentenced to 14 months hard labour.

Frederick Machin had assumed full control of Batger & Co by 1880.

Batger & Co employed 400 people (250 men, 100 women and 50 boys) by 1881. The company was one of the largest manufacturers of jam and confectionery in London.

14 tons of rotten fruit were seized from the Broad Street factory by the local health authority in 1895.

Frederick Machin died in 1902 with an estate valued at £59,887. Control of the firm passed to his son, Stanley Machin (1861 – 1939).

Batger was one of the largest confectionery companies in the United Kingdom by 1902.

Batger had introduced Chinese Figs by 1903. They were oval sweets consisting of real figs, fruit jelly and a sugar coating.

Batger employed well over 1,000 people by 1909. During the First World War the company won a lucrative contract to supply the Army with jam.

Batger & Co was acquired by Crosse & Blackwell for £522,902 in 1920. Batger retained its old management, and Stanley Machin was appointed a director of Crosse & Blackwell.

Batger & Co was the sole profitable Crosse & Blackwell subsidiary in 1923. However Crosse & Blackwell directors discovered that a confectionery firm lacked synergies with a company largely concerned with preserves.

Crosse & Blackwell divested Batger & Co Ltd as a private company under the sole control of Stanley Machin and Joseph Hetherington (1873 – 1937), who had both been associated with the firm for over forty years, in 1926.

There was a strike at the Broad Street factory in 1926. The striking employees were all dismissed.

Stanley Machin died in 1939. An obituary hailed him as one of the “leaders of commercial life in the City of London”.

The Broad Street factories were destroyed during the Blitz in 1940. A new factory was opened at 44 Southside, Clapham Common.

Batger made a loss of £66,000 on a turnover of £1.2 million in 1969. Its net asset value was £301,000.

Batger & Co was acquired by Needlers Ltd of Hull, a confectionery firm, for £263,000 in cash in 1970. The Batger factory in Clapham was closed in 1971, with production relocated to Hull. Two Batger directors, J Hetherington and Colin Machin, joined Needlers.

The last remaining Batger’s product, Chinese Figs, was discontinued around the year 2000.

The Needlers business was acquired by Ashbury Confectionery of Corby in 2002.

Sour grapes: Lipton’s jam

Lipton’s was one of many large preserves factories in Bermondsey. Others included Hartley’s, Pink’s and Lazenby’s (Crosse & Blackwell).

Thomas Lipton opened a jam factory at Rouel Road, Bermondsey, London in 1892.

Lipton had 200 shops through which he sold various grocery goods, including his jam, by 1898.

In 1899 the Sanitary Inspector found two tons of fruit that was “rotten, bad-smelling and in some cases maggoty” at Lipton’s factory. The Inspector said there was no doubt that Lipton’s had intended to use the fruit for jam-making.  Lipton received all of its fruit from contract growers, and was perfectly entitled to reject the fruit, but at the time, demand was high and supply was short. A court fined William Shaw Carmichael, managing director of Lipton’s, £50.

The 1911 Bermondsey women’s strike won higher wages for the staff at Lipton’s factory.

There were over 550 Lipton shops throughout the United Kingdom by 1921.

An additional jam factory had been opened at Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, in Britain’s fruit-growing heartland, by 1923.

200 workers at Rouel Road went on strike for one day as a protest against the employment of non-union labour in 1924.

The Home Secretary ordered Lipton’s to provide cloakrooms, mess rooms and washing facilities for its staff at Rouel Road in 1932.

The Lipton jam-making business was acquired by Allied Suppliers in 1934.

Allied Suppliers acquired T W Beach & Sons, preserve manufacturers in 1941.

Rouel Road and Wisbech had a combined annual capacity of 13,000 tons by 1944.

The Rouel Road factory was demolished in March 1969. The site is now occupied by the Lucey Way housing estate.

T W Beach was acquired by Cavenham in 1972. Preserve manufacture was phased out in favour of soft drinks production, and T W Beach became a part of Britvic.

Plenty of bottle: Fletcher’s Sauce of Selby

Fletcher’s was best known for its Tit-Bits and Tiger bottled sauces. Fletchers sauce was sold in Britain into the 1990s.

Joshua Percy Fletcher (1879 – 1960) was the son of a prosperous coal merchant in Silsden, West Yorkshire. He had established himself as a drysalter (pickle manufacturer) by 1901.

Fletcher initially produced sauce at the Airedale Works in Shipley. He also had a glass bottle manufacturing plant in Leeds.

Fletchers (Shipley) Ltd was registered with a share capital of £20,000 in 1907.

J P Fletcher described his principal occupation as sauce manufacturing by 1911.

Fletcher’s acquired the rights to produce the popular Tit-Bits sauce from Stamp, Bointon, Junior & Co in 1913.

The sauce and bottling works were transferred to a model garden factory at Selby near York in 1915.

An employee profit-sharing scheme was introduced in 1917. This followed a larger scheme of employee welfare work, such as the encouragement of gardening and other outside interests.

Millions of bottles of Tiger Indian Sauce were sold each year by 1922. A fruity brown sauce, it was so-named because it used spices from the Indian subcontinent.

Arthur Lambert Foster (1880 – 1955) was managing director by 1931, with J P Fletcher assuming the role of chairman.

Foster was later joined in management by  Tom Byass Fletcher (1912 – 1994), the only son of J P Fletcher.

HP Sauce of Birmingham acquired Fletcher’s Sauce Co Ltd in 1947. HP was motivated by the opportunity to increase its presence in the North of England, particularly Yorkshire. The management of A L Foster and T B Fletcher was continued.

J P Fletcher left a net estate of £93,324 in 1960.

Fletcher’s was a leading brown sauce in the East and West Ridings of Yorkshire as late as the 1970s.

HP sold the Selby site to Hazlewood Foods in 1982, and transferred the production of Fletcher’s sauces (to which they retained the rights) to their Birmingham site. Hazlewood manufactured pickles and cooking sauces at Selby.

The Selby pickle factory as of 2006

Tiger Sauce was discontinued in the 1980s, and Tit Bit sauce was discontinued in the early 1990s. HP may have discovered that Fletcher’s sauces were cannibalising sales of HP Sauce, and there were synergies involved in concentrating on their leading product.

Meanwhile, Hazlewood was acquired by Greencore in 2000, who continue to operate the factory at Selby. It is the largest manufacturer of private label pickles and sauces in the UK.

 

The acid test: Slee & Co

Slee & Co was a large London vinegar brewer.

Slee & Co was founded by Noah Slee at Church Street, Horsleydown, London in 1812. He was soon joined by Josias Slee (1773 – 1829), who emigrated to London from Honiton, Devon.

The firm was owned by John Vickers and Noah Slee from 1823 until 1838.

Vickers & Slee was the fifth largest vinegar brewer in Britain and Ireland by 1832. The firm held about seven percent of the market.

In an age before refrigeration, vinegar was a much more important commodity than it is today, due to its preservative effect on foodstuffs.

The company was owned by Noah Slee, William Payne and Edward Richardson Slee (1815 – 1878) in the 1840s. Payne was a brother-in-law.

Noah Slee was declared bankrupt in 1842, and the business continued as Payne & Slee.

Payne & Slee was the fifth largest vinegar brewer in Britain by 1844.

In the 1850s the company traded as Payne, Slee & Payne, after William Payne Jr joined the business.

By 1861 the company employed 36 people. 49 people were employed by 1871.

The premises were struck by fire in 1874.

Batty & Co, sauce and pickle manufacturers of Finsbury Pavement, was acquired in 1874.

From 1878 the business was run by Cuthbert Britton Slee (1818 – 1900) and Herbert Hutton Slee (1853 – 1933) as Slee, Slee & Co.

Export sales began in earnest, principally to New Zealand, from 1889.

The business became a limited company in 1895.

Batty & Co was sold to Heinz, who wanted a British manufacturing facility, in 1905.

Champion & Co, vinegar brewers of City Road, London was acquired to form Champion & Slee Ltd in 1907. The company had a share capital of £140,000. The takeover was motivated by the scope for economies of scale. The Slee brand was phased out, but all production was relocated to the Slee premises, where there was ample room for expansion.

A large proportion of production was exported to foreign and colonial markets.

In 1929 Champion & Slee was acquired by Crosse & Blackwell, who merged operations with Sarson’s. The Champion brand was phased out in favour of Sarson’s.

The Slee vinegar works were closed in 1992.

Where there’s muck there’s brass: Hammonds Sauce

Hammonds Sauce Co was the largest privately-owned sauce manufacturer in Britain.

Hammonds is best known for its Chop Sauce, a light and spicy brown sauce that is available across the United Kingdom.

Background
Herbert Bowdin Hawley (1880 – 1952) was born in Grassington, Yorkshire, the son of a farmer of 95 acres.

Hawley left home at the age of 21 with just £10. He worked in a Halifax grocer’s warehouse, and later as a salesman. He had established himself as director of a soap manufacturing company in Shipley, near Bradford by 1911.

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He entered into partnership with his brother Richard to form H B and R Hawley Ltd, cake flour manufacturers, in 1914. H B Hawley acted as chairman of the company, which in 1920 had a nominal capital of £50,000.

Hammonds Sauce Co
H B Hawley founded a sauce manufacturing company, at Wellcroft Mills, Shipley, in 1924.

Expanding sales saw production relocate to a new factory at Dockfield Road, Shipley, from 1930.

Hammonds Chop Sauce was introduced in 1930, and soon became the principal product.

The company took on the name of Hammonds Sauce Co from 1933.

H B Hawley was a keen bandmaster and composer, and he formed the Hammonds Sauce Works Band in 1946.

H B Hawley died in 1952, and left £27,000 in his will. He was hailed as one of the leading bandmasters in Yorkshire. His son, Horace Routledge Hawley (1910 – 1983), took over the company.

Hammonds Sauce Co employed a staff of around 100 by 1954.

Goodall, Backhouse & Co of Leeds was acquired in 1959. Goodall’s were sauce manufacturers best known for Yorkshire Relish.

Hammonds Sauce Co was the largest privately-owned sauce manufacturer in Britain by 1974, with a range of 70 products. 34 million bottles of sauce were sold that year, with a significant proportion exported, largely to the United States. The American market was particularly fond of Hammonds Steak Sauce and Yorkshire Relish.

Horace Hawley retired as managing director in 1975, but continued as chairman.

Loss of independence
Hammonds was acquired by US food conglomerate Pillsbury, best known in Britain for Green Giant sweetcorn, for £2.4 million in 1982.

Pillsbury built a new £1 million factory on Harrogate Road, Bradford in 1985, and centralised all production there. The Goodall Backhouse factory in Leeds and the Hammonds factory in Shipley were closed.

Pillsbury was acquired by Grand Metropolitan in 1988 who sold the UK business to Dalgety in 1990. Hammonds had an annual turnover of £11 million in 1990.

Hammonds was acquired by Albert Fisher for £12 million in 1991. Albert Fisher ended sponsorship of the Hammonds Sauce Works band after 47 years in 1993.

Hammonds was acquired by Unigate in 1999. The Bradford factory was closed in 2002 and production was relocated to a former vinegar brewery on Whitelees Road, Littleborough, Lancashire.

McCormick, the American seasonings company, acquired Hammonds for £12.2 million in 2003.

Today, Hammonds Sauce largely serves the catering industry. Hammonds Chop Sauce is available in British supermarkets, and derives its flavour from apple puree, tomato paste and spices.

Golly gosh: James Robertson & Sons

Robertson’s Golden Shred is the leading marmalade brand in Britain, with around a quarter of the market.

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James Robertson (1832 – 1914) was a grocer in Paisley, Scotland. He was a Presbyterian. His wife developed Golden Shred marmalade in 1866, and its popularity soon saw production begin in earnest.

The grocery business was divested in order to concentrate on marmalade production. Rapid expansion of the business saw a freehold site acquired at Paisley in 1873 where a large factory was erected.

James Robertson circa 1890
James Robertson circa 1890

Rising sales in England saw a factory acquired at Droylsden, Manchester in 1891.

A large factory was erected at Catford, Kent in 1900. A factory had been established at Boston in the United States by 1910.

Robertson’s introduced the golliwog character to the label of its products from 1910 onwards.

A new factory was opened in Bristol in 1914. Estimated output at the site was 150 tons a week.

The Bristol factory
The Bristol factory

Robertson’s described themselves as the “largest manufacturers of marmalade” in 1919.

Robertson’s introduced its own brand of thick-cut marmalade from 1929.

Robertson’s marmalade was withdrawn from sale due to a shortage of oranges during the Second World War.

James Robertson & Sons produced more jam and marmalade than anyone else in Britain by 1964. Success was largely confined to the home market, as only an estimated four percent of production was exported.

The company bought 45 percent of the annual crop of Seville oranges by 1965. The company was spending over £1 million a year on glass jars and bottles by 1966.

Unionisation was introduced to Robertson’s from 1966, beginning with 320 workers, out of 600 employees, at the Catford factory.

James Robertson & Sons held 60 percent of the British jam and marmalade market by 1967.

The Catford factory was closed in 1970, with the loss of 350 jobs. 207 employees were retained for distribution and administrative functions.

The Paisley factory was closed in 1974.

Robertson’s announced that it would close the Bristol factory, with the loss of 500 jobs, in 1979. Production would be concentrated at Droylsden.

James Robertson & Sons had struggled throughout the 1970s with rising costs, a stagnant jam market and the growth of supermarket own-label products. The company was acquired by Avana, an own-label supplier of foods to Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s, in 1981.

The Droylsden factory employed 764 workers, and produced 86 million jars of jam a year by 1986.

Avana was acquired by Rank Hovis McDougall in 1987.

Rank Hovis McDougall were acquired by Premier Foods in 2007.

The Droylsden site was closed in 2008, with the loss of 253 jobs. Production was relocated to Histon in Cambridgeshire.

In 2009 it was announced that the Robertson brand would be discontinued in jam, except for within the catering industry. Premier Foods announced that it would instead concentrate on the more successful Hartley’s brand.

Premier Foods sold its sweet spreads division to Hain Celestial in 2012.

Original sauce: John Burgess & Son of the Strand

Burgess’ Essence of Anchovies was the first branded sauce to enjoy a nationwide reputation in Britain.

A Burgess gravy browning bottle from the mid 1990s

John Burgess (1750 – 1820) was the son of an affluent grocer from Odiham in Hampshire. He served an apprenticeship in London, before establishing his own premises at No. 101, the Strand by 1774. He held the profession of what was then called an “Italian warehouseman”, meaning he sold imported speciality foods such as hams and olive oil.

Burgess developed his reputation due to his keen business skills and his honesty. Growing trade saw the business relocate to larger premises at No. 107 the Strand in 1779.

Burgess introduced his Essence of Anchovies in 1775, and by 1788 it was his best known product. His was the original Essence of Anchovies, but it soon inspired imitations from the likes of Elizabeth Lazenby, who began to sell her anchovy-based sauce from 1793.

His only son, William Robert Burgess (1778 – 1853), entered into an equal partnership with his father from 1800, and the firm became known as John Burgess & Son.

Burgess products were onboard Admiral’s Nelson’s HMS Victory in 1805. Lord Byron referenced Burgess’s fish sauce in his poem Beppo (1817). The novelist Walter Scott claimed that Burgess made the best fish sauce in 1823.

After the death of his father in 1820, sole control of the firm passed to William Robert Burgess.

Lazenby and Crosse & Blackwell were encroaching upon Burgess’s market share by the 1850s with their lower-priced versions of Essence of Anchovies.

Whether stubborn or proud, W R Burgess stipulated that the only change in Essence of Anchovies production that he would allow for would be that twelve days’ pounding of fish by two men could be altered to six days pounding by four.

After the death of W R Burgess, the business was taken over by his wife, Elizabeth (1804 – 1884) and his son, Arthur Wellington Burgess (1840 – 1900).

A fire broke out at the firm’s pickling vaults and storehouses on the Strand in 1869. A large quantity of olive oil was destroyed.

Arthur Wellington Burgess was declared bankrupt in 1870, and the business was taken over by his mother, and his sisters, Mary Ann Burgess and Louisa Elizabeth Burgess.

The business was acquired by the Brooks family, relatives of the Burgesses, in 1874.

John Burgess & Son was incorporated as a limited company in 1901.

The company relocated its manufacturing and offices to Hythe Road, Willesden in 1908.

The company was appointed purveyors to George V in 1911. That same year, Robert Falcon Scott took Burgess products with him to the Antarctic.

The shop on the Strand was closed in 1914.

A takeover offer from George Mason & Co, the manufacturer of OK Sauce, was rejected in 1928.

The Willesden factory was damaged by German bombs in 1940.

Rayner & Co acquired John Burgess & Son from the company directors, who were the sole shareholders, in 1954. Company operations were relocated to Edmonton, North London in 1960.

Burgess creamed horseradish was launched in 1960, following three years of research.

Rayner & Co had sales of just under £2 million in 1971. Burgess creamed horseradish was by now its leading product, a market leader in its field with sales of £100,000 a year. Sales of Essence of Anchovies had steadily declined from their Victorian heyday. Rayner and Burgess was established in 1972 to jointly handle the increasing sales of both companies.

Burgess creamed horseradish was still available as late as 1993. It was a premium product.

Essence of Anchovies was still being produced as late as 1999. Latterly, its fans had included the celebrity chef Simon Hopkinson.

Rayner Burgess entered liquidation in 2007. The Burgess brand was acquired by Greencore, a large Irish foods company. Burgess pickles and sauces are still sold as of 2016.

Champion & Co: winning vinegar brewers

Champion & Co was the fourth largest vinegar brewer in Britain and Ireland.

Champion & Co, vinegar brewers of London, was established in 1705. In an age before refrigeration, vinegar was a much more important commodity than it is today, due to its preservative effect on foodstuffs.

William Champion (died 1799) had acquired a brewery on City Road by 1794. He died suddenly whilst serving as Sheriff of London in 1799, and the business was taken over by his son, Thomas Champion (1774 – 1846). The firm was to owe its subsequent growth, both at home and overseas, to the business acumen of Thomas Champion.

A bottle of Champion’s Celebrated Pure Malt Vinegar, likely dating from the 1920s

From 1813 to 1818 the business was known as Champion & Moore, when a Francis Moore joined in partnership. The premises were burgled in 1814, with £1,000 of valuables stolen. Moore left the partnership in 1818 to establish himself independently.

The business was owned by Thomas Champion and Thomas Green from 1821, and traded as Champion & Green. The firm was manufacturing mustard as well as vinegar by 1830. That year the two men were joined by Guy Champion (1786 – 1846), brother to Thomas, who had previously worked as a merchant in Spain.

Champion & Green was the fourth largest vinegar brewer in Britain and Ireland by 1832, with 13 percent market share.

A fire at the works destroyed the building and stock in 1833. Fortunately the business was insured.

According to Charles James Feret (1854 – 1921), writing in 1900, Guy Champion chanced upon a slave auction whilst in Albania. There he bought a girl, who he brought back to England and married.

Thomas Green had left the business by 1839.

In 1840 the partnership between Guy and Percival Champion, Arthur Mann and William Henry Wright was dissolved. They had been trading under the name Champions, Mann & Wright. The business was transferred to Thomas Champion.

Guy Champion died in 1846. His brother Thomas died suddenly whilst organising the funeral arrangements.

George Willis and William Henry Wright took over the company in the 1840s, but the Champion family continued to hold a stake, and it continued to trade as Champion & Co.

James Bigwood (1839 – 1919) was the head of the firm by 1871. He was a strong advocate of product purity, and was vehemently opposed to food adulteration.

Champion & Co produced well over 1.5 million gallons of vinegar every year by 1872. The firm also produced two tons of mustard per day. The firm employed 170 workers, almost all skilled.

The brewery was extended in 1873.

A new 53,000 gallon vinegar vat was installed in 1883. It took three months to construct from English oak. It joined 46 other similarly-sized vats at the brewery.

There were nearly 200 workmen employed at the brewery by 1883. Many had followed their fathers and grandfathers into the business.

Champion & Co had been registered as a limited liability company by 1887.

The City Road premises was described as “imposing” in 1890. The brewery was capable of producing up to 10,000 bottles of vinegar every day by 1894.

A Champion & Co bottle, believed to date from the 1890s. Image courtesy of Tim Gunnink

James Bigwood had been joined in the business by his son, James Edward Cecil Bigwood (1863 – 1947) by 1901.

The firm was the oldest established vinegar brewery in London by 1907.

The brewery site, close to the City of London, became highly valuable, and keen to realise its value, James Bigwood and James Edward Cecil Bigwood sold the business to Slee, Slee & Co, a rival vinegar brewer, to form Champion & Slee Ltd in 1907. The company had a share capital of £140,000. Champion production was relocated to the Slee premises at Church Street, Tower Bridge Road, London, where there was ample room for expansion.

A large proportion of production was exported to foreign and colonial markets.

After the First World War, the British vinegar market was suffering from overcapacity. Champion & Slee was acquired, along with rival Sarson’s, by Crosse & Blackwell in 1929.

The Champion vinegar brand continued to be advertised until 1955, after which it appears to have been phased out in favour of the Sarson’s brand.