Category Archives: Food

Comfort for the table: Epps Cocoa

Epps was the leading brand of cocoa in Victorian Britain.

Dr John Epps invents an instant cocoa
Dr John Epps (1805 – 1869) was the son of a wealthy Calvinist provision merchant in London.

Dr Epps became one of the pioneers of homeopathy in Britain. He established premises at Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. He was joined by his brother, James Epps (1821 – 1907), from 1837.

Dr John Epps (1805 – 1869) inventor of Epps’ Cocoa Powder

The almost prohibitive duty on cocoa was greatly reduced in 1832, allowing the market to grow exponentially. Easily prepared cocoa had been difficult to procure, and the fat in the raw material was unpalatable for many. Dr John Epps discovered a way to make it more appetising, mixing the cocoa with 20 percent West Indies arrowroot and 13 percent sugar.

Epps’ cocoa was first sold in 1839 for the use of patients for whom tea and coffee were restricted. It was an instant cocoa powder, made by mixing with hot water or milk.

Dr John Epps was not the first person to invent soluble cocoa powder, but James Epps was largely responsible for introducing the product to the mass market. He heavily advertised Epps’ Cocoa, and had introduced a distinctive slogan, “grateful and comforting” by 1855.

Epps’ Cocoa was initially produced under contract by Daniel Dunn of Pentonville Road, who had invented instant cocoa powder in 1819.

James Epps begins to manufacture cocoa independently
James Epps had established his own factory at 398 Euston Road, London by 1863. He installed his nephew, Hahnemann Epps (1843 – 1916), as manager.

Epps & Co had grown to become the largest cocoa powder producer in Britain by 1878, with an output of nearly five million pounds (2.3 million kg) a year. To accommodate increasing production, a new steam-powered works was established at Holland Street, Blackfriars from 1878. At its peak Epps & Co processed half of all cocoa imports into Britain.

Steam Cocoa Mills, Holland Street, London
Steam Cocoa Mills, Holland Street, London

A short and slight man, James Epps kept a low public profile, unlike his gregarious brother John. He was known only for his work in business, and had few outside interests. He allowed his portrait to be taken only once, and he never granted an interview or issued a public statement. He was a hard worker, keen on a bargain, and somewhat controlling. Despite his massive wealth he lived in an unfashionable area of London.

Epps & Co sales peaked in the early 1880s. Nearly 15 million packets were sold in 1882. Sales began to decline as rivals introduced superior products. Cadbury and Rowntree invested in Van Houten presses, which allowed the manufacturer to remove the unpalatable cocoa butter from the product. Epps neglected to respond to this change.

Epps & Co is converted into a private company; sale to Rowntree
The business was converted into a private joint stock limited company known as James Epps & Co in 1893. The directors were James Epps, Hahnemann Epps and James Epps Jr (1856 – 1905), and the company had a capital of £200,000. No shares were offered to the public, and the company remained under family control.

Epps’ Cocoa had been overtaken in sales by Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa and Rowntree by 1898.

James Epps Jr (also known as Willie James Epps), the only son of James Epps, died of a heart attack in Jamaica in 1905. His gross estate was valued at £162,422.

James Epps (1821 – 1907), date unknown

James Epps died in 1907 and his gross estate was valued at £735,387. This was a larger estate than contemporaries in the food industry such as the mustard magnate Jeremiah James Colman (1830 – 1898), instant custard producer Alfred Bird (1849 – 1922) or James Horlick (1844 – 1921).

The estate was inherited by his nieces and nephews, principally James Washington Epps (1874 -1955), who became managing director of James Epps & Co. Hahnemann Epps became chairman.

Taylor Brothers Ltd, a London cocoa manufacturer, was acquired in 1907. Taylor’s cocoa was an economy offering, made with up to 20 percent cocoa shell, whereas Epps was a premium product, and contained no shell.

Epps’ Cocoa powder had been reformulated to include 44 percent sugar, 40 percent cocoa and 16 percent West Indies arrowroot by 1924.

Rowntree of York acquired James Epps & Co for £70,000 in 1926.

The Epps factory was closed in 1930, and the manufacture of Epps products was transferred to Whitefields Ltd of Plaistow.

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.

Production had been relocated to Redditch, Worcestershire, by 1992.

Heinz acquired the Frank Cooper’s brand in 1997.

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.

Biscuit empire: Huntley & Palmers (Part II)

This article continues from Part I. Part II chronicles the decline of Huntley & Palmers from its position as the largest biscuit manufacturer in the world.

Registered as a company
Huntley & Palmers was registered as a private limited company in 1898.

Huntley & Palmers was the 38th largest British industrial company in 1905, with a capital of £2.4 million (c. £255 million in 2014). Nearly 7,000 people were employed.

Iced gems were introduced in 1910.

As late as 1910, Huntley & Palmers largely eschewed advertising.

Huntley & Palmers employed 8,000 people by 1913.

George William Palmer died with an estate valued at £765,676 in 1913.

A 1923 advertisement

Huntley & Palmers was the largest biscuit manufacturer in the world. Almost half of production was exported by 1914, with 50 percent destined for the Far East and Africa.

Between 1865 and 1914 over 900,000 tonnes of biscuits were sold.

Huntley & Palmers supplied the British army with hard tack biscuits during the First World War.

The export trade was slow to rebuild after the First World War: only 25 percent of output was exported in 1924. Meanwhile, domestic sales declined as Huntley & Palmers failed to introduce new products or update existing ones. Marketing was poor, with inadequate advertising, fewer salesman than other firms and no depots outside Reading.

It has been argued that Huntley & Palmers had too many product lines to produce efficiently, and that the Palmer family paid themselves overly generous dividends and salaries, funds which might otherwise have been reinvested into the business.

The Reading factory site covered 24 acres, and included 36 acres of floorspace by 1920. The Osborne (similar to a digestive) was the most popular biscuit, followed by the Marie (rich tea) and the Ginger Nut.

Associated Biscuit Manufacturers
High income tax and death duties persuaded Huntley & Palmers to merge with Peek Frean of Bermondsey, under a holding company called Associated Biscuit Manufacturers (ABM), in 1921. Individual production and marketing strategies were maintained by the two companies.

By neglecting the commodity category of the biscuit market, ABM’s domestic market share had declined to 15 percent.

William Howard Palmer died in 1923 with an estate valued at £536,794.

A factory was opened near Paris in 1923. At the time it was decried in Britain as the transfer of jobs overseas.

80 percent of the 6,000 strong workforce at the Reading factory went on strike in 1924. The dispute, regarding worker efficiency, was settled within three days after Huntley & Palmers agreed to recognise the workers union.

Peek Frean turnover and profits had exceeded those of Huntley & Palmers by 1927. Peek Frean installed automated biscuit plants in the early 1930s, but Huntley & Palmers did not do so until 1938.

ABM employed 7,245 people in 1935.

Two large rivals emerged: the value biscuit manufacturer George Weston had established production volumes that equalled ABM by 1938. In 1948 the Scottish firms McVitie & Price and MacFarlane Lang merged to form United Biscuits, with 3,350 employees.

Huntley & Palmers in Reading (1945)

Factories were opened in Canada, the United States and Australia in 1949. The Reading factory employed 3,000 people in 1954.

A new factory was opened in Huyton, Liverpool in 1955.

The Cornish Wafer was the highest-selling biscuit by 1954. Associated Biscuits concentrated on cream, savoury and assorted biscuits. The Lemon Puff was introduced from 1958.

Around 15 to 20 percent of production was exported in 1959.

Jacob’s joins Associated Biscuit Manufacturers
Jacob’s, the third largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain, was acquired by ABM in 1960. The purchase was motivated by a need to build scale in order to better compete with United Biscuits.

Huntley & Palmers employed 2,000 people across its two factories by 1968. The range of biscuits produced by Huntley & Palmers was streamlined in the mid to late 1960s in order to focus on the most profitable lines.

ABM was reorganised as Associated Biscuits in 1969.

Associated Biscuits employed 9,856 people in 1972. The company dedicated the vast majority of its advertising spend to the Jacob’s brand from 1972. One third of sales came from overseas, with factories in Australia, Canada and India.

Associated Biscuits had an 18 percent share of the British biscuit market in 1976. It was behind United Biscuits with 40 percent.

The Reading factory was closed in 1976. Associated Biscuits claimed that the 21-acre site was “surplus to requirements”, and production was relocated to Liverpool and Bermondsey. The valuable real estate was sold for £4 million in 1979.

Overseas production was dedicated to British-style biscuits. Digestives and shortcakes were popular in Canada, whilst the Indian market preferred cream crackers and Thin Arrowroot.

Associated Biscuits employed over 14,000 people in Britain by 1982, and a further 3,100 people overseas.

Acquisition by Nabisco
Nabisco, the American manufacturer of Shredded Wheat and Ritz crackers, acquired Associated Biscuits for £83.8 million in 1982. Nabisco was interested in the Huntley & Palmers brand, as well as its worldwide distribution network, particularly in Singapore, Canada, France and Germany.

The five Associated Biscuits factories in Britain were operating at half to two thirds capacity, and the business became loss-making. The Huyton factory was closed with the loss of 770 jobs in 1984, and production was relocated to Aintree, Liverpool.

The Aintree site was modernised at a cost of £25 million in 1986.

Huntley & Palmers was positioned as the Associated Biscuits premium sweet biscuit brand. However it accounted for just five percent of company production by weight by 1988.

Nabisco did not successfully manage their British biscuit operations. Their market share in biscuits had declined to 11.7 percent by 1988, and they were forced to reverse their decision to discontinue production of Bath Oliver biscuits following popular protest.

High overheads and traffic congestion saw the Peek Frean factory at Bermondsey closed with the loss of 1,022 jobs in 1989. Production was transferred to Aintree and Leicestershire.

Takeover by BSN
Associated Biscuits was acquired by BSN of France for $2.5 billion in 1989.

The Huntley & Palmers brand was phased out in favour of the Jacob’s name in 1990. It made sense to concentrate resources behind a single brand, and the Jacob’s name was better known, and believed to have a more contemporary image than the Huntley & Palmers brand. Huntley & Palmers products subjected to a re-branding included Romany, Crumbles, Lemon Puffs and Cornish Wafers.

The head office was relocated from Reading to Liverpool in 1996.

Sale to United Biscuits
BSN (now called Danone) sold its UK and Irish biscuit operations to United Biscuits for £200 million in 2004.

Huntley & Palmers Cornish Wafers are still sold under the Jacob’s brand, and McVitie’s continue to manufacture Thin Arrowroots. Huntley & Palmers biscuits are still produced in New Zealand.

In around 2018 the Huntley & Palmers brand was acquired by Freemans Confectionery, a Walsall-based confectionery wholesaler, who use the brand to market own-label products such as cakes.

Minted: R S Murray & Co

R S Murray & Co introduced American-style caramels to Britain, but remains best-known for Murray Mints.

R S Murray introduces caramels to Britain
Robert Stuart Murray (1854 – 1912) was a confectionery salesman from Chicago, Illinois. He relocated to London where he introduced imported American-style caramels, made from milk or cream and sugar, to the British market.

Encouraged by strong demand, Murray formed a partnership with Charles Hubbard (died 1911) and Walter Michael Price (1826 – 1919), and established a confectionery factory at 67 Turnmill Street in Clerkenwell from 1882. Caramel producing machinery to the value of £8,000 was imported from America.

The factory employed 300 workers, and had a daily production output of five to six tons of confectionery.

R S Murray & Co was registered as a limited company with a capital of £50,000 in 1900. R S Murray & Co was probably the third largest sugar confectionery manufacturer in London by this time, behind Clarnico and Barratt.

R S Murray & Co had diversified into chocolate manufacturing by 1906.

The workers at R S Murray & Co went out on strike, demanding higher pay, in 1911. The largely female workforce were supported by Mary Macarthur (1880 – 1921), the prominent women’s rights campaigner. The campaign ended with a largely positive result for the workforce.

Robert Stuart Murray died in 1912 with a net personalty valued at £20,169 (around £19.3 million in 2020 prices).

H J Norton establishes overseas subsidiaries
Herbert John Norton (1874 – 1958) was nominated managing director in 1912, following the death of Robert Stuart Murray.

The factory site covered over three acres by 1914, and employed 1,500 to 2,000 people.

H J Norton was nominated chairman after the First World War.

A chocolate manufacturing subsidiary in Australia was established at De Carle Street, East Brunswick, a suburb of Melbourne, from 1920.

R S Murray formed a joint venture with Clarnico to establish an Irish manufacturing presence, Clarnico Murray, from 1927.

The Australian factory employed over 300 people by 1931. Rowntree of York and R S Murray merged their Australian interests into a joint venture from 1934.

R S Murray & Co is acquired by C & E Morton
R S Murray & Co was acquired by C & E Morton, a tinned food manufacturer, in 1936.

The Turnmill Street factory was closed in the late 1930s, and R S Murray production was transferred to the C & E Morton site at Lowestoft, Suffolk.

The Australian subsidiary was fully acquired by Rowntree of York in 1942.

Embed from Getty Images

Murray Mints, caramels flavoured with molasses and peppermint, were introduced from 1944. They soon became the best known R S Murray product.

C & E Morton was acquired by Beecham, a consumer goods manufacturer, for £180,000 in 1945.

Murray Mints were advertised on British television from 1955. They were promoted as, “the too good to hurry mint”. Murray Mints became one of the most extensively advertised sugar confectionery lines.

Other Murray products sold throughout the 1950s included Murray Fruits, the Regent assortment, and Murray Caramels.

Beecham acquired James Pascall, in an attempt to build scale in confectionery, in 1959. Following the takeover, Beecham focused its marketing efforts on Pascall products, rather than the Murray range.

Pascal Murray is acquired by Cadbury Fry
Beecham were successful marketers, but they struggled with the highly competitive confectionery industry, and Pascall Murray was sold to Cadbury, a large chocolate manufacturer, in 1964.

Clarnico Murray had around ten percent of the Irish confectionery market by 1969. The Irish factory was closed in 1974, and the market was thereafter served by imports from Britain.

Cadbury was acquired by Kraft of Chicago in 2010. Kraft spun-off its global snacks business, including Cadbury, as Mondelez in 2012.

Murray Mints are still sold in Britain by Mondelez under the Maynard Bassett brand. Murray Butter Mints are also available as part of a mint assortment.

The sweet and sour history of Haywards pickles

Haywards is the leading pickled vegetable brand in Britain.

Robert Hayward (born 1847) was born at Newington in Southwark, London, the son of a corn merchant. He was a dedicated Baptist.

Hayward established a pickle manufacturing business at Montford Place, Kennington, from 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 from 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. Hayward Brothers operated the largest malt vinegar brewery in New Zealand by 1908.

Hayward Brothers is incorporated as a private limited company
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.

Haywards Military Pickle had become the leading product line by 1905. 200,000 bottles were sold in London that year. The pickle was made with whole baby onions, gherkins, sultanas, dates, cauliflower, mangoes, plums and apricots.

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.

Subsequent ownership
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 was sold to James Burrough Ltd and became the production centre 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.

Haywards held 21 percent of the sour pickle market by 1987.

Haywards Pickles was sold to Hillsdown Holdings (later Premier Foods) for an undisclosed price in 1989. The company employed 150 people.

Haywards Military Pickle was discontinued sometime after 1996.

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.

Just desserts: a history of Pearce Duff

Pearce Duff is the leading powdered blancmange brand in Britain.

Pearce Duff was established by William Pearce and William Henry Duff (1793 – 1874), a Hampshire-born cook, in 1847. Baking powder and egg substitute powder were produced from a private home.

Growing sales saw the business relocate to a factory at Long Lane, Borough, London by the mid-1860s. Newspaper advertising had commenced by 1866.

Control of the business had passed to George Pearce and Daniel Duff (1837 – 1917) by 1884.

Relocation to Rouel Road
Pearce Duff relocated to the former premises of Young & Co, a glue manufacturer of Rouel Road in Bermondsey, from 1890.

The factory was briefly closed in August 1911 due to worker intimidation by striking employees.

The Pearce Duff factory on Rouel Road/Spa Road, Bermondsey
The Pearce Duff factory on Rouel Road/Spa Road, Bermondsey

In 1914 the partners were Daniel Duff, Mrs Elizabeth Jane Duff (born 1870), Daniel Duff Jr (1879 – 1953), James Thomas Hosking (1856 – 1922) and Leslie George Cockhead (1861 – 1947). Nearly 500 people were employed at the five-storey Rouel Road factory.

J T Hosking retired from the partnership in 1916.

Daniel Duff died with an estate valued at £65,091 in 1917.

Pearce Duff had been registered as a private limited company by 1937. Daniel Duff Jr was appointed managing director.

L G Cockhead died with an estate valued at £90,327 in 1947. His nurse, with whom he was romantically involved, was granted an inheritance of £20,000.

Daniel Duff Jr died with an estate valued at £165,026 in 1953.


Introduction of automation; acquisitions
Mechanisation and automation of the factory was completed in the mid-1950s. A fully-automated plant for manufacturing custard powder was installed in 1957. Products were exported to 77 countries.

The business remained family-owned, and four members of the Duff family sat on the board of directors. Nearly 30 percent of production was exported in 1962.

A factory was acquired at Annan, Dumfriesshire to manufacture jellies in 1965.

Hugh Bidwell (1934 -2013) was appointed managing director of Pearce & Duff in 1970, and became chairman from 1971.

Pearce Duff acquired Marela from W R Grace of New York in 1973. Marela manufactured pickles and Fardon’s sauces and vinegar. In return, W R Grace and Barings Bank took a 40 percent stake in Pearce Duff. The acquisition gave Pearce Duff an annual turnover of around £4.5 million.

The Bermondsey and Annan factories were closed with the loss of 300 jobs in 1974. Production was relocated to a new factory at Dunstable, near Luton, where 250 people were employed.

Sales worth over £3 million in the Middle East and West Africa led Pearce Duff to win a prestigious Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1979.

Pearce Duff sorbet mix, probably from the 1980s
Pearce Duff sorbet mix, probably from the 1980s

James Ashby & Sons, tea and coffee importers of London, was acquired in 1983. The purchase took Pearce Duff annual turnover to over £16 million.

Pearce Duff loses its independence
Hugh Bidwell and Sir Kenneth Cork (1913 – 1991) held a majority stake in Pearce Duff by 1984. That year they sold the business to Gill & Duffus, the largest cocoa trader in the world, for £4 million.

Dalgety acquired Gill & Duffus the following year. Dalgety merged Pearce Duff with its own Spillers Homepride division.

Pearce Duff products such as custard powder and baking powder were eventually discontinued in Britain, leaving only the blancmange powder to remain in production.

Dalgety sold its food ingredients business, including Pearce Duff, to Kerry Group of Ireland in 1998.

Pearce Duff blancmange powder is manufactured in Rotherham, Yorkshire. 700,000 units, to the retail value of £500,000, were sold in 2006.

Pearce Duff custard powder is sold in Pakistan and Spain, and Pearce Duff remains the leading brand of baking powder in West Africa and the Middle East.

Baking point: George Borwick & Sons

Borwick’s was the highest-selling baking powder in the world.

George Borwick establishes the business
George Borwick (1807 – 1889) was born in Cartmel, Lancashire. He worked as a teacher in West Bromwich and married Jane Hudson (1807 – 1868), the daughter of a Congregationalist minister, in 1831.

Borwick’s brother in law, Robert Spear Hudson (1812 – 1884), had introduced the first successful commercial soap powder in 1837. A trained chemist, Hudson gifted his formula for baking powder to Borwick.

Borwick relocated to 18 Aldermanbury, London, to work as a wholesale agent selling Hudson’s washing and bleaching powder as well as his new baking powder, from 1844.

“Borwick’s German Baking Powder” received a recommendation from the private baker to Queen Victoria in 1849.

The firm traded as Borwick & Priestley, wholesale druggists and drysalters of 24 and 25 London Wall, London, between 1850 and 1852.

Borwick also introduced a successful egg powder.

Dr Hassall (1817 – 1894) analysed Borwick’s baking powder in 1855 and found it to consist of tartaric acid, soda (or maybe potassium carbonate), ground rice, a small amount of wheat flour and possibly a little sugar.

Borwick’s sales averaged £12,000 to £14,000 a year between 1845 and 1857.

Borwick’s baking powder and egg powder became some of the first widely-known consumer products in Britain.

George Borwick employed 75 men and boys and 8 girls in 1861.

Growing sales saw premises relocated to 24 Chiswell Street, Finsbury from 1864.

George Borwick & Sons
Robert Hudson Borwick (1845 – 1936) and Joseph Cooksey Borwick (1847 – 1913), sons of George Borwick, entered the business in 1865 after a brief period working as manufacturing confectioners. They were made partners by 1870, and the firm traded as George Borwick & Sons.

George Borwick & Sons was awarded a Royal Warrant for supply of baking powder to the Queen of the Netherlands in 1870.

George Borwick had retired to Devon by 1881, and he died in 1889. The value of his personal estate was estimated at £259,740. The firm was left to Robert and Joseph, whilst his eldest son Alfred (born 1837) inherited his estate at Walthamstow.

600,000 packets of Borwick’s baking powder were sold every week by 1896.

Robert Borwick was knighted in 1902.

George Borwick & Sons was registered as a limited liability company with a capital of £100,000 in 1902.

Joseph Borwick died with property valued at £159,419 in 1913.

Robert Borwick had retired from active management of George Borwick & Sons by 1915. His eldest son, Robert Geoffrey Borwick (1887 – 1961), took over as chairman of the business.

Robert Borwick was created a baronet in 1916, and elevated to the peerage from 1922. He died in 1936 with an estate valued at £361,000.

George Borwick & Sons had its premises at 42-44 Croydon Road, London by 1949.

Takeover and subsequent history
George Borwick & Sons was sold to H J Green & Co of Brighton, a traditional family-managed manufacturer of sponge mixes, in 1955.

H J Green was acquired by Pillsbury of Minneapolis in 1964.

A new factory was established at Rotherham, Yorkshire, in 1979.

Pillsbury was taken over by Grand Metropolitan in 1989. H J Green was sold to Dalgety in 1990. Dalgety sold its food ingredients business, including H J Green, to Kerry Group of Ireland in 1998.

Borwick’s baking powder continues to be sold across Britain.

Starch in their eyes: Brown & Polson

Brown & Polson introduced corn flour to Britain.

Brown & Polson introduce corn flour to Britain
Starch manufacturers John Polson (1800 – 1843), William Polson (1810 – 1893) and John Brown (1806 -1889) merged their interests to form Brown & Polson with a factory at Thrushcraig in Paisley, Scotland from 1842.

Brown & Polson had been appointed starch manufacturer to Queen Victoria by 1853.

John Polson Jr (1825 – 1900) discovered a method for manufacturing pure starch from maize, which he called corn flour. He patented the process in 1854. It was the first corn flour to be manufactured in Britain. Advertised as a substitute for arrowroot, corn flour was used as a thickening agent for foods, and used to make custard, blancmange, puddings and cakes.


Production was relocated to the Royal Starch Works at Carriagehill, Paisley from 1857. The Thurscraig works were divested.

William Polson left the partnership to enter into starch manufacture independently from 1857.

In a major promotional coup for the business, the influential Dr Hassall confirmed the purity of Brown & Polson corn flour in 1858.

Brown & Polson employed 32 men and 60 women in 1861.

Brown & Polson employed around 200 people by 1871. The business introduced a profit-sharing scheme for its workforce from 1873.

By 1879 the partners were John Polson Jr, John Brown and John Armour Brown (1839 – 1924).

John Polson Jr was a practical and thrifty man, as well as a generous benefactor.

John Polson
John Polson Jr (1825 – 1900)

John Armour Brown was head of the business by 1881. He was a strong, practical man, with a keen intellect.

Brown & Polson employed 277 people in 1881, including 89 men, 14 women, 86 boys and 88 girls.

Brown & Polson converted the by-product of corn flour manufacture into animal feed, which by 1884 had become a significant part of the business in its own right.

Brown & Polson was considered an enlightened employer. The firm was proud to announce in 1893 that a worker had never encountered the loss of a life or a limb in their factories, and the workforce had never gone on strike.

Brown & Polson office building, Paisley
Brown & Polson office building, Paisley

Currie & Co, starch and corn flour manufacturer of Murray Street, Paisley, was acquired from the executrix of James Currie Auchencloss in 1897.

John Polson Jr died with an estate valued at £349,059 in 1900.

Brown & Polson acquired William Polson & Co in 1904.

Brown & Polson is formed as a private company
Brown & Polson Limited was formed as a private company with a capital of £500,000 in 1920.

William Wotherspoon, a Paisley starch manufacturer, was acquired in 1923. William Mackean, another Paisley starch manufacturer, was also acquired.

John Armour Brown died with an estate valued at £231,654 in 1924.

Brown & Polson had branched out into blancmange powder by 1933.

Share capital was increased to £600,000 in 1935.

Brown & Polson is acquired by Corn Products Co
Corn Products Co of the United States, which had a factory at Trafford Park, Manchester, acquired Brown & Polson in 1935.

The head office was relocated to Wellington House, 125-130 the Strand, London, from 1946.

Brown & Polson sold 200,000 tons of starch a year by 1952.

The William Mackean factory in Paisley was closed in 1954.

The Wotherspoon factory at Maxwellton, Paisley was closed in 1957. 40 staff were relocated to the Brown & Polson factory, but 170 jobs were lost.

Corn Products Co merged with Bestfoods of America in 1959.

A massive explosion at the Paisley animal feeding-stuff drying plant killed five men in 1962. 900 workers were employed at the factory, and fatalities would have been much higher if the incident had occurred during the day shift.

Brown & Polson employed over 500 people in 1962. The head office was relocated to Claygate, Surrey from 1963.

A £750,000 extension of the Paisley site was completed in 1964.

Brown & Polson acquired Frank Cooper, an Oxford marmalade manufacturer for £866,250 in cash in 1964. Marmalade production was relocated to the Brown & Polson factory in Paisley from 1967.

Knorr stock cubes and soups were manufactured at Paisley from the mid-1960s.

Brown & Polson held the licence to manufacture Gerber baby food for the British market between 1965 and 1979. The company held 13 percent of the British baby food market in 1969.

A Brown & Polson instant custard powder was introduced from 1978.

Brown & Polson blancmange mix was discontinued in Britain in the 1990s.

The Paisley factory employed 450 people in 1992, mostly in the manufacture of Knorr stock cubes and Hellmann’s mayonnaise.

Knorr production was relocated to more modern plants in France and Italy from 1993, with the loss of 345 jobs in Paisley.

Closure of the Paisley factory and sale to Premier Foods
Unilever acquired Corn Products Co (by now known as Bestfoods) in 2000.

The Paisley factory was closed in 2002. 66 jobs were lost as mayonnaise production was relocated to the Netherlands.

Unilever sold Brown & Polson to Premier Foods in 2003.

Brown & Polson corn flour is still available in Britain and India.

Clarnico of Hackney Wick (1872 – 2019)

Clarnico was the largest sugar confectionery manufacturer in Britain during the interwar period. It became a national leader in redistribution of profits to its staff. Clarnico was acquired by Trebor in 1969, who closed down the London and Irish factories. The Clarnico Mint Cream continued to be produced until 2019.

Establishment of Clarnico
Clarke Nickolls & Co was established as a jam and marmalade manufacturer at Hackney Wick in East London in 1872. There was an initial workforce of ten people.

Robert Coombs (1836 – 1919) joined the business as a partner from 1875, and developed a sugar confectionery manufacturing subsidiary called Clarnico.

George Mathieson (1844 – 1940) and Alexander Horn (1851 – 1923) joined the business as partners soon afterwards, and were instrumental in its subsequent expansion. Mathieson and Horn both came from the village of Insch in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

The growth of the sugar beet industry in Britain, and a consequential reduction in sugar costs, allowed Clarnico to experience rapid growth. Clarke, Nickolls & Coombs employed 300 people by 1881.

Clarke, Nickolls & Coombs is established as a public company; a profit-sharing scheme is introduced
Clarke, Nickolls & Coombs was incorporated as a public company with a share capital of £80,000 from 1887. It was one of the largest confectionery companies in Britain. Control of the business was in the hands of George Mathieson and Alexander Horn by this time, and Mathieson was appointed managing director.

Mathieson and Horn introduced a profit-sharing scheme for the workforce from 1890. After paying a six percent dividend, the company split the remaining profit equally between the shareholders and the workforce. 840 people shared a total of £1,700 in 1893. The scheme gave staff the incentive to work harder, and promoted worker retention.

The business grew rapidly throughout the 1890s. 1,000 men were employed in 1891. Around 1,300 people were employed by 1892, around 1,500 in 1896, and 2,000 by 1899. The factory site covered five acres by 1896.

Clarnico becomes the largest sugar confectionery manufacturer in Britain
Clarnico Caramels were the best known product, and Clarnico was the largest producer of unwrapped caramels in Britain.

The Hackney Wick site had over ten acres of floorspace by 1908. Over 3,000 people were employed by 1911.

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The Clarnico Mint Cream had been introduced by 1912.

Clarnico was the largest sugar confectionery company in Britain during the interwar period. Over 700 different varieties of sweets were produced. The Clarnico site was the largest sugar confectionery factory in Britain.

Clarnico formed a joint venture with R S Murray & Co to establish an Irish factory from 1926.

The Clarnico factory suffered significant bomb damage during the London Blitz in 1940.

An overhead view of the Clarnico Works in 1921. Image used with kind permission of Britain From Above.

Clarnico distributed £700,000 in profits to its workforce between 1890 and 1944, a figure beaten only by J T & J Taylor of Batley and Reckitt & Colman.

Clarnico Murray held around ten percent of the Irish confectionery market by 1969.

Clarnico is acquired by Trebor
The sugar confectionery market had become stagnant by the end of the 1960s. Competition was further hampered by the emergence of larger rivals. Clarke, Nickolls & Coombs sold Clarnico to its London-rival Trebor for £900,000 in 1969. The merged business was the fourth largest confectionery manufacturer in Britain.

The Clarnico factory in London was closed down in 1973.

The Irish manufacturing presence was closed down in 1974, and the market was thereafter served by imports from Britain.

Clarnico products continued to be sold, including Mint Creams, fudge, Fruit Jellies and Chocolate Peppermint Creams.

Trebor was acquired by Cadbury for £120 million in 1989.

Clarnico Mint Cream manufacturing was relocated to France and the product was sold under the Maynards Bassetts brand. The sweet was discontinued in 2019, after over 100 years in production, thus ending the Clarnico link to confectionery.