Domestos is the leading brand of bleach in the United Kingdom.
Wilfred Augustine Handley (1901 -1975), was the son of a blacksmith employed in the Tyneside shipbuilding industry.
W A Handley trained as a dental mechanic. As a side project, he manufactured chemicals in his garden shed. He acquired sodium hypochlorite, a waste product from the local chemical industries, including ICI Billingham, and manufactured a powerful disinfectant and sterilizer, which he called “Domestos”.
W A Handley established his “Hygienic Disinfectant Service” in 1929. Assisted by his wife Ivy, he worked as a door-to-door salesman to sell Domestos.
Domestos was incorporated as a private company in 1936.
Stergene, designed for washing woollens, was introduced in 1948.
Domestos enjoyed distribution across Britain by 1952.
Sqezy, the first washing up liquid in squeezable bottles, was launched in 1957.
W A Handley placed Domestos into a shell company which was valued at £250,000 in 1957.
Handley sold the company to Unilever for £2.5 million in 1961. Unilever lacked a bleach brand of its own, and was attracted to the company’s strong growth. The acquisition provided Domestos with much needed capital for expansion, as well as managerial expertise.
Handley was retained in a managerial capacity, but stepped down as chairman in 1962.
The Domestos blue plastic bottle was introduced from 1963.
The Domestos marketing and sales departments had been transferred to London by 1965.
Domestos employed 700 people by 1965.
Domestos sales continued to grow, but the Newcastle factory lacked space to expand. As a result, production of Domestos detergents including Sqezy and Stergene were transferred to the Unilever factory at Port Sunlight, Merseyside, from 1965. The customer service office was relocated to London.
Domestos held a third of the British bleach market by 1974.
Handley died in 1975 and left an estate valued at £172,786.
The Domestos factory in Newcastle upon Tyne was closed in 1975 with the loss of 160 jobs, and operations were relocated to Port Sunlight.
Domestos was sold throughout Europe by the end of the 1970s. It was introduced to Australia from 1981.
Globally, Domestos enjoyed ten percent growth in 2017, and is a leading product in the Unilever Home Care division.
Hill Evans operated the largest vinegar brewery in the world by 1881, but the firm is almost forgotten today.
Cowell, Crane & Kilpin established themselves as British Wine manufacturers on Foregate Street, Worcester in the 1760s.
William Hill (1788 – 1859), a Wesleyan Methodist from Stourport, and Edward Evans (1788 – 1871), a Welsh chemist, acquired the firm from Charles Kilpin (1770 – 1845) in 1829.
Hill and Evans branched out into the production of vinegar. It was not only a highly important commodity for its use as preservative in an era before refrigeration, but the process also utilised the waste from the British Wine production.
Hill Evans was the sixth largest brewer of vinegar in Britain, and the largest producer outside of London, by 1844. 153,875 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1848.
Edward Bickerton Evans (1819 – 1893) and Thomas Rowley Hill (1816 – 1896) had joined their fathers in partnership by 1848. It was the two sons, especially Rowley Hill, who provided the impetus and drive for the business to develop scale. Rowley Hill had been barred from Oxbridge due to his Congregationalist faith, and instead received an education at University College, London.
The Hill Evans works held hundreds of thousands of gallons of vinegar stocks by 1852.
An 1852 chemical analysis of Hill Evans vinegar commissioned by The Lancet, a leading medical journal, asserted that the firm used sulphuric acid, a widely exploited adjunct which reduced maturation times. Hill Evans & Co refuted this, challenging the editor to conduct “the most rigid analysis of their vinegar…by chemists of acknowledged reputation”.
Eminent scientists such as Dr Lyon Playfair (1818 – 1898) were afforded free access to the entirety of the Hill Evans site, as well as their brewing records for the last twenty years. The Lancet was subsequently forced to back down in a rare and humiliating defeat, and acknowledged that sulphate of lime, naturally occurring in the local water, had been mistaken for sulphuric acid.
Bickerton Evans and Rowley Hill were the sole proprietors of the firm by 1858. Rowley Hill was a generous benefactor, with a strong work ethic and high integrity. Bickerton Evans was a down-to-earth Baptist. Hill Evans established a reputation as a model employer.
1,048,229 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1858. This had risen to an annual output of two million gallons of vinegar by 1866, and the firm was by far the largest vinegar producer in Britain, employing around 100 people.
Hill Evans was the largest producer of British Wine in Britain, with an annual production of 130,000 gallons in 1868. By this time the firm had established a London depot at Eastcheap.
Continuing growth saw the firm build a small private railway in 1870 to connect it to the Great Western & Midland Railways.
Rowley Hill and Bickerton Evans retired from the firm in 1874, and distributed a bonus of £1,173 among their 118 employees. They were succeeded by Edward Wallace Evans (1847 – 1901), Thomas William Hill (1843 – 1898) and Edward Henry Hill (1849 – 1911).
Edward Wallace Evans was an excellent businessman, and much of the subsequent growth of the firm was credited to him.
Hill Evans was the largest vinegar brewery in the world by 1881, with annual production of two million gallons a year. A single mash tun had a capacity of 12,307 gallons. There were eleven fermenting vats, each with a capacity of 15,000 gallons. A single storage vat with a capacity of 114,821 gallons was the largest vat in the world. All told, the brewery had a storage capacity of 500,000 gallons of vinegar. The brewery held more than 100,000 casks.
Rowley Hill died in 1896. He left a personal estate valued at £170,322.
Hill Evans became a limited company in 1900, with a share capital of £150,000, in order to pay out the share of the company owed to Thomas William Hill, who had recently died. It was probably the largest business of its kind in the United Kingdom. It had an annual capacity of 1.5 million gallons of vinegar production. Edward Henry Hill became chairman.
Lea & Perrins used Hill Evans vinegar to make their Worcestershire sauce, and Charles William Dyson Perrins (1864 – 1958) joined the Hill Evans board of directors.
In later life Wallace Evans suffered from gout in his hands, and on the advice of his doctor, bandaged his hands in cotton wool. After Evans attempted to light a cigar whilst reading a letter, the wool set alight. Evans died from shock as a result of the subsequent burns in 1901. Curiously, he left a relatively modest net personalty of £10,876. The only son of Wallace Evans appears to have played no active part in the business.
The works covered around seven acres by 1907. Exclusively English grain was used for brewing. The company probably still had the largest vinegar brewing capacity in the world.
Edward Henry Hill died in 1911 and left a net personalty of £147,081. A generous benefactor, he died unmarried.
After the founding families ceased to be involved in management, Hill Evans appears to have been milked as a cash cow, with little inward investment.
Increased competition saw the company suffer from reduced profitability in the early 1960s. Hill Evans lacked the scale of its larger rival British Vinegar.
Hill Evans entered voluntary liquidation in 1967, and the vinegar works were closed. Grade II listed, the vinegar works building is now used by the Territorial Army.
Douglas Clague built Hutchison into one of the largest trading houses in Hong Kong.
Establishment of John D Hutchison
John Duflon Hutchison (1855 – 1920) established John D Hutchison & Co, a Hong Kong trading house, in 1877.
Thomas Ernest Pearce (1883 – 1941) joined the firm in 1903, and acquired a controlling stake in 1917.
Philip Stanley Cassidy (1889 – 1971) entered into partnership with Pearce, his brother in law, from 1922.
Pearce was killed in action during the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941, and Cassidy became the chairman of the firm.
John Douglas “Duggie” Clague (1917 – 1981) was born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and raised on the Isle of Man. He originally worked as a bank clerk.
Clague joined the British Army and was stationed in Hong Kong during the Second World War. He was captured when the Japanese invaded, and held in a prisoner of war camp. With three others, including John Pearce (1918 – 2017), the son of Thomas Pearce, he made a daring escape into China. There he joined, with Pearce, the British Army Aid Group, a MI9 unit assisting POWs to flee Japanese internment camps.
By the end of the war Clague was a Colonel honoured with a Military Cross and a CBE. He returned to Hong Kong in 1947 with a sterling reputation and an excellent network of acquaintances.
Presumably aided by an introduction from John Pearce, Clague was appointed deputy to P S Cassidy. At the time John D Hutchison & Co focused on importing and exporting, and was dwarfed by the Hong Kong trading houses of Jardine Matheson and Wheelock Marden.
Cassidy retired in 1952, and Clague became chairman of John D Hutchison. He would develop the company into a business with international scope.
Clague bought out a 50 percent stake in J D Hutchison owned by Wheelock Marden in 1963. He renamed the company Hutchison International, and embarked upon the acquisition trail.
A S Watson, with interests in soft drinks, was acquired in 1965. Other acquisitions included Davie Boag, a specialised trader, and Oriental Pacific Mills, a textiles business.
Hutchinson gained control of Hong Kong & Whampoa Dock Company, one of the largest companies in Hong Kong, in 1969. Clague found that amidst the cultural revolution in China and riots in Hong Kong, assets could be acquired at a relative discount.
Following the takeovers Clague confidently proclaimed in 1969 that Hutchison was now the largest trading house in Hong Kong. The Financial Times described Clague as “one of Hong Kong’s most remarkable entrepreneurs” in 1974. Clague boasted, “I am Hong Kong’s Rock of Gibraltar”.
The downfall of Clague, and the rise of Li Ka-shing
Hutchison encountered cash flow problems in 1975 due to heavy losses at an Indonesian subsidiary, high-risk financial speculations and overpayment of directors. It was rescued by the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC), who acquired a one third stake in the company for £15 million. The bank lent the money on the condition that Clague would relinquish his executive responsibilities.
HSBC sold its stake to Li Ka-shing (born 1928) in 1979.
Clague died in 1981 following a battle with cancer.
Ka-shing brought professional management principles to Hutchinson, and expanded its operations into overseas markets.
Hutchison remains one of the largest companies in Hong Kong, and Clague deserves credit for having had faith in the Hong Kong economy and for establishing the strong foundations for Hutchinson which Ka-shing subsequently built upon.
Harold Charles Humphreys (1902 – 1974) was born in the village of Mobberley in Cheshire. He was the son of a house painter.
Humphreys found work as a salesman for Bukta, a football kit manufacturer. He predicted that kit sales would continue to grow, and entered into the sportswear retail business for himself from 1920. He was initially assisted by his brother Wallace James Humphreys (1900 -1950), and the firm traded as Humphreys Brothers.
Harold Humphreys initially operated the business from rooms above a pub that his parents operated in Mobberley.
The Umbro brand was established in 1924, derived as a portmanteau of Humphreys Brothers. Clothing manufacture was originally subcontracted, but growing sales saw an Umbro factory established in 1930.
Both teams wore Umbro kits at the Wembley finals in 1934.
During the Second World War Umbro manufactured military uniforms and Lancaster Bomber aircraft interiors.
The England international kit was manufactured from 1952.
Roger Bannister (1929 – 2018) ran the first ever sub-four minute mile whilst wearing Umbro clothing in 1954.
Umbro began to outfit overseas international teams from 1958. When Brazil won the World Cup that year, they were kitted out in Umbro clothing.
By the early 1960s Umbro was being managed by the two sons of Harold, John (1929 – 1979) and Stuart (1931 – 2005). In practice, John was the leading dealmaker.
Umbro won a 25-year contract to be the sole distributor of Adidas products in Britain in 1961. Adidas was the largest manufacturer of soccer boots in the world, but this was its only manufacture, so there was no conflict of interest.
Umbro kitted out 15 out of 16 teams in the 1966 World Cup Finals, the sole exception being the Soviet Union.
A factory had been established at Wilmslow, Cheshire, by 1967.
Distribution of Adidas footwear and clothing had become the largest source of income for Umbro by the early 1970s.
Umbro supplied the football kits to all 16 teams in the World Cup Finals of 1974.
The England international football team switched their kit manufacturer to Admiral, who had made a superior offer, in 1974.
John Humphreys died in 1979. His unexpected death affected corporate development, and Arnold Copley, a former partner at Price Waterhouse, the accountancy firm, was appointed chief executive from 1982. He led the company into the leisure wear market.
A factory was opened at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, in 1984.
Umbro regained sponsorship of the England international football team kit from 1984.
Adidas had entered the leisurewear market and there were increasing conflicts of interest with Umbro, so the distribution contract ended in 1986. The termination of the contract gave Umbro free reign to enter the footwear market for itself.
Umbro employed 650 people at factories in Macclesfield, Ellesmere Port and Wilmslow by 1985.
Umbro was the market leader in football kits in the United States by 1990.
Umbro was acquired by its US-franchise holder, Stone Manufacturing of the United States for £2.9 million in 1992. The increasing cost of club sponsorship saw Umbro abandon its interests in squash and rugby to focus solely on football.
Following a slump in demand, Umbro closed factories at Macclesfield and Stockport, with the loss of 146 jobs in October 1992.
The death of Eugene Stone in 1997 saw the remaining family members reach loggerheads regarding the future direction for Umbro. Phenomenal growth saw financial resources stretched to the limit.
Several cost-saving measures were introduced in 1998 in order to stave off bankruptcy. Almost the entire United States workforce was dismissed. Headquarters were relocated to Cheadle, Greater Manchester. Umbro divested its factory in Biddulph near Stoke. Umbro clothing continued to be manufactured there, but under contract by a third party. The Ellesmere Port factory, with a staff of 120, was closed.
Umbro was sold to Doughty Hanson, the private equity group, for £90 million in 1999. Umbro underwent a remarkable turnaround. The Wynthenshawe factory was closed in 1999, and manufacturing was outsourced to China and Hong Kong. The Umbro brand was repositioned to focus solely on football.
Nike acquired Umbro for a generous £285 million in 2008 in order to build its presence in the football market. At the time Umbro was the leading supplier of soccer clothing in the world, and the third largest supplier of branded athletic apparel in the United Kingdom.
Nike tried to impose its own manufacturing and sales logistics onto Umbro. Nike executives struggled to understand the niche company. Nike sold Umbro to Iconix Brand Group for £137 million in 2012.
England football kit sponsorship was switched to Nike from 2013.
H W Carter & Co introduced Ribena to Britain. 90 percent of British blackcurrant production goes towards making Ribena.
Henry Williams Carter (1839 – 1913), a chemist, partnered with J R Grace to acquire the Bristol Soda Water Works from George Withy & Co in 1872. Located at the Old Refinery on Wilder Street, the business traded as H W Carter & Co.
Ernest Matravers Wright (1851 – 1949) had joined the firm by 1891, and the business traded as Carter, Wright & Co.
Wright left the firm to enter into business for himself in 1898, and Henry Williams Carter took sole control, and the business name reverted to H W Carter & Co.
H W Carter & Co had been registered as a limited company by 1899.
Poor health forced Henry Williams Carter to retire in 1904.
The company was best known for Carter’s Concentrated Lemon Syrup by 1909, a product for which it held the largest market share. The cordial was exported across the world, and was known as the best product of its kind. Other products included lemon squash, lime juice cordial, table jellies and custard powder.
Henry Williams Carter died with an estate valued at £12,000 in 1913.
H W Carter & Co also became engaged as wine and spirits merchants.
By 1920 William Dillworth Armstrong (1876 – 1954), a long-term salesman for H W Carter & Co, was managing director, and his son, Frank Dillworth Armstrong (1900 – 1993) was chairman. As a trained chartered accountant, Frank Armstrong reorganised the finances at the company.
H W Carter & Co merged with four other local businesses to form Bristol Industries Limited, with a share capital of £250,000, in 1920.
Frank Armstrong was retained as chairman of Bristol Industries, but baulked when he was requested to sack his own father. He responded by negotiating a bank loan and buying back control of H W Carter & Co with a capital of £30,000 in 1924.
H W Carter & Co went public in the mid-1930s.
British dairy farmers in the 1930s were producing a surplus of milk, and prices were consequently low. H W Carter decided to research fruit-flavoured syrups that could be added to milk to form milkshake. As a by-product of this research, Ribena was developed.
A new factory to produce cordials from British fruit was opened at North Street, Bedminster, Bristol in 1936. Ribena blackcurrant cordial was introduced that year.
During the Second World War imported sources of Vitamin C such as oranges had become scarce due to the German U-Boat campaign. Ribena, made from homegrown blackcurrants, was advertised as a good source of Vitamin C for children, and the government distributed it for free to babies, young children and expectant mothers.
Ribena production was relocated to a new factory at Coleford, Gloucestershire, in 1947. Sales of Ribena continued to grow strongly during the post-war period. Around 800 people were employed at the Coleford factory during the summer of 1955.
H W Carter & Co was acquired by the Beecham Group in 1955, beating a rival bid from Reckitt & Colman, which owned the rival Robinson’s Barley Water brand.
Beecham merged with SmithKline Beckman in 1989 to form SmithKline Beecham. It merged with GlaxoWellcome to form GlaxoSmithKline in 2000.
GlaxoSmithKline divested its British soft drinks business, which included Lucozade and Ribena, to Suntory of Japan for £1.35 billion in 2013.
90 percent of British-grown blackcurrants go towards Ribena production as of 2018, and each 500ml bottle contains around 37 blackcurrants.
The blackcurrant varieties grown were specially designed for Ribena and have a high juice content. The factory is supplied by 40 farms. The blackcurrants are harvested in July and August. They are pressed at the Thatcher’s cider mill in Somerset.
As an energy-restorative, Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa was the Lucozade of its era. It was one of the highest-selling cocoa-based drinks in Britain.
William Tibbles (1834 – 1912) was born into impoverished circumstances in Leicester, in the English Midlands. The family lived in the workhouse during the 1851 Census.
Tibbles was a frame work knitter and medical practitioner in the 1861 census. No evidence has been uncovered that suggests that Tibbles ever underwent any medical training.
Tibbles claimed that botanicals had cured him of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1867. He began to sell coca and its concentrated extract, cocaine, as a general cure for debility and consumption, from 1871. He was advertising Tibbles Concentrated Essence of Composition and Cocaine by 1876.
Tibbles later invented Vi-Cocoa, a mixture of malt, hops, kola and cocoa. He licensed the recipe and naming rights to Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa Ltd, a company formed to exploit his product. Advertisements for Vi-Cocoa first appeared from 1893.
The company was renamed as Dr Tibbles’ Vi-Cocoa (1898) Ltd from 1898 with a capital of £400,000. Tibbles retired soon afterwards. The company was probably overvalued, with high sales heavily dependent on unsustainable levels of advertising.
The company was renamed the Watford Manufacturing Company in 1907. Over 1,000 people were employed by 1914. Vi-Cocoa and Delecta chocolate were the principal products.
The company did not pay a dividend between 1908 and 1918. Nominal capital was increased from £250,000 to £1 million in 1918, with Lord Leverhulme (1851 – 1925) becoming the largest single shareholder. Originally a soap manufacturer, Leverhulme was increasingly concerned with food manufacturing by this time, and the paternalistic reputation of the Watford Manufacturing Company was in harmony with his own views.
Construction of a large new factory begun in 1918-19, but was never completed due to liquidity issues. The company had benefited from healthy sales during the First World War, aided by military contracts. However the wartime boom was followed by a post-war economic slump.
Company capital was increased to £3 million in 1919-20.
The Watford Manufacturing Company entered into liquidation in 1922. Lord Leverhulme purchased the company assets for £543,000 in cash to ensure that all creditors were paid, as well as in all likelihood, to protect his own reputation.
The Financial Times commented after the liquidation that the downfall of the company was as a result of its excessive valuation.
Leverhulme almost immediately sold the site and brands to Planters Products Ltd, who continued to produce Vi-Cocoa. The product continued to be advertised as late as 1945.
When I was very young I would pester my parents with odd questions, “why do Shell operate more petrol stations than BP?” and “Why are McDonald’s more successful than Burger King?”
For whatever reason, I was born with a strange interest in brands and companies. I was to be proven wrong in my naive assumption that these were questions that everyone wanted to know the answers to.
I tried to find answers, but in vain. There was no widespread internet access back then. The books that could help me were only to be found in university libraries, none of which I lived anywhere near. There were widely available books about businesses, but they tended to have a left-wing slant, such as No Logo (1999) by Naomi Klein and Fast Food Nation (2001) by Eric Schlosser. Disappointed, I instead turned to regular history, which was of course much easier to get my hands on. Niall Ferguson highlighted for me the value of approaching history from an economic perspective.
I was later encouraged by journalists such as Adam Curtis and Malcolm Gladwell. They were innately curious about the world, and explored this with a sense of playfulness. Curtis chronicled advertising and brand management in The Century of the Self (2002), and Gladwell’s 2004 essay, ‘The Ketchup Conundrum‘, explored how Heinz developed the leading tomato ketchup in the world. Curtis and Gladwell demonstrated that business history could be engaging.
With increasing internet access, I was able to delve more deeply into business history. I soon became jaded by official company websites, which when they hosted a history, was often demonstrably incorrect, or terribly biased. Wikipedia and Grace’s Guides were helpful references, but they had glaring gaps in their coverage, and often hosted inaccuracies.
A huge inspiration was teh blogs of Martyn Cornell and Ron Pattinson. Cornell and Pattinson focused on the history of brewing, and by concentrating on primary sources were able to demonstrate that many published historical claims are inaccurate.
I became a dedicated Wikipedia editor, but eventually grew frustrated by the lack of control over my contribution. I therefore decided to create a blog of my own. Cornell and Pattinson and others already had beer pretty well covered, so I decided to focus more broadly on food and drink.
So to answer the original remit of this short essay, an innate curiosity about the world of business and brands is why I created and continue to develop this blog. As I have myself been able to learn from others, I am glad to be able to help to educate others in the same way.
Henry Denny & Sons was the largest bacon producer in Europe.
Henry Denny (1790 – 1870) was born in Waterford, Ireland, to a Protestant shoemaker. He established himself as a provisions merchant in Waterford. Denny was initially in partnership with a Simon Max, but began trading independently from 1820.
Waterford was the centre for pig production in Ireland, however pigs were generally exported alive to ensure freshness, as curing techniques in an era before artificial refrigeration were crude, and relied on an excessive amount of salt.
Denny’s principal trade was in butter as late as 1839. It is not until 1846 that we see him described as a bacon merchant.
Henry Denny was elected as Mayor of Waterford in 1854.
Denny introduced improvements to existing curing techniques. He began to cure bacon with ice from 1854. Known as “mild curing”, it made the bacon more palatable by using much less salt for preservation. Large shipments of block ice had to be imported from Norway. Denny was granted a patent for this process from 1857.
The ice curing process allowed bacon to produced during the summer months for the first time. Irish meat could now be exported year round.
Abraham Denny enters the business
Abraham Denny (1820 – 1892), a trained architect, joined his father in the business from 1855. Abraham Denny is said to have been instrumental in expanding the business.
Denny & Co used over 1,000 pigs every week by 1866. Denny was challenged only by its Waterford rival Richardson & Co for the position of the largest bacon curer in Ireland.
London was the principal market for Waterford bacon, and Edward Maynard Denny (1832 – 1905), son of Henry Denny, was sent to the capital to act as a sales agent for the business from 1866. He was joined by his brother Thomas Anthony Denny (1819 – 1910).
An average of about 2,000 pigs a week were used by 1868.
Henry Denny died of bronchitis in 1870 and the business was continued by Abraham Denny.
Henry Denny & Sons opened a factory in Limerick from 1872.
62,886 pigs were killed in 1876.
150 people were employed by 1877, shared equally between the Waterford and Limerick plants.
The works at Waterford probably represented the largest bacon curing plant in Europe by 1882.
Operations were extended to Cork in 1889.
Henry Denny & Sons was the largest bacon curer in Ireland by 1890, and one of the largest employers in Waterford. An extensive export trade to Europe had been developed by this time.
Public listing of Henry Denny & Sons
Henry Denny & Sons went public with a capital of £400,000 in 1891.
Operations had been established in Hamburg, Germany by 1892.
Abraham Denny died with a personalty valued at £174,967 in 1892. He was succeeded by his son, Charles Edward Denny (1849 – 1927) .
Due to an insufficient supply of pigs in Ireland, Henry Denny & Sons acquired a Danish meat company in 1894. The company introduced Irish meat curing techniques to Denmark.
Waterford operations outgrew the original site on Queen Street, and the plant was relocated to the former Richardson & Co factory on Morgan Street.
Edward Maynard Denny left a gross estate valued at £584,789 when he died in 1905.
Thomas Anthony Denny died with a gross estate valued at £226,150 in 1910. He had been a prominent supporter of the Salvation Army.
Over 3,000 pigs were used every week by June 1914. The company was a substantial supplier of Irish bacon to the British armed forces during the First World War.
Henry Denny & Sons was advertising itself as the largest bacon producer in Europe by 1919.
Charles Edward Denny died in 1927, with an English estate valued at £475,248 and an Irish estate valued at £66,277.
The factory on Morgan Street, Waterford, was the largest of its kind in the British Isles by 1933. 400 workers were employed during peak periods. The site could handle up to 4,000 pigs every week.
A Wiltshire cure bacon factory was opened in Portadown, Northern Ireland in 1935. It initially had a capacity to process 2,000 pigs a week, and employed a workforce of 200.
Cook & McNeily, bacon curers of Sligo, was acquired in 1936.
J & T Sinclair, bacon curers of Belfast, was acquired in 1960.
Overcapacity and sale of the company
The Cork factory was closed due to overcapacity in the industry in 1968. 160 jobs out of a total of 180 were lost.
The Waterford site was closed in 1972 due to continued overcapacity in the industry, and the outdated nature of the site.
The company began to seriously struggle as the bacon market became oversaturated. The Irish operations were acquired by Kerry Foods for around £1.5 million in 1982. The company employed 300 people. Kerry already supplied much of the pigs for Denny products.
N Corah operated the largest hosiery factory in Britain.
Origins and early success
Nathaniel Corah (1776 – 1832) was a Baptist from Bagworth, a Leicestershire village. Trained as a framesmith in the local knitting industry, Corah entered into business as a hosiery trader in Leicester from 1815.
Corah would purchase hosiery at the Globe on Silver Street in Leicester and sell it in Birmingham. Initially he was assisted by his wife Sarah (1784 – 1856).
The trade was to prove successful, and Corah was able to purchase the freehold of a block of buildings in Union Street, Leicester to house his increasing stocks, in 1824.
N Corah & Sons
Corah’s sons, John, William and Thomas entered into the business as partners from 1830, and the firm began to trade as N Corah & Sons.
N Corah & Sons relocated to a purpose-built factory on Granby Street from 1845. Steam-powered manufacturing was introduced at the new premises.
John Harris Cooper (1832 – 1906) joined N Corah & Sons in 1846. The firm employed around 1,000 old hand frames for stocking manufacturing.
Following the completion of his seven year apprenticeship, Cooper became involved in management at the firm.
John Harris Cooper and Edwin Corah (1832 – 1880) acquired the business in 1857.
Relocation to the St Margaret’s Works
N Corah & Sons relocated to the St Margaret’s Works in Leicester from 1865. Named after the parish in which it was located, the site originally had a floor space of two acres. The firm introduced the St Margaret’s trademark for clothing at this time. A large beam engine was operated from 1866.
N Corah & Sons employed a workforce of 1,500 and produced about 2,000 tons of product annually by 1872.
Upon the death of Edwin Corah in 1880, John Arthur Corah (1846 – 1917) and Alfred Corah joined Cooper in partnership, and the firm began to trade as N Corah, Sons & Cooper. J A Corah had previously managed the Liverpool branch of the business, and Alfred Corah had managed the Birmingham branch.
Electric lighting was installed at the St Margaret’s Works from 1883. The firm paid wages substantially above average, and thus avoided strike action by its workers. The firm was a substantial benefactor to various charitable causes, especially the elderly poor of Leicester.
During the First World War, 50 percent of the male staff at Corah joined the armed forces. The firm produced ten million articles of knitwear, over 70 percent for government contracts.
John Arthur Corah died in 1917 with a gross estate valued at £143,208.
Incorporation as a private company
N Corah & Sons was incorporated as a private company in 1919. The St Margaret’s Works was the largest factory of its kind in Britain and probably the largest single-site hosiery works in the world. 2,500 people were employed on a five acre site. Production largely consisted of hosiery and other woollen goods.
King George V visited the factory in 1919, partly in recognition of its contribution to the war effort.
N Corah & Sons became a supplier to Marks & Spencer from 1926. The two companies would develop a strong relationship.
Authorised capital was increased to £750,000 in 1939. 4,500 people were employed.
During the Second World War, half the company’s staff either went into the armed services or were transferred to munitions production. During the war, some 26 million articles were produced. The engineering department was largely given over to producing gun parts and parts for tank landing craft.
Conversion into a public company
N Corah & Sons was converted into a public company in 1946. Marks & Spencer was the principal customer. The St Margaret’s Works in Leicester covered six acres and was the largest hosiery factory in Britain. Around 2,500 people were employed.
Marks & Spencer was a dynamic retailer, and Lord Marks encouraged Corah to be more ambitious. Marks & Spencer made the transition from a low-cost retailer to a quality purveyor from 1951. As a major supplier, Corah too entered this transition. Encouraged by Marks & Spencer, Corah entered into a policy of long-term planning and development.
To reflect the success of its trademark, the company name was changed to N Corah (St Margaret) Ltd in 1954.
The St Margaret’s Works covered a floor space of twelve acres by 1965. Corah employed 6,500 people across the company.
Nicholas Corah (1932 – 2010) became company chairman in the late 1960s.
Marks & Spencer accounted for 75 percent of Corah sales by 1978.
Financial difficulties and demise
Corah entered into difficulty in the 1980s. It acquired Reliance, a fellow Marks & Spencer supplier, but struggled to integrate the business. This was followed by a strike at one of its factories.
Meanwhile, tastes in fashion began to change. The struggling knitwear division was closed with the loss of nearly 800 jobs in 1988. Corah sold its sock division to Courtaulds for £7.5 million in cash in 1988.
The loss-making Corah was acquired by Charterhall, an Australian investment group, for £27.2 million in 1988. Charterhall entered into administration in 1990.
Coats Viyella, the largest textiles company in Britain, acquired Corah for around £25 million in cash in 1994.