Making bacon: Henry Denny & Sons

Henry Denny & Sons was the largest bacon producer in Europe.

Henry Denny
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. Denny was granted a patent for this process from 1857.

By importing large shipments of block ice from Norway, bacon could be 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.

Inside the sausage room at Denny’s Waterford factory, 1937

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.

Stocking trade: N Corah of Leicester

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 Globe on Silver Street, Leicester, is still trading

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.

King George V and Queen Mary visit St Margaret’s Works in 1919

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.

Message in a bottle: Newcastle Brown Ale

Newcastle Brown Ale became the highest selling bottled beer in Britain, and came to make significant sales in the United States.

John Barras & Co
Bells, Robson & Co established the Tyne Brewery on Bath Lane, Newcastle in 1867. It was said to be the largest brewery in the North of England.

Bells, Robson & Co entered into financial difficulty, and the business was acquired by John Barras & Co of Gateshead, after their own brewery site was subject to compulsory purchase by the North Eastern Railway in 1884.

John Barras & Co was managed by Charles John Reed (1820 – 1908), who had leased the brewery since 1861, after marrying into the founding Barras family.

Reed appointed Thomas Watson Lovibond (1849 – 1918) as head brewer and manager from 1887. Lovibond had received scientific training during an era when almost all brewers lacked such formal education. He was to have a significant impact upon the future success of the business.

John Barras & Co traditionally brewed mild ale, but under Lovibond’s direction, pale ale was being produced by 1889, in order to compete with rival products from Burton upon Trent and Edinburgh. Lovibond also introduced greater standardisation of product quality.

Newcastle Breweries
John Barras & Co merged with four local brewers in 1890: W H Allison of North Shields, J J & W H Allison of Sunderland, Swinburne of Gateshead and Carr Brothers & Carr of North Shields to form Newcastle Breweries.

The Tyne Brewery was regarded as one of the largest and best equipped breweries in the North of England, and all production was centralised there. As a result, the output of the brewery was doubled from 900 to 1,800 barrels a week.

Newcastle Breweries controlled an estate of nearly 300 public houses by 1897.

The amalgamation was to prove highly successful. Forster’s Bishop Middleham Breweries was acquired in 1910.

Colonel Porter and the introduction of Newcastle Brown Ale
James Herbert Porter (1891 – 1973) was the son of a master brewer in Burton upon Trent. He joined Newcastle Breweries as a trainee brewer in 1909.

Porter was a highly courteous and mild-mannered man, a model of an English gentleman. He saw action during the First World War, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Newcastle Exhibition, a cask beer, was introduced from 1920.

Sales of bottled beers began to increase after the war, influenced by the inconsistent quality of cask beer. Colonel Porter determined to develop a high quality bottled beer of his own. Newcastle Breweries opened one of the largest and best-equipped bottling plants in Britain in June 1925.

Colonel Porter, by now promoted to assistant brewer, and Archdale Mercer Jones (1881 – 1954), manager of the bottling works, laboured for three years to perfect the recipe for Newcastle Brown Ale. Porter created its distinctive taste by blending a strong, crystal malt-influenced aged beer with a light pale ale.

Newcastle Brown Ale was launched in April 1927. The sole ingredients were malt, hops, sugar and yeast and it boasted an ABV of 6.25 percent. It was filtered but was not subject to pasteurisation.

Newcastle Brown Ale would have been seen as a rival to Bass Pale Ale, a comparable beer in terms of strength and quality. Another similar beer, Whitbread Double Brown, had been launched in London just a month earlier.

Newcastle Brown Ale was to enjoy immediate success. It was a quality product brewed to vigorous scientific methods and high standards, and sold at a reasonable price. Perhaps as a result, Colonel Porter had been promoted to head brewer by September 1927. Newcastle Brown Ale was named as the best bottled beer in Britain at the 1928 Brewers Exhibition in London.

The blue star logo was introduced in 1928. Each point on the star represented one of the five businesses that combined to form Newcastle Breweries.

Newcastle Brown Ale had seen its ABV reduced to around 5.5 percent by 1931.

Colonel Porter was promoted to the Newcastle Breweries board of directors in 1931.

Newcastle Breweries encountered material shortages during the Second World War, and as a result brewed lower strength beers out of necessity. However the company refused to compromise on the quality of Newcastle Brown Ale, which went unchanged, although sales were by necessity highly rationed.

Although sales remained confined to the North East of England, 300 million bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale had been produced by 1952.

Colonel Porter was appointed chairman of Newcastle Breweries in 1955.

The Tyne Brewery occupied 6.5 acres by 1956.

The crown cork bottle cap replaced the old screw cap from 1958 in order to help preserve freshness.

It was claimed that Newcastle Brown Ale was the highest selling bottled beer in the North of England by 1959. That year, “the one and only” was introduced as an advertising slogan.

Production of Newcastle Brown Ale had continued to grow and the brewer’s bottling facility had reached capacity. A new bottling plant entered into production from 1959.

John Rowell & Son of Gateshead was acquired in 1959 to bring the total number of Newcastle Breweries controlled premises to around 700.

Scottish & Newcastle
Newcastle Breweries merged with Scottish Brewers to form Scottish & Newcastle in 1960. Colonel Porter was appointed vice chairman. Newcastle Brown Ale was a leading product of the new company, alongside McEwan’s Export and Younger’s Tartan Special. The merger afforded Newcastle Brown Ale a wider network for distribution.

In the early 1960s Scottish & Newcastle began to produce Newcastle Brown Ale in brown bottles instead of clear ones. This was to protect the beer from UV rays, which can have a negative impact on taste. However drinkers complained about the change, and the decision was swiftly reversed.

Newcastle Brown Ale had been introduced in cans by 1964.

Distribution of Newcastle Brown Ale throughout the Midlands and the South of England had begun by the late 1960s. The beer found particular favour among university and polytechnic students.

The Tyne Brewery produced over one million barrels of beer a year by 1972, however increased national sales of Newcastle Brown Ale saw the facility struggle to meet demand.

Newcastle Brown Ale’s reputation as a high-strength beer earned it colourful nicknames on Tyneside, such as “lunatic’s broth” and “journey into space”. However an independent analysis in 1974 found the beer to have an ABV of five percent, and an original gravity of 1047.

Domestic sales of Newcastle Brown Ale peaked in 1974, after which sales of bottled beers began to enter into a steady decline. The appeal of bottled beer had been its consistency, but with the increasing quality and distribution of keg beer, its unique selling point was lost.

By 1977 a total of 7.5 million barrels of Newcastle Brown Ale had been produced since it was introduced in 1927.

Newcastle Brown Ale was the highest selling packaged ale in Britain by 1980. It was sold in over 97 percent of off licences in England and Wales and more than 90 percent of supermarkets and grocers.

It is believed that Newcastle Brown Ale ceased to be a blended beer from the early 1980s onwards.

Newcastle Brown Ale was known as “Dog” on Tyneside by the 1980s, arising from the “going to walk the dog” euphemism, which implied a visit to the pub.

A new £3.5 million bottling plant was opened in 1984, the fastest in Europe. The Tyne Brewery had grown to cover 14 acres by 1985. 1,200 people were employed there in 1988.

Scottish & Newcastle was the fifth largest brewer in Britain by 1988.

Newcastle Brown Ale had settled on its current ABV of 4.7 percent by 1989.

Newcastle Exhibition was the highest selling draught ale in the North East of England by 1989. Newcastle Brown Ale was the highest selling bottled beer in Britain by 1990.

Newcastle Brown Ale underwent a resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s with increased distribution in the South of England, as well as a strong presence in student union bars. Marketing efforts dissociated the drink from its working class roots and repositioned it as a premium product. The product was sold in thirty countries.

Scottish & Newcastle took direct control of its United States product distribution from 1990 onwards. Major European import rivals such as Bass, Guinness and Heineken had strength on the East Coast, so Scottish & Newcastle established its American headquarters in San Francisco. American sales increased by 300 percent between 1989 and 1991, and a further 75 percent in 1993.

The Tyne Brewery borehole source lacked sufficient purity by 1993, so Scottish & Newcastle switched their supply to the Whittle Dene reservoir, to which gypsum and epsom were added before brewing.

Newcastle Brown Ale was a pasteurised beer by 1994. The pasteurisation process increases the shelf life of the product, but critics contend that it reduces the delicate aromas of beer.

25 percent of Tyne Brewery output was dedicated to Newcastle Brown Ale by 1994. 120 million pint bottles (not including cans) of Newcastle Brown Ale were produced every year. Newcastle Brown Ale had gained significant traction in the United States, with over a million cases of the beer sold in that market during the 1994-5 financial year.

Scottish & Newcastle acquired Courage in 1995 to become the largest brewer in Britain.

230,000 hectolitres (140,000 UK barrels) of Newcastle Brown Ale were exported to the United States in 1998. The majority of Newcastle Brown Ale production was shipped to the United States by 2001.

The Tyne Brewery was closed in May 2005. Production of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the Federation Brewery in nearby Dunston, Gateshead.

Newcastle Brown Ale was among the top fifty highest-selling beers in the United States by 2006.

Bottling of Newcastle Brown Ale was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery in Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, from 2007.

Heineken ownership
Scottish & Newcastle was acquired by Heineken, a Dutch brewer, in 2008.

Heineken closed the Federation Brewery in May 2010, and Newcastle Brown Ale production was relocated to the John Smith’s Brewery.

Caramel colouring, apparently used to darken and flavour Newcastle Brown Ale since its inception, was replaced with roasted malt from 2015, amid US health concerns.

Production of Newcastle Brown Ale for export was relocated to the Zoeterwoude Brewery in the Netherlands from 2017.

Recent years have not been kind to Newcastle Brown Ale. Global sales have dropped from nearly seven million cases in 2014, to around two million cases in 2019.

Production of Newcastle Brown Ale for the United States market was relocated to the Heineken-owned Lagunitas Brewery from 2019. The recipe was subjected to significant changes, and contains Centennial and Chinook hops.

A capsulated history of Beecham’s pills

Beecham’s was the largest patent medicine manufacturer in the world by 1913, with well over a million pills sold every day.

Thomas Beecham
Thomas Beecham (1820 – 1907) was born in Oxfordshire to humble circumstances. He worked as a shepherd and used his knowledge of herbs to tend his animals.

A coarse yet charismatic character, Beecham began to manufacture pills from 1847. Beecham’s Pills, comprised of aloes, ginger and soap, had a mild laxative effect.

Beecham relocated to the booming mill towns of the North West of England. He sold his pills from a market stall in Wigan, Lancashire. He relocated to nearby St Helens in 1859.

The business was run by the family and a small number of employees until the late 1870s.

Joseph Beecham
Thomas Beecham’s son Joseph (1848 – 1916) had effectively taken control of the company by the 1880s. Joseph Beecham was described as “[i]n personal appearance … the quiet, pipe-smoking, tweed-clad type of Englishman. He has neither business nor artistic pose, and is modesty itself.”

Beecham pills had the highest sale of any patent medicine in the world by 1885. A new factory, powered by electricity, was opened at St Helens in 1886.

250 million pills were sold in 1890, a quarter of all factory-made pills in Britain.

A factory was leased in Brooklyn, New York from 1890 in order to manufacture Beecham pills for the American market.

Thomas Beecham handed over full control of the business to Joseph in 1895.

Joseph Beecham spent £100,000 a year on advertising by 1895. The factory had 120 employees, all men.

After it was discovered that he was engaged in adultery, Joseph Beecham was divorced by his wife in 1901.

Joseph Beecham had an annual income of £20,000 by 1903.

American sales doubled between 1906 and 1913. A new factory in Brooklyn was purchased in 1910. Joseph Beecham made frequent trips across the Atlantic to attend to his American business.

The New York Times reported that Joseph Beecham was the third richest man in England by 1909, with a fortune valued at US$130 million. Joseph Beecham was knighted in 1912, in recognition of his philanthropic work.

Beecham spent US$5 million on advertising between 1903 and 1913, and was one of the most extensive newspaper advertisers in the world.

Over 450 million Beecham pills were sold worldwide in 1913. The annual advertising budget was $5 million.

Before his death, Sir Joseph Beecham handed the American business to his son, Henry Beecham (1888 – 1947).

Sir Joseph Beecham died in 1916, and had an estate valued at £1.5 million. The British business was passed to his two sons, Henry and Thomas Beecham (1879 – 1961).

Henry Beecham was convicted of manslaughter in 1921 after speeding in his car. He was sentenced to twelve months in prison.

Philip Hill and public offering
Philip Hill (1873 – 1944) acquired the business, largely from Thomas Beecham, for £2.8 million in 1924.

Hill was a skilled entrepreneur, and established a new laboratory. The company’s first pharmaceutical product, an aspirin-based cold and flu powder, was introduced in 1926.

The Veno Drug Company of Manchester, a manufacturer of cough syrup, was acquired in 1928.

Beecham’s Pills was incorporated as a public company in 1928.

Macleans, a toothpaste manufacturer, and Lucozade, a medicinal drink, were acquired in 1938. Also that year, Eno Proprietaries and County Perfumery, the manufacturer of Brylcreem, were both acquired, the latter for £580,000.

Eno Proprietaries, best known for its Fruit Salts product, provided Beecham with an international distribution network.

20th century continued growth
Following the death of Philip Hill in 1944, Stanley Holmes (1878 – 1961) became company chairman.

A single product, Lucozade, provided one third of Beecham’s British profits in 1949.

Beecham was dedicating a significant amount of revenue to product research and development by the 1950s.

H W Carter, the manufacturer of Ribena, was acquired in 1955. Thomas & Evans, the manufacturer of Corona soft drinks, was acquired in 1958.

Beecham was the second largest advertiser in Britain by 1960.

Horlicks was acquired in 1969.

Beecham was the eleventh most highly-valued public company in Europe by 1982.

Production of Beecham’s Pills ended in 1998. The manufacturer recommended consumers use Milk of Magnesia as a substitute.

Whiff of success: Henri Wintermans

Henri Wintermans is the highest-selling cigar brand in the world.

Sjaak and Henri Wintermans (1886 – 1975), two brothers, established a cigar manufacturing business at Duizel, the Netherlands, from 1904. They traded as A Wintermans & Sons, in honour of their father.

Sjaak concentrated on sales and Henri concentrated on buying and blending tobacco.

A Wintermans & Sons captured a substantial proportion of the Dutch market but Henri amicably left the partnership to establish his own cigar manufacturing business from 1934.

Henri Wintermans relocated to the neighbouring town of Eersel, and his son Adriaan entered into the business. Adriaan Wintermans took over management of the business from 1945.

Wintermans identified the post-war Dutch cigar market as over-saturated, and decided to concentrate on export sales to drive his business forward. Britain was soon the company’s largest sales market.

The Cafe Creme cigarillo was introduced in France from the early 1960s.

Henri Wintermans was by far the most popular Dutch cigar brand in the United Kingdom by 1965.

Adriaan Wintermans had a clear vision for the European cigar market, but he lacked the financial capital to realise his ambition. He felt that the company could best realise its potential as a part of a larger concern. He sold Henri Wintermans to British American Tobacco (BAT) for just under £2 million in 1966.

BAT was the largest manufacturer of tobacco products in the world, and Adriaan Wintermans was appointed head of the European cigar business.

Over 500 million Henri Wintermans cigars were produced in 1971.

Henri Wintermans made just two percent of its sales in the Netherlands in 1972. The United Kingdom accounted for over 62 percent of sales, and Henri Wintermans held around 15 percent of the UK cigar market.

Henri Wintermans increased sales by over 500 percent between 1966 and 1972. Production capacity was increased by 75 percent to cope with rising demand in 1972.

Henri Wintermans was the leading cigar exporter in the world by 1977. It was the highest-selling imported cigar brand in Britain by 1978.

Wintermans Cafe Creme ranked second in the British miniature cigar market by 1983.

Broadsheet festive “banter”. A 1986 Henri Wintermans advertisement in the Daily Telegraph

Over 600 million Henri Winterman cigars were sold in 1990.

Henri Wintermans was sold to the Scandinavian Tobacco Group for £55 million in 1996.

Henri Wintermans products are still manufactured in Eersel. The vast majority of sales are in Europe.

Running the show: Reebok

J W Foster & Sons produced some of the most highly-regarded running shoes in the world in the 1920s. Rebranded as Reebok, its fashion shoes became highly successful in the 1980s.

Joseph William Foster (1881 – 1933) was a cobbler and keen amateur runner. He developed a spiked running shoe in 1895. He began to manufacture shoes for other runners, and established a shoe manufacturing business at 57 Deane Road, Bolton from 1900.

The firm was trading as J W Foster & Sons by 1910. This was presumably an attempt to make the firm seem larger or longer-established than it really was, as his sons at the time were eight and four years old.

Production switched to army boots during the First World War.

Foster’s running shoes were the elite athletic item of their era. A large number of professional athletes used his shoes.

J W Foster & Sons advertised that 90 percent of English and Scottish football league clubs used their shoes by 1922. The firm also supplied the 1924 British Olympic track team.

J W Foster & Sons advertised itself as the oldest manufacturer of completely hand-made running shoes in the world by 1926.

C Ellis broke the one mile running record wearing Foster’s shoes in 1928. Percy Williams (1908 – 1982) used Foster’s shoes to win the 100m and 200m races at the 1928 Olympic games.

Joseph William Foster died in 1933 and left an estate valued at £5,598. His two sons, John William Foster (born 1902) and James William Foster (1906 – 1976) took over the business.

Army boots were produced during the Second World War.

In the post-war period German rivals Adidas and Puma began to enter the athletic shoe market, with cheaper and better models. The founder’s grandsons, Joseph William Foster (born 1935) and Jeffrey William Foster (1933 – 1980), became frustrated at their fathers’ lack of vision, and established Reebok in Bury in 1958, in order to manufacture their own athletic shoes. Joseph William Foster was the chairman and managing director.

The Reebok brand was well known throughout the North West of England by the 1970s. Reebok absorbed J W Foster & Sons in 1976.

Paul Fireman (born 1944), a marketer for outdoor equipment, lobbied Joseph William Foster for the license to sell Reebok shoes in North America. Eventually Foster relented, and sold the American sales rights to Fireman for $65,000 in 1979.

Reebok logged US sales of around $300,000 in 1980. By this time the components came from the original factory in England, but the shoes were assembled in South Korea.

Demand for its shoes was such that soon Reebok USA suffered cash flow problems. Stephen Rubin (born 1937) acquired 55 percent of Reebok USA for $77,500 in August 1981. Rubin brought to the company knowledge of the sports shoe market, and experience with Asian outsourcing.

Reebok identified the growing market for aerobics, and launched two shoes, Freestyle and Energizer, in 1982. Total US sales had climbed to $12.9 million by the end of 1983. Meanwhile, Nike was suffering a downturn, which allowed Reebok to flourish.

A 1985 advertisement for the Reebok Freestyle

Reebok International and Reebok USA merged in April 1984. Stephen Rubin maintained his 55 percent stake and was named chairman of Reebok International. Paul Fireman was named President and CEO of Reebok International, and held the remaining 45 percent share.

Reebok headquarters were relocated from Bolton, England to Avon, Massachusetts. The site had 52 employees. The relocation was based on the fact that most Reebok sales were in the US.

Warehouse and office facilities were maintained in Bolton, and Foster remained President of Reebok International.

In 1984 all the lasts, dies and markings were made in England. Research and development took place in England and South Korea.

Stephen Rubin pushed for Reebok International to go public, which it did in 1985.

1985 sales totalled over $300 million.

Due to growth, head office was moved from Avon to Canton in 1986.

Rockport was acquired in 1986 for $118.5 million in cash.

Foster retired as President of Reebok International in 1990, but remained in a consultancy position.

The cost-conscious Rubin clashed with Fireman, who argued for lavish marketing campaigns. Rubin sold his stake in Reebok for $770 million in 1991.

Reebok was acquired by Adidas for £2.1 billion in 2005.

Adidas closed down the Reebok head office in Bolton in 2009, ending the brand’s association with its home town.

Foster steeped down from his consultancy position in 2015.

Rocky road: Fox’s Biscuits

Fox’s Biscuits employs 2,000 people. An extensive own-label producer, it is best known for the Rocky and Party Rings biscuits.

Party Rings, a leading Fox’s product

Michael Spedding establishes the business
Michael Spedding (1834 – 1927) was born to a humble family in Marsh, Huddersfield, Yorkshire. He received just three months of formal education, supplemented with some Sunday school teaching.

Spedding worked at a cotton mill in nearby Meltham by the age of 13. His grandfather encouraged him to relocate to Batley to find work. Spedding was poor, and made the 15-mile journey on foot. His economic position was such that on some nights he would sleep in barns.

Spedding married Susan Fox (1834 – 1895), the daughter of a bone-setter, in 1854.

Spedding established himself as a food seller from 1863. He began to concentrate on the confectionery trade, with an initial focus on brandy snap biscuits.

In addition to his confectionery business, Spedding took over the bone-setting business of his father-in-law from 1877.

Spedding had been joined in business by his daughter Hannah and his son-in-law Fred Ellis Fox (1871 – 1938) by 1891.

The firm began to trade as F E Fox & Co from 1897, and Spedding retired in 1900. Brandy snaps continued to be the major product.

F E Fox & Son
F E Fox was joined by his son, Michael Spedding Fox (1896 – 1963), and the firm began to trade as F E Fox & Son.

F E Fox & Son relocated to a new site at Batley from 1927.

Michael Spedding died as one of the oldest men in his district in 1927.

F E Fox & Son was best known for brandy snaps and ginger biscuits by 1929.

F E Fox & Son was incorporated as a private company in 1938. The business was still a regional concern at this time.

F E Fox died in 1938 and left an estate valued at £19,243. Michael Spedding Fox became managing director of the company.

Michael Spedding Fox expands the business
The Batley factory was expanded and modernised in the post-war period. F E Fox & Son Ltd had around 500 employees by 1955.

F E Fox & Son won a valuable contract to produce biscuits for Marks & Spencer in 1958. The contract accounted for half of all production.

F E Fox & Son required capital to fulfil its ambitions of becoming a nationally recognised company. The business went public in 1960 as Fox’s Biscuits with an authorised share capital of £400,000. There were around 950 employees.

The offices at Batley in 2007

Parkinson’s Biscuits of Kirkham, Preston was acquired in 1966.

J Lyons & Co acquired a 25 percent stake in Fox’s Biscuits in 1972.

Acquisition by Northern Foods
Fox’s Biscuits was acquired by Northern Foods in 1977. Following the merger of their interests, Northern Foods supplied Marks & Spencer with around 40 percent of its cake and biscuits.

Alfred Henry Fox died in 1977 with an estate valued at £124,375.

Fox’s Biscuits had emerged as one of the strongest brands at Northern Foods by the 1980s.

Fox’s Biscuits was one of the largest biscuit manufacturers in Britain by 1986. Around 2,500 people were employed.

Elkes Biscuits of Uttoxeter was acquired in 1987.

Northern Foods invested £20 million to increase production at Fox’s biscuits in 1987.

Fox’s Biscuits was best known for its Rocky and Party Rings biscuits by the 1990s.

2 Sisters Food Group
Northern Foods was acquired by 2 Sisters Food Group in 2011.

The non-core Fox’s Biscuits business was identified as a potential divestment for 2 Sisters in 2016, with an estimated sale price of £250 million.

There are three Fox’s Biscuits factories as of 2019, located at Uttoxeter, Batley and Kirkham near Preston. The division employs 2,000 people. The company has a large contract and own-label business, producing Farley’s Rusks for Heinz, for example.

The Elkes brand is still used by Fox’s to market its budget range of biscuits.

The highs and l’eaus of Perrier

Perrier is the best known sparkling mineral water in the world. The iconic French product was introduced to the global market by an Englishman, St John Harmsworth.

St John Harmsworth discovers Perrier
William Albert St John Harmsworth (1876 – 1933) was the son of an unsuccessful alcoholic London barrister and a strong-willed mother.

Harmsworth was a slight and nervous child. He attended Henley House School at St John’s Wood, London, where he was a pupil of H G Wells (1866 – 1946), later the author of The Time Machine (1895) and The War of the Worlds (1898). Harmsworth was not the most academically-minded of pupils according to Wells, but he did grow to be charming, likeable, athletic and handsome.

William Albert St John Harmsworth c.1900

Harmsworth joined Amalgamated Press, a newspaper empire created by his elder brother Alfred (1865 – 1922), as a director. The company was responsible for the Daily Mail, the highest-selling newspaper in the world.

Alfred suggested that Harmsworth travel to France in order to learn the language in 1902. He visited a carbonated spring at Les Bouillens, Vergeze, in the South of France, where Dr Louis Eugene Perrier operated a commercial spa. Perrier also bottled a small amount of the water for his guests and some local sales.

Harmsworth believed in the potential for the bottled water, which was lighter, crisper and had a lower sodium content than most waters sold on the British market at the time. To the horror of his family he sold his shares in Amalgamated Press in order to acquire the Les Bouillens estate in early 1903.

Harmsworth closed down the spa, which catered to a declining market, and began to distribute the bottled water, which he branded as Perrier. It was sold at Monte Carlo and throughout the South of France during the 1903 season.

Following this successful trial, a London office was established at 45 and 46 New Bond Street by July 1904. The water targeted the premium segment of the market, and was sold at the Savoy, Claridge’s and the Berkeley hotels, as well as classic City of London pubs and restaurants such as Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and Slaters.

Perrier was advertised as an ideal mixer for whisky. Sir Thomas Lipton (1846 – 1931), a friend of Harmsworth, introduced the water to King Edward VII, who granted it a Royal Warrant in 1904.

The market for imported European sparkling water in Britain had been well-established by Apollinaris of Germany since the 1870s. Harmsworth packaged his water in a distinctive bulbous green bottle, inspired by an Indian club used for exercises.

This image illustrates the distinctive “club-shaped” Perrier bottle

French culture was considered aspirational, and the water may have benefited from an assumed link with the champagne houses of Perrier-Jouët and Laurent-Perrier, to which it had no affiliation. Perhaps to encourage the association, the water was originally marketed with “the champagne of table waters” slogan.

The London office was relocated to 45 and 47 Wigmore Street from November 1905.

Harmsworth broke his spine in a tragic motor accident in 1906. Paralysed from the waist down, he channelled his energies into developing the mineral water business.

A keen sportsman, Harmsworth was able to maintain his interest in swimming, and had a pool installed at his London address of 7 Hyde Park Terrace.

United States sales were pursued from 1907.

Perrier was registered as a private limited company to acquire the share capital of La Compagnie de la Source Perrier in 1908.

Perrier was granted a Royal Warrant from King George V in 1911. Millions of bottles were sold every year by 1912.

A glassworks was established in Vergeze from 1912.

Perrier was a well-established rival to Apollinaris by 1914. Perrier was able to take market share from Apollinaris during the First World War by using advertisements to highlight the German origins of its competitor.

During the First World War, much of production was distributed to the Allied armies in France, Salonika and Egypt.

Harmsworth negotiated a contract to become the exclusive supplier of bottled water to the restaurant cars of Wagons-Lits in France and Germany in 1927.

The London office had been relocated to Bear Wharf, 27 Bankside by 1931.

By 1933 Harmsworth had a small stake in the French company, the Compagnie de la Source Perrier, and a large holding in the English company Perrier Limited, which held the British distribution rights.

Death of St John Harmsworth and the Second World War
Harmsworth died in 1933 and left an estate valued at £82,976. His estate was left to his brother Vyvyan George Harmsworth (1881 – 1957) and his three sisters.

Perrier Ltd had an authorised capital of £110,000 in 1935. The directors were Vyvyan Harmsworth, M Harmsworth and H Banks, who had been secretary to St John Harmsworth.

Perrier had never been hugely profitable, and the rest of the family lacked the faith in the brand that Harmsworth had. The Britain and Ireland distribution rights to Perrier had been licensed to Apollinaris by May 1939.

The Germans invaded France in 1940, and company capital was transferred to the United States to disguise the British origins of the firm. The Second World War isolated Perrier from its traditional markets of the British Empire, the USA and the French colonies. Sales to the German army represented 40 percent of turnover between 1941 and 1944.

Gustave Leven acquires Perrier
After the liberation of France, the Harmsworth family looked to sell the business, which was loss-making and required substantial investment. Gustave Leven (1915 – 2008) was working at his family stockbroking firm in Paris when his father asked him to find a buyer for Perrier in 1946. He visited the bottling plant, which was in need of reorganisation. He witnessed workers fill bottles by plunging them into the spring by hand, and sometimes using their feet to help put the bottle caps on.

Leven identified a strong brand that had considerable scope for improvement, and with four partners acquired the company for £100,000. Ten million bottles were sold in 1946.

Annual sales had risen to 150 million bottles by 1952. By introducing mass advertising to a staid industry, Perrier was able to gain considerable market share in France.

Perrier was the highest-selling mineral water in France by 1962, with a 25 percent market share. The bottling plant could produce nearly 2.5 million bottles of Perrier within 16 hours by 1967.

Leven installed a glass bottle manufacturing plant at Vergeze in 1973. Perrier held half of the French bottled water market by the mid-1970s.

Perrier was distributed in Britain by Schweppes and Grand Metropolitan by the early 1970s. The British market was limited to a few high-end establishments, as its distributors did not believe that there was a significant demand for bottled water. Perrier entered into British supermarket distribution for itself from 1974. Six million bottles were sold in Britain in 1978.

Leven turned to the underdeveloped United States market to further increase sales. Three million bottles were sold there in 1976; this had risen to 200 million by 1979. In Britain and the United States, Perrier tapped into an increasingly aspirational culture, and a growing health and fitness movement.

Rising sales in the United States saw a second factory opened at Vergeze in 1978. The new factory had an annual production capacity of nearly 400 million bottles, adding to the existing factory’s capacity of 350 million bottles.

The Vergeze site employed 2,500 people by 1983 and Perrier was sold in 119 countries. 25 percent of sales were in the United States by 1984.

Perrier held 60 percent of the British bottled water market by 1988. Nearly 100 million bottles a year were sold in the UK by 1990.

The brand peaked in 1989, when 1.2 billion bottles were sold, with half exported to the United States.

Carcinogen scare and sale to Nestle
In March 1990 it was reported that Perrier contained a minimal amount of a carcinogen because a filter meant to catch naturally occurring benzene from the spring had not been changed.

The United States Food & Drug Administration declared that the benzene content was harmless. A cancer specialist stated that an individual would have to consume a quart of Perrier every day for an entire lifetime to consume a harmful amount of benzene.

Despite this, Leven decided that a total product recall was essential to preserve the reputation of the brand. 160 million bottles were withdrawn from 120 countries, for which the company was not insured.

Production levels dropped by one third in the wake of the scandal. Leven stepped down as chairman of Perrier in June 1990.

Perrier had lost over half of its United States market share by January 1991, due to its limited distribution during the product recall. The poor availability of Perrier allowed rival mineral water brands such as Evian to win market share. In Britain, Scottish mineral water producers such as Highland Spring won market share at the expense of Perrier.

1991-2 sales in the United States and Britain were at half their 1989 levels, due to the damage inflicted upon the Perrier brand by the benzene scare.

Nestle acquired Perrier in March 1992, in a deal which valued the company at £1.4 billion (US$2.7 billion). The acquisition transformed Nestle into the largest mineral water producer in the world. Nestle believed it could turn around the struggling company.

Perrier acquired San Pellegrino, its Italian rival, in 1997.

Nestle struggled against a powerful union at the Perrier plant. With rising sales, Leven had acquiesced to union requests throughout the 1980s. Faced with stagnant sales, Nestle found that it was unable to continue to accommodate union demands. Nestle failed to make a profit from Perrier between 1992 and 2004.

Production levels crossed the one billion bottle threshold again in 2013. According to data from Euromonitor, Perrier held six percent of the global carbonated bottled water market by value in 2016, and its share is growing.

Nestle installed a new production line at the Perrier plant in 2017. It plans to add three more lines by 2020, bringing the total to 15.

Biscuity history: William Crawford & Sons

Before being absorbed into United Biscuits, Crawford’s was the longest-established biscuit manufacturer in Britain. The brand continues today as the economy sister brand to McVitie’s.

Origins and early growth
Ship biscuits were first produced at 31 Shore, a public house in Leith, Edinburgh, from 1813. Robert Mathie (1790 – 1863) took over the business from 1817. He employed five men by 1851.

Mathie retired and sold the business to William Crawford (1818 – 1889) in 1856. Crawford immediately opened an outlet on 14 Leith Street, Edinburgh to extend his customer base.

Crawford was a master baker employing six men and one boy by 1861. He relocated his Edinburgh outlet to 2 Princes Street from 1866.

Crawford employed five men and one boy in 1871.

Crawford established a custom-built factory at Elbe Street, Leith in 1879. The business traded as William Crawford & Sons from 1880. The wheat meal biscuit, similar to a digestive, had replaced the ship biscuit as the leading product by this time.

William Crawford died as a well-respected figure in Leith and Edinburgh in 1889. He was succeeded as principal of the firm by his son, William Crawford (1858 – 1926), a man of a retiring disposition. It would be due to the efforts of the son that the family firm would grow to national scale.

The Elbe Street factory was described as “large” by 1891.

Establishment of a Liverpool factory
William Crawford sent two of his brothers, Archibald Inglis Crawford (1869 – 1940) and James Shields Russell Crawford (1863 – 1927), to establish a subsidiary in Australia in 1897. The brothers were due to set sail from Liverpool, but instead decided to stay put, and established the Fairfield Works on Binns Road in the city.

The Fairfield Works, Binns Road, Liverpool (2013)

Crawford products around this time included wheat meal, shortbread, currant and rich tea biscuits, as well as cream crackers.

William Crawford & Sons had established national distribution by 1900.

William Crawford & Sons of Leith was registered as a limited liability company with a capital of £251,000 in 1906. The Crawford family controlled the company.

The Leith factory was largely rebuilt in 1906, and covered a quarter of an acre. The factory employed 150 men and boys by 1911.

Alexander Hunter Crawford (1865 – 1945), a leading Edinburgh architect, joined the company from around 1920.

William Crawford & Sons employed hundreds of people at its factories at Leith and Liverpool by 1923. By this time the company claimed to be “the oldest of the biscuit manufacturers”.

Company capital was increased to £700,000 in 1924.

William Crawford died with an estate valued at £876,211 in 1926.

Archibald Inglis Crawford died in 1940 with an estate valued at £1,015,886.

Douglas Inglis Crawford (1904 – 1981), son of Archibald, became company chairman from 1946. His father had instilled in him the values of honesty and integrity.

Douglas Inglis Crawford (1904 – 1981)

Takeover by United Biscuits
William Crawford & Sons was the largest privately-owned biscuit manufacturer in Britain by 1962. Its best known product was shortbread. The business employed 3,000 people in Liverpool, and 1,000 in Leith.

The company was still largely in Crawford family hands when it was acquired in a friendly takeover by United Biscuits for £6.25 million in 1962. Douglas Crawford was appointed vice chairman of United Biscuits.

United Biscuits closed the Leith factory in 1970, with the loss of 703 jobs. Meanwhile an investment of £2 million saw production increased by 50 percent at the Liverpool plant.

The McVitie’s, Crawford and Macfarlane sales teams were merged in the 1970s.

Douglas Crawford retired in 1974.

The Crawford factory in Liverpool was the longest-established and largest of all United Biscuits factories. It was also the most progressive in terms of employee relations. The site covered seventeen acres and employed 4,000 people by 1977. The Tuc biscuit and Tartan shortbread were its leading products.

Douglas Crawford died with a net estate of £252,431 in 1981.

United Biscuits wound-down manufacturing operations at Liverpool between 1984 and 1987. 934 full time and over 1,000 part time jobs were lost. Some administrative functions are maintained at the site.

The Crawford name was repositioned as an economy brand from 2014. The Crawford’s (formerly Peek Frean) Family Circle was rebranded under the McVitie’s name.

The Salt King: John Corbett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corbett was the largest salt manufacturer in Worcestershire by 1879.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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