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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.