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Dunn & Hewett and the invention of instant cocoa

Daniel Dunn invented instant cocoa powder, and his products were widely imitated. Dunn & Hewett became one of the largest cocoa manufacturers in Britain, but the name is now largely forgotten.

Daniel Dunn
Daniel Dunn (1773 – 1862) was born at Netherton, Dudley, Worcestershire, to modest circumstances. His blacksmith father taught him the value of honesty, and his mother instilled in him a keen work ethic.

Dunn had to earn a living from the age of ten. He joined the Swedenborgian Church in 1796, and remained a keen member throughout his life.

Dunn demonstrated a propensity for invention from early in life. He would eventually be granted eleven patents. One of his early discoveries was a method to improve the manufacture of horse nails. He established a horse nail factory in London, however the business failed following a recession in America.

Dunn counted among his London associates one John Isaac Hawkins (1772 – 1855), the inventor of the upright piano.

Dunn was to instead find success manufacturing instant coffee and instant tea from a factory at Bartlett’s Buildings, Holborn from around 1800. Expanding trade saw him relocate to a larger factory at Pentonville from around 1810.

Dunn invented instant cocoa powder in 1820. His method was to add sugar and arrowroot to cocoa to create a soluble powder. Hot cocoa could be made in one minute by adding boiling water, whereas previously chocolate had needed to be boiled for an hour or more.

Dunn & Hewett
Charles Hewett (1819 – 1869), also from Dudley, had been apprenticed to Dunn by 1841. Hewett had joined Dunn in partnership by 1857, and the business henceforth traded as Dunn & Hewett.

Iceland Moss Cocoa had been introduced by 1859. It was made from cocoa, moss, farina and sugar. The moss was believed to hold highly nutritious qualities. Competitors such as Rowntree and Fry would later introduce their own competing Iceland Moss Cocoa products.

Dunn employed 47 people in 1861, including 23 men, 14 girls and ten boys.

Dunn was a generous philanthropist throughout his life. He died in 1862, and his estate was valued at under £3,000 (equivalent to at least £260,000 today). His entire estate was inherited by his third wife, Mary Dunn (1810 – 1885).

Management of Dunn & Hewett after the death of the founder
Charles Hewett took over as senior partner of Dunn & Hewett following the death of Daniel Dunn.

Dunn & Hewett employed 60 to 70 workers by 1864. Hewett would continue the tradition of respect and equality with his workforce that Dunn had established. A workman would be presented with a sovereign coin upon the birth of a child. The firm organised an annual excursion or dinner for their workers. A company funded brass band was established from 1864.

Charles Hewett died in 1869, and management of the firm passed to Mary Dunn and two of Daniel’s adopted sons, Arthur Day (1843 – 1918) and John Holm (1840 – 1897), the latter a trained chemist.

Dunn & Hewett employed 65 people in 1871, including 36 men, four boys, 22 women and three girls.

Dunn & Hewett ranked among the largest cocoa manufacturers in Britain by 1876. The firm employed 70 workers in 1881.

Mary Dunn died in 1885.

Sale of Dunn & Hewett to the Nunn family
It appears that Arthur Day and John Holm sold Dunn & Hewett to Henry Saunders Nunn (1848 – 1925), a manager at a rubber manufacturer, following the death of Mary Dunn.

Arthur Day continued to work in a marketing role for Dunn & Hewett, appearing as a representative at International Exhibitions.

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As late as 1911, Dunn & Hewett continued to be one of the leading cocoa manufacturers in Britain.

A fire at the extensive factory caused an estimated £14,000 worth of damage in 1916, equivalent to at least £800,000 in 2016.

Henry Saunders Nunn died in 1925 and left an estate valued at £125,000. Control of Dunn & Hewett was passed to his son, Henry Thomas Nunn (1878 – 1927), who died two years later with a net personalty valued at just £17,880.

Control of Dunn & Hewett passed to Oliver Cromwell Nunn (1879 – 1971), who retired around 1930, upon which the Pentonville factory was closed down.