Tag Archives: James Bigwood

Champion & Co: leading vinegar brewers

Champion & Co was the fourth largest vinegar brewer in Britain and Ireland.

The Champion family establish and grow the business
Champion & Co, vinegar brewers, traced its establishment date to 1705.

In an age before refrigeration, vinegar was a much more important commodity than it is today, due to its preservative effect on foodstuffs.

William Champion (died 1799) had acquired a vinegar brewery by 1794. The premises were on the corner where City Road meets Old Street, next to where the Old Street tube station is today.

Thomas Champion and Guy Champion
William Champion died suddenly whilst serving as Sheriff of London in 1799, and the business was taken over by his son, Thomas Champion (1774 – 1846).

The firm was to owe its subsequent growth, both at home and overseas, to the business acumen of Thomas Champion.

A bottle of Champion’s Celebrated Pure Malt Vinegar, likely dating from the 1920s

Thomas Champion was joined in partnership by a Francis Moore between 1813 and 1818, and the firm trade as Champion & Moore.

The firm traded as Champion & Green from 1821, after a Thomas Green entered the business. The business had expanded into the production of mustard by 1830.

Guy Champion (1786 – 1846), brother to Thomas Champion, who had previously worked as a merchant in Spain, entered the business from 1830.

Whilst abroad in Albania, Guy Champion chanced upon a slave auction and acquired a girl. He brought the girl back to England and married her.*

Champion & Green was the fourth largest vinegar brewer in Britain and Ireland by 1832, with a market share of 13 percent.

A fire at the works destroyed the building and stock in 1833. Fortunately the business was insured.

Thomas Green had left the business by 1839.

In 1840 the partnership between Guy and Percival Champion, Arthur Mann and William Henry Wright was dissolved. They had been trading under the name Champions, Mann & Wright. The business was transferred to Thomas Champion.

Guy Champion died in 1846. Thomas Champion died suddenly whilst organising the funeral arrangements.

George Willis and William Henry Wright took over the company in the 1840s, but the Champion family continued to hold a stake, and it continued to trade as Champion & Co.

James Bigwood takes control of Champion & Co
James Bigwood (1839 – 1919) was the son of a successful fish merchant. He was managing director of Champion & Co by 1869. Bigwood was a strong advocate for product purity, and was vehemently opposed to food adulteration.

James Bigwood (1839 – 1919) in 1898. Image used with the kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery.

Champion & Co produced well over 1.5 million gallons of vinegar every year by 1872. The firm also produced two tons of mustard per day. The firm employed 170 workers, almost all skilled.

The brewery was extended in 1873.

A new 53,000 gallon vinegar vat was installed in 1883. It took three months to construct from English oak. It joined 46 other similarly-sized vats at the brewery.

There were nearly 200 workmen employed at the brewery by 1883. Many had followed their fathers and grandfathers into the business.

James Bigwood was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1885. Bigwood stood 6 ft 4 inches high, and held the distinction of being the tallest MP.

Champion & Co had been registered as a limited liability company by 1887.

The City Road premises was described as “imposing” in 1890.

By 1894 Champion & Co had 20,000 customers, and an average annual output of more than one million gallons of vinegar. The brewery was capable of producing up to 10,000 bottles of vinegar a day.

A Champion & Co bottle, believed to date from the 1890s. Image courtesy of Tim Gunnink

James Bigwood had been joined in the business by his son, James Edward Cecil Bigwood (1863 – 1947) by 1901.

The firm was the oldest established vinegar brewery in London by 1907.

The Bigwood family sell Champion & Co to Slee, Slee & Co
James Bigwood and James Edward Cecil Bigwood sold Champion & Co to Slee, Slee & Co, a rival vinegar brewer, in 1907. The City Road brewery, with its proximity to the City of London, had become highly valuable, and the two men were keen to realise its value.

The merged business was registered as Champion & Slee, with a share capital of £140,000.

The Champion brewery site was demolished, and the land was used to build affordable housing. Champion & Co production was relocated to the Slee premises at Church Street, Tower Bridge Road, London, where there was ample room for expansion.

A large proportion of production was exported to foreign and colonial markets.

Following the First World War, the British vinegar market suffered from overcapacity. Champion & Slee was acquired, along with rival Sarson’s, by Crosse & Blackwell in 1929.

Champion’s vinegar continued to be advertised until 1955, after which it appears to have been phased out in favour of the Sarson’s brand.

Notes
* This is according to to an account made by Charles James Feret (1854 – 1921), writing in 1900.