Meredith & Drew became the largest biscuit manufacturer in Europe.
William Meredith (1803 – 1868), originally from Bristol, established a bakery at Shadwell, East London in 1830. He employed William George Drew (1813 – 1867) as his principal assistant.
Little is known of this early period, but following a quarrel between the two men, William Drew left the business to establish his own biscuit bakery from 1852.
William Meredith established a steam-powered factory on Commercial Road East, and focused on the public house trade for his biscuits, pound cakes and Banbury cakes. The business traded as Meredith & Son by 1856.
Drew & Sons
William Drew established a steam-powered factory on Shadwell High Street. Like Meredith, he focused on supplying the public house and hotel trade with biscuits. He employed 30 men by 1861.
William Drew died from a heart attack in 1867, and his obituary hailed him as “a man of remarkable energy and enterprise”, remembered for his charitable interests. Management of the business passed to his wife Barbara Drew, and his only son, Lear James Drew (1840 – 1917).
Drew & Sons produced over 100 different biscuit varieties by 1877.
Meredith & Drew
Frederick Meredith and Lear Drew merged their interests as Meredith & Drew, with a capital of £107,000, in 1891. The merged business was one of the largest biscuit manufacturers in Britain.
Meredith & Drew received its first Royal Warrant, from Queen Victoria, in 1894.
The Meredith & Drew factory at Shadwell was extended in 1896. Production was still concentrated on the manufacture of biscuits for the catering industry, particularly public houses and hotels.
Meredith & Drew developed a reputation for fair treatment of its customers and workforce.
Meredith & Drew was one of the best known businesses in the East End of London by 1897. Lear Drew was chairman, and he was supported by a strong management team including H D Rawlings (1836 – 1904) as vice chairman.
The Wright stuff
Meredith & Drew merged with Wright & Son of Shadwell through an exchange of shares in 1905. Thomas Reuben Wright (1868 – 1923) was appointed managing director of the company.
Lear Drew died with an estate valued at £30,986 in 1917. He was remembered as a genial man.
Thomas Reuben Wright died with an estate valued at £73,530 in 1923.
The Shadwell factory employed a workforce of around 1,000 people by 1925.
A factory was acquired at Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire in 1927.
Meredith & Drew launched the Betta Biscuit, a low-cost product, from 1931. Its success allowed the business to grow to become the largest biscuit manufacturer in Europe by 1934.
Meredith & Drew had six factories across England by 1939. The London site, which was also the largest, was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940, and production was permanently relocated to plants at Oldham, Brighouse and High Wycombe. A factory was also acquired at Halifax. Company headquarters were relocated to Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
The merger of McVitie & Price and Macfarlane Lang to form United Biscuits in 1948 saw Meredith & Drew lose its position as the largest biscuit manufacturer in Britain.
29 different biscuits were produced in the post-war period, including shortcake, digestive, Marie, Nice, bourbon, custard cream and ginger nut.
Meredith & Drew employed 2,500 people and employed an authorised share capital of £1 million by 1951. Geoffrey Anthony Edward Drew Wright (born 1908), son of T R Wright, was managing director.
A new factory was established at Cinderford, Gloucestershire in 1951. It employed 300 people and focused on cream cracker production.
Meredith & Drew closed four factories throughout the 1950s in order to centralise production at Halifax, Cinderford and Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
The Cinderford factory was closed with the loss of 346 jobs in 1962. Production was transferred to the Halifax and Ashby-de-la-Zouch plants, which were extended and modernised.
Own-label production for Marks & Spencer and a strong presence in the licensed trade saw Meredith & Drew hold around five percent of the British potato crisps market by 1963.
Crisps contributed to an increasing share of turnover, and the Ashby-de-la-Zouch facility began to struggle to meet demand. A new crisp factory with a staff of 280 was acquired in Lanarkshire in 1963.
Meredith & Drew was strong in own-label production, savoury biscuits, the catering trade and potato crisps in 1967.
United Biscuits era
Meredith & Drew, with four percent of the British biscuit market, was acquired by United Biscuits for £2 million in a cash and share offer in 1967.
United Biscuits acquired Kenyon, Son & Craven, the manufacturer of KP nuts, for £3.5 million in 1968. Kenyon, Son & Craven was merged into Meredith & Drew.
Meredith & Drew advertising was wound down, and rationalisation saw the Meredith & Drew brand retired in the early 1980s.
The Halifax site was closed with the loss of 990 jobs in 1989, and production was relocated to Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
The Ashby-de-la-Zouch biscuit factory was closed with the loss of 900 jobs in 2004.
United Biscuits continues to employ around 2,000 people in Ashby-de-la-Zouch through its distribution centre and KP Snacks factory.
The Meredith & Drew brand was reintroduced as a premium biscuit brand with a focus on the catering trade from 2018.