The joy of 5X: the aged beer from Greene King

Why is Greene King’s 5X one of the most remarkable beers in the world?

Blending in British beer
Beer that is fermented for longer can often develop more unique and interesting flavours. Many British breweries of the Victorian era produced an aged “stock beer” that would be blended with a fresh “running beer” to produce a finished product which combined the drinkability of fresh beer with a greater depth of flavour.

A view of the Greene King brewery by Elliott Brown in 2019.

Some of the most successful beers owe a debt to the blending tradition. Newcastle Brown Ale, introduced in 1927, was originally a blend of a dark aged beer with a lighter pale ale. Guinness Foreign Extra Stout was blended with two percent aged beer from 1950, although it is unclear whether this process still occurs.

Truman’s Brewery of London continued to produce their No 1 barley wine by blending two thirds fresh beer with one third aged beer up until the early 1970s.

The ageing and blending tradition, inspired by English brewing techniques of the 1870s, remains alive at the Rodenbach brewery in Belgium. A stock beer is aged for between eighteen months and two years and then blended with two thirds fresh beer.

5X, the great survivor
Greene King of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk is one of the largest of the traditional ale brewers in Britain. By the 1990s it was the last major brewery in Britain to retain the stock beer tradition.

Greene King brew 5X to around twelve percent ABV using pale, crystal and chocolate malts. It is aged for between two and five years in four untreated 100-barrel English oak vats. John Bexon, a former head brewer at Greene King, explained, “the microflora in there slowly matures the flavor and it almost sours it like a Belgian Lambic”.

According to Greene King, “5X on its own can taste very tart and sour”, although it is occasionally made available at beer festivals. It has been blended into various Greene King beers over the years.

5X at a rate of between 15 and 25 percent is blended with Burton Pale Ale, a dark and sweet five percent ABV beer made with pale, crystal and chocolate malts, to produce Greene King Strong Suffolk at six percent ABV.

My tasting notes for Strong Suffolk highlight the aromas of vinous fruit and port wine, liquorice, kola nut, oak, malt vinegar, banana and toffee. The beer is full bodied with a very dry finish. Strong Suffolk was produced from at least the 1920s until 2018. It returned as a one-off brew in 2023.

Greene King introduced Morland’s Old Crafty Hen in 2008, a 6.5 percent ABV beer created by blending a stronger version of Old Speckled Hen with between ten and 15 percent 5X.

It is almost axiomatic that the larger the brewer, the more cost-conscious and risk-averse they become. The bean-counters take over and tradition falls by the wayside. Greene King has bucked that trend by continuing to produce 5X, and for this, they should be justly celebrated.

Sega World Sydney

Sega World Sydney joined its sister theme park SegaWorld London as a high-profile failure. What went wrong?

Sega World Sydney was a joint venture between Jacfun, a property consortium led by Kevin Bermeister (born 1960), and Sega. Kevin Bermeister was the general manager of the park.

Sega World Sydney was modelled on Sega’s Joypolis indoor theme park in Yokohama, Japan. The park was fitted out at a cost of AU$50 million. It occupied 10,000 sq metres of space. Unlike SegaWorld London, there was only one virtual reality ride. Alongside it was a rollercoaster, a ghost train and a dodgems.

A view of Sega World Sydney. Image used with permission.

Bermeister confidently announced that “Sega World will make existing theme parks look old-fashioned”. It was anticipated that the park would attract 1.2 – 1.5 million visitors in its first year.

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The Sydney park was expected to function as an anchor site from which Sega could establish similar sites across Australia and South East Asia.

Opening and closure
Sega World Sydney was opened in March 1997 at Darling Harbour. In the first full month of opening the park attracted under 70,000 guests. Sue Williams of the Sydney Morning Herald reported in November 1997, “it is not the virtual reality attractions that catch your eye; it is the virtual emptiness of the place”.

Sega paid $36 million to exit the joint venture in 1999.

It was hoped that the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney would boost attendance figures, however the park recorded just 400,000 visitors for the year. The park struggled to attract guests outside of holiday periods, despite active discounting. Opening hours were shortened in an attempt to reduce costs. The park was closed in November 2000.

The Sega World Sydney assets were sold by auction in 2001.

How the London Brick Company was built

How did London Brick become the largest brickmaker in the world?

John Cathles Hill establishes London Brick
John Cathles Hill (1857 – 1915) was born outside Dundee in Scotland. He followed his father into the wheelwright and cartwright profession.

John Cathles Hill (1857 – 1915)

Hill relocated to London in 1878 and worked as a joiner. He established his own business as J C Hill & Co with a capital of £300 and entered into the housebuilding trade from 1881.

Hill entered into brickmaking in 1889 with the acquisition of a small brickyard at Fletton, near Peterborough. The brickmaking business was incorporated as a private company called London Brick in 1900. It was probably the largest brickmaker in the world. There were factories at Fletton, Ponders End, and Great Bentley in Essex. 2.5 million bricks were produced every week. 1,500 people were employed.

Hill was declared bankrupt with liabilities of over £1.2 million in 1912. He suffered with cirrhosis of the liver for the last four years of his life and died in 1915. He was succeeded as manager of London Brick by his son, John Edgar Hill (1887 – 1937).

London Brick introduced the first fletton facing brick in 1923. It is a relatively inexpensive and versatile brick that used Lower Oxford Shale Clay. It is now readily identifiable as a standard housebuilding brick.

The Malcolm Stewart era
B J Forder & Son, controlled by Sir Halley Stewart (1838 – 1937), acquired London Brick in 1923. The merged business was known as London Brick Company & Forders. Stewart appointed his son, Malcolm Stewart (1872 – 1951), as company chairman in 1924.

Sir Malcolm Stewart (1872 – 1951)  in 1932. Image used with permission from the National Portrait Gallery.

London Brick Company & Forders was the largest brickmaker in the world by 1931. Four million bricks a day were produced.

London Brick Company & Forders extended its distribution throughout England during the interwar period.

The name of the company reverted to London Brick from 1936.

John Edgar Hill died with a net personalty valued at £344,807 in 1937.

Stewart was made a baronet in 1937.

A company record was broken in March 1938 when over 167 million bricks were produced. London Brick held around 25 percent of the British brick market.

With a production of 1.75 billion bricks per annum, London Brick had by far the largest capacity in the world by 1946.

Stewart retired as chairman in 1950 and died the following year. He left a net estate valued at £522,965.

Continued growth of the business
London Brick established the largest brickmaking works in the world at Stewartby in Bedfordshire in the early 1950s. Complete with a model village for the workforce, the site could produce twelve million bricks a week.

The Scottish market was entered in the 1950s.

The Calvert Works in Buckinghamshire were extended in 1962. A new kiln was installed to increase capacity by 50 million bricks per annum. After installation, the Calvert Works was established as the second largest brickmaking site in Britain.

A new brickworks was opened at King’s Dyke, near Peterborough, in the late 1960s.

By 1974 London Brick controlled the entire British fletton brick market, and 41 percent of the total British brick market, and was the largest brickmaker in the world.

Around 7,000 people were employed in 1982.

Hanson restructures the business
London Brick was acquired by Hanson Trust for £247 million in 1984. Hanson was already one of the largest brickmakers in Britain through its Buttlerley subsidiary.

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Hanson Trust typically acquired declining businesses, but Lord Hanson (1922 – 2004) asserted that London Brick was “essentially a well-run and managed company with a good market”. However upon acquiring the company he discovered that the industry was in steady decline. The kilns were inefficient and required replacement. London Brick’s British market share had fallen from 42 percent to 34 percent between 1981 and 1985.

Lord Hanson fired the managing director, James Bristow, who later criticised Hanson’s “greed and misunderstanding of the industry … he was paying far too much for the business and couldn’t hope to get a proper return”.

1,264 people, a quarter of the London Brick workforce, were made redundant due to falling demand in 1985. Lord Hanson commented, “there are ups and downs in certain markets. We did not lay off people at London Brick to make more money. This was to save the company, which has lost market share.”

Hanson doubled profits at London Brick between 1984 and 1988.

The Stewartby works were the largest brickworks in the world in 1990, producing 10.5 million bricks a week.

The Calvert brickworks were closed with the loss of 336 jobs in 1991.

London Brick employed 1,750 people in 1992.

Hanson merged London Brick and Butterley in 1995. The two companies manufactured over one billion bricks a year, and held around 30 percent of the domestic market.

The post-Hanson era
Hanson was acquired by HeidelbergCement in 2007.

The Stewartby brickworks were closed in 2008. The site would have required substantial investment to meet UK limits for sulphur dioxide emissions due to the type of clay used.

HeidelbergCement sold its United States and British building products businesses to Lone Star Funds for $1.4 billion in 2015.

The British brickmaking business was listed on the London Stock Exchange as Forterra with a valuation of £360 million in 2016. Forterra was the second largest brickmaker in Britain, with a quarter of the market.

The London or fletton brick is still produced by Forterra at the King’s Dyke Works.

The Sun never sets: how Rupert Murdoch built News Corp

How did Rupert Murdoch build a media empire?

Early life
Rupert Murdoch (born 1931) was the son of Keith Murdoch (1885 – 1952), one of the most powerful newspaper barons in Australia. He described himself as “Presbyterian, Calvinistic” and “a bit dull and humourless”.

Murdoch attended Oxford University where he gained a reputation as a left-winger. He received a third class degree in politics, philosophy and economics.

After university, Murdoch worked for two months as a sub-editor at the Daily Express, where he learned Beaverbrook-style journalism, characterised by a “piquant, personal, sometimes mischievous style … with an impish but finely honed sense of news”, according to Roy Reed of the New York Times. The period was formative for the young man, as he later reflected, “my outlook, energy, self-assurance and sense of social purpose were fashioned in the slightly mad meritocracy that is the newsroom”.

Rupert Murdoch in 1970 by Godfrey Argent. Image used with permission from the National Portrait Gallery.

Murdoch gained control of the Adelaide News following the death of his father in 1952.

The Sydney Daily Mirror was acquired in 1960. Murdoch was now a major force in the Australian market.

Murdoch launched The Australian, the first national newspaper in his native country, in 1964. He was the fourth largest newspaper proprietor in Australia by the end of the 1960s.

Murdoch acquires the News of the World and The Sun
Murdoch acquired control of the News of the World of London in January 1969. The newspaper had a reputation for “oleaginously written sex stories, crime and sport”, according to Anthony Lewis of the New York Times. It had the highest circulation of any newspaper in the Western world, with over six million copies sold every Sunday.

Murdoch relocated to Britain to manage the News of the World. Investigations and sports coverage were increased. Murdoch outsourced the public relations operations to cut costs, and increased the marketing spend. He vowed not to interfere with the political stance of the paper.

Following a controversial decision to serialise the Christine Keeler memoirs, Murdoch was interviewed by David Frost, and was “annihilated” according to Hugh Hebert of The Guardian. The episode convinced Murdoch that he would always remain an outsider amongst the British establishment.

His wife, Anna Murdoch, later commented:

Great Britain will accept you if you’re willing to join and play by the rules. Rupert wasn’t willing. He went to Great Britain to challenge Fleet Street, not because he loved Great Britain.

The Sun of London was acquired from International Publishing Corporation, the owner of the Daily Mirror, for £250,000 in November 1969. The loss-making broadsheet newspaper was immediately converted to tabloid format. Larry Lamb (1929 – 2000) was appointed as editor and he suggested that the paper would be left-of-centre “on general issues [and] reflect the political feelings of its readers”. Murdoch described the newspaper’s politics as “uncommitted”.

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The Sun was based on a “formula of sex, sport and sensation”, according to The Times. Lamb doubled the circulation figures of the newspaper within one year, and introduced Page 3, a regular topless girl feature, from November 1970.

The Murdoch newspapers “regularly espoused his anti-Labour Party philosophy” by the mid-1970s, according to Judy Klemesrud of the New York Times. Murdoch’s philosophy, as far as there was one, was that he was an agent of change. He said:

I’m not the Roy Thomson type of newspaper proprietor, just making money out of newspapers. I get a lot of kicks out of the political side of it.

Murdoch expands into the United States
Flush with the success of his British venture, Murdoch determined to conquer the media market in the United States. He relocated to New York City from 1973. He acquired a Texas newspaper, the San Antonio Express.

Murdoch believed that most American newspapers were aimed at “the rich and the intellectual” and characterised by “worthy and lazy” journalism. He believed that he could exploit this underserved market.

Murdoch acquired the New York Post for $31 million in 1976. New York magazine was acquired for around $8 million in 1977.

Murdoch builds his British publishing empire
The Sun overtook archi-rival the Daily Mirror in circulation figures from 1978.

Murdoch acquired the loss-making The Times and the Sunday Times for £12 million in 1981. For biographer Michael Wolff it was the “most substantial and complicated takeover of [Murdoch’s] career”. For Dan van der Vat of The Times, the acquisition transformed Murdoch into “the most powerful figure in Fleet Street”.

Harold Evans (1928 – 2020), who served as editor of The Times under Murdoch, argued:

the wellsprings [of Murdoch’s conservatism] are the retention of power and money, its methods are manipulation and the adroit manufacture of alliances … it can be jettisoned at any moment for advantage. Politicians are endorsed when the calculation is that they will win power and patronage.

Murdoch expands his media interests
Murdoch used the cash generated by The Sun and the News of the World to borrow money in order to build a media empire in the 1980s.

50 percent of 20th Century Fox was acquired for $250 million in 1982. The remainder was acquired for $325 million in 1984.

A 65 percent stake in Satellite Television of Britain was acquired for £5 million in 1983, and Murdoch renamed the business Sky.

Murdoch relocated his British printworks to a new site at Wapping in London’s Docklands in 1986.

Metromedia was acquired for £1.5 billion ($2 billion) in 1986, and Fox was launched as the fourth national television channel in the United States.

The Herald & Weekly Times group of Australia was acquired for £1.48 billion in 1987 to give Murdoch control of around 60 percent of Australian newspaper circulation.

Harper & Row, a United States publishing house, was acquired for around $300 million in 1987.

Forbes assessed Murdoch as the eighth richest man in the United States in 1987.

Triangle Publishing, a magazine publisher best known for TV Guide, was acquired for $3 billion in 1988.

Murdoch controlled around one third of British newspaper circulation by 1988.

Williams Collins, one of the largest publishers in Britain, was acquired for £403 million in 1989. Collins was merged with Harper & Row to form HarperCollins.

Murdoch struggled to make Sky profitable, and merged the business with British Satellite Broadcasting to form BSkyB in 1990.

News Corp was the second largest media company in the world by 1992.

BSkyB won the five-year rights to broadcast all live Premier League football games for £304 million in 1992.

Murdoch acquired almost two thirds of Star TV, an Asian satellite broadcaster, for $525 million in 1993.

Fox News began to broadcast in the United States in 1996. Murdoch had identified an underserved market for television news with a right-of-centre view.

Recent changes
News Corp formally changed its headquarters from Australia to the United States in 2004.

Murdoch acquired Dow Jones, the publisher of the Wall Street Journal, for $5 billion in 2007. The Wall Street Journal had the second-highest circulation of any newspaper in the United States. Murdoch promised to increase investment in journalism.

News Corp changed its name to 21st Century Fox in 2013. The publishing assets were spun-off as News Corp.

21st Century Fox sold its 39 percent stake in Sky to Comcast for £11.6 billion in 2018.

21st Century Fox was sold to Disney for $71.3 billion in 2019.

Gineral knowledge: a history of Beefeater

How did Beefeater become the highest-selling gin in the world?

James Burrough establishes the business
James Burrough (1834 – 1897) was born in Ottery St Mary, Devon, the son of a baker. He served an apprenticeship to a chemist and druggist in Exeter.

Burrough emigrated to Canada in 1855 and traded as a chemist. After five years he returned to Britain and established himself in London.

Burrough acquired the Cale Street distillery in Chelsea from John Taylor & Son for £400 in 1863. John Taylor & Son was principally known for its fruit liqueurs.

Burrough’s gin, later to become known as Beefeater, was developed by James Burrough in 1876. It contained nine botanicals; juniper, Seville orange peel, bitter almonds, orris root, coriander seeds, angelica root, liquorice, angelica seed and Sicilian lemon peel.

Burrough described himself as a compounder and rectifier of whisky in the 1881 census. Whisky appears to have represented his main trade in the 1870s and early 1880s.

James Burrough dies and the business continues to expand
James Burrough died in 1897. Management of the business passed to his sons, Frederick Burrough (1869 – 1941), Ernest James Burrough (1871 – 1953) and Francis Thornton Burrough (1879 – 1940).

The business had been registered as a limited company, James Burrough Ltd, by 1907.

The business was relocated to larger and better located, purpose-built premises on Hutton Road, Lambeth, from 1908. The site was named the Cale Distillery. The expansion of production capacity allowed exports to begin in earnest to markets such as India.

A prominent image of a London Beefeater was added to the Burrough’s gin label from 1909.

The United States market was entered, in a modest way, from 1934.

Eric Burrough grows sales in North America
Burrough’s gin began to be advertised in Britain following the Second World War.

Rudolph C Kopf (1905 – 1985), a buyer for Macy’s department stores, was appointed United States distributor for Burrough’s gin in 1946, at a time when sales were negligible.

The Beefeater name had been added in small lettering to the bottle by 1952.

Eric Lewis Burrough (1900 – 1970), a grandson of James Burrough, was appointed company chairman from 1953. He was to develop sales in export markets.

Annual sales in the United States sales increased by 165 percent to $1 million in 1956, aided by the popularity of the dry martini cocktail. Encouraged, Eric Burrough undertook an extensive tour of North America in order to promote sales in 1957.

Burrough’s gin had been rebranded as Beefeater by 1957. Beefeater was a premium gin, a rival to products such as Tanqueray and Booth’s House of Lords.

Expanding sales saw the company relocate to the former Haywards pickles factory at Montford Place, Kennington, from 1958.

A view of the Kennington distillery in 2008. Image used courtesy of Sarflondondunc.

James Burrough was the second largest gin exporter in the world by 1961, with 65 percent of production destined for overseas markets. Beefeater held three quarters of the United States imported gin market.

Beefeater sold nearly a million three gallon cases in the United States in 1962. Sales grew with little advertising, spurred by word-of-mouth promotion and the increasing popularity of the martini cocktail.

Eric Burrough explained that English gin was well-regarded in the United States due to, “the knowledge gained by British distillers over many years” and explained that it was valued for its “softness and delicacy of flavour”. Juniper berries were harvested from a single district in the Italian Tyrol; angelica root came from Flanders; coriander seeds came from Essex. The distillery used its own spring water.

Beefeater was the leading premium gin in England and the United States by the mid-1960s.

Beefeater increased its share of British gin exports from two percent to over 50 percent between 1953 and 1966. Over 12 million bottles of Beefeater were exported in 1965. James Burrough received the Queen’s Award to Industry for export achievement in 1966, 1969 and 1971.

Export sales are pursued
Eric Burrough retired from executive duties following a stroke in 1967. Alan Burrough (1917 – 2002), a grandson of the founder, was appointed chairman. Alan Burrough was a shy man who had lost a leg in the North African campaign during the Second World War.

Alan Burrough recognised that the United States market had probably reached capacity, and pursued sales in Europe and Japan.

James Burrough was the largest manufacturer of gin in the world by 1970, with annual production of 20 million bottles. Beefeater was sold in almost every country, with just a handful that it was excluded from for political or religious reasons, such as China, Rhodesia, North Korea and some Arabic nations.

James Burrough preferred to produce its gin in England, where quality control could be closely monitored. However distilleries were established in South Africa and New Zealand, following the erection of prohibitive import tariffs in those markets.

An advertisement for Beefeater gin (1971)

James Burrough employed nearly 500 people by 1977.

Beefeater was the third highest-selling gin in the world by 1982, with five percent of the market.

Alan Burrough retired in 1982 and he was succeeded as chairman by his brother, Norman Burrough. Norman Burrough doubled profits between 1982 and 1984.

Beefeater was the third highest-selling gin by volume in Britain by 1987, with a market share of six percent.

James Burrough is sold to Whitbread
The Burrough family, with a 70 percent stake in the company, believed that the business would benefit from lower distribution costs if it was a part of a larger concern. James Burrough was sold to Whitbread, the third largest brewer in Britain, for £174.5 million in 1987.

Whitbread incorporated James Burrough into their existing spirits business, Long John, which produced Laphroaig single malt Scotch whisky.

The James Burrough bottling facility in Kennington was closed with the loss of 300 jobs in 1988. Bottling was relocated to the Long John plant at Westthorn, Glasgow. The Burrough head office and distillery, with a staff of 75, was retained.

Allied Lyons acquires the business
Long John was highly successful, but Whitbread lacked the scale to become a significant player in the global market, and the business was sold to Allied Lyons for £542 million in 1990.

Bottling of Beefeater was transferred to Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven in Scotland from 1992.

By 1992 the raw spirit was diluted with filtered and deionised municipal water, with an unspecified proportion of artesian well water added.

More than 2.5 million cases of Beefeater were sold in 1995.

Pernod Ricard acquires Beefeater
Pernod Ricard of France acquired Beefeater in 2005.

30 million bottles of Beefeater were produced in 2007, using 50 tons of wild juniper from Italy and Macedonia, 20 tons of coriander seed from Russia and Bulgaria, orris root from Florence, angelica roots and seeds from Belgium, powdered liquorice from China, three tons of dried Seville orange peel and “slightly less” dried lemon peel as well as almonds from Spain. Alcohol spirit was sourced from Greenwich. The botanicals are steeped for 24 hours before seven hours redistillation.

2.9 million cases of Beefeater were sold in the 2017-18 financial year.

According to Pernod Ricard, Beefeater is the third highest-selling premium gin in the world as of 2019. Its major markets are Spain, the United States, Canada, Japan and Britain.

The Beefeater distillery continues to operate in Kennington as of 2022.

Soap opera: R S Hudson

Robert Spear Hudson introduced the first commercial soap powder in the world in 1837. The business he established later introduced the Omo and Rinso detergent products.

Robert Spear Hudson (1812 – 1884) was born in West Bromwich in the West Midlands of England. His father was the pastor of the local Congregationalist church.

Robert Spear Hudson (1812 – 1884)

Hudson was apprenticed to an apothecary, and opened a chemist’s shop on West Bromwich High Street from around 1830.

Hudson was possessed by a restless energy, and had a firm commitment to hard work. Through trial and experimentation he introduced Hudson’s Dry Soap, the first commercial soap powder, from 1837. The basic formula for the product is believed to have consisted of dried soap mixed with sodium carbonate.

Hudson also invented a new baking powder, the formula for which he gifted to George Borwick (1807 – 1889), his brother in law.

Borwick acted as the London agent for Hudson’s Dry Soap from 1844, and from that year the product was used by the Royal Household of Queen Victoria.

Hudson employed a staff of ten girls in 1854. This had increased to two men, four boys and 19 girls by 1861.

Demand became such that Hudson had to subcontract soap production to William Hunt of Wednesbury from 1864.

R S Hudson enters into mass production
Hudson’s Dry Soap entered into mass production from 1870. From this time the supply of stock soap was contracted to William Gossage & Sons of Merseyside.

Hudson succeeded due to his thorough nature, and his ready appreciation of the importance of advertising.

A much larger second factory was established at Bank Hall, Liverpool, in 1875. The head office was transferred to Bank Hall. The site was convenient for the imported raw material of vegetable oil, and also had excellent railway, canal and dock links.

Robert Spear Hudson died in 1884. His personal estate was valued at over £295,000. He had been a generous benefactor and a keen Congregationalist throughout his life. He was succeeded as head of the business by his son, Robert William Hudson (1856 – 1938).

120 million half-pound packets of soap powder were sold every year by 1888. The business spent £20,000 a year on advertising.

1,000 people were employed by 1908.

Acquisition by Lever Brothers
Lever Brothers, a large soap manufacturer, acquired R S Hudson in 1908. The price paid was undisclosed, but The Times described the figure as “a staggering amount”. R S Hudson was converted into a limited liability company with a capital of £500,000.

R S Hudson was continued with the same management. However new product lines were introduced; Omo for bleaching clothes in 1908, and Rinso washing detergent in 1910.

Supply of stock soap for the dry powder was immediately switched from William Gossage & Sons to Lever Brothers, in a major blow for the rival business.

The two Hudson factories were modernised in 1927. Electricity replaced steam power, and automated product-packing was introduced.

Lever Brothers gradually transferred production to their large factory at Port Sunlight. The R S Hudson factories in Liverpool and West Bromwich were closed in 1935.

Robert William Hudson died in 1938 with a personal estate in England valued at £234,146.

R S Hudson was merged with John Knight, another soap manufacturer controlled by Lever Brothers, to form Hudson & Knight in 1945.

Hudson & Knight was integrated into Unilever, the successor to Lever Brothers, in 1964.

Omo and Rinso are still sold around the world.

Fuelled growth: a history of F Perkins

How did F Perkins become the largest manufacturer of diesel engines in the world?

Establishment of F Perkins
Francis “Frank” Arthur Perkins (1889 – 1967) and Charles Wallace Chapman (1897 – 1979) decided to develop a lightweight diesel engine for use in trucks and lorries. They were convinced that a diesel engine could be made more reliable and efficient than their petrol equivalents.

Frank Perkins (1889 – 1967)

F Perkins was established at Queen Street, Peterborough in 1932. The company had a capital of £10,000, four directors and three employees. One engine a week was produced in the first year.

Frank Perkins broke the high speed world record for a diesel engine with a 100mph run in 1935.

Over 600 engines a year were produced by 1938.

F Perkins built marine engines for the Royal Navy during the Second World War.

Post-war expansion
F Perkins anticipated an increased demand for diesel engines in the post-war period, and built a new factory at Eastfield, Peterborough. The business operated 75 acres of factories by 1950.

F Perkins was converted into a public company in 1951.

F Perkins was the largest manufacturer of diesel engines in the world by 1953, with an annual production of 60,000. Almost 9,000 people were employed.

A diesel engine designed for motor cars was introduced from 1958.

Subsequent ownership
F Perkins began to appear vulnerable as the large vehicle manufacturers began to produce their own diesel engines. The business was acquired by Massey-Ferguson, the largest manufacturer of farm tractors in the world, for £4.5 million in 1959. Perkins was contracted to supply Massey-Ferguson with all of their engine requirements.

F Perkins employed 10,000 people by 1967, including 7,000 in Peterborough. 1,500 diesel engines could be produced every day.

Massey-Ferguson was renamed Varity Corporation from 1982.

Around 400,000 engines a year were built across 15 different countries by 1992.

4,000 people were employed in Peterborough in 1997.

LucasVarity sold Perkins to Caterpillar, the largest manufacturer of construction equipment in the world, for £803 million in 1998.

Perkins remains one of the largest diesel engine manufacturers in the world.

Great Scot: James Buchanan & Co

James Buchanan helped to establish sales of Scotch whisky in England, and died as one of the richest men in Britain. Buchanan’s remains the third highest-selling Scotch whisky brand in the world.

James Buchanan helps to establish Scotch whisky sales in London
James Buchanan (1849 – 1935) was born to Scottish parents in Ontario, Canada.

James Buchanan in 1923

Buchanan relocated to London, England from 1879 where he worked as a salesman for Charles Mackinlay & Co, a well-known Scotch whisky distributor.

Buchanan struggled to earn sufficient money, and lived in a bedsit and worked 16 hour days. His grit and perseverance ultimately paid off when a friend loaned him the capital to form his own whisky wholesale operation in 1884. He established an office at Bucklersbury in the City of London.

Most whisky sold in London at the time was Irish, but Buchanan created a Scotch blend that could be relied on for its consistency and quality. “The Buchanan blend” was the first Scotch whisky to really appeal to the English palate. W P Lowrie & Co of Glasgow was contracted to produce the product.

Buchanan succeeded due to his efficiency and hard work. He also had the gift of the gab; he was a quick thinker and a great talker. Buchanan was the first person to offer free whisky samples to publicans. He charmed landlords, who he convinced that his whisky offered health benefits.

Buchanan established his reputation when he was awarded a contract to supply the House of Commons with Scotch whisky from 1885. Buchanan was soon marketing the “House of Commons blend” to the general public.

Buchanan won the gold medal for Scotch whisky at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1889.

Parliament took umbrage at Buchanan’s use of its brand in order to sell whisky, and as a result, the Buchanan contract was ended in 1893.

Buchanan acquired the freehold of the Black Swan distillery at Holborn from Sir Alan Young for £90,000 in 1897. The premises became his head office and storage and bottling warehouse.

Buchanan entered into whisky production for himself with the acquisition of the Glentauchers distillery in Glenlivet in 1898.

James Buchanan & Co received Royal Warrants to supply Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales in 1898.

Buchanan had won back the contract to supply Parliament by 1901.

James Buchanan & Co was registered as a limited company in 1903.

Buchanan’s blend was packaged in a black bottle with a white label. Customers referred to it as the “black and white whisky”, and the product was rebranded as Black & White from 1904.

James Buchanan & Co acquired majority control of W P Lowrie & Co in 1906. The purchase included the Convalmore distillery on Speyside.

Buchanan opened the largest bonded warehouse in Britain in Glasgow in 1907.

James Buchanan & Co had acquired the Bankier distillery at Kilsyth by 1908.

James Buchanan & Co held the largest reserves of Scotch whisky in the world by 1913.

All reference to the House of Commons was removed from Buchanan’s branding from 1915.

Merger with John Dewar & Sons; acquisition by Distillers
James Buchanan & Co merged with John Dewar & Sons, a rival Scotch whisky manufacturer, to form Buchanan-Dewar in 1915. The move was a defensive one against rising spirits taxation and increasing raw materials costs. The merged business held the largest reserve of whisky stocks in Scotland, and had a combined capital of £5 million.

Black & White was the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in Britain in the 1920s.

James Buchanan was raised to the Peerage as Baron Woolavington from 1922.

Mackie & Co of Glasgow, best known for the White Horse brand, was acquired in 1923.

Domestic sales of Scotch had entered into sharp decline following the First World War following a rise in spirit duties. Buchanan-Dewar was acquired by Distillers Co in 1925.

The Inland Revenue estimated that Buchanan’s annual income amounted to £485,000 a year by 1929, making him the third richest man in Britain.

James Buchanan & Co held over 18 million imperial gallons of aged whiskies in 1931, the largest stock in the world. Black & White was made with a blend of whiskies that had all been aged at least eight years.

Buchanan died in 1935. His gross estate was valued at £7,150,000 and was largely dedicated to finding a cure for cancer.

High demand for Black & White
Black & White had received a Royal Warrant to supply Queen Elizabeth II by 1955.

Black & White was the second highest-selling Scotch whisky in the United States by 1961. It also held a strong position in the German market.

British sales of Black & White amounted to 500,000 cases a year by 1967.

James Buchanan & Co was awarded the Queens Award To Industry for export achievement in 1966 and 1967. Its products were sold in 168 countries.

Demand for Black & White outstripped capacity, and a new blending and bottling plant was opened at Stepps, Lanarkshire, outside Glasgow, in 1969.

The Glentauchers distillery was closed in 1985.

Acquisition by Guinness
Distillers was acquired by Guinness to form the third largest drinks business in the world in 1986. The bottling plant at Stepps was closed with the loss of 340 jobs in 1987. The James Buchanan & Co head office at St James’s Square in London was also closed, and administrative operations were centralised at Hammersmith.

South America accounted for nearly one third of Black & White sales by 1996.

Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 to form Diageo.

Buchanan’s is the third highest-selling premium Scotch whisky in the world. Its key markets include the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.

Black & White was the sixth highest-selling Scotch whisky in the world in 2021.

Lessons on brand custodianship

This post looks to explore why some well-established brands fail.

Introduction: give me some sugar
Henry Tate (1819 – 1899), the proprietor of Tate & Lyle sugar, once described the nature of his highly lucrative business: “[I] pull on a string and gold sovereigns come tumbling down”. Tate & Lyle sugar is still a highly valuable brand today, and it remains a truism that great fortunes remain to be gleaned in the consumer goods sector.

Once a brand is well-established it seems relatively straightforward, as Mr Tate implied, to sit back and watch the money amass. But that negates to reflect the intrinsic difficulties of brand management. What I find to be more inherently illustrative is when a well-established brand declines and ultimately fails. What causes the brand to fail, and what lessons can it demonstrate?

Family troubles
Quarrelling families are a subject as old as time. However they can cause havoc for a family-run enterprise. Nathan Baraf Walters (1867 – 1957) developed Palm Toffee and became one of the largest toffee manufacturers in Britain. However he refused to pass on the business to his four sons. The sons contested their father’s will in the Probate Court, and the QC reflected, “unhappily this family was riven with difficulties and troubles for years. I dare say the deceased bore his share of responsibility for them”. The business was subsequently subjected to a takeover by Holland’s toffee, a larger rival. The Walters factory was immediately closed, and the Palm Toffee brand disappeared.

Gin fails to blossom
The Distillers Co acquired much of the English gin industry in the early twentieth century. Marketing strength was consolidated behind Gordon’s, their leading brand, and long-established brands such as Booth’s (est.1770s), Boord’s (1774) and Vickers (1820) withered from neglect.

Fading sparkle
Showerings was a small brewery business in rural Somerset. They introduced Babycham sparkling perry in post-war Britain to immediate success. Showerings operated the largest bottling plant in the world by the late 1950s. At its height, 90 percent of licensed premises stocked Babycham. But annual sales plummeted precariously from 144 million bottles in 1977 to just one million in 1993. The conventional explanation suggests that Babycham ceased to be fashionable. Was this a failure of marketing or was a decline in the public perception of the brand intrinsically inevitable?

You butter believe it
James Epps introduced instant cocoa to the mass market. At its peak Epps & Co processed half of all cocoa imports into Britain. But the business failed to respond to rivals such as Cadbury and Rowntree, who introduced the Van Houten press to remove some of the unpalatable cocoa butter from the product. The business declined over time, and was eventually acquired by Rowntree, and the Epps brand disappeared.

Whilst far from exhaustive, this post sketches some reasons why brands can fail: management and family disputes, consolidation, poor marketing and a failure to respond to consumer demand.

Procter’s gamble: Thomas Hedley & Co

How did Procter & Gamble challenge Unilever’s control over the British soap industry?

Thomas Hedley
Thomas Hedley (1809 – 1890) was born at Harnham, Northumberland. He settled in Gateshead from 1826.

Hedley entered into partnership with John Greene (1800 – 1870), to form John Greene & Co, soap manufacturers of City Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, from 1838.

John Greene left the partnership in 1860 and Thomas Hedley assumed full control. The name of the business was changed to Thomas Hedley & Co. He was assisted by his brother, Edward Armorer Hedley (1826 – 1909).

Thomas Hedley served as Mayor of Newcastle in 1863-4. He was also a director of the Consett Iron Co from 1869 until his death, and was closely identified with its success.

Thomas Hedley & Co employed 26 men and eight boys by 1871.

Thomas Hedley died in 1890. He was succeeded by Edward Armorer Hedley as the principal of the business.

Fairy soap is introduced and subsequent growth
Thomas Hedley & Co was incorporated with a capital of £30,000 in 1898. Up to fifty different types of toilet, household and manufacturing soaps were produced.

Fairy soap had been introduced by 1899.

Thomas Hedley & Co had a capital of £70,000 in 1905. Soap, candles, varnish and chemicals were manufactured. It was a private company, and the shareholders all resided in Newcastle upon Tyne, Stocksfield and Gosforth.

Fairy soap was reformulated from 1926; low-cost rosin was removed and replaced by olive oil, which was advertised as leaving hands feeling smoother and softer. Thomas Hedley acquired olive groves and established a packing plant in Andalusia, Spain.

Thomas Hedley & Co had an issued capital of £500,000 by 1929. Output of soap amounted to 750,000 boxes a year, with annual sales of between $2.5 million to $3 million. Thomas Hedley & Co was the largest soap manufacturer in the North of England, and the largest independent soap manufacturer in Britain. Hedley products enjoyed distribution across Britain and Ireland, and the company claimed around two percent of the British soap market. As well as the Newcastle site, there were two subsidiary factories in Birmingham and one at Wath upon Dearne, Yorkshire.

Acquisition by Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble, the largest soap manufacturer in North America, acquired the majority of the shares in Thomas Hedley & Co of Newcastle in 1930. It was the first overseas acquisition for Procter & Gamble, and was motivated, in part, by a desire to divert the attention of Lever Brothers from the American market by challenging the rival soap manufacturer on its home turf. The takeover also provided Procter & Gamble with entry to the Southern European market, which Thomas Hedley & Co supplied with soft soap.

Procter & Gamble doubled the capacity of the Newcastle factory and increased production. Oxydol, a Procter & Gamble washing powder, had been introduced by 1931. Soon, Thomas Hedley & Co was manufacturing all Procter & Gamble products sold in the British and European markets.

Procter & Gamble introduced one week paid annual leave for employees at Thomas Hedley. Previously holiday had been unpaid.

Two new factories were established on a ten acre site at Trafford Park, Manchester from 1934. It was of a similar size, if not larger, than the Newcastle site. Manchester was chosen due to its accessibility for deep water shipping via the Manchester Ship Canal, and for its large consumer market. Tennis courts and athletic fields were provided for the use of staff.

Growing sales of the three leading brands; Fairy Soap, Oxydol and Sylvan Flakes, a soap flakes product, saw the Trafford Park site increased to 15 acres by 1937.

Dreft soapless detergent was introduced from 1937.

Thomas Hedley & Co claimed a 15 percent share of the British soap market by 1938, largely due to strong investment from Procter & Gamble.

A view of the West Thurrock works (2011)

A 15-acre site was acquired at West Thurrock in Kent, and a large factory was established in 1940. The site was chosen for its strong distribution links, and its proximity to the London consumer market.

About two thirds of after-tax profits were reinvested in the business between 1930 and 1956.

Procter & Gamble claimed 25 percent of the British soap and detergents market by 1949.

Tide, an all-purpose synthetic detergent, was introduced from 1950. Accompanied by an unprecedented marketing campaign, Tide was a great success, and its sales challenged that of its Unilever rival, Persil, by 1953.

Daz washing powder was introduced from 1953.

Thomas Hedley & Co was the largest producer of synthetic detergent in Britain by 1954. Success was in part due to a significant investment in press advertising.

A 45 acre site was acquired at Whitley Road, Longbenton in 1954. Research and development was transferred there, and later production. The site was chosen by mapping the homes of the workforce and finding the location that would be most convenient for their daily commute.

Thomas Hedley & Co sold $48 million worth of detergent a year by 1955. 3,700 people were employed by 1958.

Flash, a household cleaner, was introduced from 1958.

A recreation of the original Fairy Liquid bottle (2009)

Fairy Liquid was introduced from 1959. It was the market leader in washing-up liquid by 1961.

Recent history
Thomas Hedley & Co was renamed Procter & Gamble Limited from 1962. The change was intended to assist with export sales, as the Procter & Gamble name had greater recognition overseas.

Fairy Liquid held 37 percent of the British washing-up liquid market by 1968.

Procter & Gamble Ltd was the largest Procter & Gamble subsidiary in 1969. It was the production centre for the British and Scandinavian markets. The principal products were domestic packaged soaps and detergents.

Ariel biological detergent was introduced from 1969. Bold, a low suds biological detergent was introduced from 1972. Head & Shoulders shampoo was launched in 1973. Lenor fabric conditioner was introduced from 1974. Crest toothpaste was introduced from 1975.

Procter & Gamble was the third-largest business in the North East of England as measured by turnover by 1987. Over 1,000 people were employed in the region.

The Procter & Gamble UK head office was relocated from Gosforth, Newcastle to Weybridge, Surrey from 2000.

The Newcastle site concentrates on the manufacture of fragrances for Procter & Gamble as of 2010. The Manchester site produces Pampers, and the West Thurrock site produces soap and detergents.

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