A tinned history of Crosse & Blackwell (1907 – 1927)

This is Part II of my history of Crosse & Blackwell. (Links: Part I and Part III).

Crosse & Blackwell grew to become one of the largest food manufacturers in the world. It remains best known for tinned soup in Britain, English-style condiments in America and mayonnaise in South Africa.

This post tells the story of a large merger and subsequent disaster.

Crosse & Blackwell was one of the three largest fish canners in the world by 1909, alongside Maconochie Brothers and C & E Morton.

Despite suffering from heavy import duties, Crosse & Blackwell had developed a leading reputation and taken a significant share of the United States jam market by 1913.

Crosse & Blackwell employed 2,171 people by 1914. The London vinegar brewery held 91 vats, one of which was capable of holding 115,000 gallons. The company boasted an annual production of one million gallons of pure malt vinegar.

Edmund Meredith Crosse died in 1918 with a net estate valued at £310,633.

A small fish canning factory in Peterhead, Aberdeen, was acquired in 1919.

Crosse & Blackwell acquired James Keiller of Dundee, manufacturer of jam and marmalade, and E Lazenby of London, sauce and pickle manufacturers, in 1920. The combine had a capital of £10 million (£390 million in 2013) and fixed assets of £1.6 million. The takeover likely made Crosse & Blackwell the largest packaged food producer in the world, with over 7,000 employees and twelve factories.

Exports were growing and additional capacity was needed. A factory was acquired at Branston, Staffordshire, at a cost of £1 million (£39 million in 2013) in 1920. Situated on a 150 acre site, it was the largest and best equipped packaged food factory in the British Empire. The factory employed about 1,500 workers, mostly women and girls, although this was expected to expand to a staff of 5,000. Branston Pickle was first produced there in 1922.

Branston Pickle (2006). Source

As a result of the Branston purchase, the one acre Charing Cross Road factory, which lacked space for expansion, was sold off in 1921.

Unfortunately production costs at Branston proved higher than in London, as the capital was home to the bulk of British customers, and provided good access to export markets, which constituted the majority of sales. The Branston factory was shuttered in 1925 and lay unused until it was sold in 1927 at a large loss.

The debacle saw 5,500 tons of machinery, furniture and stock transferred back to London. Production at Branston was relocated to the Lazenby factory on Crimscott Street, Bermondsey (which was expanded), and Keiller’s Silvertown factory.

Meanwhile, the merger proved disastrous and the company began to lose money (over £1 million in 1922). An independent review commissioned by the company cited “serious duplication and overlapping in management” and “an embarrassing surplus of expensively equipped factory accommodation”. Furthermore, the company had presumed that the post-war boom would last forever, and had overpaid for raw materials.

This colossal failure left Crosse & Blackwell unable to pay its shareholders a dividend between 1921 and 1927.

Meanwhile, a small marmalade and jam factory was established outside Paris in 1925. Small factories were also established in Belgium and Altona, Germany.

4 thoughts on “A tinned history of Crosse & Blackwell (1907 – 1927)”

  1. Thanks for putting this information up on the internet. I believe that the ten 0’clock test refers to the fact that the London Post office received a signal from Greenwich Park accross the water here in London and from St Martin Le Grand Post office, this signal was then sent by wire to 16 cities across the UK so that the master clocks across the country could be synchronised from this signal. During this time at ten each morning, factory equipment was required to be idle so that the electrical interference would not interfere with the signal -this in turn gave a few minutes for food etc to be tested.

    David Sterrett

  2. The original Meridian Line was just off the coast of West Africa. This was re-aligned to Greenwich Park which was then considered to be the centre of the British Empire -this is why I believe that the time signal GMT or Greenwich Mean Time was derived from here -the idea being that in the long term the entire world’s timekeeping could be referenced to Greenwich Park just down the road from where I live.


  3. Thankyou. Somewhere there is more history which I will continue to investigate, as my mother’s father’s sister (Agnes Baillie) married Russell Crosse after whom I am named. She committed suicide by drinking bleach in 1934. No idea what happened to Russell Crosse after that ! But interesting to read the company history up to the mid 1920’s

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