The acid test: Slee & Co

The Slee & Co vinegar works were operated on the same site in London from 1812 until 1992.

Slee & Co was founded by Noah Slee at Church Street, Horsleydown, London in 1812. He was soon joined by Josias Slee (1773 – 1829), who emigrated to London from Honiton, Devon.

John Vickers joined in partnership from 1823, and the business traded as Vickers & Slee.

Josias Slee left the business in 1826.

Vickers & Slee was the fifth largest vinegar brewer in Britain and Ireland by 1832. The firm held about seven percent of the market.

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

John Vickers left the partnership in 1838.

The business was owned by Noah Slee, William Payne and Edward Richardson Slee (1815 – 1878), the son of Josias Slee, in the 1840s. Payne was a brother-in-law.

Noah Slee was declared bankrupt in 1842, and the business continued as Payne & Slee.

Payne & Slee was the fifth largest vinegar brewer in Britain by 1844.

An analysis conducted for The Lancet in 1852 found that Payne & Slee vinegar contained the highest amount of sulphuric acid of any of the major vinegar producers in Britain. The addition of sulphuric acid was a low-cost method of speeding up the acidification process of the vinegar, but it was considered hazardous for health.

Payne left the business in 1860.

The business employed 36 people in 1861.

The business traded as Slee & Slee by 1868.

49 people were employed in 1871.

The Horsleydown site sourced water using an artesian well, sunk to a depth of 303 feet. The water source was of a high quality for brewing vinegar, and had a high content of calcium sulphate and sodium chloride.

Slee, Slee & Co held a stock of nearly half a million gallons (c.2.3 million litres) of vinegar in 1874.

Batty & Co, sauce and pickle manufacturer of Finsbury Pavement, was acquired in 1874.

Edward Richardson Slee died with a personal estate valued at under £60,000 in 1878. His stake in the business was inherited by his son, Herbert Hutton Slee (1853 – 1933).

The business was run by Cuthbert Britton Slee (1818 – 1900) and Herbert Hutton Slee from 1878.

Slee, Slee & Co was one of the longest-established vinegar brewers in Britain by 1887. One of their vats had been in use since the reign of George III (1739 – 1820).

Export sales began in earnest, principally to New Zealand, from 1889.

The business became a limited company from 1895.

Batty & Co was sold to Heinz, who desired a British manufacturing facility, in 1905.

Champion & Co, vinegar brewers of City Road, London was acquired to form Champion & Slee Ltd in 1907. The company had a share capital of £140,000. The takeover was motivated by the scope for economies of scale. The Slee brand was phased out, but all production was relocated to the Slee premises, where there was ample room for expansion.

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

Champion & Slee was acquired by Crosse & Blackwell, who merged operations with Sarson’s, in 1929 The Champion brand was phased out in favour of Sarson’s.

The Slee vinegar works were closed in 1992.

2 thoughts on “The acid test: Slee & Co”

  1. Noah Slee was the ninth and youngest child of John and Elizabeth Slee of Sampford Peverell, Devon, being baptised there in the family’s home town on 23 February 1750. As a teenager Noah moved to London where on 4 October 1768 he was apprenticed to his oldest brother John Slee as a barber and peruke (wig) maker at Old Broad Street. By 1780 he was a vintner in Bermondsey.

    1. Sorry Max, but I think you have it wrong, although there were so many Noahs in the family it is difficult to be certain. My take on it is that both Noah and Josias Slee (vinegar makers) were sons of Benjamin Slee and grandsons of John and Elizabeth Slee of Sampford Peverell.

      My ggg-grandfather was Noah Slee (1750-1830) a younger brother of Benjamin but he wasn’t involved in vinegar manufacture as far as I can determine. He trained as a barber & peruke maker with his brother John and then was successively a pawnbroker, vintner, inn keeper (probably at the Spur Inn in Southwark with his older brother John), Hallkeeper at the Session House at Newington and finally a property owner in Newington.

      Benjamin Slee’s descendants were involved in a wide range of successful business enterprises in the Southwark area for many years. A g-grandson James Noah Henry Slee emigrated to the US and made a fortune in the oil industry and married Margaret Sanger a famous women’s rights advocate.

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