It takes Allsorts: George Bassett of Sheffield

George Bassett & Co was the largest sugar confectionery manufacturer in the world throughout much of the nineteenth century. Liquorice Allsorts became one of the highest-selling sweets in Britain.

George Bassett establishes the business
George Bassett (1818 – 1886) was the son of a farmer at Ashover, Derbyshire. He served an apprenticeship to William Haslam, a confectioner in Chesterfield.

Bassett was from a Wesleyan Methodist background, and remained strongly committed to the church throughout his life. He was a shrewd and painstaking man, with a dogged perseverance.

Bassett relocated to Sheffield, Yorkshire, from 1842, and established himself as a retail confectioner at 30 Broad Street, Park. He later opened shops at Market Hall and Westbar. Additional premises were opened at Snig Hill.

Liquorice Allsorts
Liquorice Allsorts

The retail trade was to prove slow, and Bassett decided to enter the confectionery manufacturing business. He sold his retail business in 1859 and took on a partner, William Lodge, and they traded as Bassett & Lodge. A new steam-powered confectionery works was opened at Portland Street, Infirmary Road, Sheffield.

The Bassett & Lodge partnership failed to work out, and was dissolved in 1861.

George Bassett employed 36 men, 30 boys and 12 girls in 1861. He was regarded as a kindly employer.

S M Johnson enters the firm
George Bassett entered into partnership with Samuel Meggitt Johnson (1837 – 1925), who had previously worked for him as an apprentice, from 1864.

Bassett employed 150 people by 1871. The Portland Street factory was the largest confectionery works in the world by 1876.

George Bassett was elected Mayor of Sheffield in 1876. The former United States President, Ulysses S Grant, stayed at Bassett’s house on his visit to Britain in 1877.

After suffering a paralytic stroke in 1878, George Bassett was forced to resign from business and public service. S M Johnson took full control of Bassett & Co.

George Bassett died in 1886 with a personalty of £91,524. He had given generously to various charitable causes throughout his life. The business he had built up was one of the largest confectionery manufacturers in the world, and the largest in Britain.

The Don Works, Bridge Street had also been opened in Sheffield by 1890. The Don Works employed 180 women. The Portland Street works employed 300 people.

A view of the Bassett factory at Owlerton, Sheffield, in 2008. Photo credit to Terry Robinson.

S M Johnson was highly regarded as an employer.

Charles Thompson, the company’s sole sales representative, called on a Leicester wholesaler called Walker in 1899. A shop assistant knocked over his tray of sweets. Walker liked the look of the scattered sweets, and ordered a batch. Thus, the sale of Liquorice Allsorts began.

Liquorice Allsorts were an immediate success, and drove sales at the company.

A new factory was established at Owlerton from 1900.

The business was converted into a private limited company in 1919.

The Don Works had been closed down by 1924.

Johnson died in 1926, with an estate valued at £818,360. In his obituary in The Times he was heralded as one of Sheffield’s most benevolent citizens.

Growth and acquisitions
George Bassett was incorporated in 1926 with a capital of £350,000. Two of S M Johnson’s sons, Percy Johnson and William Johnson, became company directors.

The Owlerton site was expanded in 1933.

Percy Johnson died in 1936 with a net personalty valued at £486,409.

Geo Bassett & Co employed a workforce of 1,500 people in 1939.

The Portland Street factory was closed down in 1941, with all production subsequently concentrated at Owlerton.

Geo Bassett & Co was the largest producer of sugar confectionery in Britain, and probably the largest manufacturer of liquorice confectionery in the world.

Geo Bassett & Co accounted for over 35 percent of British confectionery exports to the United States in 1952.

William Johnson died in 1954, and left a net estate valued at £132,222.

Geo Bassett & Co employed 2,500 people by 1955, and controlled around half of the British liquorice industry.

One million dollars worth of Licorice Allsorts were sold in the US and Canada in the 1956-7 financial year.

Over 20,000 tonnes of Bassett’s confectionery were sold in the 1958-9 financial year.

W R Wilkinson, manufacturers of Pontefract cakes and Bassett’s largest rival in the liquorice industry, was acquired for £1.1 million in cash in 1961. Following the takeover Bassett’s controlled over 90 percent of the liquorice allsorts market.

The three main products by the 1960s were Liquorice Allsorts, Jelly Babies and Dolly Mixture.

Barratt’s, with the leading position in the children’s confectionery market, was acquired for nearly £4 million in 1966.

Geo Bassett received a Queen’s Award for Export Achievement in 1967. Confectionery was exported to 40 countries.

Geo Bassett was the third largest confectionery manufacturer in Britain after Cadbury and Rowntree Mackintosh, and the largest sugar confectioner in Europe by 1972.

The Barratt factory in Wood Green, London was closed with the loss of 750 jobs in 1975. The closure was due to a shortage of labour in the area and the difficulty of modernising the factory.

Geo Bassett operated five factories by 1977: Owlerton, Pontefract, Uddingston, Breda in the Netherlands and Sydney, Australia. 30 percent of all its British production was exported to 62 countries.

Geo Bassett registered a profit loss in 1979-80 due to the strength of the pound sterling and strong competition from imports. As a result, the Allsorts product was repositioned as a mid-market rather than upmarket brand, in order to increase sales. 25 percent of the workforce was dismissed, leaving a total of 3,000 employees. The strategy worked, and Bassett’s had re-entered into profitability by the following year.

Geo Bassett also began to manufacture own-label confectionery for “discriminating retailers”, accounting for a quarter of production by 1987.

Geo Bassett had fallen to third place in the British sugar confectionery market by 1986, behind Trebor and Rowntree, with a seven percent market share. In order to utilise excess capacity,

Bassett is acquired by Cadbury; subsequent ownership
Geo Bassett was acquired by Cadbury for £91 million in 1989. Cadbury merged its own smaller sugar confectionery businesses of Pascall-Murray and Lion into the larger Bassett concern.

Later that year, Cadbury acquired Trebor for £110 million, and re-named its sugar confectionery subsidiary Trebor Bassett.

Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts was the seventh highest-selling sugar confectionery line in Britain by 1991.

Cadbury was subject to a takeover by Kraft of Chicago in 2010. Kraft spun of its international business as Mondelez in 2012.

Mondelez introduced a £6 million biscuit production line to the Owlerton plant from 2013. The site manufactures Oreo, Ritz and Belvita biscuits.

Mondelez also upgraded the liquorice production line with an investment of £550,000, and the jelly production line received a £2.5 million investment.

Mondelez merged the Bassett and Maynards names to form the Maynards Bassetts brand from 2016.

The Owlerton factory is the largest sugar confectionery plant in Europe as of 2020, with an output of over 40,000 tonnes of sweets a year. It produces the Bassett’s products Liquorice Allsorts and Jelly Babies, as well as the Maynards and Trebor brands.

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