Strange but true: Meredith & Drew

Meredith & Drew became the largest biscuit manufacturer in Europe.

William Meredith
William Meredith (1803 – 1868) was born in Bristol. He established a bakery at Shadwell in East London in 1830. William George Drew (1813 – 1867) was employed as his principal assistant. Following a quarrel between the two men, William Drew left the business to establish his own biscuit bakery in 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 an obituary described 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 hospitality industry, particularly public houses and hotels.

Meredith & Drew was one of the best known businesses in the East End of London by 1897. The company had developed a reputation for fair treatment of its customers and workforce. Lear Drew was chairman with 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.

Schoolchildren help to load Meredith & Drew biscuit tins onto a lorry, to be sent to liberated Europe (1945)

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.

Four factories were closed in the 1950s and production was centralised 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 control around five percent of the British potato crisp 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 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 crisps were rebranded under the stronger KP name. Meredith & Drew advertising was wound down, and rationalisation saw the Meredith & Drew biscuit 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.

26 thoughts on “Strange but true: Meredith & Drew”

  1. I worked at the factory in Halifax in the summer of 1966, the foreman on the day shift was George Smith. The workers were really nice mostly English with some Indians from Kenya. I leved in Siddle with a Mrs Mcdaid and she worked for Roundtree McIntosh her husband was dead and her children were Joseph and Marita. I hope to visit again one day

    1. Thanks for sharing Liam. What products was the Halifax factory producing, and do you know when the site opened? Cheers, Tom.

      1. The products made at the Club Lane factory Halifax were
        Custard Cream, Bourbon Cream, Ritch Tea, Giner nuts, Coconut Creams, Digestives, and Pink wafers to name but a few.
        I worked there in 1969 and remember the place well, had various roles from a “porter” filling up the lines to working in the paper stores, and down in Ovenden warehouse, and the dispensary making the dough. Hard work but as I was young it did not seem to matter, starting at 07.45 in the morning and finished by 16.45 pm except Friday when we finished at 12.45
        Happy days…..

  2. I managed to persuade a company Base Toys B T models to make models of M & D trucks. Permission was obtained from U B to use their trade name. They can be found at Hattons Liverpool and do come up on ebay. I actually worked there in the late 60s and was interested in transport, John Spence was the transport manager then. I am still trying to find old pics of 50s 60s 70s vehicles of theirs.

    1. I used to work for the golden twin crisp company in Reading Berkshire . They made crisp’s for Marks & Spencers in 1963 it was a small company but fun to work at.

  3. I worked there when I left school for 7 years a bus picked us up in Bolton on dearne to take us to Halifax buiscuit factory it took the bus 2 and a half hours to get there the girls that worked there were great some best years of my life when anybody had a day off you got sent up stairs to the wet end

  4. I have a Meredith & Drew – cheese assorted – biscuit tin, squarish in shape 9″x8.5″x4.75″high. Wording is on an orange background with images of cheese biscuits on a white background. On the side is a weight 2 LBS 8OZ. There is also the name and address, Meredith & Drew Ltd, London, EC2, England. On this website it informs that the company was founded in Shadwell, London in 1830 but I believe Shadwell is EC1. Can anyone advise of an EC2 address as per my tin. I am curious why I have not been able to find anything. Many thanks.

  5. Hi, I was born in 1948 and lived at 29k Juniper Street, Stepney, London. We all left when I was 8 years old to live in Suffolk. whilst in Juniper st, my Mum worked in a large Meredith and Drew biscuit factory which was situated halfway down the said street, which incidentally is a short distance from Shadwell, so this may have been classed as the Shadwell factory.

    1. Yes Peter, that was the Shadwell factory. My Mum and Dad both worked there and my mum lived in juniper street until she married.When the factory was bombed in 1940 my dad who was a foreman there was relocated to halifax and I was born up there in 1948.I have fond memories of juniper street and my days at shadwell (King Georges) park. remember bravely going down the fan shaft there to the rotherhithe tunnel

      1. Hello Alan, my father was an engineer at the shadwell factory and was later sent to Ashby-de-la-zouch to install new machinery when I was about 2 years old. They also lived in juniper street and I was born in Maternity hospital in commercial road in 1950. I remember the park well and the shaft down to the tunnel. I went to Nicholas Gibson school near the park opposite free trade wharf. I also remember being taken to the children’s hospital opposite juniper street.
        Great memories.

        1. Hello Alan, Tony. I was born in the east end maternity hos
          in 1937.i went to Nicholas Gibson school, I had a few visits to the childrens hos, topof our street in glamis rd.
          My family lived down juniper st until they were demolished about 1970. The air shaft, Shadwell stairs, Shadwell pk.
          What lovely memories. My dad drove a horse and cart delivering the biscuits to the pubs. I could go on forever.
          What a smallworld.

  6. Mr.Meredith was also behind Merco,(Miniature Exhibition Railway Co)who produced lithos for model railway originally in HO but mainly in OO.The lithos covered coaches and freight vehicles.Can still be found at exhibitions and on e-bay.

  7. Hello. My name is Peter Denby . I joined M&D as a junior sales representative covering the North Yorkshire Area in the early 60 ‘s and was based at Club Lane , Ovenden, Halifax. My first car was a company Ford Anglia and I was extremely proud of it. I shall always be grateful to M&D for giving me my first sales representative job and starting me on a career in selling which lasted all my working life. Incedently my favourite biscuit was Rich Harvest Digestive. Happy Memories.

    1. Very interesting Peter, thanks for sharing. Do you know when the Meredith & Drew brand was phased out? Cheers, Tom

    2. My dad, John Apperley, was a rep in Bristol. I still remember all the words to the crisp advert – ‘Get crispy, get crisps, get crispy, get gifts. Everytime you buy a pack there’s a token on the back’ etc. I remember those gifts – a friend still has a bath towel from those days! And Dsd had s burgundy Anglia.

  8. Hello, my name is John Mortimer. In 1942 we moved to Midway near Ashby where my father, Jim Mortimer, started work as traffic manager. I went to Ashby Grammar School. Peter Dolman, whose father worked at M&D, also went to the same school.
    In 1946 we moved to Osterley because my father was transferred to the Londo office. Jim Mortimer died in 1980 aged 79.

    Does anyone know the name Winnie Godfrey? Who was she? She was connected somehow to M&D.


  9. I worked in the Ashby-de-la-Zouch biscuit factory after it had been sold to United Biscuits. Someone in quality control, who had worked there when it was Meredith and Drew, said that one night (or day) the mix had been wrong for the marshmallows, and no one noticed, After they had all been sent out for delivery, the marshmallow then suffered severe shrinkage, (some were covered with chocolate and the customer only noticed on eating them). The factory lost a large sum of money for the factory. Does anyone know if this might have been true?

  10. My mother worked at MD in the 1960s then my sister Gloria and I Works there from 1970….coaches brought in many ladies from pontefract and Barnsley to the club lane site , and shift work began at united biscuits …Gloria worked on garibaldi , line 6 as a charge hand ..I worked as an oven minder line 7 until the oven was sold to ashby de la zouch then I transferred to quality control …in 1986 we were told all work was transferring to ashby …a TV crew came and I did the sound track for a documentary about how redundancies affected local people …this programme was shown on bbc twice as I received a payment when shown …the building was then changed into smaller business units once all the biscuit work ceased and machinery removed

  11. I recall as a kid in the ’60s often being treated to a small packet of M&D Cheese Specials when visiting pubs with relatives.
    They were small, rectangular biscuits with a creamy cheese filling sandwiched between two crackers. Delicious!

  12. Great memories good to hear from you .My grandad lived in Juniper street until his death. My uncle lived in peabody buildings opposite Free Trade Wharf and my aunt in Shadwell Gardens.

  13. This photo of the Christmas Dance of M&D Halifax 1961 Feel free to download and re-use, I have the original. My father Eric Griffiths is back row 4th from left.

  14. Does anyone know anything about a Meredith & Drew biscuits (distribution centre? office?) in Bloomsbury Street, Brighton in 1931?

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