Category Archives: Vinegar

The vat of the land: Beaufoy & Co

Beaufoy & Co was the largest vinegar brewer in Britain.

Mark Beaufoy establishes the business
Mark Beaufoy (1719 – 1782) was the son of a Quaker maltster from Evesham, Worcestershire. The Beaufoy family claimed Huguenot ancestry.

Mark Beaufoy was apprenticed to a gin distiller in Bristol. A guilty conscience ultimately convinced him to leave the business, and he re-trained in vinegar brewing in the Netherlands.

Mark Beaufoy (1719 – 1782), from a Thomas Gainsborough portrait

Beaufoy leased a vinegar brewery on the site of Cupar’s Gardens at Strand Bridge, London from 1740. The brewery itself had been established in 1730.

In an age before refrigeration, vinegar was a much more important commodity than it is today, due to its preservative effect on foodstuffs. Beaufoy soon secured contracts to supply the Admiralty with vinegar.

The Dutch vinegar brewers used the waste from their indigenous raisin wine industry to filter and flavour their vinegar. No such industry existed in Britain, so Beaufoy was forced to buy raisins in order to maintain true to the method. He steeped the raisins to extract their sugar and mucilage, and then used the remaining solids in vinegar manufacture.

After Dr John Fothergill (1712 – 1780), a Quaker physician, suggested that Beaufoy might make raisin wine with this juice, he became a leading producer of “British wine”.

Mark Beaufoy died in 1782. His brother, John Hanbury Beaufoy (1761 – 1836), took over management of the business. John H Beaufoy was a cultured and erudite man.

Henry Beaufoy era
Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy (1786 – 1851) became senior partner in the business when he came of age.

Beaufoy & Co was one of the largest manufacturers in Lambeth by 1810.

Henry Benjamin Hanbury Beaufoy (1786 – 1851) by Henry William Pickersgill in 1848

The Beaufoy & Co site was subject to compulsory purchase for £34,705 in order to build Waterloo Bridge in 1812.

The brewery was relocated to Caron Place on the South Lambeth Road. The site was chosen as it was the closest place with a plot of land large enough to accommodate the works.

Beaufoy & Co was the largest brewer of vinegar in Britain by 1832, with 15 percent of the market in Britain and Ireland.

Beaufoy & Co was the fourth largest producer of vinegar in Britain in 1844.

H B H Beaufoy developed one of the finest private libraries in England. A Shakespeare First Folio was acquired in 1851.

H B H Beaufoy was a charitable man; he founded six scholarships at the City of London School, at a cost of £10,000, and spent £14,000 to build a ragged school (school for the poor) in Lambeth in 1851.

H B H Beaufoy died in 1851, and his brother Colonel George Beaufoy (1796 – 1864) took over management of the vinegar brewery. By this time the Caron Place site occupied over ten acres.

Colonel George Beaufoy enjoyed an annual income of around £6,000 by 1852.

Mark Hanbury Beaufoy
Colonel George Beaufoy died in 1864 and left a personal estate valued at under £250,000.

Ownership of the brewery passed to his only son, Mark Hanbury Beaufoy (1854 – 1922), for whom it was placed in trust and managed by his uncle until he came of age.

Dr Samuel Johnson’s armchair was acquired for the library in 1859.

Owing to public preference for a darker vinegar, caramel was added to the product by 1865.

Mark H Beaufoy was a cultured and genial man. He soon effected changes after he took over the business. He scrapped overtime, which had resulted in poor quality control from overworked employees. Beaufoy increased employee wages in order to compensate for the loss of overtime earnings. He argued, “all the work I now paid was for good work; previously a large percentage of it was bad work”.

The business employed 125 men in 1881.

M H Beaufoy introduced the eight hour working day for his workforce from 1889. With a half day on Saturday, this created a 45 hour working week. The change was regarded as successful, and Beaufoy was well-regarded by his workforce.

Vinegar production amounted to 790,096 gallons in 1898.*

Pott & Co, vinegar brewer of Southwark, was acquired in 1902.

The library was relocated to the family country residence at Coombe House, Wiltshire, from 1909. Some of the library contents were auctioned off. The Shakespeare First Folio was auctioned off in 1912.

Mergers and consolidation
Beaufoy was the oldest surviving manufacturer of vinegar in Britain by 1919.

Mark Hanbury Beaufoy died in 1922, and left a net personalty of £54,474.

The vinegar industry suffered from falling prices and decreasing demand in the post-war period. Consolidation seemed a reasonable defensive measure.

Beaufoy & Co merged with Grimble & Co to form Beaufoy Grimble, a public company with a capital of £160,000 in 1928. The head office was at Caron Place, South Lambeth. George Maurice Beaufoy (1893 – 1941) was appointed managing director.

Crosse & Blackwell merged their vinegar interests, including Champion & Slee and Sarson, with Beaufoy Grimble and Distillers to form British Vinegars in 1932. Beaufoy Grimble held a 21 percent stake in the venture, and G M Beaufoy became chairman of British Vinegars.

George Maurice Beaufoy was killed in the Blitz in 1941. He left a net estate of £19,678. Beaufoy, who had married in 1940, had no children, and his only brother had died in 1925. His death ended the Beaufoy family association with vinegar.

Beaufoy Grimble & Co was based at Leith, Scotland by 1954.

The Beaufoy vinegar brand was phased out after around 1961.

The Beaufoy site was closed in the 1970s. The brewery building still stands, and has been converted into housing.

The Scottish business was closed in 1983, and all production transferred to British Vinegars plants in England.

Beaufoy Grimble was voluntarily wound-up in 1986.

* ‘Beaufoys of Lambeth’, David Thomas and Hugh Marks, Greater London Industrial Archaeological Society (2014).

All gone to Pott: a history of Pott’s vinegar

Pott & Co built what was probably the largest vinegar brewery in Britain, and grew to control 25 percent of the market.

Rush family establishment
William Rush (1611 – 1668) began to brew vinegar at Castle Street, Southwark, London, from 1641. The premises had previously belonged to a gardener, who had used the land to rear hogs.

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

A single vessel at the brewery held 50,000 gallons of vinegar by 1790.

Pott family acquisition
The Rush family operated the brewery until 1790 when it was acquired by Robert Pott (died 1824) and Arthur Pott, whose family had brewed vinegar at Mansell Street, Whitechapel since 1720.

Robert and Arthur Pott rebuilt the entire site across five or six acres, to create perhaps the largest vinegar brewery in England by 1795.

Charles Pott, Arthur Pott and William Pott (1795 – 1878) were the partners by 1833. The business was the third largest vinegar brewer in Britain by this time, with 14 percent of the market.

Charles and William Pott held a 25 percent share of the British vinegar market by 1844. The firm held a stock of 746,139 gallons of vinegar that year.

The brewery site covered five acres by 1846.

An examination of vinegars by The Lancet praised the purity of Pott’s vinegar in 1852.

The brewery possessed one of the principal wells of London in 1862.

The business traded as R W & C Pott by 1866.

By 1876 the business traded as A W R & N Pott. A large export market to India and other British colonies was established.

By 1884 the business traded as R & N Pott. Robert (1825 – 1894) and Norbury Pott (1838 – 1924), sons of William Pott, controlled the business.

Robert Pott was head of the concern until his death in 1894.

The brewery was operated by Robert Bertram Pott (1861 – 1944), son of Robert Pott, and Norbury Pott by 1900.

The family sold the brewery to Beaufoy & Co, its long-established London rival, in 1902. The site was sold off in 1905.

Fast facts and vast vats: Hill Evans & Co of Worcester

Hill Evans was the largest vinegar brewer in Britain for most of the Victorian era. It grew to become the largest vinegar brewery in the world.

Hill & Evans
Cowell, Crane & Kilpin was established as British Wine manufacturers on Foregate Street, Worcester in the 1760s.

William Hill (1788 – 1859), a Wesleyan Methodist from Stourport, and Edward Evans (1788 – 1871), a Welsh chemist, acquired the business from Charles Kilpin (1770 – 1845) in 1829.

Hill and Evans branched out into the production of vinegar from 1830. Vinegar was an important commodity, used as a preservative in an era before artificial refrigeration. The vinegar-making process also utilised the waste from British Wine production.

A vinegar brewery was established at Lowesmoor, Worcester. Hill and Evans devoted themselves to producing the purest malt vinegar, and utilised the most efficient and up-to-date production methods.

By 1844 Hill Evans was the sixth-largest brewer of vinegar in Britain, and the largest producer outside of London. 153,875 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1848.

The sons enter the business
Thomas Rowley Hill (1816 – 1896) and Edward Bickerton Evans (1819 – 1893) had joined their fathers in partnership by 1848. It was the two sons, especially Rowley Hill, who provided the impetus and drive for the business to develop further scale. Rowley Hill had been unable to attend Oxbridge due to his Congregationalist faith, and instead received an education at University College, London.

Hill Evans produced 426,546 gallons of vinegar in 1852.

Dispute with The Lancet
The Lancet, a leading medical journal, commissioned a chemical analysis of leading vinegars in 1852, and asserted that Hill Evans used sulphuric acid, a widely exploited adjunct which reduced maturation times. Hill Evans & Co refuted this, challenging the editor of the journal to conduct “the most rigid analysis of their vinegar…by chemists of acknowledged reputation”.

Eminent scientists such as Dr Lyon Playfair (1818 – 1898) were afforded free access to the entirety of the Hill Evans site, as well as their brewing records for the previous twenty years. The Lancet was subsequently forced to back down in a rare and humiliating defeat, and conceded that sulphate of lime, which occurred naturally in the local water, had been mistaken for sulphuric acid.

The sons become sole proprietors
Thomas Rowley Hill and Edward Bickerton Evans were the sole proprietors of the business by 1858. Rowley Hill was a generous benefactor, with a strong work ethic and high integrity. Bickerton Evans was a down-to-earth Baptist. Hill Evans established a reputation as a model employer.

1,048,229 gallons of vinegar were produced in 1858. The following year 1,208,600 gallons were produced, which positioned Hill Evans as the largest manufacturer of vinegar in Britain.

Lea & Perrins used Hill Evans vinegar to make their Worcestershire sauce from at least 1862.

The vinegar manufacturing process
In 1862 there were eight fermenting vessels for producing vinegar, each with a capacity of 16,000 gallons.

There were thirty vats, each with a capacity of 8,000 to 12,000 gallons, for the acidification of the brew. The brew would be held in these vats for around a month, with birch branches used to oxidise the liquid. When this process was complete, beechwood chips were used to fine, or clarify, the vinegar.

There were around twenty storage vats for the finished product, with five vats reckoned to have a capacity of 80,000 gallons each.

The finished product was actually of pale straw colour, so caramel (burnt sugar) was added as a final process to darken the product in accordance with customer preference in the English market.

Continued development
A new vat was introduced in 1863 with a capacity of 114,645 gallons. It was the largest vat in the world, and far larger than its closest rival, an 80,000 gallon vessel at the Guinness brewery in Dublin.

Built in around 1870, the filling hall on Pheasant Street contained the large vinegar vats used for storage

Hill Evans had an annual output of two million gallons of vinegar by 1866, and was by far the largest vinegar producer in Britain. Around 100 people were employed.

Hill Evans had established a London office and warehouse on the site of the former Boar’s Head Inn in Eastcheap by 1867.

Hill Evans was the largest producer of British Wine by 1868, with an annual output of 130,000 gallons.

Hill Evans constructed a small private railway branch in 1870, which linked it to the Great Western & Midland Railway.

The third generation enter the business
Thomas Rowley Hill and Edward Bickerton Evans retired from the business in 1874, and distributed a bonus of £1,173 among their 118 employees. They were succeeded by Edward Wallace Evans (1847 – 1901), Thomas William Hill (1843 – 1898) and Edward Henry Hill (1849 – 1911).

Edward Wallace Evans was an excellent businessman, and much of the subsequent growth of the firm was credited to him.

Hill Evans was accounted the largest vinegar brewery in the world in 1881, based on its annual production of two million gallons a year. A single mash tun had a capacity of 12,307 gallons. There were eleven fermenting vats, each with a capacity of 15,000 gallons. All told, the brewery had a storage capacity of 500,000 gallons of vinegar. The brewery held more than 100,000 casks.

Thomas Rowley Hill died in 1896. He left a personal estate valued at £170,322.

The works covered over six acres by 1900. The brewery had an annual capacity of 1.5 million gallons of vinegar, and was probably the largest business of its kind in Britain.

Hill Evans becomes a limited company
Hill Evans became a limited company from 1900, with a share capital of £150,000. The conversion allowed the business to pay out the share of the company owed to Thomas William Hill, who had recently died.

Edward Henry Hill became chairman and Charles William Dyson Perrins (1864 – 1958) of Lea & Perrins joined the board of directors.

In later life Edward Wallace Evans suffered from gout in his hands, and bandaged his hands in cotton wool on the advice of his doctor. Evans attempted to light a cigar whilst reading a letter, and accidentally set the wool alight. Evans suffered serious burns, and died from shock in 1901. Curiously, he left a relatively modest net personalty of £10,876. The only son of Edward Wallace Evans appears to have played no active part in the business.

The works covered around seven acres by 1907. Exclusively English grain was used for brewing. The company probably still had the largest vinegar brewing capacity in the world.

Edward Henry Hill died in 1911 and left a net personalty of £147,081. A generous benefactor, he died unmarried.

Increased competition saw the company suffer from reduced profitability in the early 1960s. Hill Evans lacked the scale of its larger rival British Vinegar. The railway line was closed in 1964.

Hill Evans entered into voluntary liquidation in 1967, and the vinegar works were closed. The Grade II listed vinegar works building are used by the Territorial Army as of 2019.

Henry Sarson & Sons

Sarson’s is the leading brand of malt vinegar in Britain.

Early days
Sarson’s claimed in 1860 that the business had been established for “upwards of fifty years”, which suggests an establishment date of around 1810.

A Mr Sarson was established as a vinegar brewer on Craven Street, City Road, London, by 1822.

Premises had been removed to the corner of Brunswick Place, City Road, London by 1830.

James Sarson (born 1791) was head of the business by 1841.

Sarson’s “Pure Malt Vinegar” was being advertised in the press by 1842.

James Thomas Sarson (born 1821) had joined his father in business by 1846, and the firm began to trade as Sarson & Son.

Henry Sarson enters the business
Henry Sarson (born 1825), brother to J T Sarson, had joined the business by 1847.

James Thomas Sarson was described as a vinegar and mustard merchant in 1851. The business was relatively small at this time.

Sarson & Son branded its product as “Virgin Vinegar” from 1861 in order to indicate its purity at a time when food adulteration was rife. Most vinegar brewers added sulphuric acid to their product to decrease the necessary fermentation period.

Sarson & Son did not add caramel to darken their vinegar, unlike most brewers, so their product had a much lighter colour than its rivals.

Sarson was advertised as a high quality vinegar. It was packaged in capsulated bottles to prevent tampering, and sold through 3,523 outlets by 1871.

Henry Sarson employed 20 people, including four carmen, four van boys, three clerks, three women and six salesmen, by 1881. The business was still a relatively modest concern.

Henry Sarson & Sons; mass production
Henry Sarson’s two sons, Henry Logsdail Sarson (1861 – 1918) and Percival Stanley Sarson (1867 – 1951), had entered the business by 1892, which began to trade as Henry Sarson & Sons.

Percy Sarson was a keen businessman, with a feisty personality.

Henry Sarson retired from the business in 1893.

Henry Sarson & Sons had been converted into a private limited company by 1900.

Over one million gallons of vinegar were brewed in 1913.

In 1919 Sarsons fired an employee of 16 years service after she took her sick child to hospital.

In 1921 the company was accused of fixing the market to keep the price of malt vinegar artificially hight.

Acquisition by Crosse & Blackwell
Crosse & Blackwell acquired Henry Sarson & Sons and Champion & Slee, another large London vinegar brewer, in 1929. The merger brought together the three largest vinegar brewers in the South of England. Crosse & Blackwell closed down the Sarson’s brewery and concentrated production at the Champion & Slee site.

The Crosse & Blackwell vinegar interests were merged with those of Distillers and Beaufoy Grimble to form British Vinegar with a capital of £450,000 in 1932.

Over five million gallons (around 23 million litres) of vinegar were brewed in 1950.

The Virgin Vinegar brand name was phased out in the 1950s.

Holbrooks & Co, with a vinegar brewery in Stourport, was acquired in 1954.

A site was acquired from the Co-op at Middleton, Manchester in 1968.

Subsequent ownership
Nestle of Switzerland took full control of British Vinegar in 1979.

The London vinegar brewery was closed in 1991.

The Stourport brewery was closed in 1999 with the loss of 22 jobs. Production was relocated to the larger Middleton site.

Sarson’s vinegar was the leading vinegar brand in Britain by 1999, with around a third of the market.

Sarson’s was acquired by Premier Foods in 2002. Over 5.5 million litres of vinegar were sold every year.

Mizkan of Japan acquired Sarson’s in 2012.

Sarson’s is made from a 9.5 percent alcohol barley wine that the company brews itself. The vinegar is matured for seven days in large oak vats.

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.

Champion & Co: leading vinegar brewers

Champion & Co became the fourth largest vinegar brewer in Britain and Ireland.

The Champion family establish and grow the business
Champion & Co, vinegar brewers, traced its establishment to 1705.

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

William Champion (died 1799) had acquired a London vinegar brewery by 1794. The premises were situated in Shoreditch, on the corner where City Road meets Old Street, next to where the Old Street tube station is today.

Thomas Champion and Guy Champion
William Champion died suddenly whilst serving as Sheriff of London in 1799, and the business was passed to his son, Thomas Champion (1774 – 1846). The venture was to owe its subsequent growth, both at home and overseas, to the business acumen of Thomas Champion.

A bottle of Champion’s Celebrated Pure Malt Vinegar, likely dating from the 1920s

Thomas Champion was joined in partnership by a Francis Moore between 1813 and 1818, and the firm trade as Champion & Moore.

The firm traded as Champion & Green from 1821, after a Thomas Green entered the business. The firm had expanded into mustard production by 1830.

Guy Champion (1786 – 1846), brother to Thomas Champion, who had previously worked as a merchant in Spain, entered the business from 1830.

Guy Champion chanced upon a slave auction whilst abroad in Albania, and acquired a girl. He brought her back to England and married her.*

Champion & Green was the fourth largest vinegar brewer in Britain and Ireland by 1832, with a market share of 13 percent.

Thomas Green had left the business by 1839.

In 1840 the partnership between Guy and Percival Champion, Arthur Mann and William Henry Wright was dissolved. They had been trading under the name Champions, Mann & Wright. The business was transferred to Thomas Champion.

Guy Champion died in 1846. Thomas Champion died suddenly whilst organising the funeral arrangements for his brother.

George Willis and William Henry Wright took over Champion & Co, although the Champion family continued to hold a stake in the business.

James Bigwood takes control of Champion & Co
James Bigwood (1839 – 1919) was the son of a successful fish merchant. He acquired control of Champion & Co in 1868 and became managing director. Bigwood was an enthusiastic advocate of product purity, and was vehemently opposed to food adulteration.

James Bigwood (1839 – 1919) in 1898. Image used with the kind permission of the National Portrait Gallery.

Champion & Co produced well over 1.5 million gallons of vinegar every year by 1872. Two tons of mustard were produced every day. 170 people, mostly skilled workers, were employed.

The vinegar brewery was extended in 1873.

A large export market was developed in Australia and New Zealand.

A new 53,000 gallon vinegar vat was installed in 1883. It was constructed over three months from Kentish oak. It joined 46 other similarly-sized vats at the brewery.

The five and six-storied premises covered 4.5 acres of land by 1885.

Champion & Co was one of the largest mustard manufacturers in the world. Three million tins of mustard were produced per annum by the mid-1880s.

James Bigwood was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1885. Bigwood measured 6 ft 4 inches, and held the distinction of being the tallest MP. The Daily Mirror described his appearance as that of a “prosperous doctor”.

Champion & Co could produce up to 10,000 bottles of vinegar a day by 1894.

A Champion & Co bottle, believed to date from the 1890s. Image courtesy of Tim Gunnink

James Bigwood had been joined in business by his son, James Edward Cecil Bigwood (1863 – 1947) by 1901.

Champion & Co was the longest-established vinegar brewery in London by 1907.

The Bigwood family sell Champion & Co to Slee, Slee & Co
James Bigwood and J E C Bigwood sold Champion & Co to Slee, Slee & Co, a rival London vinegar brewer, in 1907. The merged business was registered as Champion & Slee, with a share capital of £140,000.

The City Road brewery, with its proximity to the City of London, had become highly valuable, and the Bigwoods were keen to realise its value. The Champion brewery site was demolished, and the land was used to build affordable housing. Champion & Co production was relocated to the Slee premises at Tower Bridge Road, where there was ample space for expansion.

Champion & Slee received a Royal Warrant to supply King George V in 1913.

The British vinegar industry suffered from overcapacity after the First World War. Champion & Slee was acquired by Crosse & Blackwell in 1929. Crosse & Blackwell closed down its own vinegar brewery and concentrated production at the Champion & Slee site.

Champion & Slee established a factory in Sydney from 1930. It produced 1.8 million bottles annually.

Champion’s vinegar continued to be advertised in Britain until the mid-1950s, after which it was phased out in favour of the Sarson’s brand, which was also owned by Crosse & Blackwell.

Champion’s vinegar continued to be sold in the Australian market until at least the late 1970s.

* According to to an account by Charles James Feret (1854 – 1921) in 1900.

Rasch actions: Holbrook’s Sauce

How did Holbrook’s become the highest selling Worcestershire sauce in the world?

A vinegar brewery is established
John Leslie Tompson (1841 – 1901) established a malt vinegar brewery at Ashted Row, Birmingham in 1868. Financial capital was provided by his father, a wealthy maltster. The English Midlands were rapidly displacing London as the centre of the British malting and brewing industry by the 1860s.

Tompson & Co began to manufacture pickles and sauces from 1875.

Frederic Carne Rasch (1847 – 1914) injected £10,000 into the Tompson & Co in 1875 and was appointed chairman.

Sir Frederic Carne Rasch (1847 – 1914) in 1896

Tompson & Co acquired a vinegar brewery at Cheapside, Stourport in Worcestershire from Swann & Co in 1876. Established in 1798, it was one of the largest vinegar breweries in England.

John Tompson retired in 1878, and left the business in the control of John Leslie Tompson and Carne Rasch.

Birmingham Vinegar Brewery
The business was converted into a limited liability company, the Birmingham Vinegar Brewery in 1879. It had a nominal capital of £100,000. John Leslie Tompson was appointed as managing director. Nearly two million bottles and jars of pickles and sauces were sold every year.

A Worcestershire sauce was introduced, from an old Indian recipe, in 1880. It was cold-brewed, a method that allegedly resulted in a smoother and fruitier sauce. It took between two to five years to produce, and used 27 different ingredients, including brandy, sherry, vinegar, molasses, shallots, salt, tamarind, walnuts, garlic, chillies, cloves and lemon.

William Daniel Holbrook (1842 – 1913) was appointed manager of the North of England office. He began to take large orders, particularly for the Worcestershire sauce. John Tompson decided to name the line of sauces and pickles after his leading salesman.

A considerable export trade had been developed in Australasia by the 1880s. The South African market had been entered by 1883.

Private correspondence reveals that Carne Rasch came to regard J L Tompson as a swindler who he suspected of falsifying expenses charges. Tompson was declared bankrupt following a series of unfortunate personal investments in 1884.

W D Holbrook was accused, but ultimately acquitted, of stealing over £900 from the company in 1887. He subsequently worked as a journalist in Manchester before emigrating to New Zealand in 1893, where he apparently married a wealthy woman.

Ten million bottles of Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce were sold in 1888. Advertising claimed that sales were high because, “it is the best and cheapest”. It sold for around half the price of the rival Lea & Perrins product.

Three large wooden vats, each capable of holding 140,000 gallons of vinegar, were installed at Stourport in around 1891. It is believed that they were the largest vats in the world.

The Ashted Row factory in Birmingham, c.1910

The Birmingham Vinegar Brewery had a capital of £150,000 by 1897. It was the second largest vinegar manufacturer in the world.

Holbrook’s was the highest-selling Worcestershire sauce in the world by 1898, due to its strong export market and low price. Nearly ten million bottles were sold every year. It was the leading brand of Worcestershire sauce in South Africa and Australasia.

The name of the company was changed to Holbrooks Ltd from 1900. Worcestershire sauce was by far their most important product, followed by vinegar and pickles.

Vinegar production was centralised at Stourport in the early 1900s, and the Birmingham site concentrated on sauce and pickle manufacturing.

John Leslie Tompson died due to an accidental overdose of sleeping pills in 1901. Arthur Henry Tompson (1852 – 1927), brother of John Leslie Tompson, was appointed managing director of Holbrooks.

Holbrooks operated the largest Worcestershire sauce factory in the world by 1911. One of the vessels had a capacity of 100,000 gallons, and it was claimed to be the largest vat in the world. Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce was supplied to the dining rooms of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Carne Rasch died in 1914.

A view of the Birmingham factory on Ashted Row

Holbrooks employed 600 people by 1914.

The First World War resulted in difficulties regarding procuring sufficient raw materials, labour and shipping. Much of the largely female workforce found employment producing munitions for the war effort, and much of the male staff enlisted in the armed forces.

Holbrooks established a factory in Sydney, Australia from 1920. Sited on three acres, it was the largest Worcestershire sauce factory in the British Empire. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of Worcestershire sauce were stored for maturation at any one time. Several hundred workers were permanently employed. The site included its own vinegar brewery and glass bottle factory.

The managing director in Australia was Captain Gilbert Nobbs (1880 – 1970), previously the export director. He had permanently lost his sight after he was shot through the head during the Battle of the Somme. Nobbs was a remarkable man who, despite being blind, taught himself to play golf and travelled around the world unassisted.

Arthur Henry Tompson died from nephritis in 1927.

War and post-war struggles
Domestic operations had become loss-making by 1939, due to what the chairman termed “insane competition” in the vinegar trade. However the profitability of the overseas businesses enabled Holbrooks to survive.

The condiments factory in Birmingham was entirely destroyed by German bombing during the Second World War. However the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce factories remained unharmed, and record sales were made in 1941-2.

Much of the export trade was lost during the Second World War due to a shortage of raw materials, bottles and labour.

British sales grew in the post-war period. The Stourport brewery produced over three million gallons of vinegar a year by 1949.

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Four million bottles of Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce were sold in Australia in 1950. Captain Nobbs received an OBE in 1950, and retired as managing director of the Australian subsidiary the following year.

Two million bottles of Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce were sold every year in South Africa by this period.

A total of over 300 million bottles of Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce had been sold over the years by 1951.

Sale of the business
The Birmingham factory was subject to compulsory purchase by the Birmingham Corporation in 1954, and the site was redeveloped. Holbrooks consequently suffered from a cash-flow shortage, and was forced to sell its loss-making British business to British Vinegars, a joint venture between Crosse & Blackwell and Distillers, for £171,000 in 1954. Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce continued to be produced at Stourport.

Holbrooks sold its profitable Australian and South African subsidiaries to Reckitt & Colman for £422,000 in 1955. The deal also included the rights to the brand outside of the UK and Europe.

Reckitt & Colman extended and improved the Australian factory in 1957.

Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce continued to be sold in Britain until at least the mid-1970s. Its ingredients were listed as vinegar, molasses, shallots, salt, tamarind, walnuts, garlic, chillies, cloves and lemon.

Reckitt & Colman sold the Holbrooks business to Goodman Fielder for £5.5 million in 1997.

The Stourport brewery was closed with the loss of 22 jobs in 1999. The site had latterly produced Sarson’s vinegar.

Holbrook’s in the present day
Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce continues as a leading brand in Australia, and is produced in South Africa by Tiger Brands.

Australian Holbrook’s Worcestershire sauce contains water, vinegar, brown sugar, golden syrup, anchovies, salt, tamarind, spices, caramel for colour, onion powder, garlic powder and flavourings.

South African Holbrook’s lists its ingredients as: water, vinegar, molasses, salt, MSG, cane sugar, spices, caramel for colour, flavourings and tamarind extract.

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.