Ben Shaw’s is one of the few regional survivors of the British soft drink industry. 30 million cans of Ben Shaw’s soft drinks are sold every year.
Benjamin Shaw establishes the business
Benjamin Shaw (1836 – 1901) was born at Kirkheaton, Huddersfield, the son of a farm labourer. He found work in the Huddersfield textile trade, initially as a woollen spinner, and then as a supervisor.
Benjamin Shaw established a partnership with his brother George Shaw from 1871, bottling Pennine spring water from premises on Charles Street, Huddersfield.
The first delivery was made to Thornton’s Temperance Hotel at 21 New Street, Huddersfield.
Soon, the firm expanded into non-alcoholic “botanic” porter and ginger beer, distributing their products by horse and cart.
Benjamin Shaw bought out his brother’s stake in the partnership for £317 in 1876, to become sole proprietor of the business. The firm employed seven men in 1881.
Shaw was a keen advocate of the temperance movement. He supported good causes, such as the establishment of a working men’s club in Huddersfield. He was nominated as a member of Huddersfield Town Council in 1881.
The firm relocated to a new factory on Upperhead Row, Huddersfield in 1883.
Production was relocated to a purpose-built factory on Willow Lane, Huddersfield from 1894. By this time the firm traded as Benjamin Shaw & Sons.
Shaw’s two sons takeover the business
Benjamin Shaw died in 1901, and left an estate of £6,955. He was succeeded in business by his two sons, Ernest (1858 – 1924) and Frank Shaw (born 1870).
Benjamin Shaw & Sons was registered as a private company with capital of £20,000 in 1913.
Ernest Shaw died in 1924 with an estate valued at over £20,500. Beaumont Stephenson (1877 – 1948), a son-in-law of Benjamin Shaw, took charge of the company.
Clifford Stephenson takes control, and expands the business
Clifford Stephenson (1902 – 1992) took control of the company following the death of his father in 1948. Stephenson was a lifelong Methodist.
Stephenson became alderman of Huddersfield, and played a major role in the redevelopment of the town.
Distribution was extended into the neighbouring county of Lancashire in 1957.
From around this time the soft drinks were rebranded as “Ben Shaw’s”.
Ben Shaw’s became the first company in Europe to can soft drinks from 1959.
A new fully-automated factory was opened at Brockholes near Huddersfield in 1966. It could produce 100,000 cans a day and employed a staff of just 30. Between 1966 and 1971 sales doubled. Yellow lemonade was the highest-seller, and dandelion & burdock remained popular. The business remained essentially local in scope.
Ben Shaw’s held around three percent of the British carbonated soft drinks market by 1989.
Loss of family control, subsequent owners and closure of the Willow Lane factory
Overexpansion saw capital run low. Ben Shaw’s had excellent facilities, but lacked sufficient sales. The family were forced to sell control of the business to Rutland Trust, a turnaround specialist led by Michael Langdon, for £5.7 million in 1993.
Langdon sold a 51 percent stake in the Pontefract canning operation to Cott Beverages of Canada for £6 million in 1994.
Langdon negotiated new distribution deals with the major supermarkets chains, and was the leading supplier of own-label sparkling water by 1997.
The Willow Lane site was acquired by Britvic in 2004 when it bought the Ben Shaw’s bottled water business, including the Pennine Spring brand.
Cott Beverages of Canada acquired full control of Ben Shaw’s in 2005.
Britvic closed the Willow Lane factory in 2013. Production of the Pennine Spring bottled water brand was discontinued.
Cott was acquired by Refresco in 2017.