Tag Archives: H W Carter of Bristol

Currant affairs: a history of Ribena

90 percent of British blackcurrant production is used to make Ribena.

George Withy establishes the business
George Withy (1802 – 1878) was born in Bristol, the son of a Quaker woolen draper. Withy established himself as a soft drinks manufacturer at Orange Grove in Bath from 1831.

Growing sales saw the Bristol Soda Water Works established at Wilder Street, Bristol in 1861. George Withy & Co was the largest soft drink manufacturer in the South West of England by the mid-1860s.

H W Carter acquires the business
Henry Williams Carter (1839 – 1913), a chemist, partnered with J R Grace to acquire the Bristol Soda Water Works from George Withy & Co in 1872. The business traded as H W Carter & Co.

Ernest Matravers Wright (1851 – 1949) had joined the firm by 1891, and the business traded as Carter, Wright & Co.

Wright left the firm to enter into business for himself in 1898, and Henry Williams Carter took sole control. H W Carter & Co was registered as a limited company.

A carton of Ribena in 2007

Poor health forced Henry Williams Carter to retire in 1904.

The company was best known for Carter’s Concentrated Lemon Syrup by 1909, a product for which it held the largest market share. The cordial was exported across the world, and was known as the best product of its kind. Other products included lemon squash, lime juice cordial, table jellies and custard powder.

Henry Williams Carter died with an estate valued at £12,149 in 1913.

H W Carter & Co also became engaged as wine and spirits merchants.

Ribena is introduced
By 1920 William Dillworth Armstrong (1876 – 1954), a long-term salesman for H W Carter & Co, was managing director, and his son, Frank Dillworth Armstrong (1900 – 1993) was chairman. As a trained chartered accountant, Frank Armstrong reorganised the finances at the company.

A Ribena cordial bottle from the 1970s or 1980s

H W Carter & Co merged with four other local businesses to form Bristol Industries Limited, with a share capital of £250,000, in 1920.

Frank Armstrong was retained as chairman of Bristol Industries, but baulked when he was asked to sack his own father. He responded by negotiating a bank loan and buying back control of H W Carter & Co with a capital of £30,000 in 1924.

A surplus led to low milk prices in the 1930s. H W Carter & Co decided to develop fruit-flavoured syrups that could be added to milk to form milkshake. Ribena was developed as a by-product of this research.

H W Carter & Co went public in 1936.

A new factory to produce cordials from British fruit was established at North Street, Bedminster, Bristol in 1936. Ribena blackcurrant cordial was introduced that year.

During the Second World War imported sources of Vitamin C such as oranges had become scarce due to the German U-Boat campaign. Ribena, made from homegrown blackcurrants, was advertised as a good source of Vitamin C for children, and the government distributed it for free to babies, young children and expectant mothers.

Ribena production was relocated to a new factory at Coleford, Gloucestershire, in 1947. Sales of Ribena continued to grow strongly during the post-war period. Around 800 people were employed at the Coleford factory during the summer of 1955.

The Coleford, Gloucestershire factory in 2013

Sale of the business
H W Carter & Co was acquired by the Beecham Group in 1955, beating a rival bid of £1.2 million from Reckitt & Colman, which owned the Robinson’s Barley Water brand.

Beecham, with the Lucozade, Tango and Corona brands, was the largest soft drink producer in Britain by 1960.

Beecham merged with SmithKline Beckman in 1989 to form SmithKline Beecham. It amalgamated with GlaxoWellcome to form GlaxoSmithKline in 2000.

GlaxoSmithKline divested its British soft drinks business, which included Lucozade and Ribena, to Suntory of Japan for £1.35 billion in 2013.

Rows of blackcurrants

90 percent of British-grown blackcurrants go towards Ribena production as of 2018, and each 500ml bottle contains around 37 blackcurrants.

Ribena uses specifically-designed blackcurrants that have a high juice content. The factory is supplied by 40 farms. The blackcurrants are harvested in July and August. They are pressed at the Thatcher’s cider mill in Somerset.