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.
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.
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.
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.