How did Lambert & Butler become the leading cigarette brand in Britain?
Lambert & Butler establish the business
Charles Lambert (1814 – 1887) and Charles Butler (1813 – 1882) established a cigar manufacturing business at 38 St John Street in Clerkenwell, London from 1834.
Lambert & Butler relocated to 142 Drury Lane, near Covent Garden, from 1838. The business began to manufacture tobacco, as well as cigars.
Lambert & Butler showcased their English cigars, made from Havana tobacco, at the Great Exhibition of 1851. As a curiosity, the firm also exhibited a sample of English-grown tobacco, raised in Cambridgeshire.
Lambert & Butler had extended their premises to include 141 and 142 Drury Lane by 1852.
Lambert & Butler were advertising across England by 1863.
The next generation takeover management; mass-production of cigarettes begins
The sons of the founders, Charles Edward Lambert (1843 – 1910) and Charles Butler Jr (1848 – 1898), entered into the partnership in the 1860s. Their skilled management was to afford the business considerable impetus.
Lambert & Butler had a capital of £87,200 in 1870.
Charles Butler Sr died with an estate valued at over £47,000 in 1882.
The Drury Lane premises buildings were demolished and rebuilt in 1895. A Luddington cigarette machine was installed. Machine-made cigarettes had lower production costs, and rendered cigarettes affordable for the working classes.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Lambert & Butler had grown to become the third largest tobacco business in Britain, after Wills and Cope Brothers. Lambert & Butler had an excellent marketing department, but competition with Wills was hampered by the more efficient patented methods of production at their major rival.
Charles Butler Jr died in 1898 with an estate valued at £79,558.
The firm was converted into a private limited liability company, Lambert & Butler Ltd, with an authorised capital of £450,000, in 1899.
Lambert & Butler employed 1,100 people by 1900. The company held around ten percent of the British cigarette market, behind Wills and Ogden’s, and alongside John Player & Sons.
Lambert & Butler joins Imperial Tobacco
Imperial Tobacco was formed in 1901 as a combine of British manufacturers designed to combat the encroachment of American Tobacco into their country. Lambert & Butler joined as the second largest constituent of the group. Day to day operations at Lambert & Butler continued unchanged.
A large extension of the factory and offices at Drury Lane was completed in 1908.
Charles Edward Lambert died of heart failure in 1910. His estate was valued at £659,193. Photographs of Lambert depict a quintessentially patriarchal Edwardian figure, a mustachioed, well-built fellow who was rarely seen without a cigar in hand.
Walter Butler (1857 – 1913), a member of the Imperial Tobacco executive committee, died in 1913. He left a gross estate valued at £175,599.
Charles Rupert Butler (1873 – 1915) became managing director of Lambert & Butler until his sudden death from heart failure in 1915.
The First World War created a shortage of labour; 96 percent of male Lambert & Butler employees had either enlisted or attested by April 1916. Women were hired to provide cover for the enlisted men.
The principal concern was the manufacture of pipe tobacco by 1928. By this time there was a cigarette factory at Margravine Road, Fulham.
Lambert & Butler launched Varsity, the first filter-tipped cigarette from Imperial Tobacco, in 1936. It was withdrawn from sale around 1940 due to low demand.
Closure of the factory; introduction of the Lambert & Butler King Size cigarette
The sole remaining Lambert & Butler factory was closed in 1958. Its antiquated design meant it was nearly half as efficient as the highest-performing Imperial Tobacco facility. Lambert & Butler production continued at other Imperial Tobacco subsidiary companies. The Lambert & Butler brand accounted for just 0.2 percent of Imperial Tobacco cigarette sales.
The Drury Lane headquarters were closed in 1961.
Lambert & Butler was a relatively small subsidiary throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with a focus on cigars and pipe tobacco.
The Lambert & Butler King Size cigarette was launched in 1979, and was to quickly prove a huge success.
Lambert & Butler King Size was the highest-selling cigarette brand in the United Kingdom by 2008.