Tag Archives: Morton of Millwall

Preserving history: C & E Morton

C & E Morton was a large packaged foods producer. Workers from C & E Morton established Millwall Football Club.

J T Morton
John Thomas Morton (1830 – 1897) was born on Oxford Street, London. He established a small factory at Clayhills, Aberdeen from 1849 in order to supply sailing ships with preserved foods.

Morton had established a base in London by 1851.

Almost all production was destined for the export market. A major early product was tinned sardines.

Morton was a dedicated Puritan, and was a devout observer of the Sabbath. He was a reserved man, with very few close associates, and his only known sentiment was towards his mother. He was emotionally cool, but just and honest.

The head office and factory in London were based at Leadenhall Street by 1858. The site was located nearby to one of the largest meat markets in the world.

The London premises were relocated to a larger site on Leadenhall Street from 1866.

Expanding sales saw Clayhills production relocated to a new factory on Mount Street in the Rosemount area of Aberdeen from 1870.

A manufacturing facility was established at Millwall from around 1872, in a former oil factory belong to Price & Co.

Millwall Football Club was established by J T Morton tinsmiths in 1885.

The Aberdeen factory employed hundreds of workers by the 1880s. It was one of the largest and best-equipped canneries in Britain by 1892.

The success of J T Morton was based on a quality product, slim profit margins, and a firm focus on export markets.

An additional factory had been established at Falmouth, Cornwall by 1897.

John Thomas Morton died as a highly wealthy man in 1897. He left an estate valued at £714,186. He dedicated over half of his wealth to churches and charities. His manager, who had been with the company for nearly 40 years, and helped to build his fortune, received nothing.

C & E Morton
The business was inherited by his two sons, Charles Douglas Morton (1861 – 1944) and Edward Donald Morton (1866 – 1940). The two men had previously worked as underwriters for Lloyd’s, the insurance business. A curious codicil of their father’s will was that the two sons were not allowed to trade under the J T Morton name, so the firm became known as C & E Morton.

C D Morton was an energetic and generous man. The two brothers established agents in overseas markets, which increased sales. They travelled the world extensively to attend to their overseas trade.

C & E Morton was a substantial supplier of food to the military during the Boer War.

C & E Morton was one of the three largest producers of tinned fish in the world by 1909, alongside Maconochie Brothers and Crosse & Blackwell.

C & E Morton was registered as a public company with a capital of £650,000 in 1912. There were premises at Leadenhall Street, Millwall, Lowestoft, Aberdeen and Mevagissey, Polruan and West Looe in Cornwall.

1,600 workers at the Millwall factory went on strike in March 1914, in protest against girls under the age of 18 being hired, which they argued threatened to undercut their wages. The strike resulted in a victory for the workforce.

Morton was singular among preserved provisions manufacturers in normally refusing to hire under 18 year olds. They claimed that they had been driven to do so because of difficulties in sourcing sufficient labour. They also asserted that their factory workers were among the most highly-paid in London.

Rations were produced for the British military during the First World War. The company continued to pay half-wages to its staff who were serving in the armed forces.

C & E Morton entered the home market from 1923-4.

Crosse & Blackwell planned to acquire C & E Morton in 1926, but the proposed deal fell through due to an uncertain economic climate.

Increasing import tariffs overseas hurt the business during the 1930s. Factories were established in foreign markets in order to circumvent such charges.

R S Murray & Co, a confectionery manufacturer, was acquired in 1936.

There were three large factories at Millwall, Cubitt Town and Lowestoft in 1939. Thousands of people were employed. The Lowestoft site was the largest herring cannery in Britain.

E D Morton died in 1940 and left an estate valued at £213,295.

Declining exports of tinned herring to Scandinavia saw C & E Morton enter into the production of tinned peas at Lowestoft.

Sale to Beecham and Hillsdown Holdings
Beecham, a large consumer goods group, acquired the struggling C & E Morton for £180,000 in 1945. Beecham concentrated production at Lowestoft.

C & E Morton was absorbed into a new subsidiary, Beecham Foods, from 1955. Lowestoft began to produce other tinned vegetables as well as peas, such as runner beans, broad beans and carrots. Processed peas; dried peas that were reconstituted; began to be canned.

Beecham struggled to build scale in canned foods, and the location of the Lowestoft site rendered distribution costly. The factory was saved from closure due to a sense of social responsibility by Beecham management.

The tinned vegetables market had become stagnant by the early 1980s, as supermarket own-label offerings had taken significant market share. Morton Brands was sold to Hillsdown Holdings for £8.5 million in 1986.

The Lowestoft factory, which employed 160 people, was closed down in 1988. Morton branded products were available in Britain until at least the mid-1990s.

The Morton brand name is still used for tinned goods in India, although the former subsidiary has been independent since 1947.