Categories
Buildings Companies

The rise and fall of Sheffield General Post Office

A sketch of Sheffield Post Office, Fitzalan Square, in 1909. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

In this post, we look at the history of the Post Office in Sheffield, but a question before we start. Do you know where the Central Post Office is in Sheffield? I suspect a few might struggle to answer this, and I was the same. Answer at the end.

There is one certainty in the architectural world – we will never build Post Offices like we used to, if at all. Technology has done away with the need to create lavish buildings.

The story of the growth of the Sheffield Post Office mirrors the development of the city.

In January 1835, a Post Office and News-Room was opened at the Commercial Buildings in High Street (opposite where the Telegraph Building stands today).

A small room was all that was needed in those days, with postage stamps handed through a little door fixed in a hole cut through the wall. The population of Sheffield at this time was 91,692 but by 1851 this had risen to 140,000.

Sheffield’s first Post Office, in the Commercial Buildings on High street. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

The demands on the Post Office increased and the facility was removed to Angel Street, in a part of a building that had once been Shore’s Bank.

The next move was to the top of Market Place (Castle Square), a much grander building that coincided with the increase in postal demand.

Sheffield Post Office, Market Place. Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive.

Sheffield’s industries were rapidly growing, and the population was advancing at an enormous rate. More general use was being made of postal facilities, and the authorities were improving the service, including the postal telegraph service, rates of postage to all parts of the world being reduced and the introduction of parcel post.

While the facilities in Market Place had been a great improvement on any previous office, there was a need for bigger premises.

In 1871, the population had reached nearly 240,000 and a new Post Office opened at the corner of Haymarket and Commercial Street (still standing, more recently home to Yorkshire Bank). However, by 1900 this was also too small and offices in Flat Street were opened and all that remained in the Haymarket was public counter work and the telegraphic department.

The Post Office had bought more land in Flat Street and Pond Hill from Sheffield Corporation as well as acquiring a site occupied by Mappin Brothers. By 1903, the Post Office had about one acre of land, a triangular plot stretching from Fitzalan Square and Pond Hill. Branch sorting offices were provided at Highfield, Broomhill, Montgomery Terrace Road, and Attercliffe, and sub-post offices opened all over the city.

These relieved the work at the central office, but still the business grew, and now, when the population was creeping up to half a million, a new office was provided at the top of Baker’s Hill, on the east side of Fitzalan Square.

The new Post Office, incorporating its Flat Street offices, opened in 1909, a Baroque-style building designed by Walter Pott of HM Office of Works. It coincided with Fitzalan Square improvement works and despite its grandiose appearance did not escape criticism.

In fact, the Post Office had been built on a hillside, and the result was that the greater proportion of the building was down below street level, and what people saw from Fitzalan Square was only the top.

The Post Office closed in 1999 and remained empty for several years before becoming the home to Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of Arts in 2016. More about this building in a separate post.

And finally, the answer to that question. The Sheffield City Post Office can be found on the 1st floor of Wilko in Haymarket.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings Companies People

Sheffield Telegraph

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1855, soon after the abolition of newspaper stamp duty, that had set newspaper prices at 5d to 7d, a dour down-at-heel Scotsman called Mr Benson turned up in Sheffield. After looking the town over, he called at the offices of Joseph Pearce Jnr, a printer and bookseller on High Street, and told him that he had people in London and Manchester who proposed starting a newspaper in Sheffield.

Joseph Pearce was convinced, and Benson recruited shop canvassers from street corners to obtain subscribers at 1s 6d for a month’s issues. The campaign netted a small fortune, and the next day Mr Benson arrived at the office wearing a brand new hat a new pair of wellingtons.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

The first issue of the four-page Sheffield Daily Telegraph appeared on June 8, 1855, distributed by Benson’s messengers on the back of a wheelbarrow.

Ten days later, Mr Benson, the comic-faced Scot disappeared and was never heard of again. His promised capital was so far behind him that it never caught up.

A man sent to London to telegraph back news milked from the national papers found himself out of pocket, and unable to ask for help, because Benson had failed to mention his colleague back in Sheffield. On his last night in London, the representative of the ‘country’s first great provincial daily’ had to split his journey home.

Joseph Pearce, left with the fallout, met his obligations to initial subscribers and decided to carry on. He arranged to take Reuter dispatches from the Crimean War, a story that was filling everybody’s minds, and sales started to grow.

There were already several weekly newspapers in Sheffield, all of which ignored this ‘upstart’, but when Sheffield writers gathered around the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, it burst this bubble of complacency, and one of them, the Sheffield Independent, was forced to publish daily as well.

Despite the rising popularity of the paper, published at 8am every day, it was a financial struggle for Joseph Pearce, and after nine years he decided to make way for younger blood.

Photograph of Editor’s office by Picture Sheffield

In 1864, Frederick Clifford and William Christopher Leng arrived, the latter becoming editor, and relocating to Aldine Court, off High Street.

Under these two, the Sheffield Daily Telegraph aimed to popularise the Conservative Party cause amongst the working class, and Leng’s trenchancy and personal courage during the trade union outrages in the 1860s enhanced the newspaper’s prestige.

By 1898 it was selling 1.25 million copies a week, along with its sister publications, the Sheffield Weekly Telegraph, with articles and serialised fiction, and the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.

In 1900, Winston Churchill became South African war correspondent for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, as well as the Morning Post, and the January issue carried his story in four columns of his capture by the Boers.

Photograph by Prime Location

Between 1913 and 1916, a new front to the extensive old buildings of the editorial and printing departments at Aldine Court, was built. Constructed in English Renaissance-style, it was designed by Edward Mitchel Gibbs, and still dominates High Street today. (It was eventually replaced with modern buildings on York Street).

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

The Clifford-Leng ownership ended in 1925, bought by Allied Newspapers, controlled by William Ewart Berry, Gomer Berry and Sir Edward Mauger Iliffe, which had been systematically buying up provincial newspapers, though chairmanship was retained by Frederick Clifford’s son, Charles, who actively shared management of the paper until his death in 1936.

Sir Charles Clifford had arrived in 1878 and ten years later was instrumental in the purchase of the Sheffield Evening Telegraph’s rival, the Evening Star, a name familiar to us now as the Sheffield Star.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1931, Allied Newspapers bought the rival Sheffield Independent, printing both separately, but both papers started losing ground to the national press and at one time the loss of both seemed possible.

The Allied Newspapers partnership was dissolved in 1937, each partner needing a raft of holdings to pass onto their heirs, with James Gomer Berry, 1st Viscount Kemsley, taking control of the Sheffield operation, briefly dropping the word ‘Daily’ from Sheffield Telegraph, and amalgamating it with the Sheffield Independent in 1938 to become the Sheffield Telegraph and Daily Independent, with a broader policy embracing the fundamental principles of both newspapers.

During the first years of World War Two, Kemsley Newspapers, as it had been renamed by Lord Kemsley, became the Telegraph and Independent, commanding world correspondents of Kemsley newspapers, and across the British Isles.

The newspaper eventually became the Sheffield Telegraph and Independent, subsequently the Sheffield Telegraph, and was bought by Roy Herbert Thompson, 1st Baron Thomson of Fleet, in 1959.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In 1965, it was briefly renamed the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, then the Morning Telegraph, continuing a long tradition of producing excellent news correspondents .

Notable staff across its history have included Sir Harold Evans, who was later Public Relations Officer to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, and head of ITV News; author Peter Tinniswood; novelists John Harris and J.L. Hodson; cartoonists Ralph Whitworth and J. F. Horrabin; critics George Linstead and E. F. Watling; sports writers John Motson, the BBC football commentator, Lawrence Hunter, Peter Keeling, Peter Cooper, Frank Taylor (who later survived the Munich Air crash of 1958), and Keith Farnsworth.

Other editorial staff members have included Keith Graves, who was later with the BBC and Sky TV as a much-travelled reporter; Peter Harvey, a long-serving feature writer who was awarded the MBE in 2002; Geoffrey L. Baylis, who in later years was honoured for services to journalism in New Zealand; Barry Lloyd-Jones, Brian Stevenson and Clive Jones, who were news editors; Leslie F. Daniells and Frazer Wright were long serving industrial reporters; Alf Dow, a news editor who was later the company’s first training officer, and ended his career in public relations at Newton Chambers; Richard Gregory, who became a leading figure at Yorkshire Television and was later chairman of the Yorkshire Bank; George Hopkinson; Jean Rook, who was later a women’s writer with the Daily Express; and Will Wyatt.

Photograph by Hold the Front Page

The Morning Telegraph was sold (along with The Star) to United Newspapers in the 1970s, ceasing production in 1986.

The collapse of the newspaper was attributed to moves by estate agents to move advertising away from the highly-popular Saturday edition, and set up what turned out to be an unsuccessful rival property guide.

In 1989, the Sheffield Telegraph was relaunched as a weekly and continues to this day, although now under ownership of JPI Media, formerly the ill-fated Johnston Press.

Categories
Companies

“Does exactly what it says on the tin.”

This story doesn’t start in Sheffield, but 230 miles away at Brighton in East Sussex, when in the late 1800s, a gentleman by the name of Fowler formulated a special polish called Fowler’s Wax Composition, although legend suggests it might have been Mrs Fowler who came up with the putty-coloured substance.

Production was taken over by his son, Thomas Horace Fowler, who registered the name of the polish as Ronuk in 1896, an anglicised form of a word suggested by an ex-Indian Army officer signifying brilliance.

Photograph by Brighton & Hove City Libraries
Photograph by Brighton & Hove City Libraries

Manufacturing switched to Portslade, a suburb of Brighton, and in 1927, Ronuk launched Colron Wood Dyes that helped establish the company as a leading UK DIY brand, followed by Ronseal wood varnish in 1956.

Our story switches to Chapeltown in 1960, when Newton Chambers, one of England’s largest industrial companies, founded in 1789 by George Newton and Thomas Chambers, bought Ronuk.

The brands were absorbed into the company’s Izal division in 1963, and the following year manufacturing was switched to Sheffield. With significant investment, the Ronuk, Ronseal and Colron brands soon became dominant, but by 1968, Roncraft had been adopted as the name for Ronseal.

Newton Chambers was bought by Central and Sheerwood in 1972, and the following year Izal was sold to the Sterling Winthrop Group, renaming the Roncraft business as Sterling Roncraft.

In 1989, Sterling Winthrop was bought by Eastman Kodak, until the multinational photographic company sold all its DIY business to New York-based investment bank Forstmann Little & Co, which included the Roncraft brand (reverting back to its Ronseal name) within its Thompson Minwax Holding Corporation.

The brands were sold again in 1997 to Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams, involved in the manufacture of paint coatings across North and South America and Europe. Far from diluting the integrity of the brand it renamed the Roncraft business as Ronseal Ltd, advancing the name with a new slogan – “Does exactly what it says on the tin” – devised by advertising agency HHCL.

With production now taking place at a new facility in Thorncliffe Park, Chapeltown, a new warehouse was opened in 2007. Two years later, Sherwin-Williams acquired Altax, a woodcare company in Poland, and added to its Ronseal Coatings division.

Still owned by Sherwin-Williams and considered to be the UK brand leader in varnish and woodstain products, Ronseal achieved acclaim in 2013 when Prime Minister David Cameron told a mid-term press conference that the coalition between the Conservatives and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats was a “Ronseal deal.”

Photograph by Google
Photograph by Google
Categories
Companies

Izal: “The invisible guardian against risks to health.”

Here’s a topical post because it involves disinfectant and toilet paper… and a brand that was once a brand leader. I’m talking about Izal, made here in Sheffield, famous for that waxy disinfectant toilet paper that many of us grew up with.

The origins go back to 1793 when George Newton and Thomas Chambers became partners in the Phoenix Foundry and, along with financier Henry Longden, they signed a 21-year-lease with Earl Fitzwilliam, the landowner, to extract coal and ironstone from the Thorncliffe Valley near Chapeltown.

A hundred years after coal production began it turned to Jason Hall Worrall, a chemist, to analyse the oil produced by coke and subsequently develop a germicide oil which, when mixed with an emulsifying agent, dispersed through any liquid.

The resulting product was trialled in hospitals and became known as Thorncliffe Patent Disinfectant before being called Izal – reputed to be an anagram of Liza, Worrall’s sister.

“Izal – the new non-poisonous disinfectant and prevention of infection. Izal prevents infection in Cholera, Smallpox, Diphtheria, Influenza, Scarlet Fever, Swine Fever, Malaria, Worms, Typhus, and Typhoid Fever, and practically covers the whole field of infectious diseases.”

The claims seem unbelievably wild today, but Izal attracted favourable reports from bacteriologists.

One of its products was a ‘scratchy’ toilet paper, impregnated with Izal disinfectant, and given away free to local authorities which bought bulk supplies of hygiene products.

Izal Toilet paper appeared in hospitals, schools and public buildings (‘Government Property’) around the country and wasn’t sold to the public until 1922.

In 1924, William Heath Robinson, a cartoonist and illustrator, was employed by Newton Chambers to provide amusing illustrations on the toilet rolls, and in the 1930s there were rhymes printed on each sheet. During World War 2, the sheets were printed with a cartoon of Adolph Hitler, very popular with the public but less so with officials.

Shiny on one side, rough on the other, experience showed that the paper was better at smearing rather than cleaning, and children of a certain age remember it better as being a useful musical instrument (comb and paper), as well as an excellent tracing paper.

Alongside the toilet Rolls, the Izal brand extended to San Izal Disinfectant, San Pine Disinfectant, soaps, shampoos, shaving foams, Polly kitchen rolls and even Izal lozenges and mints, in all about 137 products.

In 1968, Newton Chambers unsuccessfully tried to buy rival manufacturer Jeyes (makers of Jeyes Fluid and Parazone), and in 1973 the whole Newton Chambers business was acquired by Sterling-Winthrop (Sterling Industrial) which continued Izal production at Thorncliffe until 1981.

Restrictions of the use of poisons, and increased competition, lessened Izal’s market dominance, although it was still going strong in the 1970s. With a certain irony, the Izal brand was sold to Jeyes in 1986 and production stopped completely in 2010.

Ten years’ later, Izal Medicated Toilet Tissue is back on the shelves (or not as recent experience shows) but is still tainted by bad memories.

“The Clint Eastwood of loo paper – it’s rough, it’s tough and takes no shit.”

Categories
Companies

Maxons

Photograph by Maxons

“I have been with Maxons since the 1950s, when I was taken on to be the face of Maxons, and except for a brief kidnapping in the 1980s, I have been at the factory on Bradbury Street with my friends the Pitchforks, and all those who look after me at Maxons.”

These words taken from the Mint Rock King’s facebook page, a clever marketing ploy by Maxons, the Sheffield sweet firm, manufacturers of Dixons famous Mint Rock.

Photograph by Maxons

The story of Maxons is a steady if not low-key account.

We must go back to 1885  when Henry Dixon (1861-1949) started making sweets and toffees. His father was Fanshaw Dixon, a silversmith by trade and a mover in the cause for Liberalism in Sheffield. Henry started as a wholesale manufacturing confectioner, establishing the business at Britannia Confectionery Works on Love Street.

Photograph of Britannia Confectionery Works by Maxons

Henry was one of the founders and twice president of the Sheffield Confectioners’ Association, as well as being involved with the British Federation of Wholesale Confectioners, of which he was twice president also.

Like many Victorians, he was a man of religious means, being a member of Queen Street Congregational Church, a Sunday School worker, and lay preacher. He was also an ardent Band of Hope and temperance worker and became president of the Sheffield Congregational Association.

Photograph of Henry Dixon by Maxons

In 1896, Henry created Dixon’s Superior Mint Rock sold in tins, later adding Butter Scotch and Walnut Toffee. The business passed to his son, Henry Dixon Jr, who continued production at Love Street, and while their advertising was always low key, Dixon’s Mint Rock became a favourite with Sheffielders.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

In 1927, W.E. and L. MacDonald, also started in the confectionery business, calling themselves Maxons (Mac and Son). The manufacture of their products, predominantly toffee, gave way to boiled sweets including Yorkshire Mixture, Pear Drops and Winter Mixture.

Production took place in the high altitude of Bents Green, at  “Glengarry” (No. 52) on Muskoka Drive, the building standing in a garden, with products sold across the city as well as in its own shop, at 24 Ecclesall Road.

Photograph of Maxons ‘garden’ factory by The British Newspaper Archive

Ralph Pitchfork was born in 1913, the son of a Sheffield newsagent, who, on leaving school in 1931, when employment was scarce following the great depression, managed to gain employment with one of his father’s suppliers – Maxons.

He remained with them until 1950, when he purchased another local wholesale and manufacturing confectioner in Sheffield, trading as Ralph Pitchfork Ltd. with the manufacturing arm trading as Maxons Ltd.

Photograph by The British Newspaper Archive

Following the end of sweet rationing in 1953, both the wholesale and manufacturing companies began to expand and, in 1958, Ralph Pitchfork merged his two companies with those of Henry Dixon Ltd, after Henry Dixon Jr chose to sell because he had no male heir to take over from him.

The merger created a substantial wholesale company that traded under the name of Dixon Pitchfork Ltd. The enlarged Maxons included not only the Maxons branded range, but also added the Dixon’s range to its portfolio of products – these included the regional favourites; Mint Rock, Cherry Balsams and Buttermints.

Photograph by Picture Sheffield

In the 1960s the registered name of Jesmona Black Bullets was acquired from John W. Welch of Whitley Bay, and production moved to Sheffield.

Jesmona Old Fashioned Black Bullets, its name coming from the Jesmond district of Newcastle, were reputed to have originally been made using moulds for musket-balls. This dark-brown peppermint-flavoured sweet (made with sugar, glucose and peppermint oil), was as popular in the north-east, well-liked by miners and shipyard workers, as Dixon’s Mint Rock was to the steelworkers in Sheffield.

Interestingly, John Welch’s grand-daughter is Denise Welch, the actress, who says she was nicknamed Truly Scrumptious at school because of her sweet-making family.

Photograph by Maxons

The wholesale company of Dixon Pitchfork Ltd. was sold in the late 1960s and eventually, like many privately owned wholesale confectioners lost its identity to one of the national groups.

Maxons continued as a privately owned, independent, manufacturing company under the direction of Ralph’s son – Roger Pitchfork, and now by his grandsons – Chris and Richard Pitchfork. 

Maxons is the main brand used to produce old fashioned sweet jars, retail bags, Sherpots, Headsplitters (responsible for a 20 per cent leap in turnover in 2018), Stupidly Sours and bulk products. All Dixons-branded sweets are traditionally made by hand using recipes handed down from 1885, its Mint Rock still made from cream of tartare rather than glucose.

The company has also re-introduced the Charles Butler brand, using recipes dating back to 1848, to create a hand crafted Victorian-style boiled sweet.

Photograph by Maxons

As well as Jesmona Black Bullets, the company is well-known for its traditional Yorkshire Mixture, consisting of fruit and mint flavoured sweets, thought to originate from the early 1800s in  industrial cities. Sweet vendors went from factory to factory selling a small mixture of the sweet factory’s production from the previous day, whatever was left.

In 2017, Yorkshire Mixture was the subject of a fascinating court case, when Maxons and West Yorkshire based Joseph Dobson went head to head for the rights to the Yorkshire Mixture name. In a case costing £15,000 over eighteen months, eventually going to the European Intellectual Property Office, Maxons was given the go-ahead to continue producing the sweets under the Yorkshire Mixture brand – after Dobson’s tried to claim exclusive rights to use the name. 

Photograph by Maxons
Categories
Companies

Thorntons

We’ve now lost sight that Thorntons, the British chocolate brand, was established in Sheffield. Now airbrushed from our history, its link with the city disappeared when the company moved its headquarters to Derbyshire in the 1980s.

Joseph William Thornton was a commercial traveller for the Don Confectionery Company in the early years of the twentieth century. With ambitions to set up on his own, he opened a small sweet shop at 159 Norfolk Street, in the centre of Sheffield, in October 1911.

It was run by his fourteen-year-old son, Norman, with intentions of becoming the ‘nicest’ sweet shop in the city. It was an attractive affair, with cream-coloured walls and mirrors from floor to ceiling, the shelves in front packed with ‘knob-stoppered’ jars full of sweets made by Joseph’s friends in Norwich.

Although he continued as a commercial traveller, he opened a second shop on The Moor where the family lived above. Although most of the stock was bought in, the family experimented by manufacturing hard-boiled sweets, but it was the production of violet creams that shaped its future.

Joseph William Thornton died in 1919, but Norman opened two more shops, later joined by his brother Stanley, and together formed J.W. Thornton Ltd.

During the 1920s, the brothers opened shops outside Sheffield, with boiled sweets made on The Moor and chocolate in nearby London Road premises.

With lots of quirky sweet treats like ‘Violet Cachous’, ‘Sweet Lips’ and ‘Phul-Nanas’, they sold the best confectionery around. But it wasn’t until now that the brothers were making their hand‐made chocolate truffles, crystallised fondants and, of course, their famous Thorntons special toffee. Production was later amalgamated in a small factory on Penistone Road where its first chocolate enrobing machine was introduced to boost chocolate sales even further.

In 1931, the company moved to Stalker Lees Road, paving the way to build a purpose-built factory on Archer Road in 1935, a facility that soon became too small for production.

By 1937, it had been extended, doubled in size, and would service 35 shops across the north and midlands.

During World War Two, Thorntons bought a smaller plant in Bury, to be used if the Archer Road factory was bombed. It never was, and production continued in Sheffield while Special Toffee was made in Lancashire.

Afterwards, the company was refused permission to expand its factory further and so the company bought Castle Factory, a former mill, at Belper in Derbyshire, where boiled sweets were produced.

By the 1970s, the company had more than 150 shops and expanded into the United States during the 1980s, opening shops in Chicago, Boston and Washington.

A brand new multi-million pound factory was built on a greenfield site at Swanwick, Derbyshire, in 1983, with the eventual closure of the Archer Road factory.

Rapid expansion at the start of this century, combined with an economic downturn, hit Thorntons’ profits hard and in 2011 it announced that it would close between 120 and 180 of its stores.

Four years later, in 2015, the business was sold to Italian chocolate maker Ferrero for £112 million, thus ending a long family connection.

Categories
Companies

Henderson’s Relish

Henderson’s Relish is a Sheffield institution, poured over pies, stews, chips, almost anything, has its own unique flavoured crisp, and the secret of its recipe remains a closely guarded secret.

It is about as Sheffield as you can get, virtually unheard-of outside city boundaries, except for those cases exported to home-sick expatriates around the world.

Henderson’s Relish, Worcestershire sauce-like (without the anchovies), owes its existence to Henry Henderson, born at Walkeringham, Nottinghamshire, in 1850. He was the thirteenth child of Joseph and Hannah Henderson and grew up working on the family farm.

At 21, he left home and worked as an apprentice miller before setting up home in Sheffield with his first wife, Clara Cornthwaite, in 1874. In the early 1880s, Henry became a ‘drysalter’ – somebody who supplied salt or chemicals for preserving food, and somebody who might also have sold pickles, relishes and dried meat.

The Henderson’s set up home at 35 Broad Street, where Henry created a spicy Yorkshire relish in 1885, sold from his adjoining general merchant’s shop, and where customers returned their empty bottles to be refilled from huge barrels.

After Clara died in 1898, Henry remarried in 1904, Eliza Ann Swinterland, but suffered ill-health and made several attempts to sell the business, advertised as a Relish Manufacturer, Wholesale Druggist and Smallwares Dealer.

Henderson’s Relish was sold to Shaw’s of Huddersfield, pickles manufacturer, still in existence today, and appointed Charles Hinksman as General Manager.

Henry retired and lived at Beechwood House, Kenbourne Road, at Nether Edge, and died while on holiday at the Granby Hotel, Skegness, in 1930.

During the 1920s, the business moved the short distance, to Leavygreave Road, near the Jessop’s Hospital, where its small factory became a talking point. According to legend, nobody was ever seen entering or leaving the building.

In 1940, Hinksman bought the company from Shaw’s, renaming it Henderson’s (Sheffield) Ltd, and it has remained in the family ever since.

Harvey Freeman took over from his sister, Gladys, Charles Hinksman’s wife, in 1975, slowly growing the business, and it was handed over to Dr Kenneth Freeman in 1991, the man credited for the dramatic rise in the company’s fortunes. After he died in 2013, aged 92, his wife, Pamela, became its Managing Director.

In 2013, Henderson’s Relish sold the Leavygreave Road factory to the University of Sheffield, which had plans to develop the building as a Henderson’s themed pub. Production of relish was transferred to a new factory on J.F. Finnegan’s 58-acres Sheffield Parkway Business Park.

Stocked by supermarkets across the city, it’s a must for restaurants and takeaways, and woe betide anybody who compares it to Worcestershire Sauce, as did Lewisham MP, Jim Dowd, during a House of Commons speech in January 2014. He lived to regret his faux pas.

Categories
Companies

Bassetts

When George Bassett died in May 1886, his death merited an obituary in local newspapers, largely because he was an ex-alderman and former Mayor of Sheffield.

In the last years of his life a stroke had partly paralysed him, providing plenty of time for him to reflect on his life and achievements.

However, when he finally passed away at his Endcliffe home, the result of a fourth stroke, he died not knowing his legacy would one day become world famous.

George Bassett was born at Ashover, Derbyshire, in 1818, where his father was a small farmer and landowner, and his ancestors had lived for generations.

As a young man, he was apprenticed to William Haslam, a Chesterfield confectioner in Low Pavement, and afterwards moved to Sheffield where he started his own confectionery business in Broad Street, Park, in 1842.

Described as a “Wholesale Confectioner, Lozenge Manufacturer and British Wine Merchant,” Bassett started selling to druggists and shopkeepers elsewhere, boasting that he was always “in stock of lozenges, comfits, pipes, acid drops, jams, juice, candied lemon, Carr’s Fancy Biscuits, American soda biscuits, nuts, pickles, fish sauces, Firkin Butter and lard.”

On reflection, it appears that although confectionery was a large part of George Bassett’s business, he was better known as a wholesale merchant, selling tea, coffee, sugar and general provisions to shops around the town.

He subsequently opened another shop in the New Market Hall, another in West Bar and additional premises at Snig Hill.

Although considered to be a retailer, Bassett ultimately became a manufacturing confectioner, and in 1859 opened a steam-powered factory in Portland Street, by the Royal Infirmary, considered to be the largest and most complete in the country. To achieve this, he had gone into partnership with William Lodge, renaming the company as Bassett and Lodge, and choosing to dispose of the retail business.

The partnership was dissolved in 1861 and a few years later, Bassett entered business with Samuel Meggitt Johnson (1837-1925), one of his former apprentices, a liaison that lasted until George Bassett’s death, after which Johnson assumed sole control of the firm.

By 1871, Bassett employed 150 people, and at the time of his death, the company was the largest confectionery manufacturer in the country.

Nevertheless, George Bassett was more famous locally as a public servant. He became a member of the Council in 1851, when elected as one of the representatives of the Park Ward. In 1873, Bassett was raised to the aldermanic bench, and in 1876, just twenty-five years after first entering the council, he was unanimously elected as the Mayor.

During his mayoralty, the former United States president General Ulysses S. Grant, paid a visit to Sheffield, and was a guest at both Bassett’s Endcliffe Crescent home and at a banquet given in his honour at the Cutler’s Hall.

Like many Victorians, Bassett was a religious man, a Wesleyan Methodist, fulfilling many roles for the church, and generously contributing to its funds.

As well as his own confectionery business, Bassett also took up directorship roles at the Union Banking Company as well as at Earle’s Shipbuilding Company.

He married twice, his first wife was Sarah Hodgson, daughter of Joseph Hodgson, iron merchant, who died in 1861, and with which he had six daughters. His second wife was Sarah Ann Hague, daughter of Mr Hague of Broad Street, who survived him and provided two sons.

The grave of George Bassett can still be seen today, amidst dense vegetation, at the Sheffield General Cemetery.

But what became of the business after his death?

Under Samuel Meggitt Johnson the company flourished, concentrating on lozenges, candied peel, and liquorice confectionery, enjoying nationwide distribution and developing a considerable export trade.

The birth of liquorice allsorts took place in 1899, and will always be associated with Charlie Thompson, of York, a representative of the firm for nearly 60 years. The various units which make up the selection known as liquorice allsorts had been sold separately for many years.

One day, Mr Thompson, when calling on a customer in Leicester, tripped over the doormat and spilled his tray of samples of these units on the floor. As he was gathering the sweets together into a heap with his foot, the customer was struck by the attractiveness of the resultant assortment, and forthwith placed an order – “for all sorts.”

The new line met with instant success and was eventually imitated by manufacturers throughout the world.

The rapid expansion of sales which followed the introduction of liquorice allsorts taxed the firm’s productive capacity, despite having opened the Don Works, on Bridge Street, in 1899. Accordingly, a new factory was built at Owlerton in 1900 to take over the manufacture of candied peel and glace cherries under the subsidiary company of Samuel M. Johnson & Sons.

Sales of confectionery continued to grow at such a rate, however, that soon the new Owlerton factory had to help the Portland Street factory by producing confectionery as well.

Samuel Meggitt Johnson died in 1925, and subsequently George Bassett was incorporated in 1926 with a capital of £350,000.

The Don Works closed in 1927, but manufacturing continued at Portland Street and Owlerton. In 1933, the directors gave up production of peel and cherries and concentrated on confectionery, at the same time centralising all manufacturing activities at the Owlerton premises.

Accordingly, a new four-storey factory was built to take over the whole of liquorice allsorts production and was in operation by 1934.

Business boomed, hindered only by the Second World War, producing liquorice allsorts, a wide range of gums, pastilles, jellies, mixtures, pan lines, mints, lozenges, and medicated confectionery.

In 1961, George Bassett acquired W.R. Wilkinson of Pontefract, followed by Barratt’s, a leading children’s confectionery manufacturer, in 1966.

However, by the 1980s Bassett’s had fallen to third place in the British sugar confectionery market, behind Trebor and Rowntrees, and was acquired by Cadbury for £91million in 1989, merging the businesses of Pascall-Murray and Lion into the larger Bassett concern.

Later that year, Cadbury-Schweppes bought Trebor for £110million, renaming its sugar confectionery subsidiary Trebor Bassett.

These days the company is a brand of Cadbury, owned by Mondelez International, the Owlerton factory making iconic brands like Liquorice Allsorts, Jelly Babies and Trebor Extra Strong Mints. In addition to this, the Sheffield site also produces Ritz Crisp & Thins, and has also been used to produce the company’s Oreo and Belvita biscuit lines.

Look in shops today and you’ll see a wide range of products under the Maynards Bassetts branding.

Categories
Companies

Bassetts

We’ve already looked at the life of George Bassett, a man who died before his most famous product, Liquorice Allsorts, was created.

Bassett’s Liquorice Allsorts came about by accident in 1899, when Charlie Thompson, a salesman for Bassett’s visited a wholesaler with a sample of liquorice and cream paste specialities – chips, rocks, buttons, nuggets, plugs and twists.

Each item was offered to the wholesaler and in turn was refused. The salesman clumsily gathered his samples boxes together, knocking them over and spilling the colourful sweets on the floor.

The wholesaler saw more attraction in the ‘mixed’ sweets and placed an order. The salesman named them Liquorice Allsorts.

Made of liquorice, sugar, coconut, aniseed jelly, fruit flavourings, and gelatine, allsorts are now produced by many companies around the world, but are most popular in Britain and continental Europe (especially the Netherlands where they are called Engelse drop, meaning English liquorice). They are also common in Scandinavia, where they are called Engelsk onfekt or Lakridskonfekt.

In 1929, the George Bassett company created Bertie Bassett, a mascot for Liquorice Allsorts, designed to appeal to young and old, and he’s been going strong for 90 years.

In the 1950s, visitors to the factory at Owlerton were confronted on the main staircase by the friendly figure of Bertie Bassett, serving as a reminder that “the important and unchanging things in life are the human things, and as a challenge to any who would subjugate those human things to the changing dictates of expediency.”

Such waffle plays a secondary role now.

Indeed, Bertie Bassett is under threat, reeling from the double blow of declining sales and the war on sugar.

Last month, it was reported that sales of Liquorice Allsorts had shrunk by nearly 8 per cent to £23.5million in the past year, the only type of confectionery to see a downturn in demand.

And new rules that sweets contain less than 50 per cent sugar could spell the end of Bertie Bassett.

According to The Grocer: “That’s bad news for liquorice allsorts, which are made almost entirely of sugar.”

Categories
Companies

Bassetts

A final burst of Bassett’s for today.

A look at Jelly Babies, the soft sugar jelly sweet, dusted in starch, and shaped as plump babies in a variety of colours, made in Sheffield.

The sweets were invented in 1864 by an Austrian immigrant working at Fryers of Lancashire. It is thought that he was asked to make a mould for jelly bears, but the resulting sweets looked more like new-born infants and were subsequently given the ghoulish name, Unclaimed Babies.

Tim Richardson, author of Sweets: A History of Temptation, said although the name might sound ghastly to modern ears, sweet-eaters in the Victorian era would barely have batted an eyelid.

Their popularity waned, but in 1918, they were produced by George Bassett in Sheffield as “Peace Babies” to mark the end of World War I.

Production was suspended during World War II, due to wartime shortages, but the product was relaunched in 1953 as Jelly Babies.

The sweet is famous for being Doctor Who’s favourite sweet, often carried around in a white paper bag. However, they are specifically associated with Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor, who had a predilection for offering them to strangers in order to defuse tense situations (and in one episode bluffing another alien into thinking them a weapon).

In the 1990s, Jelly Babies ditched their nappies in favour of baseball boots and bumbags and given names: Brilliant (red; strawberry), Bubbles (yellow; lemon), Baby Bonny (pink; raspberry), Boofuls (green; lime), Bigheart (purple; blackcurrant) and Bumper (orange).

At the time, a company spokesman said that, “We wanted to increase their street cred.”

Still going strong today.