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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.”

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Batchelor’s

Batchelor’s Cup a Soup, Super Noodles, Garden Peas, Mushy Peas – all recognisable products on supermarket shelves – but how many of you realise that their origins were in Sheffield?

In 1895, William Batchelor, a young tea salesman, set up a small shop and started selling tea in packets, as well as other sundry grocery items.

In an extract from his diary the same year, Batchelor said that he needed £4 by the end of the week to meet his debts, but four years later he was able to write, “What a change in life there has been. What confidence people display in me, both creditors and customers.”

In 1912, he came up with the idea of packing and selling dried peas, which he did in the cellar of a disused Methodist Chapel in Stanley Street, off The Wicker, later moving to an old building in Stanley Lane nearby.

Unfortunately, William Batchelor died on holiday at Bridlington in 1913, leaving a daughter and two sons.

Ella Batchelor, the daughter, aged 22, took over the running of the business, soon joined by her younger brothers, Maurice and Fred.

From being a small family business, Batchelor’s soon grew to national fame, acquiring some of its competitors – Chef Peas, Dinna Peas, and Paull’s of Penrith.

There was rapid progress in the ‘dried pea’ trade with Batchelor’s selling them in 2d and 3d packs, but to the housewife, the preparation of the peas was a lengthy process.

Peas had to be soaked overnight, so when the company devised a ground-breaking new process in 1928, it was an instant success.

Batchelor’s came up with the idea of soaking and canning peas in a factory, henceforth ‘processed peas’ appeared in shops for the first time. Taking a plant near Lady’s Bridge, the company were only able to use small peas in the process, selling them under the Dwarf brand label.

However, in 1932, advances allowed them to use mature peas, extending canning to include Bigga Marrowfat Peas.

In 1935, Batchelor’s needed to increase production and made plans to build a new factory at Wadsley Bridge. In order to finance this the company turned public with an issue of 250,000 one-pound preference shares and 800,000 five-shilling ordinary shares.

The factory was built at a cost of over £100,000 on green-belt land in 1937, opened by the Marquis of Hartington, later to become the Duke of Devonshire. The new works, the largest canning plant in Britain, allowed production to be extended to include canned beans, soups and canned fruits.

At the beginning of World War Two, Batchelor’s was one of the largest suppliers of canned goods to the armed forces – and because there was an embargo on imports of foreign peas, the company set up an agricultural service in the East of England, stretching from the East Riding down to the Weald of Kent, providing about 200,00-acres of land for growing peas. Once cultivated, the peas were sent to new factories in Worksop, Newark or East Bridgford, in Nottinghamshire.

But staff shortages and rationing during the war put a strain on finances, and Batchelor’s was bought by James Van den Bergh of Unilever in 1943, becoming part of Van den Bergh Foods.

Ella Gasking, as she became, retired in 1948 – the same year that Batchelor’s bought Poulton and Noel, a soup manufacturer – and her brother, Maurice, took over the running. A year later, the first dried instant soup was created, chicken noodle flavour, the forerunner to perhaps its biggest success, Batchelor’s Cup a Soup, launched in 1972.

The Sheffield site continued to be Batchelor’s head office, the factory in Worksop was extended, and a plant at Ashford, Kent, was where Vesta dried meals were manufactured.

In 1982, Batchelor’s closed the Wadsley Bridge site, with the loss of 650 jobs, reputedly because the narrow lane and low bridge on its approach restricted heavy goods vehicles going to and from the factory.

Since then, production has remained in Worksop and Ashford, although ownership of the company has changed.

In 2001, Unilever sold Batchelor’s to Campbell’s Soups, with Premier Foods acquiring the UK operations five years later.

Alas, another old Sheffield name that is no longer connected to the city.

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Simpkins Sweets

During World War One, Albert Leslie Simpkin was wounded twice. Afterwards, he was offered liquid glucose after an operation for shrapnel wounds, perhaps the moment he thought it should be offered in sweet form.

Returning to Sheffield, Simpkin opened a grocery shop in 1921, on Sedan Street at Pitsmoor, and devised a machine to produce glucose drops.

This was the start of a business that is still going strong today, exporting sweets to over forty countries.

After deciding to close his shop, Albert bought a burnt-out refrigeration factory at Hillsborough, replacing it with a purpose-built plant producing bulk barley sugar sweets, later converting to powdered sweets in small tins.

The company turned out to be pioneers in glucose medicated confectionery, choosing to sell through chemists to avoid competition from bigger manufacturers. “Simpkins Glucose Products for Health and Vitality,” was a slogan soon to be seen throughout the UK.

Its biggest seller was barley sugar drops, “to alleviate the symptoms of travel sickness,” leading to a range of other products, ‘Travel Tins’, that are still the backbone of the company’s product range today.

However, after visiting the Leipzig Show in 1939, Simpkins picked up the recipe for a glucose tablet, containing dextrose monohydrate, creating Vita Glucose Tablets, compressed under 15 tons of pressure. These were used by leading athletes, high-altitude flyers and mountaineers, including the first ascent of Mount Everest in 1953.

The range soon extended to other medicated pastilles and tablets, including Glucose Blackcurrant Pastilles, Dilly Duckling Children’s Cough Pastilles, which had a cherry flavour, and even orange-flavoured Halibut Liver Oil Hexagons.

Speaking in 1939, Albert said, “The modern idea of presenting medicine in sweet form might have been gained from a fourteenth century painting in which an apothecary is seen making up a prescription for his royal patron in the form of a confection.”

A.L. Simpkin & Co Ltd, still manufacture on Hunter Road, although its main entrance is on Roselle Street, off Middlewood Road.

These days, the company is run by Albert’s grandchildren, Adrian and Karen Simpkin, producing the ‘Travel Tins’, Juicees Chews, Nipits (said to be a favourite of Margaret Thatcher), ‘Frog in your Throat’ lozenges and pure liquorice sweets. It is also a leading supplier of corporate branded and private label tinned confectionery.

Don’t expect to find Simpkins Sweets in the supermarkets, they’re still to be found in chemists, as well as garage forecourts and high-end sweet shops.

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Companies People Sculpture

Frank Tory and Sons

As we discover the historic buildings of Sheffield, and the intricate sculptors that adorn many, the name of Frank Tory frequently appears.

Frank Tory and Sons were a firm of sculptors that worked on many of the city’s buildings from the early 1880s until the 1950s. Apart from stone, the family also worked in wood, marble, bronze and fibrous plaster.

Frank Tory (1848-1938) was a Londoner who trained at the Lambeth School of Art. He came to Sheffield in 1880 after accepting a commission from the 15th Duke of Norfolk to work on the new Corn Exchange.

The contract brought him into contact with architect Matthew Ellison Hadfield and his son, Charles, who encouraged him to stay in Sheffield and offered him several commissions.

Tory set up a studio amongst terraced houses, and was joined in 1901 by his twin sons Alfred Herbert Tory (1881-1971) and William Frank Tory (1881-1968).

The Corn Exchange was destroyed by fire in 1947 and demolished in 1964. However, some of his finest work can still be found at Parade Chambers (High Street), St. John’s Church (Ranmoor), Cairns Chambers (Church Street), Carmel House (Fargate) and the Cathedral of St. Marie.

Perhaps Frank Tory’s greatest work is on Parade Chambers, with decorative sculptures of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Caxton, created in 1883 for Pawson and Brailsford, printers and stationers (pictured).

Alfred and William were born on Winter Street and attended the Broomhill County School and the Weston Academy for Sons of Gentlemen. They learned their trade from their father, who also taught at the Sheffield School of Art.

While Frank Tory worked on some of the city’s finest Victorian structures, his sons were responsible for sculptures on twentieth century buildings, including Sheffield City Hall, the Central Library, the White Building (Fitzalan Square), Victoria Hall (Norfolk Street) as well as Leeds Civic Hall and Chesterfield Town Hall.

After their father’s death, the firm moved to Ecclesall Road, at a site that is now the Porter Brook pub, eventually retiring in the 1950s after which the firm was wound up.