behavioural and biscuits

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Or what I’ve found out about Huntley and Palmers so far:

Joseph Huntley and his son Thomas opened a biscuit shop at 72 London street, Reading, in 1822. As Quakers, the Huntleys believed in honesty, self-discipline and hard work. They used high quality ingredients and sold their cakes and biscuits at a fair price – passing on savings to the customer rather than accumulating unnecessary wealth. I like their approach.

Prudential HeadquartersIn 1846 the firm purchased a factory on Kings Road for £1,800. The factory was positioned on an island site between the River Kennet and the Kennet and Avon canal. It had a floor space of 5,000 square feet and was spread over an area of half an acre. The Island is currently the home of the Prudential’s headquarters.

In 1850 the working week for men was 58½ hours – 6.30am to 6.30pm.  In 1872 the working week for men was reduced to 54 hours, the same as for women. By 1918 it had been reduced to 48 hours. Huntley and Palmers employed about 10% of the whole Reading town workforce, 5,409 workers by 1918

From 1855 Saturday evening entertainments were held to keep people out of the public houses. A Mutual Improvement Society was started and all employees over 16 could use the library on payment of 1d per week. Weekly lectures were also organised during the winter months.

By 1860 Huntly and Palmers employed 500 staff who produced 3,200 tons of biscuits per year.  In 1861 the average weekly wage was 16s 9d for men and 8s 8d for women and girls. By 1894 this had risen to 20s 1d for men and 9s 3d for women and girls.

Between 1851 and 1901 the population of Reading increased from 22,000 to 72,000. Attracted by the jobs, migration from the countryside was playing an increasing role in the growth of towns across the country. Reading expanded its boundaries in 1887 to include Newtown, the Wokingham Road area beyond Cemetery Junction, and part of Tilehurst. It had the largest population of all the towns in the county and was the only one big enough to achieve county borough status in 1889

Huntley and PalmerIn July 1855 they arranged a boat Thames trips for about 200 employess and families to Park Place near Henley. In 1857 the firms first outing was organised when the employees went by special train to Crystal Palace. From then on every alternate year an excursion took place, until 1868 the sheer number of 3,000 employees made factory excursions impossible. In 1898 the Recreation Club was founded by George Palmer who had bought 49 acres of land (now Palmers Park) to provide sports facilities. The company provided all the equipment for cricket, football, hockey, quoits, bowls, tennis and athletics.

Palmer's park in Newtown - still used for football tournaments and more!By 1873 the company had become the largest biscuit producer in the world

The company enforced a behavioural code for its staff.  Fines for misbehaviour were paid into a Sick Fund box. The Fund was a scheme set up in 1849 to benefit employees or their families who had experienced a death or serious illness. Employees contributed sixpence a week, and received 12 shillings a week benefit during illness. This was before there was any form of national health scheme

Employees who had completed over 50 years service received a non-contributory pension. By the early twentieth century a pension fund had been set up but only men were allowed to join.

The Acacias (London Rd)In 1906 George Palmer’s son, Alfred, presented the college with the site in London Road which included The Acacias, his fathers former home. This became the University Library.

The decline of the companies fortunes can be aligned with many changing environmental and social conditions and coincided with the changing moral values of the family owners from Quaker to Anglican. The link may not be causal… I’d like to know more about the decline.

In 1975 the factory provided the location for the bar scenes in the Hollywood movie ‘Bugsy Malone’ with Jodie Foster and Scott Baio.

Production ceased at Reading in 1976

Good sources on Huntley and Palmers history


4 bits of lovely banter on “behavioural and biscuits”

  1. ExpatEgghead writes:

    I feel sad now.

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  2. wendy writes:

    Expat, it is sad that the company no longer exists. What Huntley and Palmer’s did for Reading town is wonderful and longstanding – the parks and public facilities, the quality schools and I beleive the diversity of culture here is due to the tradition of Quakers, of considering all men equal. Reading town has the largest population of Bahan’s outside f barbados – partly because they could get jobs, and rent accomodation, here (less descrimination than in London. It is good to live in a town with such a strong tradition of respect for people of different cultures….
    I hope that cheers you up a bit!

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  3. p-g writes:

    Nice one, Wendy.

    My first summer holiday job was with H&P in the early ‘fifties – the pay was about thirty bob(shillings) per week, but there was a certain illicit access to “Penguins” (surely a new arrival then, after the years of post-war austerity?) – and my particular favourite: “Reading Shortbread”.

    Perhaps you might consider a feature sometime on Simmonds (brewery), and Suttons (seeds)? Reading was known for the three ‘B’s – biscuits, bulbs and beer. Not with the same economic and philanthropic impact as H&P, but significant, nevertheless.

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  4. wendy writes:

    John, p-g, its really good to hear your memories of H&P. My post is a bit of a ‘list of facts and figures’ rather than a story made up of what people felt about H&P and how it influenced their lives – which is much more interesting.

    I’ll definitely be putting something up on Simmonds and Suttons later

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