Mr. Thomas Oxley's
English Fruit Preserving Company
THE ENGLISH FRUIT PRESERVING COMPANY
Taken from the Sheffield & Rotherham (Illustrated), up-to-date, published c1900
Telegram – “Jam” Sheffield National Telephone No. 571
Some few years back, much astonishment, not unmingled with amusement, was evoked by the advice given to the British farmer by an eminent statesman as a panacea for his declining fortunes, that prosperity might be re-attained by the cultivation of fruit for preserve-making purposes; and, although at the time Mr. Gladstone’s suggestion was by no means cordially welcomed, subsequent experience must have convinced the agricultural community that a new field of profitable industry was available in this direction if pursued on practical lines. Whatever may have resulted from this counsel, the fact remains that within the past few years the utilisation of English fruits for preserving purposes has assumed proportions hardly anticipated by the veteran politician who elected himself its advocate on that occasion. An instance in point is supplied through the very substantial success which has attended the enterprise of the English Fruit Preserving Company. The business, which was established in 1889, practically justifies its raison d’etre by the rapid development of what may be called a new departure in manufacturing enterprise in Sheffield, a city more closely identified with the production of hardware than the preparation of preserves. Taking advantage of a recent visit to the locale of the Company’s premises, we were granted the opportunity, through the courtesy of the proprietors, of personally inspecting the buildings and of witnessing the modus operandi. We record our impressions of our visit in this brief article. The establishment, which is situated at Hillsbro’ – a pleasant suburb west of the city – is erected on the banks of the river Don, , and is close to the tennis club ground and the public park, the whole property belonging to the company occupying an area of about five acres.
We first visit the counting house, and then proceed to the picking and sorting sheds, where all the fruit employed is first carefully examined by hand. Here all damaged or inferior sorts are at once rejected, as every material used in manufacturing is invariably of the order of Caesar’s wife, “above suspicion.” From this department the fruits are passed on to the boiling room, a spacious apartment provided with the most improved apparatus for carrying out this important process on the latest principles. The preserving is accomplished by the aid of the finest crushed and pure cane sugars, which are found by experience to be essential to the production of really sound and wholesome jams. From the boiling department the preserves are conveyed on tram lines to the jarring room, where they are put up in vessels of various sizes, and are afterwards delivered over to a staff of deft-handed girls to be labelled and wrapped in the form familiar to purchasers. The manufacture of marmalade is another prominent speciality of the Company’s manufactures.
The water supply, derived from a spring, is of the purest description, and exists in copious quantity for all manufacturing and other purposes, rendering the company independent of water which has been in contact with metallic pipes. Another great advantage in connection with the business is the facility possessed and always exercised by the proprietor of purchasing for cash only the best fruits in exceptionally large quantities. During the season the buying of the freshest and choicest sorts total to many hundreds of tons, the bulk of which is of home production. The preserves are put up in a variety of fancy glass tumblers, goblets, and pint mugs, with and without ornamentation, as well as the more substantial jars of earthenware; the purchaser is thus enabled to obtain an article of utility in addition to the specified weight of jam. The Company has more recently embarked in the manufacture of pickles on an extensive scale. These are prepared from the qualities of fresh picked vegetables and pure malt vinegar, no acetic acid or other deleterious chemical entering into their composition. A department has also been opened for the manufacture of high-class table jellies in solid form, packed in neat card boxes. A most gratifying feature of the arrangements is the all-pervading cleanliness observable in every part of the establishment, coupled with a perfect system of ventilation; abundance of light and perfect sanitation prevails throughout the factory, which, with its pleasant and healthy surroundings might be situated in the heart of the country instead of on the outskirts of one of the busiest industrial centres, in England.
A large number of hands are employed in the several departments, and convincing evidence of the healthiness of their occupation is furnished by their robust and comely appearance. Although there is, of course, the powerful competition of older-established firms to be contended against, the Company has made rapid headway in popular favour with all classes of consumers. The travellers representing the firm make frequent journeys to all parts within a radius of fifty miles, throughout which an extensive and steadily increasing connection has been secured. The writer has the best of reasons for vouching for the excellence of the Company’s productions having applied both to the jams and to the jellies a trial of a gastronomic nature, and that a most satisfactory one, and there can be no doubt about their being equal, and in many instances superior, to many of the more widely advertised brands of other makers. Thanking our courteous guide for placing at our disposal the opportunity of inspecting this well-ordered establishment, we take our leave of the factory, with the reflection that the new field of expertise we have just investigated is full of promise in the future, and is a most interesting addition to the list of Sheffield’s numerous industries.
NOTE: what this article does not mention is that Oxley grew most, if not all of the fruit he needed - and the sugar beet - on his farm at Stocksbridge. He probably used imported fruit when English fruit was not in season.
Thomas Oxley's one-time home at Hillsborough. Taken in about 1959.
Eagle House and the jam factory are highlighted in yellow
Taken in the 1960s or 1970s. There was a very similar eagle at a house at Deepcar by the Italian sculptor Peter Nanetti. It stood there for over 80 years before bring stolen in 1987.
Click on a photograph to enlarge it.
The fruit factory was in the area highlighted in yellow, a short distance beyond Eagle House, where Thomas Oxley lived for a while. I am told that when the first owners moved into the new houses at Hawksley Mews, the gardens were very hard to cultivate because they were deep in jars and glass debris from when it was the jam factory. Incidentally, Hawksley Avenue, which runs off Bradfield Road, was probably named after a local family of that name. One of the Hawksley girls had a fright during the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 when staying with her uncle at Eagle House; the water reached her bedroom floor before she was rescued.
Thomas Oxley opened his jam factory in 1890. He seems to have started out with a jam factory at the Balaclava Works, which was on Balaclava Road (between Infirmary Road and Penistone Road, Hillsborough). An advertisement in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 3 September 1890 advertises workshops to be let at the Balaclava Works, "lately occupied by Thomas Oxley and Prince Sunderland as Pickle and Jam Manufacturers." Prince Morgan Sunderland lived on Infirmary Road at the time. He later had a jeweller's / watchmaker's / optician's shop at 4-6 Infirmary Road and the corner of Flora Street. Thomas Oxley called one of his sons Prince, presumably after his friend, but sadly he died as a baby.
The first reference to the new premises comes in the newspapers of May 1894 when he advertised pasturage to let for four or five cows - "Apply English Fruit Preserving Co., Hillsborough."
In December 1900 the local papers ran the following article which was an Analyst's report on the company:
"London, 11th December 1900. – I hereby certify that I have submitted to very careful analysis and examination samples of the Jams manufactured by the English Fruit Preserving Co., Hillsbro’, Sheffield, more especially with a view to ascertaining whether such were contaminated in any way by the presence of poisonous metals or other deleterious matters. The results obtained prove the complete absence of any such undesirable admixtures, and I consider that every reasonable care has been exercised in their preparation. They are made from sound and wholesome materials, and are of excellent quality. – Granville H. Sharpe, F.C.S., Analyst, late Principal of the Liverpool College of Chemistry."
In March 1906, Mr. Oxley was summonsed to court, along with the Sheffield Steel Rolling Mill Company, for causing a nuisance with black smoke. He asked for a legal definition of black smoke, and was told there wasn't one. Oxley exclained, "It is remarkable. Here we are summoned for emitting black smoke, and there is no legal definition of black smoke. How are we to know where we are?” This line of defence didn't work, and he was told that it was a question of the smoke or fumes being a nuisance. Both firms were fined £3 10s., including costs was imposed.
The firm continued throughout the First World War. In 1917 Oxley applied for a patent:
A New or Improved Food Product, Abstract:
121,355. Oxley, T., (trading as English Fruit Preserving Co.). Dec. 15, 1917. Food preparations.-Beet-root is dried and reduced to powder, crumbs, or shreds, or cut into blocks, slabs, or cubes and then dried. The resulting product may be mixed with cereals and cooked, or may be used as a sweetening-agent in fancy cakes, buns, biscuits, pastry, confectionery, &c. Colouring and flavouring ingredients may be added. A small proportion of sugar may be added and the product crystallized.
An advertisement from the Sheffield Independent newspaper of 8 August 1902. Edward VII reigned from 22 January 1901 until his death in 1910. He was the eldest son of Queen Victoria. This advert refers to his Coronation on 9 August 1902.
From 1900 a series of advertisements appeared in the Sheffield newspapers. Some examples are:
Beyond doubt the English Fruit Preserving Co.’s Jams, Marmalades and Mincemeat are the finest quality. Once used, always used. Moderate prices. To be had of all Grocers. Ask for them.
Now that the American Consul has had his eyes open to the true value of jam, and has reported it to his Government, surely the Sheffield Blades are sharp enough to discover its real worth. Ask for the English Fruit Preserving Co.’s Jams. To be had of all Grocers.
The quality of Sheffield Armour Plates has never been doubted, and everyone who has tried the English Fruit Preserving Co.’s Jams has the same opinion as to quality. Ask your Grocer for them.
Record tram receipts always give satisfaction; so also do the jams made by the English Fruit Preserving Co., which are made from the best fruits, and the quality cannot be beaten.
School children’s treat in Sheffield is indefinitely postponed, but all parents who want a treat and to give their children one also should get the English Fruit Preserving Co.’s Jams.
Viscount Kitchener in Sheffield will be a great draw, and all Sheffielders will welcome him, and the English Fruit Preserving Co.’s Jams are welcomed by all. Ask your grocer for them.
Are the Electric Cars a boon? Most people say yes, and everybody who has tried the English Fruit Preserving Co.’s Jams have the same opinion of them. Ask your grocer for them.
Mr. Chamberlain at the present time appears to be mixed with the sours of life. But all who buy the English Fruit Preserving Co.’s Jams are mixed with the sweets of life. Ask your grocer for them.
Joseph’s dream has been told to his brethren. Whether history will repeat itself, and he will be sold, remains to be seen. But there is no dream about the English Fruit Preserving Co.’s Plum Puddings and Mincemeat. Ask your Grocer for them.
Sheffield Daily Telegraph 29 August 1903
Sheffield Daily Telegraph 6 September 1913
Sheffield Evening Telegraph 7 January 1919
Thomas Oxley died in 1926. He had retired a few years before to the Lancashire coast, and moved to Blackpool about four years before his death. Two of his sons survived him, Leonard and Edgar. Leonard carried on in the business for a while but he sold it [possbly in about 1920] for £8,000 to a partnership consisting of John France Crookall, Walter Shaw and Henry Wheedall. [this sum equates to over £490,000 according to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator]. This venture was not successful, and the partnership was dissolved in 1922. Crookall, who lived in Liverpool and had other produce companies, then ran the English Fruit Preserving Co. himself. However he still couldn't make it pay, and it ran at a loss, and he appeared before the bankruptcy court in 1925. He told the court that in 1920 he had £13,000 capital, which at one time increased to over £15,000, but he had debts of £13,501.
At Crookall's public examination in banckrupcy at Liverpool, the boom in the produce merchandising business following the War, and the subsequent acute slump, were discussed. Crookall attributed his failure to “heavy overhead charges, bad trade since 1922, shortage of capital, depreciation of market values since 1922, and bad debts.”
Incidentally, in 1919 or 1920,had he purchased a fruit farm at Shepley, near Huddersfield, but disposed of it after about a year or eighteen months.
Leonard Oxley went on to run a shop, and Edgar became a wholesale and retail confectioner.
Eagle House, home to Thomas Oxley for a few years, has been demolished, as, I think, have Laurel Villas (which may have been adjacent to Eagle House). A petrol station now stands on the spot. The factory has also gone, although a small corner of it still stands and is currently a showroom. A modern housing estate covers the rest of the site. Moorland rest is still there, but it has lost its distinctive roof and been extended. The houses of Garden Village now stand where once there were fruit bushes and sugar beet.
A side-by-side comparison showing the original corner building of the English Fruit Preserving Company, and the same building now (2019 - image from Google Earth)
A side-by-side comparison. Left: Looking from the original corner building towards what was the Eagle Garage (now Halfords). Eagle House stood to the left of the Eagle Garage; the site of the house is now a petrol station. Right: Eagle House and Eagle Garage. Left photograph taken from Google Earth.