History On My Doorstep, Part 2
This is the conclusion of the second piece from Di Murrell and the last of her guest blogs. If you missed the first part of History On My Doorstep, catch up here.
Britain was the first modern consumer society and whilst it was not defined as such then, Whiteley knew in his bones what that meant. He understood the changing mindset of the people he served. Unlike today where we place greater value upon jams and pickles handmade at home, the reverse was true then. Preserves that once took time to make in country kitchens, that were essential items to seeing people through the winter months, could now be bought on a weekly basis from a manufacturer of quality produce – the Royal Warrant guaranteed it; what was good enough for royalty was surely good enough for the upwardly mobile. To be able to purchase such items readymade was an indication of one’s status, one’s standing in society. The middle-class wife showed off her husband’s financial success by stocking her home with material possessions – what has been called the ‘paraphernalia of gentility’; in her kitchen and at her table displays of shop-bought consumables demonstrated her social superiority. Equally the very types of products – such as those advertised on the Twickenham wall – the soups, the broths, the jellies and invalid specialities suggest that the purchaser is of a refined nature, has a more delicate constitution than most, so needed, and indeed could afford, those delicacies designed to revive a jaded palate.
When William Whiteley decided to expand his empire and invest in the timely building of a model farm, he chose the rural county of Middlesex, long since home to numerous small market gardeners. His impact upon the quiet hamlet of Hanworth was formidable. The location had been carefully chosen. Within 12 miles of the Bayswater shop, his farms could supply finished products for the store’s food hall, delivered throughout the day by a succession of horse-drawn carts, no more than two hours door to door. Though now only the contours of the land remain, all but obliterated beneath the huge Waites estates built during the 1930’s and with the Great Chertsey Road cutting a great swathe across country, this region was once, not so long ago, a bucolic landscape studded with orchards, market gardens and farmland. Today the only reminders are contained in the names of the streets of houses that now cover the land: Butts Close, Butts Crescent, Glebe Way – the names of the two farms William purchased for his own new enterprise in 1891. Then, the economy of the Middlesex countryside was dominated by the need to feed London’s expanding population.
By 1891 the traditional route into London via the Thames had long been supplanted by the London and South Western Railway. The railway now brought grain for bread and brewing from much further afield, while those areas closest to London concentrated on the business of growing fresh fruit and seasonal vegetables. Farms were being turned into market gardens, nurseries and orchards, and farmers becoming horticulturalists. When the railway opened in 1848 the local nurserymen and gardeners had a ready route to speed their more vulnerable produce to market. The difference, however, between William Whiteley and his fellow horticulturalists was that William understood the concept of ‘added value’; of not only growing the food but also the logistics of setting up a manufactory close by, which could process and turn the food grown into finished goods, with no middle men involved.
Jarred, bottled and canned foods had become largely the prerogative of the grocer rather than the home cook once the science of food preservation became better understood and could be applied on a grand scale – initially, to the feeding of fighting forces. The age of modern canning techniques arrived when in 1806, Nicholas Appert, a French confectioner, devised an improved method for practical food preservation. He was rewarded with the sum of 12,000 francs by the French government. His process contained four steps: 1. Place the item in containers for processing. 2. Cork or seal the container. 3. Place the filled containers in a hot water bath; cooking time to be determined by the contents. 4. Remove the processed containers from the hot water bath and cool.
All sorts of foods could be contained and processed in this way: beef, mutton, veal, poultry, fish, game, soups, vegetables, broths, creams, and custards. In fact, his four simple steps still remain the basis of processing today. Crucially, his methodology allowed preserved foods to be produced on a large scale, thus opening the way for the William Whiteleys of the day to move simple food processing away from the home kitchen and into the factory. Automation was a term coined in the 1940s, factory farming was still unknown, food conveyor belts had yet to be invented. In the 1890s food producers and manufacturers still needed huge numbers of men and women to work the long hours required to prepare the products.
Now with more than 200 acres of highest quality arable farmland at his disposal William set about building the quintessential ‘model farm’. The land was divided into three areas, one for vegetables and two for fruit. Fruits grown included peaches, nectarines and quince with 30 acres alone given over to strawberries. He even grew mushrooms. The vegetable gardens covered another 40 acres. There were greenhouses for tomatoes. There were hothouses, an apiary, a pig farm, cowsheds and a dairy, poultry houses, a pigeon aviary, a rabbit warren and even kennels for breeding dogs.
The farm was completely encircled by a 6’ high galvanised iron fence which stretched for five miles and within its confines were several blocks of factory buildings where he processed his jams and preserves, potted meats, soups, pickles, sauces, jellies and syrups. He built houses for some 400 of his staff: two streets of cottages and several terraces of villas for his permanent labourers; dormitories with kitchens, baths and a dining room that could seat 200 people, for the seasonal farm workers; a spacious bungalow for himself; a church and meeting hall. (It is upon the end wall of one of the few surviving dwellings that his advertisement was painted). Whilst all of this could be viewed as a wholly generous and benevolent act aimed at promoting the welfare of his workers, it was, at the same time, a hard-headed business undertaking. It gave him control over his work-force, keeping his labour on site and available to work the long hours that he demanded. He described himself as a pioneer applying, ‘scientific principles and up-to-date methods’, converting his farms into ‘an integrated industrial enterprise’ and creating ‘an exemplification of the factory system applied to agriculture’, yet the whole undertaking, given the character of the man, smacks of someone with an obsessive desire for power; here creating his own fiefdom and as the esteemed provider of goods to the Royal Household, William Whiteley believes he has become lord of all he surveys.
Nevertheless, even though one might question Whiteley’s motives in setting up his farm and processing plant, what marks it out for special attention is that it occurred at that point during the Industrial Revolution when these new factories still owed much to the techniques for processing and preserving foods normally only found in the private kitchens of the landed classes and in the homes of the better off. Though beginning to move rapidly beyond this form of home cooking, production still depended upon not only the labourers and gardeners associated with raising the produce but also the cooks in the kitchens. Some elements adapted more easily to the industrial process than others. Bottling, canning and preserving could now be done with almost factory like precision. However, preparation of all the food continued to be done by hand and chefs employed to oversee the long hours of slow cooking that were still required.
To turn such procedures into a factory-based mechanised activity was the goal. This was the moment when new ways of dealing with age-old processes were being conceived. Inventiveness was the key; by removing cooking operations from the confines of the domestic kitchen and exposing them to study, machinery could be devised to do the work of man.
In 1895 William commissioned a book, a handsome volume, fulsome in its praise of all things Whiteleyian. It contained over 140 photographs ranging from those of happy bands of fruit pickers, mostly attractive young ladies wearing straw boaters, fashionably dressed in voluminous dresses with mutton-chop sleeves, to pictures covering every aspect of the workings of the model farm and all the activities in the factory.
Men are shown in the blacksmith’s shop, in the stables looking after the horses, and driving the dozens of wagons loaded with tinned meat and soups for the shop. In the kitchen, which seems largely to have been the domain of male chefs, the boiling of soups in huge vats is carried out on a much grander scale than would ever be found in a provincial kitchen but the tasks of preparing the vegetables, the chopping of ingredients and the methodology of cooking was not, as yet, much different, other than the use of larger cooking vessels and the considerable number of extra people engaged in the work.
One photograph shows a roomful of young ladies whose job it was to peel the plums to be bottled after removing them, by hand, from the boiling water in which they were cooked. A bowl of cold water was kept nearby to plunge their scalded fingers into. Hot jam was ladled into pots from huge cooking pans and each pot corked by hand with the aid of a jam jar corking machine. The half dozen young women gathered round each machine made up a crude assembly line as they arranged the jars, handed them to the person engaged in the actual corking, then removing them on to be labelled and packed in wicker hampers ready for delivery.
The fruit strigging machine, like the jam jar corking machine, was a weird contraption of pulleys, wheels and levers, huge in comparison to the job it was designed for – that of removing the little stalks from soft fruits.
The text of the book is nauseatingly fawning: ‘As we gazed with admiration at the forest of fruit trees that have sprung up under Mr Whiteley’s magic wand, and saw them under their most advantageous dress, pendant with their beauteous burdens, and cast our eyes along the acres of vegetables of every variety in their cheerful verdure, all so productive and flourishing, it seemed impossible to believe that one man alone had been instrumental in contributing to this happy sight’.
It goes on to describe a garden of Eden where workmen were ‘pictures of propriety’; the women ‘equally admirable’ and of a ‘superior class’; his products are ‘expensive fruit dainties’ and ‘trembling jellies’; lemon squash an ‘ambrosial drink’; his beef tea lozenges were made from ‘the finest quality beef boiled in beef tea and set with gelatin’. The writer states, ‘We are informed that a box of these nutritious tablets will keep a man alive for a week’.
The author of the book, one Alfred Barnard, was a brewing and distilling historian earning his living primarily by commissions from various distilling companies to produce promotional pamphlets. It is easy to imagine how William might have prevailed upon him to write such a testimony in praise of himself and his achievements. 50,000 copies of this self-published book were printed, for sale at 5 shillings each. There turned out to be few takers and it is known that William made a loss on this particular project.
This is not the place to pass judgement upon the character of the man, though he was never to achieve the respect that accrued to the Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree families; their Quaker based philanthropy stemmed from a genuine desire to improve the lives of the poorer classes. Whiteley’s appeared to be simply to improve his own.
His story resides, well and truly, beneath the heading of ‘little’ history. Yet it does offer, in microcosm, real insight into how a developing class system and the rise of the self-made man during a period of huge technical advancement served as some of the drivers for the ‘big’ one – the Industrial Revolution. By tracking that ‘little’ history I learned so much about the place where I now live and came to understand in a far more visceral way just how it was we got from there to here.
William, too, might be gratified to learn that, apart from being murdered, he did achieve some kind of lasting recognition, if only in a few words on a wall next to a DIY superstore.
Preserves from a Victorian Kitchen
Gravies, sauces and pickles were ‘de rigueur’, probably to add spice to dishes that might have otherwise been of a rather dull flavour. Here is a Victorian housewife’s take on Worcestershire Sauce.
‘Take two tablespoonfuls of mushroom catsup, two ditto walnut catsup and two ditto treacle, one table spoonful of Soy, (from the beans of Soja hispida 1696), one eighth of an ounce of cayenne pepper, and three heads of pounded garlic. Put into a quart wine bottle and fill with vinegar. Shake two or three times a day.’
Another spicy condiment is called Chitney Sauce [sic] and is made from apples, tomatoes, radishes, salt and brown sugar, (8 oz each), garlic and shallots, (2 oz each). ‘Pound separately, add 1 oz cayenne pepper and 4 oz pounded ginger and add three quarts of vinegar. Boil for fifteen minutes and the strain off the vinegar till you think the pulp is of the right consistency. Put the latter into jars and the vinegar into wine bottles.’
Fruit was peeled, stoned and boiled but the stones and peel were treated separately and added to the fruit. As for instance in the Apricot recipe. ‘Gather the finest apricots when near ripe, pare them and cut in halves. Break the stones and pour boiling water over the kernels and put them to the fruit. Boil the parings in a little water as will just cover them, let it boil a quarter of an hour, strain it. To 1b of apricots thus prepared strew over them 14 oz of loaf sugar, let it stand till the next day, then add a small glass of the water the parings were boiled in. Boil it over a quick fire till thick, stir all the time, take it off before the colour changes, put into pots and when cold put white paper dipped in the best salad oil and tie over with bladder.’
- Middle Classes: Their Rise and Sprawl by Dr. Simon Gunn and Rachel Bell. Pub: Hachette UK 2011
- Paradise Lost: Rural Idyll and Social Change Since 1800 by Jeremy Berchardt. Pub: I.B.Taurus 2002
- Suburbia – an article by Mathew Taunton pub. 2014
- Waste Not Want Not: Food Preservation in Britain from Early Times to the Present Day. Edited by C.Anne Wilson 1991 Pub: Edinburgh University Press.
- Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Trends in Food Preserving: Frugality, Nutrition or Luxury by Lynette Hunter
- Orchards & Gardens, Ancient & Modern with a Description of The Orchards, Gardens, Model Farms & Factories Owned by Mr William Whiteley, of Westbourne Grove, London by Alfred Barnard 1895
- Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management 1861
- Whiteley’s Folly: The Life and Death of a Salesman by Linda Stratmann. Published by Sutton Publishing 2004
- With kind permission from John Burman, to use recipes taken from his ancestor’s, Harriet Louisa Hawkes, unpublished cookery book.
Written by Di Murrell.
We hope you’ve been as fascinated by these guest blogs as we have! We’d like to thank Di for allowing us to host her writing (and images) on this blog, and for teaching us all something about the history of food in the Borough.