Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
The huge former Crosse and Blackwell factory is locked into an area bordered by Grange Road, Crimscott Street, Willow Walk and the former Alaska factory. Now called the Rich Industrial Estate, the strictly utilitarian buildings are presently used as studios, galleries and for storage. A planning application has been approved for a scheme to demolish existing buildings, construct new buildings and refurbish existing to create commercial, retail and storage space, an art gallery and 406 residential units.
The Crosse and Blackwell premises are part of Bermondsey’s food processing heritage though Crosse and Blackwell were only in production on the site for a comparatively short time, from the middle of the 1920s to the end of the 1960s. Hidden within the story of Crosse and Blackwell is the story of another company that preceded it who had ties with the area dating back to the middle of the 19th century.
The fortunes of E Lazenby & Sons were founded at the end of the 18th century upon a secret recipe for a piquant sauce. It was devised by Peter Harvey, an innkeeper in Bedfont, who presented the recipe to his daughter Elizabeth, though some say she was his sister, upon her marriage to John Lazenby. Elizabeth Lazenby started a small business from her home near Portman Square and the sauce she made became very popular. Sold as Harvey’s Sauce, it became a household name and was even an ingredient in some of Mrs Beeton’s recipes. The recipe was kept secret but is thought to have been made from anchovies, vinegar, wine, soy sauce, mushroom and walnut ketchups, garlic and cayenne pepper. The sauce had its imitators and counterfeiters which prompted Elizabeth to write to The Times in August 1815:
“ONE HUNDRED POUNDS. Whereas some unprincipled person has daringly affixed my signature to a copper-plate lab el for HARVEY’S FISH SAUCE and as such a fraudulent proceeding must greatly hurt the sale and credit of the genuine article, Ihereby offer a REWARD OF ONE HUNDRED POUNDS to be paid upon conviction of any one who may practise such an imposition after this public notice.
(Signed) ELIZ. LAZENBY”
Business was very good and other products, such as pickles, were added to the range. By 1861 they had acquired a factory in Trinity Street, Borough, which was located behind the backs of the houses between Trinity and Merrick Squares. They also acquired land in Crimscott Street, used initially for stabling and storage accommodation, but in about 1895 new buildings were erected there to accommodate the still expanding business. The company liked to think of these buildings as gigantic kitchens rather than factories, staffed by carvers and cooks rather than mechanics and machine minders.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the sauce was rebranded and sold under the name of Lazenby’s sauce. Walter Lazenby, one of Elizabeth's descendents, was credited with the expansion of the company at home as well as the increase in overseas sales and, at the time of his death in 1910, the firm had 600 employees. Walter had five sons and five daughters and in 1873 moved from Clapham into a large house he had built on College Road, Dulwich. Later he moved into another, larger house in Sydenham Hill, now a nursing home.
Image to right: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Nine years after Walter’s death, E Lazenby & Co was amalgamated into Crosse and Blackwell, along with James Keiller of Dundee. The Times dated 13 January 1919 described the merger as a “fusion”. Crosse and Blackwell had the controlling interest but it was said that each company would retain its complete individuality, and continue to manufacture independently the various specialities associated with the individual companies. Members of the Lazenby family held positions on the board.
Crosse and Blackwell were a large concern started in 1830 when Edmund Crosse and Thomas Blackwell, two friends who were apprentices, bought West and Wyatt, the company they were apprenticed to. As Crosse and Blackwell, they produced pickles, condiments, preserves, jam, bottled fruit and vegetables, and potted meat. Their output was huge and in 1868 it was estimated they produced a quarter of the jam consumed in London. They had a large export market, the countries they exported to the most were India, Australia and China.
Having “fused” with E Lazenby & Son and James Keiller in 1919, Crosse and Blackwell established factories overseas and by 1930 had establishments in Hamburg, Paris, Buenos Aires, Toronto, Brussels and Baltimore. They also acquired a former gun factory in the village of Branston just outside Burton on Trent and vacated their factory and warehouses in Soho. In 1922 they began production of the renowned Branston Pickle at their new factory. However, the investment in this factory was a disaster economically and two years later they were counting the cost. They closed the factory and moved production to the E Lazenby & Sons’ site in Crimscott Street, Bermondsey.
To accommodate this, a new building had been completed in 1924 and referred to as the “great addition” and a further building completed in 1926. These changes had meant the entire reorganization of Lazenby’s factory lay-out, and the factory in Trinity Street was closed. The Trinity Street factory was badly damaged in World War II and in 1955 only the ground floor front wall with a long arcade of windows remained. A row of houses that form a gated street called Bedford Row was built on the site in 2008/2009.
Left: An advert that appeared in The Times in 1928
Crosse and Blackwell were acquired by Nestle in 1960 but the Bermondsey factory continued in operation until 1969. Other takeovers have taken place since but the brand of Crosse and Blackwell remains strong. I can however find no trace for the brand of E Lazenby & Co after the time Nestle took over so I’m guessing the brand was absorbed into that of Crosse and Blackwell. The one exception is Lazenby’s Sauce which is available in South Africa, manufactured by Maggi, once part of the Nestle group.
The new scheme for the former Crosse and Blackwell factory consists of six major buildings provisionally named the Tanner, the Crosse, the Blackwell, the Hide, the Pickle Factory and the Canning. It would be a shame if the Lazenby heritage is completely forgotten – perhaps one of the buildings could be named the Lazenby?