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  Exploring Southwark and discovering its history

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Hartley's Jam Factory

Jam Factory

The Jam Factory is a popular development just off Tower Bridge Road, a successful conversion and renovation of an abandoned factory.   The factory was built in 1901 by Hartley’s Jam and, with this increased production facility, the company became the largest selling brand of jams within the UK.


William Pickles Hartley was born in Colne, Lancashire in 1846.  He was the son of modest-sized grocers who instilled in him the values of Primitive Methodism which, though he was very ambitious, were to influence his business methods throughout his life. He went into jam manufacture almost by accident.  

After leaving school, he became a food wholesaler and, when an order for jam he had placed failed to be delivered, he decided to make it himself so his customers were not disappointed. At the time, food adulteration was rife, with jams bulked out with turnips and carrots, but William Hartley declared right from the start that his jams would contain nothing but fruit and sugar.  Jam was popular with the poor as it added taste and sweetness to the staple food of bread that was cheaper than butter.  


Hartley’s Jams became popular and full time production of the jam started in 1871 in Colne. He later moved production to Bootle and in 1886 moved to new premises in Aintree, in what was the middle of the country.  A model village for key employees was built adjacent to the new factory with street names that included Plum Street, Pear Street, Red Currant Court and Cherry Row.  As well as the standard range jams including strawberry, raspberry and blackcurrant, marmalade and jellies were added to the range.


Hartley was a workaholic and was constantly busy, with both his jam manufacturing business and extensive philanthropic works.  From the outset, he gave away 10% of his income to religious and charitable causes which increased over the years to 30%.  Such endless activity led to health problems and in his early 40s he was advised to cut down on his workload.  This he tried to do, but like many an ambitious man, it was not in his nature to take things easy, and his ambition remained undiluted.  


Hartley's Jams were popular in the north of England and Scotland, and gradually word spread to the south of England.  The company received enquiries from customers in the south about where they may obtain Hartley’s Jams.  Though the company had agents in the south, without a presence in the region, they were unable to obtain full market coverage.  So despite medical instructions to cut back on his workload, in 1899 William Hartley purchased a former leather tannery and linoleum factory in Green Walk, Bermondsey which were demolished and a new factory built at a cost of £100,000 (£5 million in today’s money). The factory opened in 1901 and initially there was just one production block.  A further block was added in 1908 and a third in 1913.  Sugar was transported by lighter from Tate’s refinery along the river at Silvertown to Hartley’s own wharf close to the new factory opposite the Tower of London.  At the opening of the factory, William Hartley told reporters “Hartley’s makes only one quality – the best.”


Bermondsey had become known as London’s Larder, not just for food processing and manufacturing but also because the huge warehouses alongside and close to the river stored raw ingredients.  Already there were other companies manufacturing jam in the area including Charles Southwell at Dockhead, E&T Pink at Staple Street and Thomas Lipton in Rouel Road.  But Hartley’s strategy paid off and, though difficult at first, had within a few years become the largest manufacturer of jam in the country.  The Hartley factory in Bermondsey was a major employer in the area.


William and his wife Martha had one surviving son and five daughters.  The son, John William known as Will, was appointed to run the Bermondsey factory but did not have the same commercial acumen as his father and did not enjoy the best of health, and during absence due to sickness, William, still unable to cut down on his workload, had to stand in.  


Hartley’s Jams were benevolent employers and paid their workers more than the union minimum, indeed there was no union within the company as the employees felt there was no need for one.  The workers received a share of the profits and benefitted from a pension scheme, a benevolent fund, sickness pay and convalescent treatment.  A doctor visited the factory twice a week.  A Social and Welfare Club was established in 1927 with charabanc outings to Margate, dances and social evenings organised.  Dances were particularly popular, leading to romantic opportunities that resulted in a number of marriages over the years.


William Hartley died in 1922 at the age of 76, a good age despite years of ill health.  His son Will died 9 months later.  William’s son-in-law John Higham started to work at the factory in Aintree in 1919 and became Chairman upon William’s death.  By the mid 1920s, five of William’s grandsons were working in the company and upon John Higham’s death, William’s daughter Christiana, then aged 61, became Chairman.  Hartley’s  Jams became a public company in 1936 with Christiana and William’s five grandsons as directors along with Francis Dickens who was also a director of the District Bank.


World War II was tough for Hartley’s Jams with shortages of fruit and sugar, transport restrictions and rationing.  For the first and only time, the company had no option but to use pulped fruit in their products.  On 8 January 1941, a bomb exploded between the factory shelter and one of the warehouses that killed four people, seriously wounded 23 and gave minor injuries to a further 37.  


Christiana died in 1948 and William’s five grandsons were reaching the age of retirement. They were hoping that the next generation would take over the running of the business but there was no interest forthcoming.  Schweppes who had a factory opposite the Hartley Factory in Aintree were eyeing up Hartley’s and made an offer to buy the company which was accepted in 1959.  Production at the Bermondsey factory ended in 1962 and became a distribution depot but closed in 1975.  The factory in Bermondsey escaped demolition, the factory in Aintree was not so fortunate.


The ownership of the Hartley Brand has changed several times as companies have merged and/or been taken over and/or parts of companies sold but at present is owned by an American company Hain Celestial who bought the brand in 2012 from Premier Foods.  


For a long time, the factory in Bermondsey was empty and abandoned, and fell into a state of disrepair. For for a short while it was used as short term light-industrial and office space. The factory was purchased by property developers in 1999 who renovated the three existing buildings and added glass penthouses on top, and built two further blocks.  The factory chimney still stands with the word HARTLEY spelt out, and remains as one of the few signs of Bermondsey’s food manufacturing past.


Source:  Bittersweet (2011) by Nicholas Hartley, William Hartley’s Great Great Grandson