Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
One of the most prominent reminders of East London’s industrial past is the Spratt’s Patent factory alongside the canal in Poplar. Now expensive apartments, it covers a large area and was famous for the production of Spratt’s Patent dog biscuits. But before the Poplar factory was built at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, Spratt’s factory was located in Bermondsey, next to the railway viaduct near Bermondsey Street, in Henry Street, now called Holyrood Street.
From the 1878 Ordnance Survey Map - click for clearer image
The international pet food empire was started in around 1860 by James Spratt in London. He was born in Cincinnati in the US and was an electrician. He arrived in England to sell lightning rods and, so one story goes, saw stray dogs feeding off discarded, inedible ships’ biscuits at the docks. He decided there was a market in this and developed his own ‘meat fibrine dog cakes’, made from a mixture of blended wheat products, vegetables, beetroot and meat and then baked. He was always secretive about the source of the meat that went into the biscuits, but, when the first billboard was erected on a London shop, it featured a scene set in America where Indians hunted bison, suggesting it was a source of the meat for Spratt’s dog biscuits. But perhaps the source of the meat content of the biscuits was closer to home and may be revealed by examining the first factory’s location in the heart of London’s tanning industry where there was easy access to those parts of a carcass (feet, bones, cartilage, horns etc) surplus to the meat and tanning trades.
Working men fed their dogs on scraps and left-overs and could not afford specially manufactured animal food so James Spratt, aimed his advertising at the upper classes and gentlemen to feed their hunting dogs. The company expanded its range and in 1876 trademarks were registered for dog biscuits, dog soap and other preparations for animal food. Later, an eye-catching logo was devised where the letters S-P-R-A-T-T-S were arranged in such a way to form an outline of various breeds of dogs and later, when cat and bird food were introduced into the range, into the outline of a cat and a bird.
Many accounts of the history of Spratt’s Patent Dog Biscuits record how the biscuits themselves were made by Walker, Harrison and Garthwaite, another manufacturer of dog biscuits. This is a little baffling as street directories record Spratt’s Patent Ltd had their own factories. In directories dated 1882 and 1890 these are shown to be at Henry Street, Bermondsey and in 1908, after the Henry Street factory had been demolished, in Morris Road, Poplar which continued production until it closed in 1969. Walker, Harrison and Garthwaite’s factory was listed separately at Phoenix Works, Ratcliffe Cross. Perhaps Walker, Harrison and Garthwaite just produced the first batches of the dog biscuits while Spratt set up his factory in Henry Street.
Spratt’s Patent Ltd was acquired by Spillers in 1960, which in turn was acquired by Dalgety in 1979, which in turn was acquired by Nestle in 1988. Twenty years later, the Spratt brand was discontinued.
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