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THE WORLD FAMOUS BEACH’S JAM

Strawberries ...

In 1851 a young man called Thomas William Beach won prizes for his British Queen Strawberries at Covent Garden, Chiswick Horticultural Society and at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. Some of his fruits weighed in at 4oz each.

He was a member of a large nuclear family living around Heston, Isleworth and Hounslow who were planting many acres of orchards and fruit fields at a time when this was more profitable than general farming.

After the Exhibition there was an article in the Gardener’s Chronicle about him written by James Cuthill who described him as ‘one of those ‘John Bull’ ready-witted class of men’. He said he was dark and sunburnt, somewhere about 22 years of age, and looking altogether as if he had spent a month on the south side of the Rocky Mountains.

He also tells of a visit he made to the 10 acre sloping garden to the west of the River Brent where the prize winning fruit had been grown. This is of interest as it describes how many of the local growers would have been working at the time.

He writes ‘When Mr Beach took this osier ground, for so it was, about five years ago (and there is part in Willows now), he saw that owing to the springs and the two falls of the ground, as well as the texture of the soil being sandy, dark, loamy, soupy, vegetable material, that it would answer the purpose for which he has applied it well.

He took a lease of it and the first thing he did was to make a cart-way on the west upper side throwing up the earth some two feet above the general ground, so that the path where the horse goes is from ten inches to a foot deeper that where the wheels pass along, thus forming water courses all along.’ He was thus irrigating his land from the springs along the cart tracks.

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... and violets, apples, pears, blackcurrants

The article continues ‘The next thing he did was to form his ground into ridges, of about 40 feet wide, running the short way of the square; the centres of these ridges are planted with Pears and Apples, and between with Black Currants all being loaded, especially the Black Currants, with crops as were never seen before.

About three feet from the trees on either side are water courses leading to the bottom of the garden where there is a Mill Stream and on the declivities between the rows of trees are his Strawberries, some five or six rows of which are planted along the two sides of the two feet broad ditches between the ridges. These ditches receive the irrigating water which percolates under the plants down into them.

It is unnecessary to describe the size and strength of the plants as well as the enormous crops they produce. His heaviest ‘Queen’ weighed three ounces; all his plants stand 2ft apart each way.’ This would seem to have been fairly typical in the area where low growing crops were grown under the trees in very well fertilised ground. Mr Beach, according to Mr Cuthill, was also one of the first to grow Russian Violets along both sides of ridges of sandy soil that were in flower early and bore ‘blossoms of abundance’.

It had all apparently been an expensive operation to lay out but it was expected that this investment would be recovered.

Mr Cuthill then went on to advise Mr Beach to try growing Watercress as he had the continual flow of spring water.

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Strawberry jam

It is not recorded whether he tried this, but by 1867 his business must have been doing well as he took a lease on 26 acres called Ealing Road Gardens. This stretched north on either side of Ealing Road, Brentford towards the railway line and beyond and included the site of the present football ground. It was described at the time as ‘quite a rural spot’. He let off some glass house and eventually began making jam in his outbuildings using coke fires as a way of preserving the fruit that could not otherwise be preserved.

Quality jam from soft fruit, at that time, needed to be made within one hour of the fruit arriving in the factory. That to be used later was pulped, part boiled or vacuum stored. Thomas William Beach, however, improved his manufacture using steam pans and discovered the secret of whole fruit jam making and his jam became popular and famous. He then revolutionised the trade by introducing whole fruit without glucose into his 2lb glass and earthenware jars producing what was described as ‘a vastly superior product’.

One of his major outlets was Whitely’s Emporium in Queensway where Beach’s jams were their most expensive range of jam products being in competition with Chivers, Crosse and Blackwells and Coopers.

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Factory and home

The factory was between Walnut Tree and Cressage Roads facing Ealing Road (captured in postcard from 1913). His family home at the corner of the site was Walnut Tree House occupied by his second wife and children of his first and second marriages. This house was later replaced by a large double fronted one with strawberry leaves and fruit carved on the gate posts and appropriately renamed Strawberry Villa.

Mr Beach’s grandsons, who wrote the history of the family business, from which all information here has been obtained, have worked out that the entrance was through a pair of wrought-iron gates with the name ‘Beach’s Jams’ over an arch.

Ranged along both sides of the yard were single storey brick buildings with pantile roofs. They think that the shed at the bottom of the yard was for receiving and picking over the fruit and that there were two vats for making wine from any fruit that was blemished. The other sheds were for labelling, packing storage and despatch.

Behind the house was a large stable with lofts over them for the horses’ feed where six horses and a pony were stabled for pulling the road wagon, vans and a wagonette. Behind the coach house and stable were the boiling and bottling rooms for the manufacture of the jam. A workforce of at least 40 people would have been employed.

A single storey building used as a billiard hall and theatre and a range of outside water closets filled the rear of the yard.

The theatre was a philanthropic gesture by Mr Beach as a means of keeping his workforce out of the many public houses in the area. Admission was one old penny or two empty jam jars. Obviously an early form of recycling. In later years he supplied soup and bread to needy people of the town during bad winters.

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Transport

As well as his own fruit grown near the factory Mr Beach also had good supplies from family members growing in the area but also needed supplies from further afield. His small delivery van pulled by one horse could collect up to a ton of fruit within a 7-mile radius and bottles, jars and supplies from Brentford Dock. It could also deliver preserves to the shops and wholesalers and to Ealing Broadway railway station.

Two horses drew the large road wagon that could carry up to three tons on local journeys. Pulled by a team of Vanners it could also travel long distances and collected fruit as far afield as the Vale of Evesham. These horses could trot at 8mph but averaged 5mph and travelled up to 40 miles a day.

The Wilkins of Tiptree connection

By the 1880s Thomas William Beach had gained a national reputation and was a recognised authority on jam making. The oral history of the Beach family says that Arthur Wilkins of Tiptree, founder of Wilkins of Tiptree and still manufacturing came to him for advice and worked at the Brentford factory for experience. The Wilkins family, however have no record of this.

A family business

The company was established as TW Beach and Sons, two sons from his first marriage and four from his second eventually working in different parts of the business. With the expansion in to manufacturing as opposed to growing in 1883 his eldest son left the family firm and joined the West Middlesex Fruit Growers and Preservers Association Ltd of Strand on the Green and was later cut out of his father’s will.

The eldest son from his second marriage then went to run the factory that the expanding company had established in 1887 at Toddington in Gloucestershire. This was to use the fruit grown on 500 acres at at Lord Sudeley’s nearby Sudeley Castle. Factories were also later established at Evesham and Pershore as buildings covered more of Brentford and fruit growing became more of a country pursuit.

An article in the British Journal of Commerce in 1901 pointed out that the company had, over the years won 17 medals for their excellent product and that one year they had been awarded the only gold medal at the Health Exhibition.

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Twentieth century changes

When Thomas William died in 1902 the firm was at the peak of their prosperity. In 1911 they were proud to note that the Daily Mirror had a picture of the ill-fated Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole with Beach’s jam on their breakfast table.

Mrs Beach died in 1926 and the Brentford factory was sold in 1929. Following this until 1935 TW Beach and Sons made jam at William Whiteley’s factory in Hanworth.

In 1941 the company then operating in Evesham and Pershore was taken over by Unilever and Richmond Sausages were produced at the Evesham factory and jam at a factory in Hereford.

By 1971 the name only appeared on 7lb tins of marmalade and at Beach Court in Evesham. There would appear to be no record in Brentford where this renowned company started although the large willow tree growing near the 65 bus stop in Ealing Road is on the site of Strawberry Villa.

However pleasant memories of the smell of jam and strawberries at the factory were aroused in a long time Brentford resident when I was telling her about the family history that is now deposited in Chiswick Library Local Studies Department.

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Thomas William Beach - the man

The 1851 census shows a 22 year old Thomas Beach, already married and living at 'Nine Mile House' Heston. He was a foreman to his father who, also called Thomas, was a market gardener of 30 acres, employing (difficult to read - could be 20, 26 or just 2) labourers.

Thomas junior was the eldest son living at home and there were five younger brothers, a daughter and Thomas junior's wife Mary Ann in the household. Thomas's wife may have been Mary Ann Bugbee: there is a marriage at St Martin in the Fields registration district in the first quarter of 1851 of a Thomas William Beach; a Mary Ann Bugbee marriage was on the same register page.

By 1861 Thomas junior had moved away from his father's home and was living in Isleworth (near Brazil Mill Lane possibly - a property at this address was included on the same census page): he was a market gardener's salesman. He and Mary Ann had three children: Thomas (9, born Hounslow), Elizabeth (6, born Harmondsworth) and Alfred (one and a half, born Brentford).

Ten years later he had two further children, Eunice, aged 7, and Matthew J., aged 6. His wife Mary Ann had died between the birth of her youngest son and the census date. The family were living in Brentford (St George's parish) and had a live in servant, Emma Gardner, aged 16.

Thomas William married Caroline Amelia Goddard in 1876 in Brentford RD and by 1881 they were living at no. 78 Ealing Road, Brentford. He had three further children, William Arthur (4), Emily Amelia (3) and Ernest Walter (7 weeks), all born in Brentford. The household included two visitors: Sarah Jane and Caroline Goddard, relatives of his wife? The census shows that his new wife, Caroline Amelia, was just 27 and born in Mortlake. Thomas's occupation was recorded as 'market gardener of 7 acres employing 3 hands'. No mention of 'jam' as yet.

In 1891 the family, with an additional son, Herbert H, aged 5, was living at 34 Ealing Road. Whether they had moved from no. 78 since 1881 or whether a road re-numbering resulted in the change of house no. is not clear. In this census Thomas William is recorded as 'Jam manufacturer'. His mother in law, Caroline Goddard (at age 70 just 8 years his senior) was living with the family, as was Sarah J Jones, sister-in-law.

Thomas William was 72 in 1901, but still working: the census shows him and his family still at 34 Ealing Road, his occupation 'Manager Jam Factory' although he is recorded as a 'worker' rather than an 'employee'. His second wife had provided two further children, Harold Sydney (8) and Eliza Jane (7). Sons Ernest & Herbert were assistant cashier and assistant clerk - possibly in the family business?

Following Thomas's death in 1902, his wife Caroline lived another 24 years, she died in Brentford in 1926 aged 72.

Bibliography

"TW Beach & Sons, Jam Manufacturers" by Leslie and Bob Beach (contact Chiswick Library for more information)
FreeBMD web site
ancestry.co.uk web site

Author

Janet McNamara

First published in Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society Journal 9 in 2000: www.brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk

Published here 2008; updated December 2010

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