Ref NoGB1752.CON
Alt Ref NoOFR:
Acc No2018-142
LevelCollection
TitleColman's of Norwich
DescriptionThis collection comprises the records of J&J Colman Ltd of Norwich, which later became Colman Foods, part of Reckitt and Colman plc. This was renamed Colman's of Norwich, and the brand name now continues as part of the Unilever UK portfolio.

In 1804 Jeremiah Colman transferred his flour milling business from Bawburgh, near Norwich, to Jeckall's windmill close to Magdalen Gates in the city itself. In 1814 the business moved to a water mill on the river Tas at Stoke Holy Cross, four miles south of Norwich. Here he took over the existing flour and mustard milling business formerly conducted by Edward Ames. In 1823 Jeremiah took his nephew James, into partnership in his new firm J. & J. Colman.

As well as mustard and flour, starch, made initially from wheat, was also produced at Stoke. In the early 1840's rice was substituted for wheat, and Colman's No. 1 Patent Rice Starch looked set to become as famous as their mustard. Experiments also took place with laundry blue and a small trade was established.

Hours of work were long - 6am till 6pm - but jobs in the factory were much sought after as there were many benefits provided by the Colman family for their workers including a school for local children, a clothing club, and many leisure activities. So successful was the business becoming that in 1836 a London Branch was set up in Cannon Street, and by the mid 1850's J. & J. Colman employed around 200 people.

Partly because the lease on the factory site at Stoke was due to expire, it was decided to move the entire operation to Norwich. Land purchased from the Norfolk Railway Company at Carrow, just outside the old city walls, provided an excellent location. One of the first buildings to appear on the Carrow site was the Mustard Mill built in 1854. The transfer of the business was finally completed in 1862.

Around 1855 the Bull's Head logo was adopted as the firm's trademark helping to link the Colman name with mustard. A Special Warrant as Manufacturers to Her Majesty was granted by Queen Victoria in 1866.

Following the deaths of his great uncle Jeremiah (1851) and his father James (1854), young Jeremiah James Colman found himself head of the firm. Jeremiah James soon became a well-known and much respected local figure, being a leading Nonconformist, and a Liberal MP for 24 years.

Not only was the Carrow site well supplied with labour, but the nearby river and the railway sidings provided direct trading links with both Yarmouth and London. Communications were improved even further in 1872 with the installation of a private telegraph wire connected to the London offices. This wire was used in experiments in the country's first long-distance telephone call in 1878.

In 1864 almost twenty years before even elementary education was made compulsory by Parliament, Jeremiah James and Caroline Colman built and subsidised a school close to the works for the children of Carrow employees. A kitchen was set up in 1868 to provide hot meals at affordable prices almost half a century before staff canteens became the accepted norm.

In 1878 Phillippa Flowerday, one of the very first industrial nurses, was appointed to assist the company doctor in the dispensary and to visit the sick in their own homes.
Following a disastrous fire in 1881, the Carrow Fire Brigade was reorganised and a new more efficient engine purchased to help protect both people and property at Carrow. Other benefits of working at Carrow included adult education classes, outings, subsidised housing, a savings bank, and even a home for single girls.

In 1903, two years before J. & J. Colman, by then a limited company, celebrated their centenary, a major acquisition took place with the purchase of the rival firm Keen Robinson & Co. for the sake of their mustard and spice trade. Keen & Son, founded in 1742, had made their mustard a household name, hence the phrase "keen as mustard". In 1862 they had amalgamated with another old established firm, Robinson & Belville, well known for the manufacture of Patent Barley and Groats.

As a result of their take-over of Keen's, therefore, J&J. Colman Ltd found themselves the largest manufacturer of infant and invalid food in the country. Patent Barley, sold in powder form to which boiling water was added, was the Victorian cure-all for fevers and kidney complaints. Patent Groats, made from oat kernels, was a widely used infant and invalid food approved by Queen Victoria and William IV. Oatmeal and Groats were despatched by Robinson & Belville "to help sustain our gallant army in the Crimea".
Production of Patent Barley and Groats continued at Keen's London factory until it was transferred to Norwich in 1925. Three years later the popular character Old Hethers was devised by the advertising agency Vernons to help promote barley water. Soon, experiments were being carried out to produce a lemon flavoured barley drink, and in 1936 Robinson's ready-to-use barley water was launched.

This policy of acquisition continued with the purchase of two small mustard manufacturers, Barringer, Wallis & Manners and Moss Rimmington & Co. Of far greater importance was the amalgamation with Joseph Farrow & Co. of Peterborough which resulted in the addition of more new products to the Colman range.

Another highly successful partnership, that between J&J Colman and rival starch makers Reckitt & Sons of Hull, was formalised in 1938. In 1913 the two competitors J&J Colman and Reckitt & Sons had pooled their South American business under a joint company called Atlantis Limited. This agreement was extended in 1921 to cover all their overseas trade interests. This led to the formation of Reckitt & Colman Ltd in 1938 to hold and manage all the trading activities of Reckitt and Sons and J&J Colman, although the two parents retained their separate identities and Stock Exchange quotations. Reckitt and Sons and J&J Colman finally merged in 1954 to form Reckitt and Colman Holdings Ltd.

In 1968 the old established firm of Coleman & Co. Ltd, makers of the famous tonic wine Wincarnis and importers of other fine wines, was acquired and remained part of the Reckitt and Colman group until 1988. Ironically, this was the second time the company had been taken over by Colman's, the first occasion being in 1874 to avoid confusion over the similarity of the names. Another famous brand to come under the Colman umbrella in the 1960's was OK Sauce made by George Mason & Co. Ltd.

In 1973 the firm celebrated 150 years of business since the first partnership, and to commemorate the occasion opened the Mustard Shop in Bridewell Alley, Norwich, which has become a firmly established tourist attraction.

In 1995 Colman's was bought by Unilever, and became part of the Van den Bergh Food Group. In January 2001 Van den Bergh Foods merged with Bestoods UK Ltd to form Unilever Bestfoods Ltd. Material relating to the Colman brand from this date will therefore be found in the Unilever Bestfoods collection (UBF) shortly to be created.

This collection comprises the statutory records of J& J Colman and it's successors, as well as financial, legal, research and development and some production records. There is also a wide range of packaging, and of particular interest are the pictorial tins which were produced from the 1880s to 1939. Also of interest are the deeds relating to former Colman properties in the Norwich area. These were originally deposited with Norfolk Record Office, but were withdrawn as it was discovered that they were part of a series of legal documents held by Unilever Archives. They can however still be searched using the Norfolk Record Office catalogue, ref BR61, as these references will also be integrated into the catalogue entries. There is little advertising material, presumably because the advertising department was bombed during the war. However, the small series of posters and adverts is supplemented by the advertisements featured in the collection of children's booklets which were published by Colman's to promote their products.

For information about the collection email archives@unilever.com
Date1294 - 1995
Access StatusOpen
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