In 1907 four young men set up an enterprise to boil sugar, and make sweets, in Forest Gate - from sugar bought from Henry Tate in Canning Town. They established a company called Robertson and Woodcock on Katherine Road. The four were: Thomas King, a wholesale grocer from Limehouse, William Woodcock, also from Limehouse and a sugar boiler, Robert Robertson, a retail grocer from Canning Town and Sydney Herbert Marks, a sweets salesman from Leytonstone.
Co-founder, Robert Robertson
|Co-founder, William Woodcock|
|Trebor Terrace, predated the building|
of the factory in Katherine Road
|1908 staff photo of Robertson and Woodcock|
|One of first delivery vans for |
Roberston and Woodcock, c 1910
|One of earliest company motor|
vehicles in London c 1915
|Opium-laced product for |
World War 1 soldiers!
The partners registered the name Trebor as a trademark four days after the end of the First World War, which effectively became its new trading name, after the retirement of William Woodcock, who was perhaps more interested in alcohol than sugar.
Sydney Marks, son of one of the firm's founders ,also joined the company that year, on leaving the army, and was to be its driving force for over 50 years. Once sugar rationing ended, trade picked up, and the company quadrupled its workforce in a couple of years - to 60.
Trebor adopted electricity as its power source around 1920, which brought the end to hand production. Marks visited Germany in 1925, amid much criticism of trading with the recent enemy, and returned recommending the firm bought very advanced production equipment from that country.
This revolutionised the business. It considerably improved the capacity of the business and the quality of its output.
One major effect was to enable to company to introduce products from compressed powder, rather than simply boiled sugar, and helped launch and establish the company's two most iconic products - Extra Strong Mints and Refreshers.
|1935 label of consistent number|
1 product: Extra Strong Mints
Not satisfied with the rapidly expanding British market, lead by Marks, the company began to develop its huge export potential. In an extremely innovative step - that almost sounds commonplace today - the company became one of the first to develop "tie in" products to movies. In 1937 they bought the rights from Disney to launch a range of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs sweets, following the launch of the film - for £150! - plus a price per ton on goods sold with the label.
|Early, 1930's "tie-in" product|
Soon, even the doubled size Forest Gate factory wasn't big enough to cope with massive demand, so the firm, again fairly innovatively, took advantage of some inward investment incentives (dare we say sweeteners!) to build a new production facility in Chesterfield, on the site of an old brewery.
Again, with a glance at the future, the company felt the Chesterfield plant would provide a production insurance policy in the case of bombing, expected in WW2.
Just as WW1 had proved a challenge, so did the second World War. The company faced sugar rationing, but fared rather better than most other companies in the industry, for a number of technical reasons, and some aggressive acquisition of other firms, thus being able to acquire their sugar quotas, as part of the takeovers.
The anticipated, and almost inevitable, happened on 18 April 1944, when the Katherine Road premises was hit by a bomb - see photo. Fortunately it was mainly the warehousing, rather than the machinery and production side that was affected, but according to contemporary reports ""Luckily, few people were killed"!
|WW2 bomb damage, note policeman |
guarding premises from "sugar looters"
As we have suggested, the firm was very forward looking, on many fronts, but the directors were extremely hostile to having a trade union presence within it. They could best be described as benign, paternalistic employers - so were an early developer of company pensions schemes for manual workers (1930's), and set up a sickness and death insurance company for employees as well as a forward profit sharing scheme for all staff. They were one of the first UK companies to make major use of external consultants to assist with a whole range of managerial issues, including so called "time and motion" matters.
Their take-over activity gained apace post war, acquiring more than 50 other firms in the late 1940's.
In the early 50's they built a new facility on the site of an old coachworks and warehouse on Woodford Road, Ilford - and established the company HQ - Trebor House, there. It remained so until the firm was taken over by Cadbury's in 1989. By now Forest Gate was a very minor part of an increasingly large British confectionery company.
Following the reconstruction of the Forest Gate premises after the war, after the bomb damage, the building was painted white and the distinctive green 'Trebor Quality Sweets' lettering, that survives today was added to the facade. In 2003 the building was converted into 51 loft-style apartments.
The firm's directors continued to exploit every opportunity to advance the company's standing, and became one of the first confectionery companies to use the new and effective opportunity that TV advertising offered, when ITV was established in the late 1950s'.
Their huge export drive continued after World War ll, and in 1961 the company bought its largest UK competitor, Sharp's Toffees, of Maidstone. The two firms were only formally merged in 1968, to become Trebor-Sharps.
|1960's aerial view of the Forest Gate factory|
In 1978 a £15m major investment was made in a new production facility in Colchester, with a turnover 10 times that of the Katherine Road plant - it was to be the death knell of sweets production in Forest Gate, and the factory closed three years later.
At that time Trebor had 3,000 employees nationwide, at 4 factories and 16 distribution depots. Forest Gate was but a sugar crystal in a large bowl - though unfortunately we do not have details of precisely how large it was, or how many it employed at the time of its closure.
Within seven years of the closure of Forest Gate, Trebor's was sold to Cadbury's for £146m, with its paternalistic owners continuing their tradition of taking care of the workforce, by distributing £20m of that to employees in loyalty payments - upto a year's wages. The gesture came too late, however, for Forest Gate workers to benefit from this final treat.
Cadbury's, themselves, were subsequently taken over by the American food giant Kraft, which in turn has been gobbled up by some faceless hedge fund.
In another sign of how times have changed, in 1936 the very much smaller Trebor outfit produced an astonishingly large range of 452 products, today what's left of the brand produces just four: Extra Strong Mints, Softmints, Softfruits and Extra Strong Mint Gum - which between them, today form a larger share of the UK confectionery market than the 452 lines did 80 years ago.
|Just some of the 450+ |
product range from 1930s
|Trebor factory, Katherine Road|