London Shoes received an e-mail last week from one of its followers in Australia, who enquired as to whether I knew anything about the old sweet factory that used to be located in Forest Gate–London E7 – as his grandfather had once worked there, and as a child, he remembers his grandad telling him countless stories about the place and the process of sweet making, back in the old days.
Now – I know the Forest Gate area very well indeed, having grown up just a mile or so down the road in Ilford, but I didn’t know anything about this sweet factory being referred
to – and so I thought I would do a little bit of research to see what I could come up with – and what an interesting ‘find’ it turned out to be.
So – this week’s publication onto the London Shoes website-Facebook & Twitter feed is all about the history of the old ‘Trebor’ sweet factory in Forest Gate–London E7.
I unearthed so much interesting historic stuff whilst researching this particular article that I have enough material to publish a history of Forest Gate blog in its own right – so I have now added that topic to my ever increasing ‘To Do List’, so watch-this-space for that one, coming up soon.
So – returning to this ‘sweet factory’ enquiry I received from Oz – my research (mostly referencing the excellent ‘The Trebor Story’-www.e7nowandthen.org) uncovered the following.
In 1907 a group of 4 east London ‘sweet makers’ got together to form a business manufacturing confectionary – and to do this they built a factory on the corner of Katherine Road & Shaftsbury Road in Forest Gate–London E7.
The business initially traded as ‘Robertson & Woodcock’ (the names of 2 of the founders) – and it would buy sugar from the massive Tate & Lyle foundry in nearby Canning Town – then transport it to their factory in Forest Gate, where the sugar would be boiled-up to make the confectionary on-site.
In 1915 ‘Robertson & Woodcock’ became one of the very first manufacturing businesses in London to use ‘motorised’ transport for their collections and deliveries.
During WW1 the business was badly affected by sugar rationing – but they played to their market by manufacturing confectionary products specifically aimed at the troops (e.g. their very popular ‘Army & Navy Paregoric Tablets’) and they also started producing a new design of sweets known as the pear drop, pineapple drops & mixed fruit drops.
Only 4 days after the end of WW1 the company changed its name from Robertson & Woodcock to “Trebor”.
It is believed by some that the name ‘Trebor’ came about by reversing the first name of one of its founders ‘Robert’ Robertson – others say that the company was named ‘Trebor’ because the Forest Gate factory was situated next to a row of Victorian terraced residential houses in ‘Trebor Terrace’.
Following the end of WW1 and the lifting of sugar rationing, the ‘Trebor’ business grew rapidly – and by 1920 they yet again became one of Britain’s most innovative production companies, by going ‘electric’ which brought an end to their hand-production process.
The company made several trips to Germany to find out about new automated mechanisation and production techniques – and then came back and incorporated these into the Forest Gate factory – an activity that didn’t always go down too well with some of the folks back home, who felt that they were fraternising with the ‘enemy’ – but this new mechanisation was pivotal to the company’s increased production and output.
‘Trebor’ were also one of the first companies to produce products from compressed compounded powders, which removed the need for the messy and time consuming process of boiling sugar.
In 1930 the Trebor Factory in Forest Gate was re-built to a distinctive ‘art-deco’ design – making it a prominent and well known landmark in London’s east end.
In 1935 the Trebor factory produced and launched the iconic ‘Refreshers’ sweet – which went on to be a best seller for many decades.
In 1937 the Trebor factory produced and launched its new ‘Extra Strong Mints’ – which is another best seller, even today.
At the same time, Trebor became one of the very first companies to adopt a new commercialism technique by linking a product to the film industry, when it paid just £150 to buy the rights from Disney for Snow White – and produced and launched it’s ‘Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs’ sweets.
Trebor were so successful that production at the Forest Gate factory was reaching full capacity, and so in 1937 the company purchased another factory up in Chesterfield up in Derbyshire.
With the clouds of the possibility of WW2 gathering over Europe, Trebor felt that it had made sense to have a 2nd factory up north, as it was less likely than London to be damaged and production halted, should Britain ever be attacked from the air.
When WW2 eventually broke out, production at Forest Gate was hit badly yet again by national sugar rationing, but that was nothing compared to the ‘hit’ it took from a German bomb in 1944, which severely damaged the factory warehouse, but fortunately not too much of the mechanical production line.
The factory was left in a right old state structurally following the bombing, and the local police had to maintain a guard over it at all times, to prevent the many looters that had tried to gain entry to ‘alf-inch’ the sugar supplies.
However, the Trebor company at Forest Gate (and now also Chesterfield) continued to adopt innovative forward thinking business methods by launching sickness & benefit schemes for its employees, along with a company pension scheme and profit sharing scheme. It also introduced new industrial initiatives such as ‘time & motion’ studies and statistics, to improve production output.
Not long after WW2, the Trebor factory in Forest Gate was painted white, with a huge “Trebor Quality Sweets” branding displayed in green on its exterior.
With production in full swing, Trebor bought up many other smaller confectionary companies – and in 1950 it built a new headquarters just up the road at Clayhall in Ilford.
However, as the decades progressed the inevitable happened, as it usually does – and in 1989 the Trebor business was eventually taken over by the giant global confectioners “Cadbury’s” – which saw the slow eventual demise of production at the Forest Gate factory.
Sadly, in 1981 the Trebor factory in Forest Gate closed down completely.
At its peak the Trebor brand were knocking out a stunning total of 452 products – but today there are just 4 main products that bear their brand :- ‘Extra Strong Mints’ – ‘Soft Mint-Spearmint’ – ‘Soft Mints-Peppermint’ – ‘Max Gum-Berry Fruit/Spearmint’ – their famously popular ‘Refreshers’ product is now produced by Barrett’s.
However – the story didn’t end with the closure of the factory, as the Trebor premises at the corner of Katherine Road & Shaftsbury Road in Forest Gate is ‘still’ standing and in use to this very day, but for something completely different than making sweets.
After closure in 1981, over a period of time it was converted into 65 luxury flats and 2 penthouse apartments – which are now valued from £350K to £500K – The penthouses provide a stunning panoramic view of nearby Docklands and the Greenwich Peninsular – and so the legacy that was once Trebor still lives on in the area.
Anyway – having experienced a bit of a ‘sugar rush’ by standing a bit too close to the old Trebor Factory, I thought it best to calm my nerves down a bit by having a quick beer, before hopping on the train for the short journey back home.
So – I sought out one of Forest Gate’s local pubs, and found myself in ‘The Hudson Bay’ pub in Upton Lane, just off the historic Romford Road, for the purpose of necking down a mandatory ‘cheeky’ one.
This Weatherspoon’s pub only opened in 1999, and is built on the site of an old Co-Op supermarket.
However, the history behind its ‘name’ is very much relevant and specific to Forest Gate.
You may be thinking what the hell has a historically iconic institution such as the “Hudson Bay Company” got to do with a run-of-the-mill east-end boozer.
Well – interestingly the pub’s named is connected to one ‘Sir John Pelly’ who was the governor of the globally renowned ‘Hudson Bay Company’.
Sir John Pelly was a Forest Gate ‘local’ as he owned a massive amount of the land in the Forest Gate district throughout the 18th & 19th Centuries – and he was made ‘First Baronet of Upton’ by Queen Elizabeth in 1840.
In 1670 the Hudson Bay Company was given a royal charter by King Charles II in 1670, and made huge profits for Britain from selling imported furs and skins it had obtained by trading with North American Indians.
Today, several places in Northern Canada bear the Governor’s name, including Pelly Mountain, Pelly River and Pelly Lake – and locally, there are numerous street name and building references to this local lad who was often referred to as the un-crowned ‘King of Canada’, and basically individually instrumental in the creation of Canada as a British Colony.
Throughout ‘The Hudson Bay’ pub there are many references to Sir John Pelly and his remarkable historic achievements.
And as well as Sir John Pelly, there was also a pictorial reference to the ‘Trebor’ factory.
So – all in all an interesting little day out, and I only hope that London Shoes ‘findings’ now leave the initial enquirer from Oz, a little bit more informed than perhaps he was before – and who knows, there may be others reading this particular ‘Shoes’ posting, who may have a past connection or memories of the Trebor factory, and enjoy finding out a little bit more about it.
Hope you enjoy the accompanying photos.
Published below are more detailed photographs of this ‘Trebor Factory’ blog