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Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Huntley & Palmers Baked Them

I was very interested to see Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys last night. Mr Portillo visited Reading, the former home of the huge Huntley & Palmers biscuit factory, and Whitchurch silk mill. Huntley and Palmer was a famous British brand, and Captain Scott took some of their biscuits on his ill-fated Antarctic expedition.
The first Huntley & Palmer factory was built by the Kennet and Avon Canal, and canal boats were used to transport the biscuits to Bath and Bristol.  A later factory was sited near the Great Western Railway, and the company built its own sidings to link to the railway.
When writer Archibald Williams visited the factory early in the twentieth century, about 6000 people were employed there. The factory workforce was mostly men, women and small boys.
Factory Inspector Robert Baker (Reports, 31 Oct 1869), said that he had often heard complaints from Reading people that the Huntley & Palmer factory was not yet covered by the factory acts, because they claimed that ‘boys have often been employed for 20 hours at a stretch, and have been carried out, owing to the heat’. Baker had not been able to visit the factory, as it was outside his remit. Joseph Huntley and George Palmer were Quakers, however, and were said to look after their workforce. Baker commented: ‘I cannot vouch for the truth of these statements, and I should think that Messrs. Palmer treat their staff with consideration’.

Images: Taking biscuits from the oven. Packing biscuits into boxes. Packing boxes of biscuits into tins at the Huntley & Palmer’s factory. Their sturdy tins were much-loved by the British public. How It’s Made, Thomas Nelson & Sons, c.1910. Author’s collection.

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