Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Sarsons Vinegar factory in Tower Bridge Road was one of the last, if not the last, of the great Bermondsey food processing factories to cease production. It closed in 1992 and has been converted into a mixed-use complex of apartments and offices.
Vinegar was originally manufactured as a bi-product of beer production and there were many breweries in operation along the south side of the River Thames who in turn attracted the vinegar manufactories. Pott’s Vinegar Manufactory was situated next to the Barclay Perkins Brewery further west along Bankside and the Beaufoy Vinegar Factory was originally in what is now called the Waterloo area. The vinegar works in Bermondsey were established by Noah Slee and Mr Vickers around 1814, close to the Courage Brewery, and by 1826 comprised, in addition to the manufactory, two large warehouses, stoves, a granary and a counting house (the forerunner to the modern office). By 1833 it had become the fifth largest vinegar works in the United Kingdom. The site of the original Beaufoy Vinegar Factory further west had been compulsorily purchased for the construction of Waterloo Bridge and for a while the vinegar works of Vickers and Slee were threatened with a similar fate for the construction of the Greenwich to London Railway. In the event, the railway line was built further north and has led to generations of commuters gazing down at the vinegar works as the train approaches London Bridge Station.
There were changes of directors and to the company name during the 19th century but there was always a member of the Slee family, from generation to generation, prominent within the company. In 1908, they merged with Champions a long-standing vinegar manufacturer based in City Road. The newly merged company was renamed Champion and Slee. The works in City Road were closed and all production took place in the Tower Bridge Road factory. Champions’ enduring rival in Shoreditch had been Sarson’s and Co, an equally long standing company that had been founded around 1794.
In 1929, Crosse & Blackwell acquired both Champion & Slee and Sarson’s and it’s likely that the works in Tower Bridge Road acquired the name of Sarsons at that time, or perhaps a few years later when both companies, along with other vinegar makers, became part of British Vinegars which went through further changes of ownership during the 20th century. In 2012 the brand was acquired by Mizkan, a large Japanese food conglomerate whose roots are in the production of rice vinegar from the bi-products of sake production.
The mixed use development, that combines the original brick buildings with steel and glass walkways, was completed in 2006 and renamed Maltings Place.
Source: Tim R Smith, ‘Just say Sarson’s, the vinegar brewery, Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey’ in London’s Industrial Archaeology, No 10, 2012