Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
W S Shuttleworth & Co began in 1830 when William Sewell Shuttleworth started to trade in tea in Lincoln. He was very successful and in 1845 thought he’d try his luck in London where he took offices in Fenchurch Street. Here he repeated his success and among the contracts he secured was one of supplying 50,000 lbs of tea to the Navy.
W S Shuttleworth left the firm to his three sons when he died in 1863 but as they were then underage, the job of running the enterprise was put in the hands of executors. When they came of age, two of the sons showed no interest in the business and the second son Frederick, was the only one to be active. Frederick however did not have the same touch as his father and sold a part of the business and a partnership was formed that conducted business under the name of W S Shuttleworth and Co.
In 1881 the company diversified into trading in coffee and a small one storey building was bought in Debnams Road, Rotherhithe New Road where six coffee roasters were installed. The coffee trading part of the business was not as successful as had been hoped. In 1890 the fortuitous decision was made to enter the chocolate and cocoa business, guided by Frederick Foreshew, one of the partners. Research was conducted in the factory at Debmans Road into the production of a high quality cocoa powder and soon a process had been found that produced cocoa that appealed to popular taste. The firm secured an early order for 5 tons of cocoa to be supplied in a single week and the factory worked day and night to fulfil the order. It was well worth it though for subsequently the same customer placed an order for 100 tons.
In 1892 the land the factory stood on was required by the South Eastern Railway and Shuttleworth’s found a new site in Galleywall Road where they built an improved and more modern factory which was doubled in size in 1908. The company began producing chocolate products at the beginning of the 20th century which soon far outstripped the dwindling sales of tea and this side of the business was closed down. Millions of chocolate bars were produced, brazil whirls, truffles, chocolate covered creams –the list is long and all appealed to the ever growing world-wide taste for chocolate.
In 1919 the partnership of Foreshew, Thornton and Hart became a limited company, W S Shuttleworth and Co. Ltd. In 1928 two directors of Rowntree joined the board of directors and Shuttleworth subsequently became a part of the Rowntree group. The factory buildings in Galleywall Road now covered an area of 2 acres and employed 800 workers. As well as providing consumer chocolates, they now specialised in producing couverture chocolate, that is the production of chocolate in bulk for selling on to other manufacturers, bakers and confectioners for covering chocolate biscuits, caramels and other products.
The factory was badly damaged in World War II and repairs carried out but despite such damage the factory was still in good condition. Some cottages close to the factory had been damaged so badly they had to be demolished and the area was turned into a garden. A static water tank that had been installed during the war was converted into a small round swimming pool and a full time gardener employed who planted flowers and tended the lawns. The gardens became known as “The Chocolate Gardens” and were overlooked by passengers on the trains that travelled over the nearby viaduct. What the passengers could see was described in a newspaper article: “There amid the factories and warehouses, the bomb sites and drabness of South East London, they see a colour riot of flowers, sweeps of trimly manicured lawns and lovely girls frolicking in the blue depths of a glamorous Hollywood-style circular bathing pool.” Other benefits enjoyed by the workforce included the services of a trained nurse and chiropodist and sun-ray treatment.
Shuttleworth Park is a small open space at the corner of Galleywall Road and Southwark Park Road in the area of Bermondsey known as The Blue and named after the W S Shuttleworth Chocolate factory that was nearby on the other side of Galleywall Road next to the railway viaduct. The park was created after V2 bombs destroyed the terrace of houses that previously stood there in 1944.
This aerial photo was taken a few years later. In the centre is the Shuttleworth’s factory with a newly created garden for employees to the right and in front of the factory to the left is the area, cleared after the bombings, which became Shuttleworth Park.
The target of the German bombings was the railway running over the John Bull Arch called after the pub adjacent to the arch which was also destroyed. There were two V2 bombs, the second falling ten days after the first, resulting in the deaths of 11 people, many more hospitalised or injured, and the number of shops and houses rendered unfit ran into the hundreds. The Shuttleworth’s factory was also badly damaged.
Despite Rowntree transferring part of the production of the hugely popular After Eight Mints to Shuttleworths in the 1960s, Rowntree now began to view the factory in Bermondsey as a declining asset but no buyer could be found for the business or the site. Sadly W S Shuttleworth and Co ceased trading in 1973 and the factory has long since been demolished.
A Howard, The Shuttleworth Story, 1953
Robert Fitzgerald, Rowntree and the Marketing Revolution, 1862-1969, 2007