Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
Stevenson & Howell were a sizeable company that thrived for nearly 100 years just off Southwark Street. They produced essences and essential oils extracted from fruit and plants for use as flavouring in the preparation of food products, drinks and medicines. Their publicity leaflets announced their essences could be used in aerated (fizzy) drinks, fruit syrup and cordials, spirits and liqueurs, biscuits, confectionary, jelly and blancmange among many other foodstuffs. Sadly, the company is another example of a once-thriving concern in Southwark from the late 19th century until after the Second World War that has now sadly disappeared.
The company was founded by William Stevenson and Reginald Howell. They were both Fellows of the Chemical Society in 1879 and worked for Burgoyne, Burbridges & Co in Coleman Street, City of London. In 1882 they formed a partnership setting up their own company in Carter Lane, City of London, describing themselves as “manufacturing, analytical and consulting chemists, specialising in the production of essences, essential oils.” Their company grew rapidly and only four years later moved to a larger, 6-storey, purpose built factory off Southwark Street within the area bounded by Great Suffolk Street, Bear Lane and Prices Street. Next door to this factory there was a smaller building used as their distillery. The company publicised their products widely and one of their methods was to invite the press for tours of the factory but these tours never included the distillery where production methods and ingredients were guarded jealously.
Without giving away any secrets, Messrs. Stevenson and Howell wrote widely about their profession and the associated manufacturing. One of these publications was titled “The Manufacture of Aerated Beverages, Cordials etc.” which they claim became the handbook for the industry. They were most concerned about the use of pure, high quality ingredients and standards throughout the manufacturing process, stating “When, for instance, a bottle of lemonade is asked for, the purchaser expect to receive something better than a solution of sugar and water feebly aerated, unflavoured and acidified with one of the concoctions of mineral acid which are put upon the market under various misleading titles. … It is of course difficult to contend with the keen competition which now prevails among Mineral Water Manufacturers, but we feel certain that the remedy lies, not in the sacrifice of price and quality, but in maintaining the best quality, and in combination and association, in order to bring the combined weight and power of the Trade to bear upon the middle men, into whose pockets now goes the best part of the profits derived from mineral waters.”
Stevenson & Howell adopted a trademark featuring a red ball with the initials ‘S & H’ in the centre and used the ‘Red Ball Brand’ for their products. This was said to be as the result of a representative of the company who visited Japan and was struck by the symbol on the Japanese flag. The company prospered with William Stevenson and Reginald Howell joint managing directors until the former died in 1912. Howell continued until his death in 1936 when he was succeeded by his son. Over the years, the company acquired more land surrounding the factory and demolished old buildings as they acquired them and rebuilt from new. New building works continued even after the Second World War though it appears the premises were spared any serious damage during the war.
But the commercial world was very different after the Second World War. Large companies eyed up and bought out the smaller, more vulnerable concerns and the huge conglomerates we know today began to take shape. In the early 1960s, only 25% of the shares of S&H were owned by members of the Stevenson and Howell families but managed to rebuff one takeover bid. Nevertheless, in 1969 ABM (Associated British Maltsters) succeeded in buying out the company who became a subsidiary. In 1972 ABM themselves were taken over by Dalgety but a year later Paul and Whites took over the Stevenson & Howell offshoot though the buildings in Southwark was excluded in the deal. The property in Bear Lane was vacated and production moved to the Paul and Whites’ facility in Bletchley. The former factory in Southwark was demolished in the early 1980s. Today the site is covered by large, bland, early 21st century boxes.
Source: GLIAS (1982) Stevenson & Howell, Standard Works 95a Southwark Street