FOSTER CLARK LTD.
George Foster Clark And The Eiffel Tower Works, Maidstone.
GEORGE FOSTER CLARK AND
THE EIFFEL TOWER WORKS, MAIDSTONE
By Irene Hales
|The Eiffel Tower Food Manufactory in Hart Street, Maidstone, was regarded
trade circles in 1929 'as one of the best managed and brilliantly organised
businesses in the world'. This was a tribute to George Foster Clark, who was at
that time Managing Director of the firm that he had founded forty years earlier.
George Foster Clark was born at Ramsgate in 1864 and moved to Maidstone
with his family in 1872. He attended the Wesleyan Church School in Brewer
Street and worshipped at the old Bethel Chapel in Union Street. In 1877 he
started work as an errand boy to Thomas Brown, the bookseller and printer in
Week Street and afterwards became a grocer's apprentice to Messrs Burtonshaw
and Bacon at Plaxtol. Concluding an apprenticeship of four years, George
became assistant to the grocer, Thomas Carpenter, at 15 Week Street,
Maidstone. In due course George was promoted to manage Carpenter's other
grocery shop in the Broadway, on the corner of St Peter's Street. Evidently he
was highly acceptable to his employer as he later married Carpenter's daughter,
Henrietta, who was destined to share in his outstanding success story.
In 1889 George began to experiment with the manufacture of small amounts
of baking powder, cake flour and lemonade powder in his mother's kitchen at
35 Kingsley Road. The products were successful and he sold them to customers
in the shop. Encouraged by steady sales, he left Carpenter's Store in 1891 and,
with an initial capital of £27.50, launched out as a grocers' sundriesman in a 10ft
square shed in Mote Road. George's two brothers, William and Henry, joined
him and the firm became known as Foster Clark &Co. George personally undertook
all sales, supervision and distribution, while his brothers managed the
production side of the business.
George Foster Clark believed in vigorous advertising and as the Eiffel Tower,
the then modern wonder of the world, had recently been erected in Paris (for
the Exhibition of 1889) he decided to capitalise on its enormous popularity and
register the name as his lemonade trademark. Sales soared and before long the
name of Foster Clark and the trade name Eiffel Tower became household words
throughout the country.
George was married in 1891 and he and his wife went to live at 'Engadine',
83 London Road, Maidstone. The following year he was elected as a councillor
to represent Bridge Ward, thus beginning thirty six years' service to the Maidstone
Town Council. His business continued to prosper and in 1895 he
purchased part of the former Chambers' Jam Factory in Hart Street.
|An artist's impression of Charles Chambers' jam Factory.
Hart Street, built in 1891. This
later became the Eiffel Tower Works.
The Eiffel Tower Works in the early 1900's.
|In 1898 George had a dispute with his rival, Edward Sharp, who at that
was also in the grocery manufacturing business. George accused Edward of
copying his labels on his penny packets of lemonade powder and took him to
court. The judge, however, dismissed the action with costs 'as it was impossible
. to argue a dishonest intention'. George Foster Clark appealed against the
decision and the judgement was amended. The total costs, including the cost of
the appeal, were shared equally between the two parties.
In the early years of the new century trade continued to flourish and the
business went from success to success. George became a rich man and he and
his wife left their house in London Road and took up residence at Boughton
Mount in Boughton Monchelsea.
In 1910, with a capital of £54,300, Messrs G. Foster Clark & Co. was registered
as a private company. The size of the premises was increased, as was the range
of products, and the Company became one of the most famous and up-to-date
food manufacturing concerns in the country, with an annual output of several
thousands of tons of custard powder, blancmange powder, jellies, soups and
Foster Clark's goods were not only sold in Britain but were exported as far
afield as Australia. During the 1914-18 war transport problems curtailed the
Australian trade and this resulted in the formation of Foster Clark (Australia) Ltd
at Redfern, a suburb of Sydney, in 1918. The factory, built of reinforced concrete
with its own power house and motor fleet garage, became one of the most
important of its kind in Australia.
Throughout the Great War George was not only Chairman of Foster Clark's
but served the community both locally and nationally. He officiated as Mayor of
Maidstone in 1916, 1917 and 1918 and between 1917 and 1925 held the position
of Hop Controller for his country. He devoted untiring efforts in the cause of the
hop industry and it was not generally known that when his office as Hop
Controller came to an end, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, offered George
a knighthood, which he declined. George also refused a personal gift for
recognition of his services, but with the money collected consented to a cot in
the West Kent General Hospital being endowed at a cost of £1,000. A brass plate
over the cot in the Children's Ward recorded that the endowment 'was subscribed
for by hop growers, brewers' merchants and factors, in appreciation of
George Foster Clark's services as Hop Controller 1917-1925'.
George unsuccessfully contested the Maidstone Division on two occasions. In
the 1922 election, when he stood as an Independent Candidate, his opponents
were Commander Carlyon Bellairs (Conservative) and Hugh Dalton (Labour) and
so close was the voting that there had to be a recount. George was beaten by
Commander Bellairs by a majority of only twenty eight votes. The actual figures
were Bellairs, 8,923, Foster Clark, 8,895 and Dalton, 8,004.
George Foster Clark was very generous to the town of Maidstone and in 1924
gave fourteen acres of land in Barton Road to provide the site and playing fields
During his last year of office as Mayor of Maidstone, Alderman George
Foster Clark read
|for Maidstone Grammar School for Boys, of which he was a Governor. The
year he disposed of land for housing developments and under his guidance, in
connection with the Housing Committee, over one thousand Council Houses
His treatment of his employees was also very enlightened. Each year he gave
them a share in the prosperity of the business by paying them a bonus. The
lowest paid hands received two weeks' extra pay and those holding responsible
positions were paid larger amounts. A pension fund was established in 1925 for
the benefit of Foster Clark's employees and a pension reserve account was also
created for the benefit of those who were too old for the pension scheme. A
Sports and Social Club catered for staff activities and included football, cricket.
hockey and indoor games.
Foster Clark's shares were first quoted on the London Stock Exchange in 1928
when the firm was registered as a public company with a capital of £500,000. To
strengthen the bond even further between employers and workers, George and
his brothers, who comprised the Boardof Directors, gave Company Shares to all
employees of ten years' service or more.
In 1929 the company added to its other ventures the canning of fruit and
vegetablesbeing one of the first in the country to do so. Most of the produce
came from the farms and gardens of Kent and was canned the same day as
|received. Millions of cans of peas, carrots, cherries and many other iruits
vegetables joined the flow of foods for which the iirm was iamous. George
Foster Clark opened the new pavilion on the sports ground ofi Barton Road in
1929 and that same year his generosity reached a climax when he gave £30,000 to
the West Kent Hospital for an extension to the Nurses' Hostel. To make room
for the extension, George bought two houses next to the Rising Sun Public
House in Marsham Street for £800 and had them demolished. On this land was
built the new Foster Clark Wing, the foundation stone of which was laid by
George's wife in january 1930. The inscription on the stone read 'This stone was
laid by Mrs G. Foster Clark, J.P., the fourteenth day of january 1930. The Hon.
H.A. Hannen, D.L., J.P., Chairman of the Committee of Management; J.L.S. Dahl,
F.R.I.B.A., architect; R. Corben and Son, contractors'. After this ceremony, the
silver trowel and mallet used for the proceedings were presented to Mrs Foster
Clark by the architect and contractors.
In 1932 George gave the site for a church, vicarage and parish hall for the new
housing estate in Sutton Road, but this was to be his last gift to the town.
Marred by ill health, he went to Bexhill to convalesce at the beginning of
September 1932, but never recovered and on 30th September, aged 68 years,
Alderman George Foster Clark, J.P., Freeman of the Borough, thrice mayor and
the head of a manufacturing business of world-wide reputation, died peacefully
in his sleep.
George was undoubtedly one of the most popular Maidstone citizens of his
generation, for more than a thousand mourners attended his funeral. His own
church in King Street, which he had attended all his married life, could not seat
so many friends and employees, so the service was held at All Saints' Church.
He had asked for no mourning to be worn and no elaboration, as he hated
ostentation. After the service, he was cremated at Golders' Green Crematorium.
George left his widow, Henrietta, Hubert his son (his eldest son, Eric, had
been killed while serving in the R.A.F.in the Great War) and three daughters and
his gross estate was valued at £588,433. In his will he appointed his brother,
Henry Charles Clark, who was by then residing at Hayle Place, as the Governing
Director of Messrs Foster Clark Ltd.
Under Henry's guidance the company continued to propser and in 1937 all
male employees were insured under a group life insurance scheme, which was
extended to female employees in 1942. Mrs G. Foster Clark carried on her
husband's good work and presented the Boys' Grammar School with a further
two acres of land in 1938. On this ground was built the canteen, dining room
and woodwork room.
After the Second World War a new extension added a further 50,000 sq.it. to
the factory in Hart Street, which was equipped with one of the most modern
cannery production lines in the country. The Company also owned a printing
works in Barker Road and a nine-and-a-half acre site at Aylesford.
In the 1950s financial hardship hit the firm when public demand shiited
towards fast and frozen foods. In 1960 Foster Clark merged with the St Martin
Foster Clark (dessicated) soups were well-known in the 1930s.
|Group of Companies, who produced among other things, Chunky Marmalade',
Crosbies' jam and 5t Martin's jam.
On 9th August 1961 another setback occurred at the firm, when one of their
large warehouses, on the corner of Hart Street and Barker Road, was destroyed
by fire. A total of eight fire engines, from Maidstone, Lenham, Marden, Headcorn,
Paddock Wood, Loose and the Medway Towns, fought the blaze. A
turntable ladder was also despatched from the Medway Towns and from the top
steps of the appliance, over the flames, a fireman managed to prevent the firE'
from spreading to Thomas Grant's Distillery next door. Cartons, wrappers, bags,
cans and some raw ingredients were destroyed in the store. Among the
ingredients were bags of concentrated onion powder which, according to an
eye witness, caused the firemen to 'cry' during the blaze.
After the fire, sales continued to fall and in 1963 the Receiver, appointed by the
Westminster Bank, tried to achieve a sale that would keep the factory working.
Despite all his efforts, on 16th july 1965, the Foster Clark name was sold to Oxo
Ltd, who continued the trade of Foster Clark within its own organisation.
After 76} ears service to the community, the firm of Foster Clark was no more
and Maidstone had lost one of its long established sources of employment,
Fortunatel} the name of George Foster Clark will be perpetuated locally in the
Maidstone Council Estate named after him in 1924.
Published by Hamish and Barbara Mackay Miller
17 Station Road, Rainham, Kent, ME8 7RS
Volume 10 Number 5
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