FOSTER CLARK'S

1891 to1965

K E Loveland

/ / to / /


Below is the last known piece Mr Loveland wrote about his time at Foster Clarks. This letter / article offers an insight into the growth and demise of the company. If you read only one piece, read this one.

Foster Clark Ltd. My Memories.

Mr. George Foster Clark (G.F.C.) was born at Ramsgate in 1864 and, at the age of 8 moved with his parents to 35, Kingsley Road, Maidstone. When he left school, he became a Grocer's errand boy and worked in the grocery trade in Maidstone and Ryarsh until 1891. During those years he had experimented with making bunflour and lemonade crystals in his mother's kitchen.

In 1891, assisted by his elder brother William (W.B.C.) and his younger brother Henry (H.C.C.), he started making bunflour, which he sold to local grocers.
In 1895, with a capital of £44 (of which £16.10s. was borrowed) he bought Chambers Jam Factory in Hart Street and, as G. Foster Clark & Co., he produced jellies, custard powder, blancmange powder and bunflour. Those goods were sold under the Foster Clark label. Lemonade crystals and powder were also produced under the label of Eiffel Tower which was, at that time, one of the most recent wonders of the world. G.F.C. was a great believer in the force of advertising and there is a Kent Messenger advert of that year offering '32 tumblers of lemonade for 4 ½ d.'

By 1900, the Company was employing 18 sales representatives.
In 1904, mi1k pudding and, in 1906, soup squares were added to the list of products.
In 1910,G.F.C. formed the Company into a private limited company called George Foster Clark & Co. Ltd. with a capital of £54,000 - a spectacular result of 15 years' trading.
In 1911, Gravet. (a gravy browning) was added to the list.

G.F.C. was by now taking a prominent part in Maidstone and he served as Mayor in 1916, 1917 and 1918. He also served the government as Hop Controller during the First World War.
In 1918, Foster Clark (Australia) Ltd. was established and Wallis Powell took charge.
G.F.C. stood for Parliament on two occasions. In l922, standing as a Liberal, he lost to Commander Bellairs, the sitting member, by 28 votes, and at the following election, standing as an Independent, he lost by a hundred or so.

In 1925, the Foster Clark Pension Fund was established. It was a contributory pension fund with Company and employees contributing equally, except in the case of long service staff, when the Company paid extra.
It was open to all employees over the age of 25. Retirement was at the age of 60 for women and 65 for men. Salaried staffs’ I pension was 50% of salary, weekly paid men 25/- per week and weekly paid women 15/- per week.
The pension was guaranteed for 5 years or life, whichever was the longer.
The fund was controlled by Trustees and subject to actuarial valuation every 4 years. The Trustees were elected by members and were representative of all sections of the business.

In 1926, I joined the company. I had left school the previous July and gone to work at the K.E.C., Springfie1d. After a month or so there, I heard of a job at F.C. Ltd., where a junior Clerk was required in the Secretary's Office. I knew F.C.’s was a good firm to work for, as I had a brother in the Engineer's Department there. I heard, too, that the wage offered was 25/- per week, which was 5/- more than I was getting and, furthermore, that the Company had a cricket team with a lovely ground.
I applied and got the job. The Secretary, Mr. H.M. Beak, had, with his brother (L.G.B.) worked for G.F.C. at the Hop Control and they were very much Londoners. The Secretary was also the Accountant, so in this office of four the accounts were prepared, the Pension Fund administered, the investment portfolio controlled by L.G.B., the salary records maintained, the family trusts handled, as well as the internal audit of the Company books.

My first problem was to find my way round and learn the Managers' names.
The general office of some 50 (mainly women) sat on high stools in long rows, and were ruled by the Office Manager, J.B. Beaufoy, assisted by W. Bird and Miss potter. There was a section which dealt with all problems of dispatch under A.W. Wright.. The main duties of the general off ice were preparation of invoices and control of sales ledgers, including receipts of cash and credit notes. There were small sections who dealt with factory wages, petty cash and addressograph plates. There was a cashier's office of four under Mr. A.E. Tanner, who dealt with banking and bought ledgers. Mr. W.T. Park was in charge of the sales force. In the factory, the main department was the packing room under Mr. C.E. Hughes, assisted by Mr. H.K. Pafford, where some 100 or so women packed the products into the cartons. The smells varied from the strong flavours of soup to those of lemonade. The preparation work was done in other sections where the research and development team of Mr. C.E. Twyman and Mr. W. Stirling reigned. There was the jelly room with Sid Woollet, the soup room, etc. The despatch department of 10 or so was managed by Mr. H. Buss, and I well remember its appearance at Christmas.
There were turkeys for managers, chicken for foremen, joints of beef for all married men. In addition to those gifts at Christmas, all employees got a week's pay and foremen and managers got bonus cheques of very substantial amounts.

The other sections of the Company were in Barker Road, the printing works under Mr. W.T. Gardiner and Mr. W.T.D. Sheppard with a staff of 30 or so.
The engineer's shop of engineers, electricians, painters and handymen, under
Mr. T.W. Francis, numbered 12. The transport of 2 x 3 tonners and 1 30 cwt. came under Mr. Buss.
The Chairman of the Company was G.F.C., the Managing Director H.C.C. W.B.C. was the Director with whom I had most to do as he was the Director who signed all the cheques. There was also a General Manager, Mr. Paterson.
There was no Trade Union but a tremendous family spirit throughout The Company; indeed there were whole families all working there: fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. It was a very happy Company.

In 1927, the firm of business consultants, Urwick, Orr & Partners, were brought in to modernise the office procedure. Out went the high stools, the bound ledgers, the pens and ink. In their place came smaller offices with tables and tansad chairs, loose-leaf ledgers, adding machines and Powers Samas invoicing equipment. The office was transformed and the control of the general office became much more the responsibility of the Secretary, with the old-style Office Manager becoming an anachronism.
In 1928, the capital was increased to £450,000 by the issue of bonus shares to the existing shareholders and ordinary shares of 10/- each were offered to the general public at 40/- per share and the Company's ordinary shares were quoted on the stock exchange where they found a ready market and rapidly increased in value, standing at one time at 60/-. Not all the bonus shares were offered to the public; a large number were given to all employees of more than 10 years' service, so that the bulk of employees became shareholders.

In 1930, I was appointed Company Registrar in charge of the shareholders' records, but I had to pay a price for this. The appointment was on condition that I gave up playing rugby football. This was a shattering blow, as I loved the game, but. R.M.B. said my cuts and bruises on Monday mornings led him to fear a more serious accident. The time saved from rugby training enabled me to return to my earlier activity in the Scout movement and the company gave me enormous help by providing transport to take my troop to camp. Later, when I became County Secretary and then Deputy County Commissioner, I had the use of my Secretary to do the correspondence.

In 1932, G.F.C. died and the Kent Messenger paid tribute to his services to the town and his great generosity to so many local institutions. The Maidstone Hospital acknowledged this by naming a ward after him. The Maidstone Grammar School had a new school built on the land given by him in Bar ton Road. These were public gifts but they were exceeded by gifts of which only the recipients were aware.

In 1933, Sir Cyril V. Jones, C.B.E. (Chairman of Peek Freen & Co. Ltd.) was appointed Chairman.

In 1935, the Company started canning fruit and vegetables, which in view of the factory's situation in Kent, appeared to be most suitable. The canning industry, however, was full of problems; it was labour intensive, so that a large casual labour force had to be taken on. Costing was also a problem, as the quality, size and availability of the crop depended entirely on the weather. Another problem was the short season of English fruits and vegetables, and the cost of having expensive machinery idle for so much of the year. To fill that gap, baked beans in tomato sauce and processed peas were canned, and tropical fruit, apricots and peaches imported in gallon packs and re-canned into smaller-sized packs.

In 1938, I was appointed Assistant Secretary in place of L.G. Beek, who left the Company, and about this time Mr. J.B. Beaufoy retired. His son, Leonard (L.S.B.), who had gone to Oxford from the Grammar School on a Gunsley Exhibition, took his place, giving up his civil service appointment in the Inland Revenue. He was an extremely nice man but out of his depth in industry. the threat of war was looming large and the Company was asked by the War Office to encourage its men to join a T.A. battery of the Royal Artillery being started in Maidstone. Some six of us joined and in the following August, left the Company for the next 6 years. In this year, H.C.C. was appointed Chairman.

In 1945,I returned from war service to find a letter awaiting me from the Company. It welcomed me back and informed me that, in accordance with government orders, I would be re-employed for 6 months, after which period the position would be re-considered. It also said that it would not recognise any service rank which I might have gained. I was not amused.
My service rank I had no intention of using, but I felt that was for me to decide, not the Company, but I was determined to return to see that all the ex-servicemen got a square deal.

The staff generally gave us a great welcome on our return and we resumed where we had left off in 1939, but with a lot more experience, gained during the past 6 years. We soon found how trade had changed. Tastes had altered; women had deserted their kitchens to earn money by taking employment and did not intend to give up their jobs. Youngsters' tastes had changed, too, and the American colas were new favourites. The shops, themselves, were changing and the multiples were taking over the bulk of the grocery trade. This seriously affected the Company's turnover, as the demand was for products readily prepared. The youngsters' taste for jellies, blancmange and lemonade had seriously declined. The multiples, now responsible for so much of the trade were interested in profit margins, special offers and advertising back-up. There was also the demand for products under 'own name labels' by the large multiples, such products being demanded at special prices but in larger quantities. It was a temptation to commit suicide.

The personnel at F.C.'s had changed. Gone were all the managers whom I had known when I first joined the Company. Research and development were in the hands of Mr. R.I. Muir and Mr. R.L. Lord. Sales Manager was Mr. W.H. Roper and the factory manager was Mr. C.D. Lovell.

In 1950, Miss Joan Foster Clark (J.F.G.) joined the Board, which gave enormous pleasure to the employees, because there had always been a rumour that she had long wanted to work there and the employees wanted someone from G.F.C.'s family.

The slump in profits led to the necessity to economise. One obvious economy was the office manager. Control of the general office had long rested in the Secretary's office, so I had the unhappy job of telling L.S.B. that he was redundant. Later that year I was appointed Company Secretary, H.M.B. having joined the Board.

In 1953, N.E. Goddard (N.E.G.) and I joined the Board. In 1955
Alimentary Paste Co. Ltd. was purchased in an attempt to diversify. It produced macaroni, spaghetti, vermicelli, and sold particularly in the Persian Gulf. Turnover, however, still fell and no dividend was paid on the ordinary shares.

In 1960 came the bombshell in the form of a take-over bid from St. Martins Preserving Co. Ltd., which Company had taken over Ticklers Jams of 1914-18 notoriety. Three St. Martins ordinary shares of 4/- each were offered for one F.C. ordinary share of 10/-. The Board opposed acceptance but the shareholders voted to accept. St. Martins took over.
H.M. Beek was sacked and committed suicide. J.F.C. resigned from the Board. K.E.L. left the Board but remained in charge of administration. N.E.G. remained on the new Board. It was a very unhappy experience for all the old F.C. employees. The St. Martins people were unpleasant in every way.
In 1965, rumours as to the future were in circulation and a Receiver was appointed to liquidate the Company. He tried to sell it as a going concern, without success. In a very short time, I found that I was the only executive left, so I had the melancholy job of sacking people whom I had known and with whom I had worked for years. I was able to get many of them jobs and I believe no one left without having a job to go to. I spent much of my time writing references. The problems still had not been eased. The Receiver claimed to have taken legal advice on the position of the Pension Fund and said it was an asset of the Company and, therefore, due to the creditors. I immediately went to see Geoffrey Day to ask him to fight the case. This he did and we won in the High Court and were awarded costs. Only then did I discover that the Pension Fund contributions deducted since St. Martins had taken over had never been paid into the Fund. I arranged for the Fund to be taken over by an Insurance Company, so that the future would be assured.
Having done that, I left the Company, where I had been happy for so many years.


K.E.Loveland

 

 

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