By Janet McNamara
Brentford and Chiswick Local History Journal 9 (2000)
In 1851 a young man called Thomas William Beach won prizes for his British Queen Strawberries at Covent Garden, from Chiswick Horticultural Society and at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. Some of his fruits weighed in at 4oz each.
Thomas Beach was a member of a large extended family living around Brentford, Heston, Isleworth and Hounslow, who were planting many acres of orchards and fruit fields at a time when this was more profitable than general farming.
After the Exhibition an article about Beach appeared in The Gardener’s Chronicle, written by James Cuthill who described Beach as ‘one of those ‘John Bull’ ready-witted class of men’. He said he was ‘dark and sunburnt, somewhere about 22 years of age, and looking altogether as if he had spent a month on the south side of the Rocky Mountains’.
Cuthill also mentions a visit he made to the 10 acre sloping garden to the west of the River Brent where the prize winning fruit had been grown. This is of interest as it describes how many local growers would have been working at the time.
He writes ‘When Mr Beach took this osier ground, for so it was, about five years ago (and there is part in willows now), he saw that owing to the springs and the two falls of the ground, as well as the texture of the soil being sandy, dark, loamy, soupy, vegetable material, that it would answer the purpose for which he has applied it well. He took a lease of it and the first thing he did was to make a cart-way on the west upper side throwing up the earth some two feet above the general ground, so that the path where the horse goes is from ten inches to a foot deeper than where the wheels pass along, thus forming water courses all along.’ He was thus irrigating his land from the springs along the cart tracks.
The article continues: ‘The next thing he did was to form his ground into ridges, of about 40 feet wide, running the short way of the square; the centres of these ridges are planted with Pears and Apples, and between with Black Currants all being loaded, especially the Black Currants, with crops as were never seen before. About three feet from the trees on either side are water courses leading to the bottom of the garden where there is a Mill Stream and on the declivities between the rows of trees are his strawberries, some five or six rows of which are planted along the two sides of the two feet broad ditches between the ridges. These ditches receive the irrigating water which percolates under the plants down into them. It is unnecessary to describe the size and strength of the plants as well as the enormous crops they produce. His heaviest ‘Queen’ weighed three ounces; all his plants stand 2ft apart each way.’ This would seem to have been fairly typical in the area where low growing crops were grown under the trees in very well fertilised ground. Mr Beach, according to Mr Cuthill, was also one of the first to grow Russian violets along both sides of ridges of sandy soil ‘that were in flower early and bore blossoms of abundance’.
It had all apparently been an expensive operation to lay out but it was expected that the investment would be recovered. Mr Cuthill then went on to advise Mr Beach to try growing watercress as he had the continual flow of spring water but whether he did so is not recorded.
However, by 1867 Beach’s business must have been doing well as he took a lease on 26 acres called Ealing Road Gardens. This stretched north on either side of Ealing Road, Brentford towards the railway line and beyond and included the site of the present football ground. It was described at the time as ‘quite a rural spot’. He let out some glass houses and eventually began making jam in his outbuildings using coke fires as a way of preserving the fruit that could not otherwise be kept.
High quality jam from soft fruit, at that time, needed to be made within one hour of the fruit arriving in the factory. Fruit to be used later was pulped, part boiled or vacuum stored. Thomas William Beach, however, improved his manufacture using steam pans and discovered the secret of whole fruit jam making and his jam became popular and famous. He then revolutionised the trade by introducing whole fruit without glucose into his 21b glass and earthenware jars producing what was described as ‘a vastly superior product’.
One of his major outlets was Whiteley’s Emporium in Queensway where Beach’s jams were Whiteley’s most expensive range of jam products, competing with the likes of Chivers, Crosse and Blackwells and Coopers.
The factory was between Walnut Tree and Cressage Roads facing Ealing Road. Beach’s family home at the corner of the site was Walnut Tree House occupied by his second wife and the children of his first and second marriages. This house was later replaced by a large double fronted house with strawberry leaves and fruit carved on the doorposts and appropriately renamed Strawberry Villa.
Mr Beach’s grandsons, who have been writing the history of the family business, from which all the information here has been obtained, have worked out that the entrance was through a pair of wrought-iron gates with the name ‘Beach’s Jams’ over an arch. Ranged along both sides of the yard were single storey brick buildings with pantile roofs. The Beachs think that the shed at the bottom of the yard was for receiving and picking over the fruit and that there were two vats for making wine from any fruit that was blemished. The other sheds were for labelling, packing, storage and despatch. Behind the house was a large stable with haylofts above where six horses and a pony were stabled for pulling the road wagon, vans and a wagonette. Behind the coach house and stable were the boiling and bottling rooms for the manufacture of the jam. The workforce comprised at least 40 people. A single storey building, used as a billiard hall and theatre, and a range of outside waterclosets filled the rear of the yard. The theatre was a philanthropic gesture on the part of Mr Beach designed to keep his workforce out of the many public houses in the area. Admission was one old penny or two empty jam jars, obviously an early form of recycling. In later years he supplied soup and bread to needy people of the town during bad winters.
As well as his own fruit grown near the factory Mr Beach also received good supplies from family members who were also growing fruit in the area. But he also needed supplies from further afield. His small delivery van pulled by one horse could collect up to a ton of fruit within a seven-mile radius and bottles, jars and supplies from Brentford Dock. It could also deliver preserves to the shops and wholesalers and to Baling Broadway railway station. Two horses drew the large road wagon that could carry up to three tons on local journeys. Pulled by a team of vanners it could also travel long distances and collected fruit from as far afield as the Vale of Evesham. These horses could trot at 8mph but averaged 5mph and travelled up to 40 miles a day.
By the 1880s Thomas William Beach had gained a national reputation and was a recognised authority on jam making. Beach family tradition has it that Arthur Wilkins of Tiptree, founder of Wilkins of Tiptree, which still manufactures, came to Beach for advice and worked at the Brentford factory for experience. The Wilkins family, however have no record of this.
History of the Company
The company was established as T W Beach and Sons, two sons from his first marriage and four from his second eventually working in different parts of the business. With the expansion into manufacturing, as opposed to growing, in 1883 his eldest son left the family firm and joined the West Middlesex Fruit Growers and Preservers Association Ltd of Strand on the Green and was later cut out of his father’s will. The eldest son from his second marriage then went to run the factory that the expanding company had established in 1887 at Toddington in Gloucestershire. This was to use the fruit grown on 500 acres at Lord Sudeley’s nearby Sudeley Castle. Factories were also later established at Evesham and Pershore as buildings engulfed Brentford and fruit growing became more of a country pursuit. An article in the British Journal of Commerce in 1901 pointed out that the company had, over the years, won 17 medals for their excellent product and that one year they had been awarded the only gold medal at the Health Exhibition. When Thomas died in 1902 the firm was at the peak of its prosperity.
In 1911 Beachs were proud to note that the Daily Mirror had a picture of the ill-fated Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole with Beach’s jam on the breakfast table.
Mrs Beach died in 1926 and the Brentford factory was sold in 1929. Until 1935 T W Beach and Sons made jam at William Whiteley’s factory in Hanworth. In 1941 the company then operating in Evesham and Pershore was taken over by Unilever, and Richmond Sausages were produced at the Evesham factory and jam at a factory in Hereford. By 1971 the name only appeared on 71b tins of marmalade and at Beach Court in Evesham. A large willow tree now grows on the site of Strawberry Villa and long-time Brentford residents retain pleasant memories of the smell of jam and strawberries from the factory.
Source: T W Beach and Sons: Jam Manufacturers by Leslie and Bob Beach. A copy of this book is in Chiswick Local Studies.