A Tribute to
Founder of Brooke Bond and Co.
Rather than raise our glass it would be more appropriate to enjoy a cup of tea to honour one of Tameside's most famous sons.
Arthur Brooke of Ashton-under-Lyne founded the company of Brooke, Bond & Co. which became world famous and still thrives today after modest beginnings in the tea trade.
On 16th March 1996 Arthur Brooke was honoured by the unveiling of a Blue Plaque on his birthplace, 6 George Street in Ashton by Dr. Martin Powell, Manager of the Brooke Bond Tea Factory at Trafford Park. The town enjoyed a tea party to mark the occasion. The plaque was kindly donated by Brooke Bond Tea.
The Tea Drinking Tradition
Nowadays we take tea drinking very much for granted and most of us enjoy our daily cuppa. However, it was only during the early Victorian years (1840s) that tea became generally available in Britain as a popular drink at an affordable price. Previously it had been regarded as a fashionable luxury drunk almost exclusively by the rich. Charles Brooke of Ashton, Arthur's father, had therefore chosen a fortuitous time to be in the business of wholesaling tea as a huge market was rapidly opening up and he prospered from this. Tea dealer Charles Brooke and his wife Jane had a family of four sons and four daughters. Arthur was the eldest son who from a very early age loved to ride through the streets of Ashton on the handcart delivering tea to the local shops. He played amongst the tea chests on the ground floor of the family home, a terrace house at 6 George Street.
So Arthur's links with the tea industry were strong. However, on reaching the age of employment, his father resolved to put him into the cotton trade which was then so fashionable. This proved an ill-fated move as the mill in which he was a partner faded along with many others during the American Civil War when supplies of raw cotton were disrupted. Thus nineteen year old Arthur was taken as a trainee into the Liverpool branch of a wholesale tea company, Peek, Bros. and Winch. He was soon so successful that he was transferred to London and earning the grand sum of £l per week.
The Birth of Brooke Bond
In London rumours reached Arthur that his father was struggling with his wholesale business. Anxious to help he returned home and joined the family business. Shortly afterwards he had succeeded in opening many new outlets for the tea all over Lancashire. Encouraged by his friends in the tea trade Arthur resolved to set up on his own.
1869 was an eventful year. Jane Brooke sadly died and was buried at Mossley Parish Church. Charles Brooke decided to move to London for a new life and he later remarried. Meanwhile, Arthur Brooke opened his first shop in a prime location at 29 Market Street, Manchester. Above the doors of the shop the words read 'Brooke, Bond and Company'. There was no Mr. Bond but the name seemed to sound well to Arthur and has stayed ever since.
A Scrupulous Businessman
The business prospered, built on a high quality, pure product unlike the blended teas offered by many. Quality was of paramount importance to Arthur Brooke:- "Tea is judged by tasters who cultivate a highly educated palate and can truly tell to a nicety where a tea was grown, how it was prepared, what sort of a cup it will brew and what it is worth. In this mixture there is not a particle of anything but perfectly pure siftings from a variety of fine India and China teas and the public may safely put it into their teapots assured that no rubbish can pass our practised eyes and delicate palates."
He also showed an early adeptness for advertising. Who could resist his slogan:- "Good Tea unites good company, exhilarates the spirits, opens the heart, banishes restraint from conversation and promotes the happiest purposes of social intercourse."
Growth and Expansion
Soon more shops were opened in Liverpool, Leeds and Bradford. In 1872 Arthur Brooke moved to London taking a warehouse for his business at 129 Whitechapel High Street. This became his company office.
There followed a couple of difficult years in which the initial London shops failed and his brother-in-law made poor judgements regarding the Liverpool business. Arthur became ill through overwork but after a recuperative sea voyage to Egypt, returned to prosper once again, By the age of thirty he was making £5,000 a year. In 1875 he met and married a naval captain's daughter, Alice Catherine Young. They bought an elegant home in Willesden.
In the late 1870s a severe trade depression rocked Britain and Brooke Bond suffered. Arthur Brooke led by example, giving up some of his fine lifestyle and adhering to his principle of only buying from business- men whose employers dealt fairly with their work people. Nevertheless, times were very hard and at the lowest point of his fortunes Brooke considered emigrating to New Zealand.
A Turning Point
The tide turned when Brooke realised the potential in supplying his tea in bulk at wholesale rates to retail grocers. The orders flooded in and prosperity returned. He moved his family to a smart new home in Kensington and also bought a country house near Dorking. In 1892 Brooke Bond became a limited company with a share capital of £l50,000 and with Arthur Brooke as Chairman and Managing Director. In 1899 his eldest son, Gerald joined the business - having to learn the trade from behind the counter in Leeds at his father's insistence.
An Enviable Reputation
The company prospered and Brooke was renowned as a benevolent employer. His early advertising ability became quite marked and he picked up many new ideas from a trip to America. He also endeared the company to the public when in 1899 to mark Queen Victoria's 80th birthday he gave a free pound of tea to every customer aged over eighty years.
His ideas were not mere gimmicks and before trying anything new he would always question:- "Ah yes, but will it help to sell a pound of tea?"
Expansion to India
The company already had a shop in Chicago but now had ambitions in the Indian Market. These were realised in 1902 when this company won the contract for Brooke Bond to supply tea to the Delhi Durbar.
Retirement and Final Days
By 1904 Arthur Brooke decided it was time to retire from the day to day work of the company. In 1903 Gerald had been appointed as a director and the other sons, Rupert and Justin were shortly to join him. However, true to character, Arthur Brooke retained an active and important role. In 1910 Gerald succeeded him as Chairman. Arthur Brooke died on 13th April 1918 leaving a considerable fortune.
Brooke Bond Today
Brooke Bond is now part of the multinational company, Unilever, whose products include many household names - P.G. Tips, Oxo, Ragu and Batchelors to name but a few. The Brooke Bond brand has remained very strong and most people immediately think of the P.G. Tips chimps adverts which first featured on British television at Christmas 1956. The one showing the chimps moving a piano downstairs has been shown on British television more times than any other advertisement over 2,000 screenings. Arthur Brooke with his own adeptness for innovative advertising would no doubt have heartily approved.
Arthur Brooke was born in Ashton-under-Lyne - a blue plaque marks his birth place at 6 George Street.
Document sponsored by Brooke Bond Tea. Photographs reproduced with the kind permission of Van den Bergh Foods Ltd. from originals at the Unilever Historical Archives. Acknowledgements for the assistance of Ann Renshall in providing background material.