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Chivers and Sons

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Date: 1875 to 1959
Location: Histon, Cambridgeshire, England, United Kingdommap
Surname/tag: Chivers
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Part of British Companies and Their Founders



Chivers and Sons was Britain's leading jam manufacturer for much of the 20th century[1].

In the early 19th century the Chivers family were market gardeners in Histon, a village in Chesterton hundred, just north of Cambridge. After a railway station opened in neighbouring Impington in 1847, Stephen Chivers bought an orchard by the railway and started a fruit distribution business. Most of the fruit was bought by jam manufacturers; so in 1875 the Chiverses set up their own jam factory by the Histon railway station, the Victoria Works[1].

The 1900 Kelly's Directory of Cambridgeshire reported: "Stephen Chivers and Sons, who own several hundred acres of fruit gardens in the parish, have a large jam factory in the village, in which they employ about 500 people; the works are lighted with electricity and provided with a large artesian well, capable of supplying a tank with 20,000 gallons of water in six hours; the firm is able to produce over 100 tons of jam daily."[2]

Chivers diversified into other products, such as marmalade, jellies and custard, and also into canning, being Europe's first large scale canning manufacturer in 1895[3].

Sales declined after 1945, and in 1959 the company was taken over by Schweppes. It was finally sold to the Irish Boyne Valley Group in 2011.

Fruit farming

Stephen Chivers had 170 acres in 1861, 300 in 1871, and 700 in 1881; his brother Thomas farmed a similar amount, though most of it was probably rented and he did not have sons to take over from him. The jam factory's demand for fruit made a wide region around Histon relatively prosperous, even during the agricultural depression which afflicted other areas of the country.

By the 1930s Chivers and Sons Ltd. owned 1,500 acres in Histon and adjoining parishes, and another 4,500 elsewhere in Cambridgeshire, all run from a central estate office at Histon. The factory was as self sufficient as possible. It had its own water supply and electrical generation by 1890[3]. As well as the fruit growing, corn was grown and cows and pigs were kept for manure (fertilizer), silage and hay made as winter feed for the animals; poultry were kept in the orchards to keep the land clean and manure it, while the eggs went to the factory for lemon curd. Pedigree herds of milk cattle and pigs were established and Percheron horses were introduced, though there were also many tractors at an early date. In the 1920s, when corn became uneconomic, land was set aside for later use as orchards, and large flocks of sheep were built up. The farming business, later based at Impington Hall, was taken over by Schweppes in 1959, but was bought back by the family in 1962.[4]

The factory

The Chivers family bought more land on the factory site which expanded rapidly; by the 1930s the factory covered most of its 46 acre site. In addition, a large office building was opened on Station Road in 1897. As with the farming side of the business, the factory tried to be as self-sufficient as possible, so that as well as having extensive buildings for preparing fruit and for making jam, it also included workshops for can-making, silver plating, box-making, basket making, printing, carpenters and builders, blacksmiths and carriage works[3]. The factory had employed 150 people in 1885, but over 1000 by 1901. The workers came from 12 surrounding villages, and in 1900 included 250 Histon women, though the firm did not employ married women in the factory before 1914[4].

Chivers began exporting in 1901, when Chivers and Sons became a limited liability company. Laboratories were built after 1898 and a full-time works chemist was appointed in 1905; Charles Lack, the works engineer from 1896, introduced automatic filling machinery (1901) and vacuum caps (1924), which helped to keep Chivers ahead of its commercial rivals. The works was renamed the Orchard Factory c. 1910. By the late 1920s the factory employed nearly 2,000 at peak periods and over 1,600 throughout the year. Women filled two thirds of the permanent jobs and did most of the seasonal labour. Clerical work and management jobs employed another 250 in 1929 and 300 by 1939. Expansion in the 1920s and 1930s was mainly in new factories elsewhere, but the number of employees at Histon rose to 2,200 in the early years of the Second World War, when an important product was blackcurrant purée, the outcome of research on vitamin C carried out in the firm's microbiological laboratory by Mamie Olliver in the 1930s.[4].

In 1901 a Chivers factory hand earned 16 shillings a week, substantially more than the seasonal agricultural wage of 12 shillings. Chivers introduced a profit sharing scheme, one of the first in the country, in 1891, then a factory and village doctor in 1897, a fire brigade in the 1890s, and holiday pay for all workers with a year's service in 1920[3]. The profit-sharing scheme had nearly 400 'co-partners' by 1928; contributory pensions followed in 1933 and were extended to female workers in 1938. Workers' advisory committees, allowing workforce consultation, were established from 1918 on, and there was little or no trade union activity until Schweppes took over.[4].


  1. 1.0 1.1 Wikipedia: Chivers and Sons
  2. GENUKI: Histon
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Histon and Impington Village Society: – Farmers and Jam Factory Owners
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 British History Online: Histon: Economic history

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