Harlesden: Heinz factory birthday
ONE hundred years ago in September 1910 cans of Heinz tomato soup were only available for the exclusive shoppers at the top Piccadilly store Fortnum & Mason and Harrods. But it was so tasty and became so popular a factory was built in 1925 on a 20-acre fi
ONE hundred years ago in September 1910 cans of Heinz tomato soup were only available for the exclusive shoppers at the top Piccadilly store Fortnum & Mason and Harrods.
But it was so tasty and became so popular a factory was built in 1925 on a 20-acre field in Waxlow Road, Harlesden, to supply the demand.
In the first year, 125 workers produced 100,000 tons of food and over time it became one of the largest employers in the area. In its hey days it employed thousands and 450 when it closed in 2000.
Then most of the work at Harlesden was done by hand. Every gherkin or onion was placed in an exact pattern on the production line. Jars of salad cream - a recipe invented at Harlesden - were hand-packed in straw lined barrels.
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In 1928 the first British-made Baked Beans rolled off the production line. Previously Heinz canned goods came all the way from America and Canada.
Two years later the factory started producing the company's famous soup as well and Heinz purchased an additional 31 acres creating a new building to manufacture it.
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During World War Two the factory was bombed twice. One worker recalled the 'total devastation' the bombing caused. He said: "Kettles were floating in the canal and pots and pans were all over the place."
But soup production was restored within two months.
During the war, Heinz Harlesden worked with ICI on designing a self-heating can which helped allied soldiers get hot food after D-Day. The company also bought four Spitfires for the RAF.
By the mid-1960s the modernised factory was producing one million cans of beans a day. Britons had became the world's biggest bean-eaters, consuming 16lb per person per year by 1986.
But the growth of supermarket 'own-brand' products and a harsh economic climate meant by the 1980s the factory was in trouble.
Baked bean production was transferred to the other major Heinz plant in the UK, at Kitt Green, in Wigan, Lancashire. In February 1985 a major �40 million investment at Harlesden brought in new high-speed equipment, but more staff were laid off.
More economic woes in the 1990s led the decision to sell up at Waxlow Road. The doors were finally closed in 2000.
Throughout its history the factory offered more than just a job to it's employees - it was very much a community.
Heinz Harlesden had a popular sports and social club, the 57 Club, and Waxlow Road, held its first sports day in the 1920s.
There was a club room in the
factory 'for men on Mondays and ladies on Wednesdays.'
By 1950, the 57 Club, had 1,400 members, paying 6d a week each for membership, and taking part in
activities as varied as angling and ballroom dancing.