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Jams, Jellies and Marmalades

Exhibition Piece: This model car represents the Chivers family and their business in the preservative industry, which was crucial to many livelihoods of the inhabitants of the surrounding areas. The Chivers also donated land, property and money for the construction of IVC.

Extracts from “A Ramble About New Impington” by E. F. Whitehead

The Chivers family are believed to have descended from Huguenots who settled in Cottenham at the end of the 17th century.  They first appeared in Histon when John Chivers, father of Stephen, came to live at 59/61, Cottenham Road with his brother and sister around 1817.

Shortly after his marriage in 1850, Stephen bought an orchard next to the railway line.  Stephen now had easy access to London and northern markets.  When his sons William 18 and John 13 were old enough in 1870, he sent them to open a distribution centre at Bradford.  The boys soon noticed that their main customers were jam manufacturers.  In 1873, which just happened to be a fruit glut year, they convinced their father to allow them to make their first batch of jam in the barn off Milton Road ; now site of St.Georges Close.  Within two years Victoria Works were built on the orchard site.  At first stone jars of two, four and six pounds were produced.  By 1885 the still rare glass jars were used.  To ensure a permanent, not seasonal, experienced workforce, they diversified into marmalade, closely followed by the first clear, commercial desert jelly in 1889.  All the year round employment encouraged further diversification into lemonade, mincemeat, custard powder and Christmas puddings.  In 1895 Chivers became Europe’s first large scale commercial canners, using their own design. This was an achievement which has been frequently overlooked by historians!

Chivers Filling jars with hand held scoops 1894

In Charles Lack, Chivers had a genius for their chief engineer.  He developed the finest canning machinery in Europe.  He went on to design jam filling, fruit sorting can making and sterilisation equipment which helped transform Chivers into one of the world’s leading manufactures of preserves.  In 1902, H. Rider Haggard recorded after his visit:

“The factory with its silver lined boilers, its cooling rooms, its patent apparatus for filling jars, its tramways, its printing and silver plating packing case making, labelling, baking powder, mincemeat and lemonade departments etc. was a truly wondrous place.”

The factory, supplied by their farms and the surrounding area, was self sufficient.  It had its own water supply and electrical generation by 1890.  Not only did they make their own cans, but also they came to have their own engineers, paint shop, sawmill, blacksmiths, carriage works, coopers, carpenters, building department and even basket makers.

Chivers Leyland Loco Box Van circa 1926

In 1901 a factory hand earned 16s (80p) a week compared with the seasonal agricultural wage of 12s.  Chivers introduced their first pension scheme in 1895, profit sharing 1891, factory and village doctor 1897, fire brigade 1890s, Workers’ Advisory Council 1918, holiday pay for all workers with a years service 1920.  By 1939 there were three thousand full time employees throughout East Anglia together with factories in Montrose, Newry and Huntingdon.

Although the factory was an important enterprise, the Chivers family is said to have regarded themselves primarily as farmers.  In 1896 they owned 500 acres, though they rented far more.  This rose to nearly 8000 acres in 1939.  All farms were run as independent units concentrating on the rearing of livestock and cereals as well as fruit.  They led the world in mixed farming techniques and would only breed pedigree livestock whether they be pigs, cattle, poultry, sheep or their magnificent Percheron horses.

In 1959 the factories and farms were sold to Schweppes.  The family bought most of the farms back in 1961.