Wilkin & Sons celebrate their 125th anniversary on 25th June
This month, world famous jam-makers Wilkin & Sons, will mark the 125th anniversary of producing fabulous preserves from the fruit farms of Tiptree
CELEBRATED across the world as the most precious of preserves, jam-makers Wilkin & Sons Ltd mark a very special birthday this month. June 25 sees the culmination of a series of events to mark 125 years since Arthur Charles Wilkin made his first strawberry jam at Tiptree on that same date in 1885. In recognition of this special day, an anniversary cake will be cut at each of Wilkin & Sons’ tea rooms within Essex, including the jam factory tea rooms at Tiptree, The Essex Rose at Dedham and The Lock at Heybridge Basin, with all the staff wearing traditional lace aprons.
It is sure to be a very emotional day for Peter Wilkin, the current chairman of the business and the great-grandson of the founder. ‘The fact that the Tiptree name is known throughout the world is a remarkable achievement for what is in reality a comparatively small company,’ Peter explains. ‘The company has also been honoured with a Royal Warrant of Appointment to successive monarchs since 1911. I think it is sticking to our principles of quality, fairness, integrity and independence that has helped Wilkin & Sons to last as it has for 125 years.’
Where it all beganWhen Arthur Wilkin joined with two friends to form the Britannia Fruit Preserving Company all those years ago, he stipulated that the jam should be free of glucose, colouring and preservatives. The very first jam was of such high quality and impressed one Australian merchant so much that he arranged to buy every last pot.
Quickly the reputation of Tiptree’s jams grew and by 1901 the company had more than 8,000 customers. It was in 1905 that the company was renamed Wilkin & Sons Ltd to avoid confusion with an increasing number of other companies trading with Britannia in the title. Arthur died in 1913, but not before seeing Wilkin & Sons receive a Royal Warrant from King George V.
Even during the war years, a strong commitment to quality and purity remained and during World War I 8,000 boxes of jam were sent to the front to help boost morale. By 1947 profits were at their highest. Consumer demand was so strong through retailers that there was no going back. An orchard clearance scheme was introduced, grubbing out less valuable fruit trees and replacing them with crops that would improve the quality of the jam.
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And it is these standards of quality that have made Wilkin & Sons so special for so long. ‘We use only the finest ingredients, much of which is grown on our own farm,’ explains Mark Smith, a production manager at Wilkin & Sons. ‘Traditional, and sometimes time-consuming, methods of preparation are still used. We still use copper-lined pans and a few products are still filled by hand. Many of the original recipes are also still used today.’
But modernisation has helped to sustain Wilkin & Sons as a leading brand in an increasing global market place. A new shop, tea room and museum have made the jam factory a key tourist attraction in the county and now there are Wilkin & Sons tea rooms at The Essex Rose in Dedham and The Lock at Heybridge Basin.
Part of the familyAnd yet the company remains fiercely independent. One person who has seen many of these changes at first hand is David Cross, who recently celebrated 50 years of working at Wilkin & Sons. ‘There have been many changes while I’ve been at Wilkins, but one good example of how things have changed is the way the jars are filled and labelled,’ explains David. ‘When I first started one lady worked a machine that labelled one jar at a time, we now label around 300 a minute. But the thing I like most about working here is the people. There is a great camaraderie among the staff and the management are very supportive.’
That sense of community stretches beyond the factory and out into the rest of Tiptree. ‘My husband works in the garage at Tiptree and my grandmother, mother, step father, father-in-law and son have also worked for Wilkin & Sons. My Grandmother worked here for over 21 years,’ explains Julie Watkins, herself a Wilkin & Sons employee of nine years. ‘I think Wilkin & Sons is important to Tiptree in that it brings employment to the village. Years ago most of the workers came from Tiptree and many of them used to cycle into work each day.
‘Nowadays lots live outside the village but coming to work here means that they use the village facilities in their lunch hours and after work which can only be good for Tiptree as a whole. I think Wilkin & Sons also brings a sense of pride to lots of villagers in that they have such a well-known company in their village.’
And that sense of pride looks set to continue as the company plans ahead for further success over the next 125 years.Peter Wilkin adds: ‘We are aiming for more of the same. In spite of the traditional nature of its products, the company has always been progressive in outlook in its attitude towards its staff, towards new technologies where they do not impact on the quality of the products and towards diversification. We intend to continue with the same approach to provide a bright future.’
May 24 to 29 The John Joseph Mechi Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show A courtyard garden, sponsored by Wilkin & Sons Ltd as part of the 125th anniversary celebrations, will be exhibited at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Also involved will be the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution marking 150 years since its foundation with Ben Wincott of Writtle College designing the garden.
Sunday, June 13Open Farm Sunday at Tiptree with LEAFAn opportunity for families and residents of Tiptree to visit the strawberry fields, sample products, buy Tiptree strawberries and meet local farmers, some with their animals. Refreshments are available. Entrance is free from 10am to 3pm.
Events to celebrate 125 years of jam-making
Thursday, June 17Tiptree Strawberry Race This is a chance for the pickers to compete for the best and fastest picker awards for 2010. This year a celebrity guest will start the event. This event is open to invited guests only.
Friday, June 25 125 years of Jam-Making at TiptreeOn June 25, 1885, Arthur Charles Wilkin first made strawberry jam at Tiptree, a tradition that has passed down the Wilkin family to the present chairman, Peter Wilkin, the great-grandson of the founder. Anniversary cake will be cut at each of Wilkin & Sons’ tea rooms within Essex, including the jam factory tea rooms at Tiptree, The Essex Rose at Dedham and The Lock at Heybridge Basin, with all the staff wearing traditional lace aprons.
July 13 to 17John Joseph Mechi – A Passionate ManA new play commissioned by Wilkin & Sons to celebrate the life of John Joseph Mechi will be performed in a marquee in the Mulberry Orchard. Mechi was an innovative farmer who had a passion for producing unusual products such as Magic Razor Strop and beautiful boxes. Tickets for this performance are available from the jam shop at Tiptree.