Monday, 13 February 2017

Made in Hull: A 'Sensational' Hull Romance

It's the month of love with Valentines Day happening on the 14th February, so what better reason is there to look at the history of chocolate and sweet making in our city!

Needler's letterhead paper

For those of you who didn’t already know, Needler's was a Hull-based sweet manufacturer. It was founded in 1886 by 18 year old Frederick Needler when he bought a small confectionery business near Paragon Station. He would later move the business to Anne Street, where he employed two staff - a sugar boiler and a boy named Watson. 

By 1900, the business had grown and the now 10 female and 23 male employees could make around ten tons of confectionery per week, resulting in a turnover for Needler of £15,000. Over two hundred different products, mainly boiled sweets and toffees, were being made. This meant that by 1906 larger premises were required, and a new building was erected on Bournemouth Street, off Sculcoates Lane. This is the factory that many people will remember and associate with Needlers. It was demolished in the early 2000’s and the land redeveloped as a housing estate. A nod to the land's previous status can be found in the estate's name, 'Needler's Way'.

Ariel photograph of the Bournemouth Street factory, 1920s

By 1912 Needler’s were producing 576 lines, 74 of which were chocolate, and by 1920 the company was making 650 tons of chocolate and 1,500 tons of sweets per year resulting in a turnover of £664,000. Sweet wrappers were introduced in the early 1920s and, interestingly, this process was undertaken by hand until the first wrapping machines were introduced in 1928.

By 1920, there were 1,700 permanent employees, most of whom were female. The company had a reputation for treating employees well. The staff dining room was often the scene of wedding gift presentations to former and current employees about to get married. In the summer 1936 issue of a journal published by Needler's, ‘Quality’, Percival Needler emphasized what a loss to the firm it was when 'valued servants’ left to set up their own homes and families. He also stated that he believed their Needler's training would ‘stand them in good stead in their home life' and that 'running a home was no easy matter', but that 'habits of punctuality, tidiness, cleanliness and the general discipline' gained whilst employed at Needler's should prove an excellent foundation on which to build [L.664.1]. On 29 July 1922 the Hull Times ran an article titled ‘A Romance of Local Industry’ which focused on the ‘sweet’ girls of Hull’, and which observed the excellent welfare and social provisions for workers. Profit sharing had been introduced as early as 1911, the company provided good social and sports facilities, as well as a sick and benefit society, and a full time attendant nurse was employed for the use of staff.

Needler's Van, 1918

Unfortunately, Needler's was badly hit by the economic depression of the 1930s, with turnover being nearly half what it had been just a decade earlier. At the same time, Frederick Needler's health was deteriorating, and he died on 30 September 1932 aged 67. He was immediately succeeded by his son, A. Percival Needler. Interestingly, the son was a published poet of some local repute. In 1958, he published a book of poems called ‘The Chiming Hours’ [L. 821]. It contains two love poems, ‘Love was a Rose’ and ‘Amberieux Revisited’...

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Amberieux Revisited

And if two lovers sometimes meet
At blue of evening near my tree,
A corpse most happy I shall be
Their youth and grace to greet;

Holding hands I see them come,
Wrapped in dreams that need no speech,
Smiling softly each to each,
And pause beside my tomb.

“Dear poet who no malice bore,”
I hear them say in voices low,
“Here he rests were flowers blow
And wanders now no more.”

And in their innocence and bliss,
Beneath the stars that watch and wait
I hope that they will celebrate
My memory with a kiss.

The advancement of supermarkets in the 1970s and 1980s led to the eventual decline of small, privately owned sweet shops that no longer placed orders with Needlers to any great volume and so in 1986, the company was bought out. Anyone with a ‘hunger’ to find out more about Needlers after this ‘sweetener’ is welcome to come into Hull History Centre or search our online catalogue (Link)

Elspeth, Archivist and Librarian

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