1885 - The First Jam
Arthur Charles Wilkin joined with two friends to form the Britannia Fruit Preserving Company. He stipulated that the jam should be free of glucose, colouring and preservatives. The first jam was of such high quality and impressed one Australian merchant so much that he arranged to buy every last pot. As new varieties were added the distinction between jams made with home grown fruit (Conserve) and foreign produce (Preserve) was made.
1900 - Success & the Community
A price list from 1901 stated that the company had over 8,000 customers and that all the goods were delivered directly. Over 600 acres of land has been planted with unusual fruits, including, gooseberries, cherries, damsons, quinces, crab apples, plums and Loganberries. In 1905 the company was renamed 'Wilkin & Sons Limited' to avoid confusion with 25 other companies trading as Britannia. The success saw the introduction of a minimum pension scheme and company housing which many employees to this date still live in.
1911 - Pre-War Years
1911 saw the award of a Royal Warrant from King George V. The two "gentlemen of official standing" who brought the good news were shown jam ready for dispatch to Khartoum, Nigeria, Rangoon and the Falkland Islands. Over the ensuing years exports became and remain an important part of the business, helping to spread the reputation far and wide. ACW died in 1913, employees wrote of having lost a true and faithful friend. CJW became Chairman.
1914 - 1918 Effects of the Great War
The Great War saw a commitment from C.J.W who wrote "Quality and purity will in no circumstances be depreciated". Together with the 73 employees who joined the Forces, 8,000 boxes of jam were sent to the front to boost morale. On the home front in 1916 a Zeppelin passed over Tiptree with its crew throwing overboard equipment in a desperate attempt to gain height. The factory became surrounded in equipment most notably the great airship’s log book and a machine gun complete with ammunition.
1920 - Post War Years
By 1920 a substantial urban middle class grew up and they aspired to the comforts that had earlier been the preserve of the fortunate. Sales exceeded £100,000 for the first time and the company had over 200,000 customers on the books. A.F and T.G Wilkin joined as a new generation of employees. Upon CJW retiring AFW took over as factory manager.
1940 - The Second World War
This period saw a great shortage of labour and the very real threat of invasion and bomb damage. In 1941 the company was forced to deal with retailers and forbidden to deal with the public directly. Stocks ran low and it was impossible to make a profit from the business. The death of CJW in 1942 saw TGW appointed as director and AFW as chairman.
1947 - Into the Fifties
With the ending of hostilities, the business once again began to flourish and by 1947 profits were at the highest. Consumer demand was so strong through retailers that there was no going back. Exports grew by 62% in 1950 and a hostel was built to accommodate 120 overseas students. In 1954 further success came in the form of a Royal Warrant from HM the Queen for the supply of Jam & Marmalade.
1960 - Challenges
The arrival of the 1960’s marked a busy period of change, the company found even though demand for high quality goods had increased growth needed to come in the form of new ideas instead of large injections of capital. 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. As consumption continued to fall we moved from 16oz to 12oz jars for the entire range also switching to the more convenient twist off caps.
1971 - Success Breeds Success
The founder’s great-grandson was appointed director in 1971, and the factory saw an extensive modernisation program. New jam boiling facilities and an extended freeze store were quickly installed. The work was commissioned with an eye of maintaining control over as many parts of the business as possible. New sugar silos meant outside strike action would have less impact, and the installation of electricity generators removed concerns over electrical supply during busy periods.
1980 - A New Generation Arrives
Three new directors joined the four Wilkin family members on the board, later in 1980 AFW retired after 38 years as chairman of the business. JSW wrote: "His was a lifetime of devotion and painstaking dedication to the business". A further £200,000 was allocated for the reconstruction of the offices and continued factory improvements. Turnover had passed £5million, exports to over 50 countries were strong and Gift packs were introduced to stimulate interest in the range.
In his last years TGW worked hard to guarantee future employee’s benefited from the success. A Share Ownership Scheme was started and shares were transferred to a trust for the employees, a trust which currently holds over half the issued share capital. The dismissal of a hurricane by a famous TV presenter could not have been more wrong. In a few hours’ trees that stood for centuries were uprooted, farm buildings and roofs damaged and Sea Salt from the North Sea burnt plants turning them a dark brown for many seasons to come.
1994 - Moving forward in the 90’s
Late 1990 saw the opening of the Tiptree Shop and in 1994 this was added to with a tea room and the opening of a new museum, recorded visitors soon exceeded 50,000. A curious mixture of old and new methods helped the factory to continue its modernisation. State of the art packing and filling machinery works hand in hand with skilled labourers.
2000 - The Millennium; the first 10 years
Tiptree sales continued to flourish in a slowing market and the company extended its tea room activities with the purchase of the 'Essex Rose' in Dedham and the 'the lock' at Heybridge Basin, meanwhile 100,000 visitors annually could be expected at the visitors centre. With the acquisition of Thursday Cottage a well renowned hand made preserve manufacture and Passionately Cakes a turnover of £15 million was achievable for the first time. Very significant investment continued to be made in the factory, in 2009 in excess of £500,000 was invested in a new honey packing facility, in addition a new IQF plant was commissioned. In 2009, the Royal Warrant from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was extended to cover the whole range of Tiptree products.
2010 - 125 years of making jam in Tiptree
2010 marked 125 years of jam making at Tiptree. It was the company's best year ever and a year of celebrations was completed with a visit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. August 2010 saw the luxury pudding makers, Cole's Traditional Foods, join the Wilkin & Sons portfolio following an acquisition. Wilkin & Sons’ staff numbers swelled to record levels, but one in particular had his own special reason to celebrate: David Cross reached 50 years of helping to make Tiptree preserves. August 2011 saw Thursday Cottage purchase the jules & sharpie brand, specialising in preserves with 'hot' ingredients, the products complement those produced by Thursday Cottage. The tea room business was extended once again with the opening of The Lordship tea room & shop at Writtle in December 2011.
The Company remains fiercely independent and committed to maintaining the highest quality standards, without compromise. Recent years have seen strong growth into new markets and commensurate financial results. The business has come to understand that although jam sales continue to grow, that may not always be the case. There are plans to reduce dependence on that market, by developing the tea room, fruit-farming and other businesses. The business has a medium-term plan and a long-term one, having been preserving since 1885, we look far back, but also plan ahead for the future. Above all, we will remain committed to quality, integrity and independence.