Clarnico history

Shirley Jennings got in touch from New Zealand to say her mother Elizabeth Sowervold worked for Clarnico before emigrating to New Zealand in 1921. Her mother was born in Stratford in 1901.

It’s unlikely, perhaps impossible, that anyone still alive will have worked alongside Elizabeth at Clarnico during that period after the first world war. But we’re always interested to hear more about that Hackney Wick firm. Last spring we were contacted by Geoff Nickolls, also from West Ham, who thought he might be related to the Nickolls who co-founded Clarnico and provided half its name. It transpired he wasn’t, but he found there is a large Clarnico archive at the London Metropolitan Archives.

If only there was time to write a history of Clarnico. Whenever I take the London Overground train from Gospel Oak, where I live, over to Stratford, I pass within yards of the old Clarnico site by the River Lee Navigation at Hackney Wick. Now it’s largely buried by the residue of the Olympic Park, but there’s still one old building which I fancy must have formed part of the old Clarnico empire. (See picture at the bottom)

Back in 1893, over 1,500 people worked for Clarnico, of whom 1,300 were women. It was a major corporation long before the Trebor founders started peddling their boilings round Forest Gate in 1907.

Clarnico's many employees seen leaving work in 1908.

Clarnico’s many employees seen leaving work in 1908.

In 1900 the Daily Telegraph reported on The Jam Girl (a typical Clarnico worker) who loved liberty and would rather live and eat simply, albeit precariously, rather than go into domestic service with its abundant food and comfortable lodgings – but servitude.

By 1903 Clarnico boasted a 100-strong choral society, a fire brigade and a 70-strong brass band which toured France and Italy. There was also a boys’ bugle, drum and fife band, and an ambulance team. Those were the days when your work provided much of your social life. For all the hardship, there must have been a lot of fun.

Later the firm went into decline, not helped by being bombed out during the war and then building a new factory in 1951 that became obsolete soon after it was finished. Trebor bought the firm in 1969 for £900,000. Today Hackney Wick has become a fashionable enclave, an island of designers and artists and water-side apartments with rapidly rising rents.

As I say, it would be lovely to write a history of Clarnico – to explore the life of those free-spirited Jam Girls of 1900. Sadly such work would never pay, and I’ve spent my time on Trebor. But if anyone else is interested in the task, I’d be delighted to help as I can.

Clarnico 1921 from above Reduced

Here’s a 1921 overhead picture of the Clarnico site. To the left is Hackney Wick. The railway runs across the middle of those three bridges in the centre. Carpenter’s Road ran over the nearer roadbridge. The road’s since disappeared as part of the Olympic Park which now covers the land to the right of the river. But the bridge is still there and so is the Clarnico-marked building beside it on the right, eastern bank between the railway and road. It’s now offices – and the only remains of that once great confectionery empire.




This entry was posted in Clarnico, Main, Memories. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Clarnico history

  1. Mike Buchanan says:

    I was wondering if anyone can tell me the connection with Clarnico in
    Sir Lowry rd Cape Town which must have been established sometime in the 1940’s. My grandfather had a sweet factory there by that name after he emigrated from Scotland. His name was James Buchanan and I remember many visits there. My dad Ian Buchanan was also on the board of directors and I have a copy of his share certificate. If someone has any info I would appreciate it.

  2. Chloe says:

    I am looking for my Grandads friend Georgie Fuller. He was an electrician in Clarnicos in 1955.

  3. Jane Anthony says:

    Can anyone help track down copies of The Delecta Magazine circa WW1. My grandfather, William Gettens, worked in the confectionary department for many years, pre and post WW1 and features in this Clarnico house magazine , perhaps c.1916, where fellow workers had sent him a box of goodies to India where he was a gunner in the army. Many records were destroyed in a fire, I know.

  4. Lisa Crampton says:


    I have been tracing my husbands family history and they all originate from Islington /Hackney area. In the 1911 census his great aunt Maud Annie Crampton was working age 19 as a confectioner/chocolate maker and living at 31 high st Hackney. I believe she would have worked in your factory but have no other info on her. Can you help fill in any gaps or ideas where I can get more info on Maud.
    many Thanks Lisa Crampton

  5. David Hogan says:

    My nan (grandmother Tilly Harvey worked at Glarnico in from 1930’s to 1950’s I went to meet her at the factory when I was 10 or 11 I am no 69 years young. I remember crossing over a canal to get there on a wet summers day and got a clip around the ear for getting soaking wet.

    My Nan lived at Hassett Road Hackney Wick. I loved wandering around the East End and going fishing for the first time at Victoria Park with my uncle Cyril halcyon days long ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *