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.
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.
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.