Mr Sydney goes to Germany

Having rejected engineering college to join his dad’s firm, Sydney J Marks put his technical interests to practical use.

In 1924 he travelled to Germany to spend several months studying how German sweet firms used modern machinery. But he nearly didn’t get there. As the company magazine later reported, ‘There happened to be a pilot strike, which meant the director of the aviation company was piloting. On the second lap, from Brussels to Cologne, he joined the pilot with the intention of navigating. Greatly to his and the pilot’s horror, the only map in the cockpit turned out to be a Michelin road map. This is possibly the only time a pilot has been directed to “turn right at the next crossroads.”’

Once safely arrived, he stayed with a family called Hiller and worked in their confectionery factory. Not surprisingly so soon after the war, there was some ill-feeling towards the English.  As John Marks explains, ‘When grandfather was working on the hot sugar line, they would steal his gloves. But he wouldn’t stop, even though his hands got badly burned and he got sugar poisoning.’ This didn’t prevent the Marks and Hiller families starting a friendship that spanned generations. John stayed with them during his National Service in 1949 and said, ‘It was at the Hillers that my brother and I learnt to make Trebor mints.’

At the Henkel factory in Viersen, Sydney discovered the new Hansella forming machinery, while at Krefeld he saw the latest vacuum-cooking equipment. On returning to Forest Gate, he persuaded the board to re-organise the factory around these new machines. With vacuum-cooking, the firm could now make boiled sweets much faster and more cheaply, while the Hansella machines allowed production of sweets such as satins, which had seldom previously appeared in London and the Southeast. These enhancements, helped by lower sugar prices, enabled the company to produce high quality boilings at low cost – perfect for expanding market share during the 1920s.

A model of the first continuous high boiled sugar sweet forming machine, made by Albert Henkel, which reached Forest Gate in 1924. This Hansella Plastic Machine formed sweets from a rope of ‘plastic’ or malleable sugar fed into it. Such high tech machinery replaced the hand-turned machines used previously.