Wartime had taught the directors that buying other businesses, and their ration allocation, was a good way to grow. The firm now embarked on an acquisition spree to harness the opportunities of peacetime. Companies such as the Bristol Sweet Supply Co and R&J Scholes were combined within a national wholesaler called Moffat – a seemingly independent supplier, whose link with Trebor remained secret until 1959.
Woodford Avenue in East London became important to the firm, first with a factory, then an export warehouse and, in 1956, a brand new headquarters called Trebor House. Overseas, the firm did well in countries such as Nigeria, Malaya and the West Indies, helping confectionery to become the third-largest food export for ration-ravaged Britain. In 1957 the firm proudly celebrated its fiftieth birthday with Golden Jubilee parties and promotions.
Woodford and Trebor House
Further out in East London arose a new factory and the firm’s first headquarters building.
In May 1949 the firm started negotiations to buy some property in Woodford Avenue, Ilford. Sidney Bonner had been looking out for somewhere to expand production in East London as Forest Gate was already full to capacity. He found a disused coachworks five miles further out in the eastern suburbs, with a large bungalow and garden offering room for expansion. Once it was purchased, Cyril Robertson took charge of converting the coachworks into a sweet factory; this was not easy as it had been used to make tank shells during the war. The firm brought there its production of compressed sugar goods such as Extra Strong Mints and Refreshers.
Behind the Woodford factory the firm built a warehouse in 1954 to handle export packing and despatch. The newly emerging customers from Lagos and Baghdad, Hong Kong and Toronto may have liked the same sweets as the good people of London and Manchester, but they needed them packaged differently. At the same time it was far too expensive to export the goods in glass jars. This warehouse specialised in serving each market in the way it demanded.
Later in 1956, on the site of the bungalow, a brand new headquarters arose – bursting with all the modern style of the time – which was aptly named Trebor House just like the first premises back in 1907. This provided offices for the directors and managers, along with space for the fast-growing administration staff.
Alf Dixon, factory manager at Woodford from the early 1950s, later recalled:
‘The factory started up with two Hartmann and Stein roll-wrappers on which we wrapped round tablets embossed with the name Trebor. We also had two wrappers for square Refresher-type sweets called Frubes and Fizzets, and two more machines for wrapping rectangular mints for export to Nigeria under the brand name Peerless Mints.
‘The sugar was delivered from Tate & Lyle in two hundredweight hessian sacks, to be tipped into the sugar mills. In those days the sugar mills were always exploding and dried powder was piled up in half-hundredweight sacks, which had to be manually tipped into the mixers for damping down and flavouring. We made about eighty to ninety tons a week. Brian Jarvis was king of the export warehouse – he was an expert at strapping and stencilling the huge wooden cartons we used for sending tins of toffee and peppermints abroad.’
In March 1956 the firm’s management and administrative staff moved into the new Trebor House. Built alongside the Woodford Factory in East London, this remained the firm’s headquarters until the sale to Cadbury in 1989. In 1979 the firm upgraded the building with a complete new top floor.
A Job for David
British sweet firm Trebor produced this lovely film in 1957 to help young people consider working in a sweet factory. It’s a pleasure to watch today because it provides a surprisingly honest, and fun, insight into a world so different from our own.
The firm always liked to celebrate. So when its 50th birthday came along, there were lavish parties in London and Chesterfield, along with a jubilant brochure and twelve months of joyful events.
‘The Royal Festival Hall was filled on Tuesday night when 1,800 employees of Robertson and Woodcock, Ltd., were the guests of the board of directors at the company’s Golden Jubilee party.’
So read the Express & Independent newspaper on 25th January 1957. It was quite a party: dancing to Nat Temple and his band, a tableau of Trebor employees dressed up in costumes from the past half century, cabaret from Ted Ray and The Dazzles dancing girls, 500 balloons released at midnight, plus fleets of buses to take everyone home. Robert Robertson, the grand old man of the firm, was applauded for kissing his wife as he ended his speech. Sydney Marks thanked all the loyal and enthusiastic ‘Treborites’, praised the Trebor Spirit, but couldn’t resist making gentle digs at the honoured guests, the Mayors of Woodford and East Ham, for their ‘unsympathetic officials.’
Racier than the press report was the description of the party in The Trebor Magazine: ‘The party had everything; now brilliant, now tender; now gay; now moving; now riotous; now thoughtful. One’s own thoughts moved in step. Now rockin’ and rollin’ with the young and the future; now waltzing with the old and the past; now at the quick-step with those whose powers are at their height today.’
The firm was clearly determined to celebrate its 50th birthday in style. Aside from the London party, it had hosted a big do two weeks earlier at Sheffield’s Cutlers’ Hall for the Chesterfield staff. There’s a picture from The Derbyshire Times of this event, showing all the directors and key family members lined up behind a series of cakes spelling out the firm’s name.
Created for the firm’s 50th birthday, this snapshot of Trebor in 1957 tells a proud tale of technical innovation, marketing might and global ambition.
Proud of its history, the firm produced a lavish Golden Jubilee Brochure – a snapshot of a forward-thinking firm, which extolled its past, but prized its modernity and place in the world. ‘We have tried to keep a family feeling in the organisation, which at its best is a feeling of warmth and security,’ wrote Sydney Marks in the foreword, going on to say, ‘Trebor has exported far more than most and even if this has not always been as profitable as the home market we have, in our small way, helped our country to obtain foreign currency and to show that Trebor quality means that to buy British is to buy wisely.’
In a long section headed How Our Products Are Made, the brochure praises the company’s increasing mechanisation of production, its use of air conditioning and its ‘all-seeing eye’, an electro-magnetic detector for spotting tiny pieces of metal which had got into the mix. Pictures show a clinically-clean working environment, where gloved and hatted staff monitor machines to wash bottles, sort boiled sweets or wrap mints.
A map of Trebor’s World Markets resembles a map of the British Empire, along with countries such as the USA, Italy and Sweden. ‘We can quote the hundreds of tons of TREBOR sweets sold each year in small fancy tins of special designs which, probably not acceptable in the United Kingdom, are received eagerly by Arab and Chinese customers in Baghdad, Mosul, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong. We can quote Wappi caramels in the Gold Coast, the multi-sized polythene packs in the U.S.A. and Canada, and the special Red and Gold for Chinese markets, where Blue is a sign of mourning and completely foreign to the joy and festivity which surrounds the buying of confectionery.’ The importance of Scandinavia is shown by the choice of only two foreign partners to be featured: Thorvald Pedersen and Sven Jacobsen of Denmark.