For the third time in about a month this column has shown a certain prescience in dealing with a number of locally related topics in our tourist trail mini-series. The latest was our reference in our Garter Lane/Meeting House story and the related local Quaker business community of that area, including the Jacob family of William and Robert who resided nearby.
Within a week it was announced, sadly, that the Jacob biscuit factory producing the much relished Kimberly, Mikado and Coconut Creams had come to an end at its factory in Dublin. As such was treated as a national story leading the headlines on all the national media outlets. But it’s also very much a Waterford story worthy of noting.
Though strongly associated with Dublin for a long time, Jacob’s biscuits were first produced in Waterford in 1851. Brothers, William and Robert who lived in O’Connell Street opened their first bakery in Bridge Street on a site where Lonergans had a bakery subsequently. As we noted on a number of occasions the Waterford Quaker community made a huge contribution to the commercial life of Waterford during the 18th and 19th centuries.
This is what we said reminding you of that contribution as we visited the now Garter Lane: Approached, as we said, through an inconspicuous archway, the entrance gives no idea at all of the size of the 18th century building behind. Its size gives ample testimony to the size and wealth of the Quaker community then in Waterford. It was in this newly developed area outside the old medieval city, and in streets like King Street (now called O’Connell Street) and Hanover Street, where most of the Quaker merchants of Waterford had their homes and business premises.
Names like Penrose and Gatchell, both of glass-making fame, Jacob of biscuit fame – it was in Waterford that Jacob produced the first cream cracker as ship’s biscuit and White the ship -builders were all to be found here. The name of Grubb still features trading on this street. The building which housed original home of the Jacob founding brother is still in daily use as a business premises.
In total the Quakers made up just 2 percent of the city’s population but their economic contribution proved enormous and thus far outweighed their small number. Streets in this Quaker quarter still echo their presence and their metiers: Glasshouse Lane, Penrose Lane, Dyehouse Lane and of course, Meeting House Lane. A Penrose flint glass decanter, crafted in the nearby works, dating from 1790 is on display among the Waterford Treasures in the Granary. We have not even mentioned the towering influence of the Malcolmson family yet, some descendents of whom are still giving service to their community today. Remembered too is their great contribution in this city of life-saving sustenance to the poor and hungry during the terrible famine of the late 1840’s which the members of the Quaker community both financed and operated.
Financial prudence was their watchword in business affairs and therefore to run one’s business otherwise was deemed unacceptable as this might lead to bankruptcy which was regarded as dishonesty, as the money of others was put at risk. (How our country could have done with such prudence in recent times)! To minimise such a risk, the Quakers kept a close eye on each others commercial affairs. They trusted and helped each other, and took the sons of relations and fellow-Quakers as apprentices. This proved very successful for the conduct of business. This system, their honest dealings and plain living enabled them to grow prosperous as manufacturers, tradesmen, bankers, and merchants.
Seamas O Maitiu, in his excellent book on the history of W&R Jacob, the famous biscuit makers, goes on to tell us that they eventually came to dominate key 18th century industries in Britain and Ireland. Quaker families became household names in the fields of iron-making, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and banking. In the 19th century they went on to play a key role in new industries such as shoemaking, biscuits and choclate Barclays, Lloyds, Price Waterhouse, Swan Hunter, Clarks’ shoes, Wedgewood, Huntley and Palmer, Cadbury, Frys, and Rowntree all have Quaker origins in England. In Ireland, famous Quaker business families include the Pims (pioneered railways in Ireland), Grubbs, Bewleys, Lambs (remember the Jams!).
And very importantly the Waterford Quakers, firstly, the Malcolmsons of the huge and world famous cotton mills of Portlaw and their equally famous ship Neptune ship building company at Adelphi Quay which sailed the oceans of the world, indeed, their SS Una was the first ship to sail through the Suez Canal, (Bill Irish has a great book on the history of Waterford ship building). The Penroses and the Whites were also into shipping. Brewing was long associated with Strangmans, Goffs and Davis, and of course, the Penroses and Gatchells are famously linked with the introduction of glass making into Waterford.
As alluded to already, Jacobs founded their biscuit factory in Waterford at 33 Bridge Street as provisions for a teeming harbour of ships. Their achievements in these areas alone have been truly remarkable especially when one remembers that they remained a minority sect never numbering more than one percent of the population in either England or Ireland. On reading the Malcolmson story, in particular, and their enormous achievements which were on a truly international scale, one wonders where are the monuments, the plaques, street names and city squares named in their honour.
So this week’s column is in tribute to the remarkable story of the Jacob family of Waterford who established their products as a national even international brand. It also gave us a further opportunity to remind ourselves of the enormous contribution made by Jacobs and the community from which they came. Now don’t we have a new bridge to name soon enough?
Congratulations to all the new and re-elected members of the City Council. Indeed well done to all those who run for public office and so fulfil a useful role in the democratic process. There are plenty of challenges ahead both locally and nationally – many promises and aspirations to be now translated into action. Our number one of last weekend popped into the world elsewhere, in the beautiful form of our second grandson, so was Falvey poll-topper, born to proud parents, Tony and Claire.
Go seachtain eile, slan.