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BUSINESS HOUSES

Messrs FARLEY'S INFANT FOOD Ltd / FARLEY HEALTH PRODUCTS Ltd

Updated:  12 February 2011 

The Plymouth business house of Messrs Farley's Infant Food Ltd was located at Torr Lane, Peverell, both before and after the Second World War.

The premises in Exeter Street that once housed the Farley's bakery.  The lane on the left was Tabernacle Lane.

The premises in Exeter Street that once housed the Farley's bakery.
The lane on the left was Tabernacle Lane.
  the late Gilbert Corran.

Mr Samuel Farley was a baker at number 90 Cambridge Street, Plymouth, in 1857.  Sometime around 1862 he moved the business to number 5 Bretonside.  At the time of the census in 1871 his widow, Mrs Ann Farley, was still there, with sons James Steer Farley and Edwin Elliott Farley and daughter Ellen Sophia Farley  [1].  These premises were renumbered as 5 Exeter Street.

Also living in Plymouth in that year was a surgeon by the name of Mr William Penn Hele Eales, then aged 61  [2].  It was he who asked Mrs Farley manufacture a special infant cereal biscuit that he had devised.  Although the Farley company always claimed this occurred in 1880, in fact Mr Eales died on Thursday May 16th 1878 while visiting his son-in-law at 143 Camden Road, London, so it must have happened anything up to a decade earlier  [3].  Similar biscuits were made by other bakers in the Town but they were pure white whereas those made by the Farleys were golden brown.

At the time of the 1881 census, James was assisting his mother in the bakery but Edwin had become a pupil teacher  [4].  Later that year, on June 6th 1881, Mr James Steer Farley married Miss Emily Wyatt at Holy Trinity Church  [5].  That wedding was followed on October 12th 1881 by the marriage of Miss Ellen Sophia Farley and Mr Herbert Morley at Plymouth's Charles Church  [5].

It is not known if it was the success of their biscuits that brought about the move in 1887 to number 7 Exeter Street, which had just been rebuilt  [6].  The premises are still in existence and there is a stone to the left of the doorway marked "S.J.P. 1887" (see picture, right).

Mr Edwin Elliott Farley married Miss Ernestine Jane Morley, from Falmouth, in Cornwall, at Charles Church on September 9th 1891  [5].  She was the daughter of Mr J Morley, of Hull, a chief engineer in the Royal Naval Reserve  [7].

Upon the death of Mrs Ann Farley on Tuesday September 17th 1901, the business passed to her son, Mr Edwin Elliott Farley  [8].  In addition to baking his own cakes, he charged other people 2d to bake cakes they had mixed at home in their own tins and the same to cook their Sunday dinners.

On March 23rd 1912 Mr Farley sailed from Bristol aboard the Royal Line Canadian Northern Steamships Ltd vessel "Royal George" bound for Halifax, in Canada.  It is said that he had told his father 'Prospects are brighter and you will not have to work so hard in Canada'.  Curiously, Edwin was travelling alone: neither Ernestine not any other children were with him, contrary to the official Farley's history of events.  Even more curiously, he had declared himself to be 'single'.  [9] 

Before he left he offered the secret recipe to Mr Solomon Stephens for 100 but he turned the offer down.  Instead it was purchased by Mr William Bolitho Trahair, who ran the Globe Stores at 58-59 Notte Street (Cookworthy's old home), where he sold proprietary lines such as Globe Metal Polish and John Master's Matches.  He moved the bakery to number 14 Notte Street in 1915 and installed a packing department at 42 Woolster Street.  By now the biscuits were known as the "4Bs" - 'Bright Bonny Baby Biscuits' and those words were imprinted on each biscuit with a hand roller.

Two men and two boys used to produce an average of twelve baskets of rusks each, the baskets holding about 3,000 biscuits each.  These were taken by handcart to the packaging department in Woolster Street.  This was staffed by six girls, one man and a boy.  So careful was Mr Trahair about the quality of his product that the girls had their finger nails inspected at the start of the working day and because he was an ardent Methodist lay preacher, they had to learn a passage from the Bible before they would be employed. 

The floor of the packaging room was some three feet off the ground because the spring tides often used to flood the premises and when that happened the store man used to ferry the girls to work in the handcart.  The same handcart was then used to transport the packed products to the railway station.

When Mr Trahair took over the business he agreed to retain the services of Mr Collick, the baker, and Mr Farley's niece, Miss Morley.  She used to read serial stories to the young girls during their lunch breaks and apparently locked herself in the mixing room when preparing the secret recipe.

So successful this these "rusks" become that in 1919 the Trahair family gave up their other agencies, formed Messrs Farley's Infant Food Ltd (note that the word 'food' is singular) and the following year moved production to Woolster Street, where they installed an electrically driven gas heated 'travelling oven'.

Then in 1931 a new, purpose-built, model factory was erected in Torr lane.

Mr William Bolitho Trahair died on Tuesday September 4th 1934 at the age of 79 years.  He had been associated with the business life of Plymouth for some 60 years and was also chairman of Messrs Henry Lawry Ltd, wholesale ironmongers.  [10]

The factory was doubled in size in 1938 and the most up-to-date plant installed.  The night after the factory was covered in dark grey camouflage paint it received a direct hit, causing a great deal of damage and wrecking the unoccupied bomb shelter.  The date was October 17th 1940  [11].

After the Second World War the business was run by two brothers, Mr Nicholas Roseveare Trahair and Mr David Ladner Trahair, and the cousin Mr John Trahair  [12].  Nicholas and David were the grandsons of Mr Richard Hitchins Trahair, a merchant in Bristol, who was Mr William Bolitho Trahair's older brother  [13].

Despite the earlier conclusion that Edwin Farley's wife did not travel to Canada with him, she must have gone over at some point because Mrs Ernestine Jane Farley died in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1942.  Mr Edwin Elliott Farley died there in 1949.  [14]

A Farley's Rusks advert from 1953.

A Farley's Rusks advert from 1953.

In 1959 the factory was once again updated with the installation of the latest machinery, and a new mixing block, raw material bulk store and despatch warehouse were added, taking over the former recreation area that had been used by many local organisations for their sports days.

The business was sold in 1968 to Messrs Glaxo Laboratories Ltd, an old established New Zealand milk drying firm.  The new name of Messrs Farley Health Products Ltd dates from this period, when other health products such as Complan and Ostermilk were added to the Farley brand.  Mr David Ladner Trahair continued with the new owners until his retirement in 1973  [10].  They formed a new company, Messrs Glaxo Farley Foods Ltd, in 1975.  Two years later new laboratories for research and development and quality control were constructed.  By 1980 the turnover had risen from 4 million in 1974 to about 35 million and some 1,100 people were employed at Plymouth and a sister site at Kendal, Cumbria.

Unfortunately, disaster struck the plant in Kendal in 1986, when the company's wholesome image was destroyed overnight by an outbreak of salmonella.  Messrs Boot's the Chemist purchased the Farley's two factories for just 18 million and in April 1989 announced that the Plymouth home of Farley's Rusks would be closed down in 1990, with the loss of 295 jobs.  [15]

Mr David Ladner Trahair died on December 30th 2000, at the age of 83.  He was survived by his widow and three sons.  [10]

Mr Nicholas Roseveare Trahair died on February 6th 2003 at the age of 88.  He was survived by a son and two daughters [16].


Principal Source:

"Farley Health Products 1880-1980", Farley Health Products Ltd, Plymouth, 1980.

Other Sources:

[1]  1871 Census, RG10/2114/103/9.

[2]  1871 Census, RG10/2121/91/27.

[3]  "Death of Mr Eales, Surgeon", Western Morning News, Plymouth, May 21st 1878.

[4]  1881 Census, RG11/2192/42/27.

[5]  "Plymouth Marriage Index, volume 1", CD, Devon Family History Society/Plymouth & West Devon Record Office, Exeter ad Plymouth, 2003.

[6]  The premises still exist in Breton Side, to the right of Tabernacle Lane, and it carries a date stone engraved "S.J.P. 1887".

[7]  Marriage announcement, Western Morning News, Plymouth.

[8]  Death announcement, local newspapers.

[9]  "Passenger Lists Leaving the UK, 1890 to 1960" via wwwfindmypast.com.

[10]  "Tribute to Late Mr W B Trahair: Plymouth Service: Buiried at St Just-in-Penwith", Western Morning News, Plymouth, September 8th 1934.

[11]  Twyford, H P, "It Came to Our Door", Underhill's, Plymouth, 1945.

[12]  Obituary: "David Trahair: Farley's director well respected", Western Morning News, Plymouth, January 8th 2001.

[13]  Family reconstruction via www.freebmd.org.

[14]  Cemetery Search courtesy of the Alberta Family Histories Society via www.afhs.ab.ca.

[15]  Farley's farewell to city of birth: Sad loss of old family company", Evening Herald, Plymouth, April 8th 1989.

[16]  Obituaries: "Nicholas Trahair: Motivating figure in post-war Plymouth", Western Morning News, Plymouth, February 14th 2003.

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK

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