White Hart Crest of the Royal County of Berkshire David Nash Ford's Royal Berkshire History

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Huntley & Palmer's Biscuit Factory
119-129 King's Road, Reading
A Description from 1892

This world-renowned establishment consists of a collection of large buildings extending from the South-Eastern Railway, on the north, to the King's Road on the south, and occupies many acres of land. The River Kennet runs through the grounds, dividing the buildings, but they are connected by light iron bridges. The works are plainly seen from the Great Western, South-Western and South-Eastern Railways as they approach the town, although the part visible there from gives the observer but a very inadequate idea of the huge pile of buildings which constitute the entire manufactory. These railway lines penetrate to the heart of the premises and are linked to tramways for the swift and easy conveyance of goods, from the principal departments, to the very doors of which the railway trucks are brought; and special engines, owned by the firm, busily steam to and from the main lines with loads of biscuits, empties or raw materials. And thus, without any blocking of the streets or delay in transmission, are forwarded, to all parts of the World, the biscuits which have given Reading a commercial and manufacturing fame that many a town ten times the size might well envy. Besides those employed in the manufactory and warehouses, there is a large staff of clerks in the range of offices at Reading; also an establishment in London, where some of the partners are resident, conducting the extensive London, continental and foreign business of the House - a necessary condition of such a worldwide trade. Numerous travellers also are engaged in representing the firm in England and abroad. The immense quantities of raw materials required for the purposes of manufacture at Reading find their market mainly in the city, so that, both in reference to the imports and the exports, it forms no exception to the general rule that the greatest provincial manufactures of the country are necessary linked to London, of which, indeed, owing to the splendid railway service which exists, Reading may now be almost regarded as a suburb. Nearly all the work, so far as actual contact with the biscuit is concerned, is done by the agency of spotless metal and wood. There is an appearance of scrupulous cleanliness about the busy workers themselves, but yet human hands, however cleanly, rarely touch the biscuit. They do but guide with thought and skill the complex machinery. There is yet shown in the factory the old hand-machine which was once used there, and it stands in suggestive contrast to the costly and complicated structures of blended power and delicacy which now so obediently do the will of their masters. The "Mixing Rooms" are, as a matter of course, closed to visitors, but those where the kneading operations are performed are shown. Here the materials are thoroughly incorporated with each other, and the plastic dough thus produced is passed many times between massive rollers and, after repeated pressure, it re-appears in snowy sheets of uniform thickness and perfect smoothness. Travelling on, still untouched by human hands, it moves under ingenious knives, which swiftly and surely cut it with exactitude into the requisite sizes and shapes. Then, by the same unseen agency, the new formations are released from their encircling network, and are straightway borne to the ovens, which are marvels of moving mechanism. In these, the biscuits are carried onward upon a travelling web, the speed of which is regulated with the nicest precision, and the shapely and fragrant morsel emerges from the ovens a perfect Reading biscuit. The processes of manufacture vary, as maybe supposed, in rapidity and complexity, with the different kinds of biscuits produced. Some, as the "Gems" and "Pearls," are turned out at the rate of more than twenty thousand an hour, while others are made with much less rapidity, and, indeed, can only be manufactured slowly, and with minute and painstaking detail. Every known seed, leaf, fruit and flower, which can be made to minister to the excellence or attractiveness of a biscuit, is pressed into service here. All countries and climes, and the costliest inventions of mechanical genius, are laid under contribution for the production of nearly 250 varieties of biscuits which bear the name of Huntley and Palmers. As the visitor passes from room to room he will notice, here, piles of cocoa nuts, which will flavour untold thousands of the favourite biscuits which bear their name; and there, thousands of eggs which are being examined by boys seated by powerfully reflected light, and who literally see through every egg before it is allowed to be broken for use. After looking into the room, where are monster and miniature wedding cakes in all their dainty and artistic beauty, he will pass onward, beneath narrow railway trains laden with their tasty burdens; onward, amidst the whirr of small tram-cars, ascending and descending upon rails laid upon steep inclines from room to room, to the great stores where is garnered enough flour to banish the dread of speedy famine from the district, and where snowy mountains of sugar await crushing and sifting by the ponderous machines above; on, to see countless rows of tins of all sizes and shapes, which are closely packed with biscuits, and which are then taken to another long room where, with wonderful swiftness and skill, they are labelled with the elegant designs which add beauty to use and where, although the workers are many and their movements incessant, there seems no confusion or hurry. Thence through the departments where huge boxes are expertly crowded with filled tins, which, after being weighed, are transmitted direct to the main lines of the railway. Close by are the Colonial and Foreign Departments, with long ranges of heavy cases destined for far off regions of the Earth, the names of which appear in scores of stencilled plates upon the walls. Here, and indeed everywhere, order reigns supreme. Wisely planned method in minutest detail is manifest in every department, from the initial stages of manufacture to the elaborate and complicated system of book-keeping, in which nearly a hundred clerks are engaged. It is obvious that both the imports and the exports of the house must be simply enormous. In the departments where the women and the girls are employed, the work is light, and even artistic, in its rapidity and delicacy, and the sight of the long rows of bright faces is a very pleasant one. The rooms are spacious, well ventilated and bright, and much kindly provision is made for the health and comfort of their occupants.

There is a Reading Room, having a well-stocked library, upon the works, with many other provisions for the comfort and well-being of all. Nearly every creed, denomination and shade of religious and political thought, are represented in this little manufacturing world, in which all are alike free and yet are linked by common interest and mutual goodwill, which happily find frequent opportunities for cordial and outspoken expression, and upon many of these occasions a generous tribute has been paid by all the members of the firm to the loyalty of those whose cheerful co-operation has contributed so much to the reputation and success of the house.

What surprising conceptions there are to be found in the machinery - apparently so intricate and yet so simple! Here indeed is mechanism brought to the highest state of perfection and manual labour reduced to the minimum; and when it is added that a considerable portion of the former was invented and designed by members of the firm, it will not detract from the merit attaching to those who have had the mind to conceive, the energy and ability to execute, to raise and establish so gigantic and novel an industry. The trade (which extends to every known part of the habitable globe), the buildings and almost everything connected with the establishment have been entirely developed during the lifetime of its founder - Mr. George Palmer, who, fortunately for the town, is still one of Reading's most prominent and respected inhabitants.

  

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