George Harker & Co.
Early HistoryThe firm of George Harker & Company was founded in 1826 by Mr. George Harker. The offices were originally at number 27, St Martin’s Lane in the City of London, and later moved to Upper Thames Street. In the early days of the company, representatives toured the country in horse drawn coaches complete with top boots and tassels and were absent from the London offices for up to three months at a time. The company also owned their own ship that coasted between London and Scotland. Until 1914 the Directors and Principles attended the office properly groomed in silk hat and frock coat, and only male clerks were employed. It was not until the mass exodus of male staff during wartime that female staff were employed for the first time.
The company began trading in a variety of products, including dried fish, oils and spices. It soon, however, concentrated on trading in rice, pulses, dried fruit, canned goods, spices, nuts and what was known at the time as colonial produce. As business developed, a packing factory was set up to pack a wide range of products at Bow Road, London.
Through The Wars
The company has traded under several monarchs and several wars, including the Boer War and two world wars. This greatly affected the business and at least four staff served with the forces in South Africa during the Boer War. The First World War saw more than 40 members of staff engaged in active service overseas with four sadly losing their lives. The Second World War also saw the loss of four members of staff on active duty.
The bombing of London during the Blitz caused many logistical problems and the factory was completely destroyed. However, contingency plans had been made earlier, and production was quickly moved to other premises in London. It was due to the great spirit and dedication of the staff during these troubled times that the company managed to continue trading.
Trading patterns changed considerably following the end of the Second World War, with self-service becoming an accepted way of life. Mergers and group trading brought about a major change in the traditional buying channels, and whilst the wholesale and retail selling outlets were in the main unaltered, large numbers of companies merged, and the focus became one of economies of scale and buying power, rather than smaller transactions. It was therefore no longer economical to employ a large sales force covering regional areas.
Self-service continued to expand at a rapid pace in the 1950s and 1960s, and goods such as cereals, pulses, dried fruits and nuts which had been traditionally sold in bulk were now sold in smaller pre-packs. The company found itself in a unique position to take advantage of this change, which has continued to the present day.
The company had already operated a successful packing factory for many years and had established valuable experience in packing products under customers’ own brands. This, coupled with important overseas and domestic links, meant that the company could offer specialist services not readily available elsewhere.
George Harker continued to maintain a London office, most recently at Cree House, in Cree Church Lane. A near neighbour at this time was, by chance, another established food importer, Demos Ciclitira Ltd who also had their offices in Cree Church Lane. Mr. Stanley Stephenson was Chairman for many years, and achieved the amazing record of working at George Harker for over 70 years, having started as a boy.
The decision was taken following commercial pressure to sell the business to a larger trading company, Stevens & Brotherton, and this sale took place in 1994. The London office was closed and management moved to Stevens & Brotherton’s headquarters in Orpington, Kent. After a relatively short period, the firm was sold again in 1998, this time to the family trading business of Demos Ciclitira Ltd. This gave the opportunity for the two companies to merge their operations. The present modern factory at Braintree, Essex is equipped with the latest automatic plant machinery for cleaning, chopping, mixing and packing dried fruit, cereals and pulses.
George Harker thus has a long experience and expertise in the sale and manufacture of grocery products and with its young, enthusiastic team, is able to provide a first class service and competitive prices for its customers.