A history of Meltis in Bedford 1913 - 1996
1907: Peek Frean & Co., biscuit manufacturers, were established in Bermondsey, London.
1908: Meltis trademark registered by Peek Frean as a trading name.
1913: Peek Frean & Co. opened a factory in Miller Road, Bedford. The factory was built by Messrs Moss of Loughborough in what were then very rural surroundings, on a site which was previously worked as a market garden by Messrs Hall & Potter. The factory buildings initially covered only 1 acre of a 21 acre site.
Thirty employees were transferred from the London factory and one hundred people were employed from the local area. The first works manager was Mr Lawrence E H Roberts, assisted by Mr John Carr and Col. C V Jones. The training of the new labour was in the hands of Messrs A G & H Whipp and F. Noble, H Wright and the reputedly formidable Miss Freeman.
Production started with Mitcham Peppermints and a range of 'non-sticky' confectionery, quickly followed by crystallised and glacé fruits. Biscuit covering also commenced, using the 'Champion Dipper' to produce the 'Supreme' range of biscuits. Chocolate covering by hand and the production of one penny bars were introduced simultaneously.
Initial problems were the inexperienced labour force and the walls and floors of the building itself, which were prone to 'sweating'. Factory hours were 7am - 6pm, with a 5pm finish on Fridays and 7am - 12 noon on Saturdays. The concessionary hours on Fridays and Saturdays were not normally granted locally, and the wages, paid on Friday, were higher than most obtained locally both for men and women, but there was no overtime paid and very long hours were often worked. There was no canteen, so employees brought in their own meals, and tea was brewed in cans in the boiler room.
1914: The outbreak of war meant an immediate embargo on the use of sugar and there was a total interruption of production. When the embargo was partially lifted the factory confined itself to the production of chocolate, packaged in brown wrappers and destined for the troops in Red Cross aid packages. Many of the workers fought in the war, as the Roll of Honour (ref. no: X 853/25/1) shows.
Post WW1: Conditions for workers improved. There were shorter working hours and one week's paid holiday a year, the canteen was opened, the Social and Sports Club began, with the Sports Pavilion opening in 1925. (See X 853/30/1). The Sick & Benevolent Fund and the Pension Fund were introduced. At this time all employees walked or cycled to work, even the directors and managers. There was a bicycle kept at Bedford Station for when directors visited from London.
Some years after the war confectionery production was reintroduced.
1923: Meltis Limited was formed, as a subsidiary of Peek Frean.
1931: A gooseberry liqueur sweet was developed which was a huge success and led to the introduction of New Berry Fruits.
1932: New Berry Fruits was registered as a trademark. Meltis began making Suchard chocolate. At this time departments included: enrobeur, starch, packing, piping and hand covering, boiling and general confectionery, moulding, and forwarding.
1937: This year saw the introduction of 'Music while you work', and the Mayor W E Sowter toured the factory (see X 854/4 pp71 -73).
WW2: During the war parts of the factory were used for making aeroplane wings and as an Admiralty Stores. Pobjoy Airmotors and Aircraft Limited took over part of the factory and staff were moved to war work. Various adaptations were made to the factory buildings (see Bor BP 12226 and Bor BP 12096), including additional offices and a first aid room.
1945: After the war the factory was decorated rather than just whitewashed and the labour force became more cosmopolitan, as there was an influx of workers from eastern and southern Europe, particularly Italy.
1950s: Meltis begin manufacture of chocolate liqueurs.
1961: Installation of a new plant at a cost of £75,000, for the manufacture of 100 tonnes of liquid chocolate per week.
1966: By this time there were 1300 workers, 900 of whom were women. There were seven different shifts to cater for the women workers who had other responsibilities and Meltis promoted itself in the local press as being a desirable place to work. There was a 'team-work' spirit and cash rewards were offered as an incentive to those who volunteered for the Works Committee and took park in the Suggestions Scheme.
1966: The factory now covered five acres. Meltis was the largest producer of Turkish Delight and Crystallised Fruit in Britain, and the second largest producer of liqueur chocolates. Meltis also produced New Berry Fruits, fondants, marzipan, jellies, caramels and chocolate in huge quantities. A series of articles on Meltis appeared in The Bedfordshire Times giving an insight into the workings of the factory. (ref. no: X 853/18/3)
The ingredients store was situated at the northern end of the factory, with 25 000 square feet of space. Vast quantities of cocoa beans imported from West Africa, ginger from China, and sugar, milk, butter, glucose, nuts, flavourings etc. were stored on pallets mechanically handled by fork lift trucks in strict stock rotation. In this area the cocoa beans were prepared and roasted. The ingredients were tested for quality in the laboratory next door to the store.
The Research and Development Department worked on evolving new lines of chocolate and confectionery, and the 24 hour 'Hygiene Squad' used chiefly male labour on continuous duty. 50 people were employed permanently for maintenance including plumbers, fitters, electricians, and roofers. There was a large oil-fired boiler which provided the steam used for manufacture, and a smaller boiler which was maintained in case of breakdown of the larger one. Production machinery included a large automatic chocolate moulding plant and delicate electronic metal detection units. Temperature and humidity control were also vital to ensure the smooth flow of production.
1967: On the 1st January the company merged with Chocolat-Tobler to become Chocolat-Tobler Meltis Limited. The company operated from the same site and progressively undertook the manufacture of all Chocolat-Tobler Products for UK sale. There were also interests in Associated Biscuits and Nestle.
1975: Interfood (owners of Suchard) took over Tobler Meltis.
1976: Meltis products manufactured and marketed by Tobler Suchard.
1982: Jacobs purchase Interfood - Jacob Suchard formed.
1990: Meltis Plc formed as an independent British Company in a management buy out led by Mervin Weedon and Paul Mustoe. Meltis purchased the original production site from Jacobs Suchard, including the recreation ground.
1994: Meltis sold a controlling interest to Grand Central Investment Holdings Plc, and recruited nearly 100 staff to cope with its increasing demand for products across the range. The company also manufactures private label products for Woolworth's, Sainsbury, Boots and Tesco, and co-manufactured other products with Cadburys, Mars, Nestlé and Searle.
1994-1996: Meltis became increasingly dependent on co-manufacturing, and did not increase emphasis on investment in the Meltis brands. The report of the receivers in 1996 stated that as a result of this the company was subject to high fixed overhead costs, high labour costs and high penalties with little or no profit margin on this type of sales. The discontinuance of several of these major contracts lead to severe financial pressure on the company.
1996: 16 April: Stephen James and Paul Jeffery of KPMG were appointed joint administrative receivers to the company at the request of the company's directors and shareholders. It was decided that production could not be recommenced.
17 April: 286 of the 308 employees made redundant. 22 were kept on to oversee the closure of the factory.
2 - 3 October 1996 the complete production departments were auctioned in a two day sale (See X 853/31)