Laurence & Christine Capewell. Glenys & Tony Edge.
Arthur's daughter meets Mike Sheridan
There I was, standing at a traction engine rally in Cheshire , trying to sell my bottles to a bemused public. "Have you got any Arthur Edge bottles ?" enquired a lady.
Now, as usual with this type of request, I had just about every other Manchester bottle, but nothing marked Arthur Edge. I asked why they had to be Edge bottles The reply nearly took me off my feet.
"I want them for my father, he used to own the business!" WHAT ?? Arthur Edge is still alive? The man whose dated blue print ginger beers are keenly sought by local collectors?
Writer of Bottles & Bygones writes Biography
Well, nearly but not quite. It turned out that Arthur Edges' grandson, now a sprightly 76 year old had owned the business from the end of the war until 1963.
Better still, he had spent much time there as a boy, and knew every department and operation of the business inside out. After collecting Manchester mineral water bottles for nearly twenty years, here was a chance to talk to someone who used to work in the industry.
I looked forward to our first meeting with relish. I was not to be disappointed. Here then, is the first part of an extremely important serial article, drawn from the memories of a Minerals Man.
Thomas Edge starts mineral water business
The Edge family started in the mineral water business in 1885. In that year, Thomas Edge, a railway engine driver from Ashbourne, moved up to Manchester and opened a plant at Plymouth Grove.
Life was hard in the mineral water industry. At first, Thomas had to do most of the work by himself. This included manufacturing, as well as carting and selling the various lines of drink.
Horses and Wagons deliver soft drinks
The horses were often taken out at 6.00 in the morning for the drive into Manchester city centre. The mineral water bottles were delivered, then it was back to Plymouth Grove for breakfast, before a long day spent variously in washing, manufacturing, bottling, labeling and storing.
The summer months were very busy, and sometimes involved working way into the night. Trade was less brisk in the winter, but the full bottles could be stockpiled.
Business moves to new premises
After a few years, Thomas Edge moved operations to nearby Plymouth Avenue . By this time, Thomas was receiving some help from his son Arthur. Thomas took the decision to retire, and sell the business to his son. He had good reason, having led a hard working life on the railways, and he had taken on the mineral water business in his fifties. He sold the operation, lock stock ,and barrel to his son Arthur Edge for £1000.
Thomas Edge retires to Colwyn Bay
It is said that Arthur had to borrow the money from his wife, Lillian Florence Edge. Thomas took his well-earned retirement, and went off to live in Colwyn Bay .
Arthur meanwhile, started developing the business. He supplied local retailers with various lines of minerals. These included shops and some Free houses as well as some big companies.
There were no direct sales to the public. Attempts to supply tied houses could lead to trouble in the form of a sharp letter or two!
New Works at Plymouth Avenue Stockpot Road
The premises at Plymouth Avenue were organized on two floors. When empty bottles were returned , they went straight into the washing room. Before they were washed they had to pass the "sniff" test. This was carried out by a worker smelling each and every bottle, trying to detect the likes of petrol and creosote.
Next they would be put into long trays that were turned around in a detergent tank. Then two operators fed the bottles onto rotating bushes inside and out. Then the bottles were given a spray rinse, packed into boxes and stacked ready to be filled. It was not unusual for the two operators to turn out 120 dozen clean bottles per hour, ie 1,450 bottles!
Next came the manufacturing.
The first stage was to filter the tap water, using commercial filters. A Doulton water filter with 12 large candle shaped filters fed the purified water into a 2,200 gallon slate tank, which made the water clear without any sediment.
Adding bubbles to drinks with carbon dioxide gas
The next stage was to carbonate this water. The original carbonator was the pride and joy of Arthur Edge. So much so that he made the staff polish the brass work every morning. It comprised of a large flywheel driven by a shaft operating a three inch pump.
This forced the pressure into a large brass cylinder about four feet long by 18 inches. Carbon Dioxide gas came in 28lb cylinders. The gas was fed into a large copper bell which stood over an oak tank filled with water. The bell was suspended by a rope and filled with gas and stood in the water to keep out the air.
The carbon dioxide gas was pumped under with water to 60lbs pressure, and was then fed directly to the filling machines.
Stage three was the manufacture
of the syrups
To flavour the drinks. This took place in the Syrup room , above the stock room. Here was a row of large enamel pans. Up another flight of stairs was a large copper pan with an outer casing fed by steam to boil the sugar, 1 hundredweight at a time.
To make syrup, the sugar had to be stirred to make it dissolve. This could be hot work in the summer. When ready, it was piped into the large pans just below, and in turn, measured into the row of pans, so that the various flavours could be mixed.
It was established practice to start with lemon, for lemonade first, and dandelion and burdock was usually the last. The reason for this was simple. The finished syrups were piped down to two filling machines, and by carefully controlling the production, expensive and time consuming washing out of the pipe work was avoided!
When properly mixed, the syrups were pumped down block tin piping to the filling machines and measured doses were pumped into the bottles according to size.
The bottling was mostly carried out on the Meadowcroft Marvels, two well-used bottling machines. Two people hand-operated these and they could turn out 70 dozen full bottles an hour (840).
The bottling process for ginger beer was very different. This drink required no artificial carbonation, and so they were siphon filled from the 200 gallon ginger beer tank.
Soda syphons were also filled in the bottling room, but unusually they were filled upside down on the special syphon filler. Here the syphons were fed into the machine upside down. As they were moved around, the handle was lifted up and soda water was fed through the spout at 120lbs pressure. It would usually take what was called three " snifts" to fill them properly.
The bicarbonate of soda for the syphons was mixed in the upstairs slate tank. When the various bottles and syphons had been crated up they were put into storage until required. During the slack winter months, the different drinks could be laid down against a hoped-for summer heat wave. When the summer came and the drinks had been sold out, it was not unknown for the factory to work into the night to meet the demand.
Arthur Edge joins his grandfather
Arthur explains in his own words how he saw the company change…….
After leaving Altrincham Grammar School at 16 years, I joined my Grandfather's firm on Stockport Road , Longsight, called ARTHUR EDGE. From a child, I had always been interested in the business and spent many happy hours there.
Arthur Edge remembers horse-drawn times
I recall the horse-drawn times. I used to help out in the stables and occasionally had a ride on one of the horses in Plymouth Avenue.
Arthur starts with bottle washing
I experienced all aspects of the business, including feeding empty bottles into long trays that were turned around in a detergent tank. Two operators then fed the bottles on rotating brushes inside and out. The output was very much in the hands of the skilled operators. I reckoned two good workers could turn out 120 dozen an hour. Then the bottles were given a spray rinse and were then packed into boxes and stacked ready to be filled.
Two people hand-operated filling machines
We had two filling machines Marvels from MEADOWCROFTS of Blackburn, who supplied quite a number of spares etc. Two people hand-operated these machines and could turn out 70 dozen filled bottles per hour. On many occasions we we were able to turn out 1000 dozen a day.
Arthur sticks labels at 100 dozen an hour
The cases were then conveyed to the stockroom for labelling on two PURDY labelling machines. Previously it was all done by hand, and I myself was able to label 100 dozen an hour.
Move from horses to lorries
To replace the horses, I can recall my grandfather buying four Vulcan lorries with solid tyres. They were sent to Housleys of Ashton Old Road to be painted yellow and chocolate. They were kept in immaculate condition, the proud drivers keeping them spotless. They served the company well and were only gradually replaced by Bedford 3 tonners.
War breaks out Arthur Joins Territorial Army
as a driver for mobile dental unit.
Just before the onset of World War Two, I joined the R.A.S.C Territorial Army and I was quickly called up. It was to be seven years before I would return to the mineral business as I knew it.
I reported for duty at Old Trafford Cricket ground and then found myself at Dunkirk.I escaped on the last Destroyer out - the first time in my life I had ever slept standing up !!
Arthur takes leave to get married
honeymoon taken at Fernilee Cottage
I was married in June 1940.
Shortly after my grandfather died suddenly.
I then received various postings around England , to Newcastle , Alnwick, Ipswich and Colchester . I even appeared in a film at Pinewood Studios - " The Great Day".
Bill Payne looks after the business
Meanwhile, back in Manchester , the family business was in the safe hands of Bill Payne, a trusted worker who looked after the firm after the death of my grandfather. I secured three months leave to sort the business out.
Business forced to close lorries seized for the war effort
Basically, operations were closed down during the war. The trade was now controlled by the SDI (Soft Drinks Industry). Many firms were closed up, and their orders taken over by a few companies left operating. In Manchester .This included Jewsbury & Brown and Slack & Cox. The latter looked after the Arthur Edge customers. Those left running had to pay money into the SDI and this was divided amongst all companies who were closed down.
War ends Arthur leaves the army
and rebuilds the business
I received my demobilisation in February 1946 and was issued with my civilian clothes and three months leave. This gave me time to pick up the pieces and reform what was now my business.
It was almost like starting from scratch. Fortunately, I had a lot of help from Bill Payne.
who had kept the plant in working order throughout the war. In a short space of time, operations were resumed. Our vehicles and customers were handed back to us from Slack & Cox.
I appointed Mr Payne as manager and this gave me time to attend the Manchester Association meetings, obtain allocations, make contact with suppliers of essences, fruit juices, sugar , bottles, cases, and engage staff, some of whom had been with us when we had been forced to close down.
I obtained essences from Duckworths of Old Trafford and Swans of Sheffield. We were supplied with fruit juice by Sunecta. The first drinks to roll off the production lines were the old favourites ; lemon, orange, lime, dandelion and burdock, sarsaparilla and ginger beer.
Only the ginger beer went into stoneware bottles. I employed four or five driver /salesmen whose job included finding new trade outlets.
In time we got some big contracts, with Gardner Merchants, a big contract caterer and Fairey Aviation of Heaton Chapel. Recipes for the various soft drinks were freely available in trade publications. I do recall putting out two new drinks in splits,
Anthony Arthur Edge joins his dad
In 1959 my son Tony Edge leaves school at 15 to joins me in the business.
I called these Aero and Mota. Aero was coloured yellow, and Mota was coloured like Vimto (blackcurrant) Mota sold ten times as well as the yellow coloured Aero yet in a blindfold test there was no difference in taste. I tried to make this drink taste similar to Vimto . I must have had some success for after some years I received notification from Vimto that I was copying them!
When we had things working more smoothly I became more interested in the association and was elected to the committee together with Mr Lennie from Staffords of Denton. We became quite friendly and compared notes quite a lot.
Arthur elected to
President of the Manchester Association
Director of the national association
Eventually, I became president of the Manchester Association and also became a director of the national association. I made monthly journeys to London for the meetings which entailed an overnight stay in a hotel, all expenses paid.
Busy during summer heat wave
Once or twice we had some very good summers and we had quite a difficulty coping with the demand, so much so that we had to work all night to provide enough stock to supply our lorries next day.
Arthur sells business to Staffords of Denton
One day, Mr Lennie suggested that Mr Stafford would like to have a chat with me. The result was an amalgamation of the two firms, Arthur Edge of Longsight and Staffords of Denton. In 1963 I joined Staffords but still looked after my old customers.
This we agreed and it gave me the chance to sell all my plant and materials and at the same time to maintain the goodwill. This amalgamation worked out quite well for a number of years.
Tony Edge leaves the soft drink trade
My son Tony Edge decides not to continue in the soft drink trade but he was fortunate in being offered work at Ilford Films in Mobberley Cheshire as an engineer working on Azoflex machines in the Azoflex/XRAY photomation dept.
Staffords sells business to Corona Soft Drinks
Then in 1966 along came Corona Soft Drinks. They were interested in taking over the sales, which took in quite a large area, extending as far as Buxton.
No room for small business
They took over Staffords and offered myself and Mr Lennie jobs but not Mr Stafford. This took place at a time of some great amalgamations in the soft drink industry, notably Stotherts of Warrington, Barrs of Glasgow and Pickup or Tizer of Manchester.
These amalgamations greatly reduced the number of mineral firms in the Manchester area. This in turn meant the turnover at the bottle exchange was greatly reduced. Eventually, it was abandoned altogether and closed down. The Manchester Association assets were handed over to the National Association.
Arthur Edge joins Corona Soft Drinks
When Corona took over from Staffords, they placed a manager in charge to regroup all of the customers and four senior representatives to visit all of the customers, giving special offers and trade deals.
On January 1st 1967 , I was offered a new contract and a new car. After training courses in the London area, including at Beecham House, I returned to work at a new depot at Stretford , along with two other reps. My job now entailed pre-selling and canvassing and I quite enjoyed the work.
Eventually I moved to Bolton and after several courses, I was promoted to multiple accounts representative. By 1980 I was earning five times the salary I started with but this was to be my last year in the minerals business. I was invited to take voluntary retirement and so ended my association not just with Corona , but also with an industry that I had literally known all of my life.
by Arthur Edge (2) 1994
Note . Arthur Edge sadly died soon after I published his story. I consider myself lucky to have been able to meet him and record his life story and company history. Without that chance meeting with his daughter yet another piece of social history could have been lost forever! Thanks to Arthur we know exactly how a mineral Water manufacturing business was carried out
Mike Sherridan. Bottles and Bygones.