Back in March, 1891, a youth of 17 started work for the Railway Company at the Whitstable Harbour Station, as a booking clerk. He had a busy time of it, for the train service between Whitstable and Canterbury was well patronised by the residents of both places and by holiday makers staying in the neighbourhood.
The young clerk, as it was one of his duties to do, recorded the fact that on Monday, 1892, 1,100 passengers travelled by train from Canterbury to Whitstable, while over 500 were taken by train from our town to the Cathedral city.
The clerk was William Tindle London. Born in London in 1874, he came to Whitstable from South Shields in 1882 with his father, who had lived in the town before, and had been appointed to the post here of Harbour and Station Master.
Some years later, in 1898, young London launched out in business as a mineral water manufacturer at factory premises in Essex Street taken over from Mr. S. Saffery. The new concern commenced trading as W.T.London and Co.
Those were the days when bottles were filled by hand operated machines, sealed with corks, and wired over. Trade grew and in 1902 the Star Mineral Company, Limited, was formed in which was incorporated the business of Mr. Sidney Holden, which stood on ground now occupied by the General Post Office, and that of Messrs. Arrowsmith and Co., whose premises were situated at the back of a chemist’s shop in Oxford Street.
The mineral water factory in Essex Street was enlarged, gas engines being installed, and machinery set up for filling marble bottles.
Four horses and vans were in constant use for the delivery of consignments of mineral waters to all parts of the district. Before the development of Herne Bay and Birchington, land sales were held at which prospective buyers were provided with alcoholic refreshments to inspire the bidding. Horse vans going from Whitstable to these sales had to leave at five in the morning, travelling along the old country roads, and leave for home at eight in the evening.
During the 1914-1918 war, the Star Mineral Water Company, Limited, handicapped though it was by shortage of labour and raw materials, regularly supplied 10,000 troops encamped in the surrounding neighbourhood with the needed liquid refreshment.
The years between the two great wars saw a notable development in the manufacture of soft drinks. Many new flavours were introduced, one of them coming from the introduction of the natural fruit cell process of manufacture from grape fruit and orange juice.
Horse vans gave way to motor lorries. In 1928, after acquiring complete control of the firm, Mr. London had electric machinery installed at the factory and adopted the crown cork make as the standard bottle.
During the 2nd World War the business was carried on, as was business generally throughout the country, under the difficulties arising from restricted supplies of raw materials and the calling up of members of staff for service with the forces. The firm, however, managed to carry on with the help of part-time assistants.
In 1942, the business goodwill of Messrs. Holden and Co., mineral water manufacturers, Canterbury, was acquired by the Essex Street firm. The premises of this concern had been destroyed in the great German air-raid on the city. Another firm there engaged in the same kind of trade suffered damage to its premises in the same raid. As a consequence of what had happened, tradesmen in the city and villages round had to rely on the Whitstable firm for supplies of soft drinks.
In 1943, in order to conserve labour and transport, and at the request of the Ministry of Food, the mineral water industry was concentrated. The Star Mineral Water Company, Limited, surrendered its identity and became a producing unit under the control of the Soft Drinks Industry (War-time) Association, Limited. As a further contribution to national economy, the industry was zoned in the following year, and delivery of supplies restricted to Whitstable, Herne Bay and the surrounding neighbourhood.
When hostilities ceased, Mr. London was joined by his son, Mr. W.R. London, who, after being on active service with the forces, came home to assist his father in the management of the business. He is manager at the Essex Street works, where nine men are employed and from which three master lorries go out every day loaded with supplies.
One of the first post-war automatic carbonating plants has been installed at the factory, where further improvements in modern bottling will soon be effected. Coal shortage will, it is feared, imperil the supply of bottles in the future. It takes just a ton of coal to produce a ton of glass. This is a point for consumers of mineral waters to bear in mind. When they break bottles, or fail to return them, they are wasting coal.
There is a good reserve stock of bottles at the Essex Street factory, but adequate supplies of soft drinks during the coming season can only maintained, says Mr. London, by customers promptly returning their empty bottles to retailers. Syphons, too, are urgently needed. These cost many times the deposit charges made on them. There must be a large number lying empty and unused in dark cupboards, thinks Mr. London, and they could be put to good use.
Looking forward to the de-concentration of the soft drinks industry, the Essex Street firm is making every possible preparation to again produce supplies of a quality worthy of bearing a Star Mineral Water Company label.
Written by Ernest Brindle – February 1947. Transcription and image by Brian Baker – February 2018