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Monday 10 March 2014

Fact 9. Clear fruit drops were invented in Hull.

Perhaps not an earth shattering claim to fame but goes someway to sweeten life.

Boiled sweets, not necessarily Needlers though.

In 1938 Needlers Ltd of Hull perfected a method of producing clear, or glace fruit drops.

The company was started  by Fred Needler who was born in 1864 at Arnold near Skirlaugh a few miles NE of Hull. His Fathers name was actually Needley so a mistake happened somewhere down the line. His Dad died at the age of 37 when Fred was a bout 6 of Typhoid. Fred went to school in Hull and by 14 was working in a coffee and tea warehouse along High Street. By 18 he had become the book keeper for a small confectionery manufacturer. In 1886, with the help of a lone from his Mum, he bought the business for £100. (About £75,000 today). The company moved a couple of times and Fred was head of an empire existing of two employees, a sugar boiler and a boy, and a horse and cart. There was a lot of competition and so Fred went into the wholesale business for others products too.

By 1900 the business had developed employing 10 women and 23 men and making about 10 tons of sweets a week. Their next move was to even bigger purpose built premises to the north of the centre of Hull at Sculcoates Lane. By 1912 they were manufacturing 576 different types of sweets, 74 of chocolate. By 1920 they were using 650 tons of chocolate and 1500 tons of sugar for sweets and employing 1700 people, with many more for the seasonal Easter and Christmas work. Although a large company Needlers only had about 1% of the UK business.

Delivery wagon decorated for a parade.

In 1927 the packaging area was air conditioned, not for the well being of the workers but to enable the work to continue even in warm weather. Sweets had been wrapped since the early 1920's but by hand, and it wasn't until 1928 that a machine was introduced.

In 1932 Fred died of Parkinson's Disease, He left a large house in Cottingham that was to be used by the students of the newly formed Hull University, and is still in use as such today.

Needler Hall
Needler Hall, Hull University, Cottingham Campus.

1938 was the year of the breakthrough in sweet chemistry and the clear drops set Needlers apart as there was little competion in this market until the mid 1960's. The depression paid a heavy toll on the business as did WWII but once rationing of sugar had ended in February 1953 business took off, especially in the fruit drops.

Sugar boilers.

In 1970 the third generation Needler took over and made changes. The loss making chocoalte side of the business was closed, they bought Batgers who were famous for their Jersey Toffee and started making products for supermarkets 'own brand'. In 1980 they bought another small company and then had a large export drive to spread in to otherwise untapped markets for USA and the Middle East. This must have brought them to the notice of the big boys and the company was bought by Hillsdown Holdings that were part of the massive Premier Foods conglomerate that had such brands as Mr. Kipling, Ambrosia and Hovis. The company was then sold to Norwegian interests and then to Bluebird who were run from Singapore. In 2002 the company was again sold to a British company Astbury. This meant the closure of the Hull factory and now houses are built over the site.

Packaging at the Needlers factory.

In common with many other Hull employers Needlers well know to be good to their employees with many benefits in kind such as their well known choir, and had a profit sharing scheme for the workers from as early as 1911.

The family are not to be confused with the Needlers that were involved with Hull City FC. This was another family altogether.

Next time you have a clear fruit drop in your mouth you will be able to think of the efforts of those chemists in Hull.

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