A Toffee Triumph

On his wedding certificate (17th April 1913) my father’s uncle David (David Laughland Scobbie of Beechworth, Newarthill), was described as a brickwork salesman. But Elizabeth Mitchell, our family genealogy guru, noted that he was “owner of Triumph Confectionery, Wishaw”. And I vaguely recall that my father said his uncle and aunt “ran a sweetie shop”. Occasionally I’ve searched google half-heartedly to find out what he really was, but with no results. Time to find out more.
Spoiler alert: num-num-num!

Not a triumphant start

When I know what I want to find, I just google it. But searching for a word like “Triumph” brings up a lot of irrelevant stuff. Motorbikes, bras, and sports-cars. Motivational speakers. One very exciting find on twitter was the Triumph Toffee Works, as illustrated below, when two period advertising images popped up, along with memories from toffee fans… but this was an Irish company… in Dublin. Disappointment!

“If you must fight, see it worth fighting for” – an advertisement for BB toffee from Dublin’s Triumph Toffee Works, 1926 (image from a tweet by University College Dublin, Special Collections 19/04/2017 @ucdspeccoll )

The problem was that I was jumping ahead to the expected answer, without using any original documentation concerning David himself. So I started again, with what I knew, one step at a time.

Or, one brick at a time

In the 1901 census, James Scobbie’s son David Laughland Scobbie (1886-1978) was just 14 and a scholar while older brother George Hill  Scobbie was aged 19 and a colliery clerk, presumably working in one of his father’s own businesses.  (I’m guessing again, already.) With their younger brother James Percy Scobbie (aged 7) and a domestic servant Lizzie R. Paterson (aged 22, from Chapelhall), they were alone on census day in Beechworth, the family home in Newarthill.

In the 1911 census, David L. Scobbie was at Beechworth, aged 24, with his sister Ebeth (Elizabeth Forrester Scobbie, aged 26, who would marry Dr David McKenzie Newton the next year in 1912 only to be widowed in 1916 then stranded in Turkey, while pregnant, as told elsewhere), and a general domestic servant Mary L. Miller (aged 22, also from the Bothwell area). His occupation was given as “Brick Salesman” employed by a “Brick Manufactory”. David and Marion Dick married in April 1913, as described here. In their wedding certificate, he was still described as a “Brickwork Salesman”. So, who might he have been working for, and how does this related to a toffee factory / sweetie shop?

There’s more on the Scobbie family’s brick-making in another post. Here, let’s just note that David left the bricks behind around this time. If you want to see them, all the family were photographed together in 1913, probably in July, as shown here.

In line with habits of the time, I presume Marion, who had been a schoolmistress, also had a change of career: that she had to stop working. I don’t know where she had worked before the marriage, but I hope that she will one day appear in a school photograph or I will go to Lanarkshire local history archive with its school records, and find out.

The confectioner

David seems to have diversifying, or changing career, around the time of his marriage in 1913, and on the face of it, a move from bricks to sweeties seems surprising. The earliest information I have found comes from the February 6th edition of The Motherwell Times (p.4, col. 1), concerning expansion at the “Triumph” Toffee and Chocolate Works, near Flemington Station. The advert (headed “Confectionery”) says

Several additional young women and girls required shortly… short hours, highest wages, and every encouragement to tidy capable workers – Apply in first instance to McAllister & Scobbie, Wishaw.

So, there seems to be a small operation already, which was expanding (perhaps moving location?). The station is right in Craigneuk, but sadly, though the beautifully detailed local maps from 1910 do label some commercial premises, the Toffee Works isn’t named. Where was it?

The 1st April 1914 edition of the Daily Record (issue number 20,960, front page, col. 5) also advertises a job under Situations Vacant at McAllister & Scobbie, “Triumph” Toffee Works, Wishaw. It is for an experienced sugar boiler. Though the addresses mentioned so far differ slightly, Craigneuk lies just within the Wishaw burgh boundary (and Flemington Station straddles it).

1914: Sugar Boiler Wanted

About 18 months later, the firm advertised: “Man wanted to attend boiler and be generally useful –Apply Triumph Toffee Works, Wishaw” (Motherwell Times, August 13th, 1915, p.4, col. 1).

Advertisement for a “generally useful” man, 1915.

Things changed in 1916.

First, the firm of McAllister and Scobbie was dissolved by mutual consent on 20th May 1916 (Edinburgh Gazette, June 2nd, p. 976). In this notice, dated 29th May, the firm was described as a “Manufacturing and Wholesale Confectioners” at the Triumph Toffee Works, Wishaw. David continued the business as subscriber “on his own behoof”, agreeing to “uplift all debts due to, and pay all debts due by, the dissolved Firm”. David’s partner is here named in full, as Hugh McAllister.

Second, a corporate announcement detailing the five new Scottish joint stock companies registered that week appeared in four papers on Saturday August 19th 1916 (the latter two providing short summaries).

  • The Aberdeen Daily Journal, p. 7, col. 6.
  • The Scotsman, p. 4, col. 3.
  • The Courier, p. 5,col. 4.
  • Daily Record and Mail, p. 5, col. 3.

The announcement that matters here is of the new joint stock company (#9653), registered that week as a private company, called D.L. Scobbie Ltd., at Triumph Toffee Works, Wishaw, “to carry on the businesses of manufacturers of, and wholesale and retail dealers in, and agents for, confectionary, chocolate, and preserves”. Capital £5,000 in £1 shares.
That would seem to be a sum worth about £300,000 a century later.

By coincidence, the immediately previous company registration #9652 was for the Oban Times Ltd., a private company taking over from the previous owner of the newspaper Duncan Cameron, with a capitalisation of £5,400. My mother was from Lismore, and went to school in Oban. She’d’ve been amazed to know.

The Scotsman notes the five new companies in that week (three involving sugar) take the total for the year to 146, with a total market capitalisation of £1,975,100: making the mean capitalisation around £13,500.

In passing, David and Marion advertised for a domestic maid (actually, an  “Experienced General”) around this time in the Hamilton Advertiser (Sep 30th 1916 p. 2 col. 2). They didn’t specify the woman’s religion, or that she was clean, or a widow… but they did require that she had no children.

1916: situations vacant for protestants, widows, and childless women who are strong, smart, and clean.

The First World War

During the war, the business continued, and David served as an air mechanic 1st class, in other words as ground crew. He was service number 43062. In 1917 this was with the Royal Flying Corps, and in 1918 his service was with the Royal Air Force once it was formed (from the Forces-War-Records.co.uk free index). I don’t know where he served, though almost certainly it was in a territorial and/or reserve capacity. The conclusion I’ve reached is that there is a connection between being ground-crew and owning a toffee factory, namely that David was mechanically oriented. In his WW1 papers, David gives his profession as “confectioner”.

Inter-war years

There are a few facts that have popped up from the 1920s. First, two statements about the size of the annual charitable fund-raising by the staff. The Motherwell Times of Friday 19 January 1923 notes that the staff collected £25 for charitable causes during 1922. In 1929 there was another similar note in the same paper (Jan 11th, p.3 col. 3), where the annual donation to infirmaries etc. was £23. Incidentally, just under this, there is one of those fillers used to fill up a blank spot in the newspaper (see image below). Elsewhere on the page there is a full range of weird and wonderful items of news. There’s an advert for DINNA-FRET washing soda. And a science article, giving details of the international collaboration required to work out the celestial calendar a few years in advance. Brilliant.

David shows signs of wider diversification, because in 1926 the Edinburgh Gazette (Aug 10th, p. 910), includes a declaration of a business take-over. David had it seems been joint owner of a grocery with Mrs. Elizabeth Young, Grocer and Provision Dealer, 214-216 Cambusnethan Street, Wishaw.  The new sole owner, from 9th August, was to be Mrs. Christina Mary Kirk or McGeorge, who would carry on the business. All three signed on the 7th.

Let’s look now at the darker side of things.

Crime and Punishment

In 1925 there was a sad tale of theft, and though I have not seen any court records, the newspaper account in The Bellshill Speaker gives a clear enough idea of what happened (Friday, May 15, 1925, p. 2, col. 5). What wasn’t so clear what the spelling of the protagonist of this story. I mis-read his name as Win-e-as Kru-e-unas… but realised this error later.

Here is the tale, transcribed:

How chocolates were sold at a remarkably cheap price in a works in Motherwell by an employee was told in Hamilton Sheriff Court on Monday.

A smart-looking lad of sixteen years Wincas Krucunas, whose address was given in the charge as 178a Craigneuk Street, Craigneuk, pleaded not guilty to a charge of having, between 1st and 14th February, both dates inclusive, broken into the Triumph Toffee Works, occupied by D. L. Scobbie, Ltd., in Craigneuk, and stolen three boxes of chocolates.

It was stated in evidence that foot-prints were discovered at the foot of a rhone pipe at the locus. By climbing up the rhone pipe one could reach a sky-light. Footprints and hand marks were discovered on a platform in the vicinity of the sky-light. A welfare supervisor connected with the Lanarkshire Steel Works said he learned that the accused had been selling chocolates at a cheap price. The lad told him that he found the chocolates near the Hamilton Road, between Hamilton and Motherwell. Later he heard that the accused had found the sweets behind a bush at the spot mentioned.

Other witnesses spoke to buying chocolates from accused in the works, one witness agreeing that he got practically half a cardboard box of chocolate bricks for sixpence. A police officer stated that one of the accused’s boots corresponded with the footprints.

Entering the witness box, Krucunas told his story. At the corner of the dog-racing grounds in Motherwell he observed a hillock on the edge of the grass. Going forward he gave it a kick, whereupon the chocolate boxes were revealed. A man he knew passed at the time and observed him with the boxes.

Asked why he did not communicate the find to the Police, the accused said he though (sic) it was only in the case of money and jewellery finds that one should notify the authorities.

Sheriff Shannan said there was no question of finding the accused guilty. He was not going to listen to such nonsense as the accused had been talking. Accused did not seem to have the elementary ideas of honesty, and if he came back again it would be a case of prison, or possibly, Borstal.

A penalty of £3, or fifteen days’ imprisonment was imposed. Time to pay was allowed.


Who was he? Of course… I searched.

To begin with I used a mis-transcription from the newspaper article, with completely the wrong spelling K-r-u-e-u-n-a-s. I got only one hit, for a stillborn child in the USA from 1920. (So, this was a sort-of “googlewhackblatt”, on 14/01/2018: A single word search that only gets one hit on google. It’s meant to be a real word, not a mis-spelled name, but who cares.) Krucunas was what I should have searched for, and I looked in Scotland’s People, and concluded that the newspaper spelling was itself a contemporary mis-spelling or regularisation of a Latvian or Lithuanian surname, like Kruezinkas for example. Maybe the 1921 census will provide a clue.

Incidentally, if you think the story of Krucunas is provides an insight into the nature of the times, an even darker story appeared in the newspaper immediately under this tale of teenage crime and punishment. It is a genuinely upsetting picture of life, death, and poverty in the area.

John Cunningham, died 1925 in Holytown colliery.

Embezzlement

David’s company featured in the courts once more in 1925:

Matthew Horn, commercial traveller, Byers Road, Partick, pleaded guilty yesterday in Hamilton Sheriff Court to the embezzlement of £65 when in the employment of D.L. Scobbie Ltd., confectioners, Wishaw. The frauds involved 65 customers. He blamed getting muddled up through drink, and promised to pay back the sum. A fine of £25 with the alternative of 40 days’ imprisonment was imposed.
Motherwell Times, August 14th 1925, p. 8, col. 5.

As with the other story, the same page provides an even more harrowing, and more dramatic tale. This time it concerns a young husband (David Kerr, aged 23) who shot his wife (Mary Carr or Kerr, aged 21) in the head, intending to kill her but only wounding her, before turning his pistol on himself. This occurred in Mill Street, Rutherglen. The couple had lived apart for two years, following the birth of Mary’s daughter, and only the previous week the woman had started proceedings against David for financial maintenance.

From Toffee to Property?

On Saturday December 10th 1932, The Scotsman reported (p. 20, col. 5) amongst other auctions and sales of factories and factory equipment, an eclectic but toffee-related list of items “To be Sold per instructions of Messrs D.L. Scobbie, Ltd. due to discontinuance of the Manufacturing Side of their Business”. The items would be on view from 10am to 4pm on Wednesday 14th December, and on the morning of the sale day. The Auctioneers were James Laird & Son, 70 Bath Street, Glasgow.

The items for sale conjour up something in between a Willy Wonka Wonderland and the industrial steel works that were adjacent to the factory. The auction also contains a new clue about the location of the Toffee Works: the sale was held on Robberhall Road, which ran (and runs) North-South into Craigneuk Road just east of a railway viaduct (no longer in existence), and skirting the site of what readers might remember to be the Ravenscraig Steel Works. The auction must have been on-site. The contemporary maps are fabulous, but the Triumph Toffee Works could potentially be in any number buildings, though apart from the electrical works (and football pitch) there is only one stand-alone building on Robberhall Road. Since it’s a square building of factory size, that is my best guess of the factory location. It was not there in an older map (the one revised 1897, published 1898). Later, the building was demolished or perhaps incorporated into the SW corner of the Anderson Boyes Works (see here at Canmore).


Flemington Station, Craigneuk, two steel works, and Robberhall Road running N-S between the railway and Flemington Electric Works. From National Library of Scotland / Ordnance Survey 25 inch editions, revised 1910 and published 1912, original available online in high quality.
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.
(The road running E-W, top right, is the Roman road “Watling Street”.)
From the 1920 Valuation Rolls.

Bingo! The Valuation Rolls. I hadn’t realised I could search by company name. Duh! So there we are… an entry for Triumph Toffee Works, 1915, on Robberhall Road, is a building with proprietor Anderson Boyes & Co. Ltd, where the tenant and occupant is McAllister & Scobbie Ltd, and the next entry is for “improvements” where the proprietor and occupant is McAllister & Scobbie Triumph Toffee Works, Craigneuk, Wishaw. The date suggests that an expansion was planned and initiated before David bought out Hugh McAllister in May 1916, carrying on the business for more than 15 years via a company carrying just his own name.

Craigneuk Road (Beehive Brae) looking east, presumably taken from the railway bridge over Craigneuk Road immediately west of its junction with Robberhall Road (which heads north, on the photographer’s left). The school (mid-distance, left/north) can be identified from its cupola and neo-classical frontage. Origin/ownership and date unknown.
An earlier image looking west, back down Beehive Brae. The houses between the school (on the near right/north) and the railway bridge at Robberhall Road are smaller (i.e. older) than the other image. The large chimney must be at the steel works. Origin/ownership and date unknown.

The reason I was in the valuation rolls was to check up on the final business enterprise I know about: between 1930 and 1935 David bought (or had built) six adjacent houses at 44-52 Bellshill Road (and 44A Bellshill Road), a road previously called the Uddingston Coal Road. I provide a wee bit more information on these houses (and David’s WW1 war service) in the piece on David and Marion Young Dick. In the valuation rolls records for his own home in 1935, his occupation was still described as “confectioner”, just as it had been in his 1916 Royal Flying Corps papers, but by the mid-30s the Triumph Toffee Works and D.L. Scobbie, Ltd., were over.

1935 valuation roll for David and Marion’s home: he is still a “confectioner”

Toffee No More

Around 18 months after the sale of its assets, the toffee company held an Extraordinary General Meeting at Premier House, 197 Bath Street (which was owned by George Hill Scobbie), on Saturday the 4th of August, the company was voluntarily would up (Edinburgh Gazette, Aug 7th, 1934, p. 684). David, the company secretary, appointed himself as liquidator. The process took two years beyond that, so in the Gazette of September 18th 1936, David the Liquidator announced on the 15th September that a General Meeting of the Members of the company would be held at Premier House on Saturday 17th October (10 o’clock a.m.) to receive the accounts of the Liquidator, “showing how the winding up of the Company has been conducted and its property disposed of; to hear any explanation that may be furnished by the Liquidator; and to pass an Extraordinary Resolution as to the disposal of the books and papers of the Company and of the Liquidator”.

By the way, I wondered if the embezzlement case about the commercial traveller and his 65 customers indicates that the company mainly sold to wee independent shops via such middle-men, or even if the model was that the salesman went door-to-door. I doubt the latter, though apparently there is a contemporary door-to-door franchise based on teenagers selling sweeties.

So, that’s it. David really was a confectioner. And a son, brother and husband. He died when I was a teenager, and I have no idea if I ever knew anything about him (or if I cared a jot, before I forgot). He’s a little bit less of a stranger now, but not much less. He’s given me some fun, tracking him down, and I’ve learned a wee bit (more) about bricks and toffee and industrial Lanarkshire.

I love this hobby! I participate in a string of interconnected detective stories which are more personal than fiction, which are interactive, creative and challenging and unpredictable… and which have no pretensions to being art or theoretical research. What a relief.


Afterword

The last heading above “Toffee No More” refers to the fate of heavy industry in Scotland, which became depressingly feeble (and remains weak) despite the astonishing heritage of skilled workers, entrepreneurialism, and an industrial infrastructure and history second-to-none. Specifically, it refers to the Proclaimers’ Song “Letter from America“, which explicitly links de-industrialisation to emigration as the result of the clearances one to two hundred years previously …

Lochaber no more. Sutherland no more. Lewis no more. Skye no more.

… by explicitly comparing (planned and managed) de-population of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland to the (planned and managed) destruction and dislocation caused by de-industrialisation and the loss of traditional and heavy industries.

Bathgate no more. Linwood no more. Methil no more. Irvine no more.

It’s a song about forced economic emigration, and how it breaks hearts and rips cultures and families apart. Emigration is a powerful national experience and is a cultural touchstone for Scots; mostly for the world-wide diaspora who seek roots, but also for those who remained and their descendants, usually as a vague fog from light-touch school history classes.

The effects these rapid changes had on people and communities were dreadful, and our national character may reflect these changes in various ways.

When you go will you send back
A letter from America?
Take a look up the railtrack
From Miami to Canada
Broke off from my work the other day
I spent the evening thinking about
All the blood that flowed away
Across the ocean to the second chance
I wonder how it got on when it reached the promised land?

Letter from America – The Proclaimers (1987)

For many Scots, the Proclaimers’ song, like Burns’s Ae Fond Kiss (eg here or here), conveys powerful messages from history, and for some, it expresses social and political priorities because of the contemporary context.[1] For what it’s worth, my main thought is that there is still a need for modern “heavy” manufacturing, all over the world: so why have they been allowed to disappear? If France can build the world’s biggest cruise ships / liners (with occasional government support), why can’t we? We used to! If other countries find it profitable to produce and export many of the sorts of goods that used to be made in Scotland, then we should, too.

While an enduring market is not something that applies to coal, and its demise cannot be uncritically mourned, there are actions that could have been taken in Scotland to regenerate what I was told as a youngster were “old” or “dying” industries, in addition to the satellite technology, bio-medical sciences and other shiny modern fields. I see no shortage of demand for trains, planes and automobiles.

My use of the Proclaimers’ phrase to refer to the end of the Triumph Toffee Works is, of course, ironic, given that my family’s role was one of ownership.

If I were making a big point, or a big joke, the butt would be my great uncle as an employer/owner, and the nature of his business and circumstances of his workforce. But I’m not. I’m being whimsical. I’m honestly ignorant as to whether David’s factory was a good place to work or not, and I don’t see why I should make any assumptions. I’m just saying I’m aware that things are more complex. I do know sugar was a dangerous chemical, and industrial accidents happened. Any home cook knows how dangerous hot sugar is, even in small batches, when the cooking is unpressured and just for fun. I don’t know if my great uncle’s management and business strategy exemplify some of the flaws responsible for the more general industrial decline that are so palpable in this location, or not. I’m not willing to rush to criticise, or praise, or be an apologist. And the fact that he was born with a silver spoon is neither a reason to disparage or admire him.

But in that area, it’s sobering to see the physical after-effects of both the industries of that time, and of their undoing and removal. Brown fields galore.

Another interesting broader problem is sugar itself, which was both a huge industry with many employees, and one that rotted generations of Scottish teeth. In previous generations, it was worse, because sugar meant slavery (and profits), but I think that’s a different and earlier story to the one I’m telling here. This is a twentieth century tale. I think the sweeties were merely and honestly just sweeties; a treat for old and young alike. (Commercial preserves and jams, however, I suspect had already become merely means of delivering sugar rather than of preserving fruit.) I doubt they did that much harm, compared to what seems to be a contemporary dietary crisis. I suspect it’s our own vast over-consumption of hidden sugars in processed food given our sedentary lifestyle that is a major problem, not David’s toffees.

One less obvious reason “toffee no more” is ironic is that there are still successful confectioners out there, some very local indeed. Famous brand names like Tunnocks seem to attract new generations of fans, and it’s still a family firm. That’s something I firmly admire. They’ve not sold up and sold out. Thomas Tunnock was born in Uddingston. The company website says “After leaving school Thomas served his apprenticeship in Aberdour Bakery. Tom worked hard and saved enough money to buy a bakery in Uddingston for £80 and Thomas Tunnock was established in December 1890.” He had no real silver spoon… but he also had children who were able to re-invent, to grow organically, and to re-invent again. A small family bakery made profitable products, innovated, and consolidated. Other confectionary brands like Lees hail from nearby Coatbridge, and they’ve been through take-over, listing and finally a management buy-out, remaining a locally-owned employer. More of that, if you please.

Also nearby (in Heathery Road), David had a large contemporary competitor, namely Archibald’s – makers of the Battleaxe brand. There’s a thread about it on Facebook’s lively “Once Upon A Time In Wishaw” group. There was King’s too, Alexander King and Co (Wishaw) Ltd., whose confectionery works were at 10-16 King Street, Wishaw – it seems to go back to the 1850s. Lesmahagow’s not too far away, and that’s the home of a family-run business, Gardiner’s. I found more examples online, like Gordon and Durward. Modern independent chocolatiers are not hard to find either, and there’s lots of fudge and tablet. There is nothing in the world as delicious as the perfect piece of tablet.


NOTES & SOURCES

[1] Bathgate no more by Douglas Fraser, BBC (2013) – 25 years after the Procaimers’ song https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-24509655

I’m pleased that McAllister & Scobbie Ltd and D.L. Scobbie Ltd have been added to Grace’s Guide, here and here. This is a great guide to British industrial history and brands.


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