Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Booker McConnell

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of Mincing Lane, London EC3

1833 The company was founded in Liverpool by George Booker and Richard Booker when they bought their first ship and established the Booker Line for shipping goods.

Booker Brothers and Co established with the brothers Josias Booker (1793-1865), George Booker and Richard Booker.

1835 The business in Demerara was established when George Booker and Co acquired Lucas Cook and Co[1]

Booker employed sugar workers through the indentured labour system during the 19th and 20th centuries and at its peak controlled 75% of the sugar industry in British Guiana. It was sometimes referred to as 'Booker's Guiana'.

1874 John McConnell and Co was established in London

1900 All 3 businesses were brought together in Booker Brothers, McConnell and Co, general merchants, owners of plantations and shippers[2]

Later the company diversified into the distribution of goods, and gradually disposed of its fleet of ships.

1927 Became a public company

1933 Further issue of shares

1946 Acquired Allinson

1949 Acquired United Rum Shippers

1949 Rights issue to reduce overdraft; financial resources were being conserved to enable modernisation of the sugar estates[3]

1952 Jock Campbell became chairman and his Fabian social politics ensured improved benefits for sugar workers.

1956 Commenced building an engineering group by acquiring George Fletcher and Co, sugar machinery manufacturers, and Reliance Manufacturing Co (Southwark), maker of high precision potentiometers[4]

1957 Acquired Alfred Button and Sons, which was the start of Booker's food distribution business[5]

1958 Acquired another maker of sugar processing machinery, Duncan Stewart and Co[6]

1958 Acquired Sigmund Pumps including its subsidiaries Small Bore Heating Systems and Crewdson Hardy[7]

1961 Listed as engineers, pumping and irrigation specialists and manufacturers of pumps, acid resisting, automatic, barrel, bilge, boiler-feed, draining, centrifugal circulating, process pumps, and ThermoPak. 850 employees.

1961 Acquired another pump company, Pulsometer Engineering Co. This combination created one of the largest pump companies in Europe, which became known as Sigmund Pulsometer Pumps, or SPP for short.

1962 Sold the S. P. E. aircraft fuel pump company to Plessey Co[8]

1964 Formed a joint venture, Booker Bowmar, with Bowmar Instrumentation Corporation of USA. Reliance Controls was transferred to Booker Bowmar[9]

1967 Merged its International Boilers and Radiators subsidiary into a jointly owned company with Powell Duffryn Heating named International Janitor[10]

1968 Booker McConnell was the parent company of the Booker Group which included Booker Line and Booker Brothers (Liverpool)

1970s The company was transformed into a food-to-engineering conglomerate[11]

1969 Merged the mining machinery interests of Fletcher and Stewart with those of Richard Sutcliffe and A. G. Wild and Co (owned by Industrial and Commercial Finance Corporation) in a new company Fletcher Sutcliffe Wild, to supply self-advancing powered roof support systems and other mining machinery; it would be majority owned by Booker[12]

c.1970 Acquired Plenty and Son but rationalisation with SPP did not proceed as fast as expected[13]

1976 By the time of the Guyanan nationalisation, Booker had diversified into international agricultural management and consultancy, food distribution, rum and liqueur brands, engineering (mainly for the sugar processing, coal, oil, and gas industries), shipping, health products and authors' copyrights.

Among other interests, it operated the sugar industry in Guyana, running five Booker line ships, until it was nationalized in 1976. After six months Booker was called back to market the sugar.

1977 The fluid engineering division (SPP and Plenty) was the second largest source of profit; food distribution was the largest source of profit[14]

By 1978 the Company had over 100 warehouses across the UK and traded as Booker, McConnell. Acquired the American Health Products business.

1978 Acquired Pitcraft, maker of coal mining machinery for underground mines. Further food-related acquisitions would be in the USA.

1980 Failure of two US engineering companies and recession in United Kingdom food wholesaling led to major reorganisation involving: divestment of businesses where substantial, long-term profit growth was seen as doubtful, including engineering, ocean shipping and spirits; and reinforcement and expansion of the agriculture and health products businesses, which were seen as growth points, and food distribution, in which Booker had substantial commitment and market position[15].

1981 Three engineering businesses (one in USA) were sold.

1981 A sugar machinery factory was closed (and its foundry sold) and the four ships of the Booker Line, as well as a US engineering investment, were sold.

1983 Fletcher Sutcliffe Wild had benefitted from increased business from the National Coal Board; in March it was sold to Dobson Park Industries[16]

1983 SPP was bought out of the Booker Group. Also a specialist confectionery and tobacco wholesale business was sold.

1984 Three spirits, liqueurs and wine interests, a specialised food wholesaling business (Parrish and Fenn), a Canadian health food retail chain and the remaining shipping interests were sold or discontinued.

1984 Acquired a Scottish salmon farm, a UK forestry management company, and a fish curing company; acquired the Bishop's Group retail grocery chain and a delivered wholesale business (Harvey, Bradfield and Toyer).

The company diversified into the distribution of goods rather than merely shipping them, when it gradually disposed of its fleet of ships: the focus was then put on food wholesale distribution.

By 1984 The main businesses were Food Distribution, Health Products, Agriculture and a few remaining engineering activities.

c.1986 The group was known as Booker Group plc, and Booker McConnell was discontinued. The group is now the United Kingdom's largest food wholesale operator offering branded and private-label goods to over 400,000 customers, including independent convenience stores, grocers, pubs and restaurants.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Jan 03, 1933
  2. The Times, Jan 03, 1933
  3. The Times, Nov 26, 1949
  4. The Times, Jun 05, 1957
  5. The Times, Mar 28, 1977
  6. The Times Jun 16, 1958
  7. The Times, Oct 20, 1958
  8. The Times, Jun 12, 1962
  9. The Times, Jun 08, 1964
  10. The Times, Sep 07, 1967
  11. The Times, Sep 15, 1978
  12. The Times (London, England), Thursday, May 08, 1969
  13. The Times, Oct 02, 1970
  14. The Times, Mar 28, 1977
  15. Competition Commission report 1985
  16. The Times, Apr 22, 1983