Beginnings of the Huntley & Palmers factory

When George Palmer joined the firm in 1841, all the biscuits were produced in the back room of the shop in London Street, Reading. By 1898 an 'industrial army' of just over 5,000 men and women worked in a complex of factory buildings covering 24 acres on both banks of the River Kennet. It was the largest biscuit factory in the world.

The London Street bakery

In 1822 Joseph Huntley started making biscuits in his small shop in Reading. It stood on the busy London to Bath road, near the Crown coaching inn and each day biscuits were sold from a basket to the hungry coach travellers. As the business grew George Palmer secured the lease on the shop next to 72 London Street. Within 4 years the numbers of employees had increased to 16 and it became clear that the lack of space was a barrier to expansion of the business.

This artist's impression of the original Huntley and Palmers shopfront appeared in First Name News, the Huntley & Palmers staff magazine, in 1956. (REDMG : 1997.130.1.6)

The new factory

To the east of Reading, on a small section of land between the canal and the river Kennet, there was a vacant building which used to be an old silk factory. In 1846 Huntley & Palmers purchased this factory for £1,800 which they borrowed from the vendor. The factory had a floor space of 5,000 square feet and was spread over half an acre.

This 1857 plan shows the former silk factory located between the canal and the River Kennet that George Palmer purchased in 1846, as well as the adjacent Cannon brewery. (REDMG : 1997.130.1040)

The grand opening

The opening of the Kings Road factory represented a landmark not only for Huntley & Palmers but also for biscuit making as a whole. From this point on, biscuits were produced en masse in quantities that had never been seen before. The profits of the business increased dramatically from £969 in 1844-45 to £7,500 in 1849-50 and this enabled Huntley & Palmers to pay off the debt for the purchase of the factory.

The London Street bakery continued to produce confectionary until 1861 by which point the new factory had already been expanded on several occasions.

This print from 1850 is intended to represent Huntley & Palmers' biscuit packing department in its early days, although the scene has unrealistically lofty ceilings. (REDMG : 1997.130.85)

Once the biscuits were made, the next challenge was transporting them!