Chivers – Farmers and Jam Factory Owners 1817

Extracts from “A Ramble About New Impington” by E.F.Whitehead

The Chivers family are believed to have descended from Huguenots who settled in Cottenham at the end of the 17th. century. They first appeared in Histon when John Chivers, father of Stephen, came to live at 59/61, Cottenham Road with his brother and sister around 1817.

Shortly after his marriage in 1850, Stephen bought an orchard next to the railway line. Stephen now had easy access to London and northern markets. When his sons William 18 and John 13 were old enough in 1870, he sent them to open a distribution centre at Bradford. The boys soon noticed that their main customers were jam manufacturers. In 1873, which just happened to be a fruit glut year, they convinced their father to allow them to make their first batch of jam in the barn off Milton Road ; now site of St.Georges Close. Within two years Victoria Works were built on the orchard site. At first stone jars of two, four and six pounds were produced. By 1885 the still rare glass jars were used. To ensure a permanent, not seasonal, experienced workforce, they diversified into marmalade, closely followed by the first clear, commercial desert jelly in 1889. All the year round employment encouraged further diversification into lemonade, mincemeat, custard powder and Christmas puddings. In 1895 Chivers became Europe’s first large scale commercial canners, using their own design. This was an achievement which has been frequently overlooked by historians!

Chivers Filling jars with hand held scoops 1894

Chivers Filling jars with hand held scoops 1894

In Charles Lack, Chivers had a genius for their chief engineer. He developed the finest canning machinery in Europe. He went on to design jam filling, fruit sorting can making and sterilisation equipment which helped transform Chivers into one of the world’s leading manufactures of preserves. In 1902, H. Rider Haggard recorded after his visit:

“The factory with its silver lined boilers, its cooling rooms, its patent apparatus for filling jars, its tramways, its printing and silver plating packing case making, labelling, baking powder, mincemeat and lemonade departments etc. was a truly wondrous place.”

The factory, supplied by their farms and the surrounding area, was self sufficient . It had its own water supply and electrical generation by 1890. Not only did they make their own cans, but also they came to have their own engineers, paint shop, sawmill, blacksmiths, carriage works, coopers, carpenters, building department and even basket makers.

Chivers Leyland Loco Box Van circa 1926

Chivers Leyland Loco Box Van circa 1926

In 1901 a factory hand earned 16s (80p) a week compared with the seasonal agricultural wage of 12s. Chivers introduced their first pension scheme in 1895, profit sharing 1891, factory and village doctor 1897, fire brigade 1890s, Workers’ Advisory Council 1918, holiday pay for all workers with a years service 1920. By 1939 there were three thousand full time employees throughout East Anglia together with factories in Montrose, Newry and Huntingdon.

Although the factory was an important enterprise, the Chivers family is said to have regarded themselves primarily as farmers. In 1896 they owned 500 acres, though they rented far more. This rose to nearly 8000 acres in 1939. All farms were run as independent units concentrating on the rearing of livestock and cereals as well as fruit. They led the world in mixed farming techniques and would only breed pedigree livestock whether they be pigs, cattle, poultry, sheep or their magnificent Percheron horses.

In 1959 the factories and farms were sold to Schweppes. The family bought most of the farms back in 1961.

25 thoughts on “Chivers – Farmers and Jam Factory Owners 1817

  1. Hello. I have a weekly blog in which I use extracts from a local newspaper. I came across this for the 24th April 1915 and thought that you might be interested.
    Apparently even the birds are attracted by the brave men now serving their King and country, and an interesting instance is that of a robin, which has just built its next in the shelter of a soldier’s overcoat. The coat was hanging at the head of its owner’s bed in the Red Cross Hospital, provided by Messrs. Chivers and Sons Ltd., the well know jam and jelly manufacturers, at Histon, near Cambridge. The ward is an open one, and – the robin after selecting its site, went about the work of building very coolly, showing no fear of the soldiers, who were much interested in their little visitor.

    The bird comes and goes as it likes, frequently sits on the head of the bed while the soldier is in it, and stays at night in the nest. The sagging of the belt forms a kind of recess for the support of the nest, which is sheltered by a hanging sleeve, and the men are leaving the coat untouched, so that the sociable little bird may bring off its brood successfully. Already it has laid four eggs in the nest.
    Kind regards
    Stephanie Codd

  2. I have a matchbox truck-made in England with Chivers & Sons on it. Is there any value in this also says Jams Jellies and Marmalades
    The Ordhard factory Histon Cambridge

  3. Found a few little bottles buried in the garden in Hartford, Huntingdon that has the words “The Cambridge Lemonade” , chivers &sons histon.
    Are these 10 a penny or should I take them to eg the Norris Museum in St Ives?

  4. I have just discovered thro’ the 1901 & 1911 census that many of my Peck family worked at a jam factory in Histon. I guess that would have to be Chivers

  5. Hello, we are Chivers and would like to know more about the family to see if we are related.
    My fathers family grew up in Idaho.

    • Hello and thank you for your enquiry. Please email our archivist
      as she may be able to help you.
      Best wishes

      • My mother checked her ancestors when she was alive, she found out that we are related. I would like to know more about the family history to see if its correct.

  6. Hi,

    I live in Swavesey where we are starting a heritage fruit tree orchard.
    I was wondering if you know what varieties of fruit Chivers was growing around this area?
    If you have any details of this nature please could you e-mail me.


  7. We had a fruit farm in Lower Stondon (Hollwellbury) Bedfordshire. Locals believe it was owned/rented by Chivers. Are there any records to confirm? Lower Stondon is about 20 miles from Histon, and had its own railway station (Henlow Camp).

  8. Hello, I have been told my older cousin, who’s 80yr, that our Grandfather was the first Chivers Lorry driver. Do you have any history of their vehicles.

    • The first steam driven motor vehicle, bought second hand by Chivers, was driven up from London by Oliver Rutherford. Being Chivers they made him an offer he could not refuse and he stayed! He ended his career driving the firm’s mini railway shunter about the site. here is a link to some photos
      Oliver Rutherford

  9. Hi All,

    We are about to put the old Chivers’ farm house, on the green, on the market after being in my family for fifty two years, it’s bit of a wrench but it has to be done.

    I remember from my (much) younger days, the Chivers individual fruit pies. In the top right corner of the box was a picture of the village green, shot from (I think) east and showing: the green; the wooden bridge over the brook and the farm house.

    I thought it would be nice to pass this snippet of history on to the new owners, whoever they may be. I have searched the internet in vain to find a picture of the said fruit pie box but no luck. Does anybody have an idea where one may be found.

    Thanks in advance.


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