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Can you name these Blue Bird toffee bosses from the 1950s?

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 16, 2014

By Dan Shaw

Eric Vincent (8th right) and the heads of department at the Blue Bird factory near Halesowen

Eric Vincent (8th right) and the heads of department at the Blue Bird factory near Halesowen

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THE recollections of three pals outside the former Blue Bird sweet factory at Hunnington, near Halesowen, as featured in our July 31 edition, prompted Mrs Bunty Parkes of Wordsley to get in touch.

Bunty has given us this photograph of the heads of department at the Blue Bird works in the mid 1950s, when she worked there. They stand in front of the canteen building and the man in the double-breasted suit, eighth from right, is Eric Vincent, known as "Mr Eric", the son of company founder Sir Harry Vincent. Mr Eric took over the business on his father's death in 1952 and ran it until his own death in 1963.

The only other person Bunty can name is Mr Keen, stood on the far left, wearing glasses, who had only one arm and in whose office Bunty worked.

Bunty joined Blue Bird in around 1954, after leaving her job at Stewarts and Lloyds. "It was for less money at Blue Bird," remembers Bunty, "but it was much nicer being out in the open and in the countryside. I had to take two buses from my home in Blackheath to get there."

Bunty would conduct coach parties on tours of the factory as well as dealing with correspondence and complaints. She also helped Mr Keen choose designs for the famous Blue Bird toffee tins; he would show her and a colleague a selection of designs and they would pick their favourite.

Other memories for Bunty are the artesian well that supplied the factory with water and Mr Kelsall, whose job it was to pull the toffee. Great pieces of toffee were hung on a large hook and Mr Kelsall would combine light and dark toffees into a striped pattern.

Bunty also recalls that on days when the weather was too warm for the toffee or chocolate to set, rather than sending the workforce home unpaid they would be given other tasks to do. "I can remember all the women in their blue uniforms cleaning the windows," said Bunty.

Bunty left Blue Bird when she had her first child in 1956.

The business was founded by Sir Harry Vincent (1875-1952) in the early 1890s. He worked from his Birmingham home, selling toffee door to door from the saddlebag of his bicycle. In 1895 he bought the Lion Works, a former ironworks in central Birmingham, converted it to sweets production and renamed it the Toffee Mills.

His first brand name was "Harvino", made by combining elements of his name, but he was inspired to change it by Maurice Maeterlinck's 1908 play The Blue Bird. With the new name came great success and in 1925 Harry Vincent moved his company out of Birmingham and into the countryside.

Inspired by the Cadburys' Bournville factory and workers' village he bought the 160 acre Dovehousefields Farm near Romsley and at a cost of £250,000 built his model factory with homes for his workforce, shop and post office, and two farms to supply his factory with milk and his workers with fresh meat and vegetables. The foundation stone was laid in 1925 and the works were complete roughly two years later.

The factory had an innovative layout. All on one level, the raw materials entered the factory at one end and the finished product left at the other. The roof was designed with north facing skylights so that direct sunlight never shone in, keeping the interior cool for the workforce and the all-important toffee. All the processes flowed in the same direction, to maximise space and efficiency, and the sweets that left the factory had been made less than 24 hours earlier.

Blue Bird's heydays were the years either side of the Second World War, when the factory sold annually 30,000 tonnes of sweets and toffees worldwide, exporting to over 70 countries.

Under Eric Vincent the business became a public company but after his death its fortunes declined. By the 1980s the workforce that had once been 600 had reduced to less than 70 and the factory produced a mere 3,000 tonnes a year. There were various changes of ownership and attempts to revive fortunes but in 1998 production was moved to Hull.

The Blue Bird legacy lives on in distinctive tins, popular gifts at Christmas, which are now collectors items.

Can you name any of the Blue Bird bosses in Bunty's picture? Did you also work at the Hunnington factory or have you a collection of Blue Bird tins? Contact dshaw@blackcountry bugle.co.uk or write in to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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