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Out with the chimes — driving for Wall's Ice Cream in the ’50s

By dan shaw  |  Posted: September 08, 2011

Two lads enjoy their ice cream, despite the snow on the ground

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GAIL Middleton’s recent articles on ice cream were read with interest by Mr F. Jennings of Birmingham. We last heard from Mr Jennings in Bugle 988, with his story of his days as a driver for Wilkinson’s in the early 1950s, when he also served with the Territorial Army. Mr Jennings left Wilkinsons to take up a job with Wall’s ice cream, with three times the wages.

At first he found it difficult to fit his TA activities around his job. Mr Jennings writes: “In those days you had a fortnight’s holiday and the words of the gaffer were, if you want to play soldiers, you can’t have it both ways, meaning no TA or no holidays for you and the wife. But I did get round it a wee bit, by going on the advance party, which was on a Wednesday, then leaving the following Saturday, leaving me with four days holiday with the wife. But I had to do about four weekends as well as some Tuesday nights to make up.

“I have sent some photos of the Wall’s Ice Cream depot at Hockley, Birmingham. One picture shows when we won a scooter for the best sales of the year. In the background you can see the Austin Three Way vans we had then. We sold the scooter and shared the lolly — excuse the pun.

“We exchanged the Austins for a fleet of Ford 4Ds, while on the retail side we had a fleet of Austin taxis. What salesmen we had! Even with snow on the ground, with these taxis they used to serve all the big houses with fridges, like in Barnt Green. In the morning they would deliver 1/6 and 1/- blocks of ice cream to houses, a bit like being a milk man, then they would be out with the chimes in the afternoon and evening.

“I myself did this for a bit before going on to wholesale deliveries to shops, picture houses, works canteens, hospitals and the like. I liked that better.

“One photo shows me on retail and it shows the prices in the late 1950s and early ‘60s. The odd thing about it was that they gave us an army-type uniform to wear in the winter, like a dyed blue battledress.

“Alas, Wall’s moved out of Birmingham in the late ‘60s, so I had to find another job.”

Our thanks go to Mr Jennings for sharing his photographs and memories with Bugle readers.

Wall’s was founded in 1786 by Richard Wall, when he opened a butcher’s stall in St James’s Market, London. In 1812 he received his first royal appointment, as a purveyor of pork to the Prince Regent, the first in a series of royal appointments that lasted well into the 20th century.

In the 1900s the business was led by Richard’s grandson Thomas Wall II. Every year the company had to lay off staff in the summer as demand for its sausages, pies and meat fell. In 1913 Thomas Wall II conceived the idea of making ice cream in the summer to avoid the lay-offs, but the First World War meant that his idea was not implemented.

In 1920 Thomas Wall II sold the business to Mac Fisheries, which in 1922 was itself bought jointly by Lever Brothers and Margarine Unie. Maxwell Holt was put in charge and he revived the idea of producing ice cream, with near instant success.

Today Wall’s is part of Unilever’s ‘Heartbrand’, sold in more than forty countries. Each country has its own brand name but the heart logo is universal. Unilever is the world’s biggest ice cream manufacturer, with an annual turnover of £5 billion.

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