The March meeting of Stourbridge Historical Society took place on Thursday 21st March. It was attended by 82 members and 16 visitors. President Michael – Blamire Brown welcomed everyone and introduced the speaker Colin Knipe whose talk was entitled Teddy Gray’s - a Dudley Institution.
Colin explained that dating the founding of the business was difficult as the gates of the factory state that it began in 1826 but his research, including work done using the census, suggests that it was 1876. The business was started by Frances Ovary Gray a confectioner and sugar boiler. His eldest son John travelled around selling sweets, including cough sweets, from a horse and cart, he also traded on markets and then opened a shop in Wolverhampton Street Dudley. John was a rogue. Between 1896 and 1909 he was charged with selling sweets containing paraffin, convicted of driving his horse and cart without a light (3 times,) drinking after closing time, and convicted of criminal damage and being drunk. He went bankrupt in 1888 and 1899. After the Great War he and his brother Harry worked together and clearly, they were very successful. In the 1920s they were advertising in Cornwall for John Gray and Sons lettered rock. In 1921 the company became a limited liability company.
In 1922 John was found dead in the canal at Stratford upon Avon. The firm was taken over by his son Edward (Teddy) who was in his 20’s. Teddy’s passion was breeding wirehaired fox terriers. He was an accomplished breeder and the breed features on the wrappers of the company’s famous herbal sweets. Teddy was very successful and the firm expanded and moved to North Street in 1933. During the second World War rationing of sugar impacted on the business; they produced only one tonne of sweets rather than the usual six tonnes. The audience were clearly staggered by the quantity. By 1955 the firm was doing so well that Teddy’s daughter had to obtain a special licence to get married on a Sunday as her father refused to close the business on a weekday or a Saturday as it would affect production. Teddy died in 1966 aged 63 years and the running of the business passed to his daughter Betty Guest and her son. The company still have shops in Bewdley, the Churchill Precinct in Dudley and also Wednesbury in addition to stalls on markets.
Colin then showed a film made in 2011 by Martin Parr as part of his Black Country stories compilation. The film showed very an old-fashioned business using very old equipment. Many of the processes were done by hand. One example is the lettering and rolling of the rock. The footage of the making of coconut ice and humbugs was especially memorable. The apparent lack of health and safety measures drew gasps from the audience especially the footage of workers carrying vats of boiling sugar. Many of the employees had been with the company for all their working lives. It was, as Michael said in his vote of thanks, a fascinating talk.
Secretary, David Hickman announced that there will be two meetings in May. On 9th May James Measall will speak on The Stourbridge School of Art and the Local Glass Industry 1850-1905. This will be a ticketed evening. Tickets are free to members, £3 for visitors and can be obtained from the David. On Thursday 16th May Max Keen will deliver a talk on Hereward the Wake.
Founded 1946, by Geoffrey Beard
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