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Turning Back the Clock: the Maconochie brothers, iconic Lowestoft employers who fed an army

PUBLISHED: 14:47 30 March 2017 | UPDATED: 14:47 30 March 2017

Maconochie Brothers

Maconochie Brothers

Archant

They are iconic Lowestoft employers who became pioneers in their industry, providing a vital service to the British Army, but today little is known of the Maconochie brothers.

Maconochie BrothersMaconochie Brothers

For decades their canning and food processing factories in Riverside Road and Waveney Drive dominated the Lowestoft landscape, however could more be done by the town to recognise their achievements?

John Stannard, chairman and trustee of Lowestoft Civic Society, said: “There is very good merit to mark their achievements, as they did things nobody else in the country was doing at the time, they were extremely forward thinking.”

Born to Archibald Maconochie and Elizabeth Richardson, James and Archibald were two of eight siblings; with James the eldest, born in 1850.

The brothers’ first enterprise in 1873 was at 137 Raglan Street, Lowestoft rented from property owner Robert Lowe, later commissioning an architect to draw plans for a fish curing premises.

Maconochie BrothersMaconochie Brothers

The successful factory, Raglan Works, facilitated the evolution of Maconochie Bros. as an international enterprise with a far-reaching influence upon Waveney’s economy.

The firm’s innovative nature is witnessed through the invention of soldering machines which soldered lids over a can’s exterior to prevent contamination.

By 1890 more processing plants were opened on the Isle of Dogs in London, Yorkshire and Fraserburgh in Scotland.

Appreciation of the company was worldwide- the Sydney Herald reported: “Maconochie Bros have adopted the best and most modern known processes so that we in the Antipodes are presented with the paradox of fresh herrings several months old.”

Maconochie BrothersMaconochie Brothers

Expansion grew until the Boer War when Maconochie Bros secured a contract to supply rations to the British Army, which continued throughout the duration of WWI and Maconochie Stew became a by-word for meat and vegetable rations.

James Maconochie travelled extensively, establishing contacts across the world, until his death in 1895.

Archibald continued the company, purchasing heath land between Lake Lothing and the railway line close to Kirkley Ham, creating a wharf and providing housing in Waveney Drive, beside a new factory.

Construction of No 1 Factory was completed in 1915/16 and the Lowestoft Journal reported: “There can be few gentlemen of more service to this locality than the Maconochie Bros.”

Maconochie BrothersMaconochie Brothers

Further success saw a second factory in 1922; intended to be the No 2 Factory, but exorbitant rates imposed by Lowestoft Borough Council caused the stalling of production. A resolution was never found; Archibald closed the majority of Lowestoft operations, relocating to London and No. 2 Factory remained stagnant until purchase by the Cooperative Wholesale Society in 1926.

Ronald Mitson, great grandson of Robert Lowe, commented on the firms legacy: “I think more could be done to recognise their achievements particularly when you see Fraserburgh in Scotland, has a museum exhibit dedicate to the brothers.”

The year 1926 also saw the passing of Archibald, but Maconochie Bros’ Lowestoft legacy is visible today through provision of road across at Kirkley Ham where there is a cul-de-sac- Maconochie Way, but the company’s factories were demolished in 2000.

Although a memorial stands in Lowestoft Cemetery attributed to the firm, many believe more could be done to acknowledge the brothers’ achievements.

Maconochie BrothersMaconochie Brothers

“I think a fitting tribute would be to name the new river crossing after them, as this will link both sides of the town in the same way their businesses did many years ago,” added Mr Stannard.

What do you think? Write to Letters at the Journal or email simon.ward@archant.co.uk

Key Dates-
1850: James Maconochie born in Wakefield

1854: Archibald Maconochie born in Wigan

1871: The census return lists James aged 21, as a fishmonger in Aberystwyth. His brother Archibald aged 17 was an assistant fishmonger.

1873: Company is set up by Archibald and James Maconochie in Lowestoft.

1885: Expansion to Raglan Works, Lowestoft, and to Old Herring Market and Mackerel Market, London where Maconochie’s employed 1000 workers.

1895: James dies from pneumonia and his funeral cortege leaves from 49 High Street, Lowestoft

1899-1902: The company secures a contract to supply rations to British troops fighting in the Boer War.

1900: Archibald Maconochie becomes the Liberal-Unionist MP for East Aberdeenshire

1914: The company becomes a manufacturer of pickles, sauces and preservers of fish, meat and vegetables.

1914: World War I, the company supplies rations to the British Army.

1907 Pan Yan pickle is invented by the Maconochie Brothers and Branston Pickle continues its production until 2002, when a fire in its Suffolk factory destroys records of the secret recipe.

Final Years- 
1926: Raglan Works are damaged in a fire and the remains are sold by auction in 1927.

1926: Archibald White Maconochie dies in London aged 71. He was reported as being the Managing Director of Maconochie Bros. Ltd, and the ‘Inventor’ of the Army Ration.

1928: Archibald’s son, Archibald B D Maconochie takes over the business.

1935 to 1939: He leaves the firm to join the army for the duration of WWII,

before returning to the company.

1951: Archibald B D Maconochie retires, having been head of a prosperous company

1953: Export restrictions to Australia and New Zealand caused the company’s collapse.

1961: Archibald B D Maconochie dies

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