Arthur Charles Wilkin joined with two friends to form the ‘Britannia Fruit Preserving Company’. He stipulated that the jam should be free of glucose, colouring and preservatives. The first jam was of such high quality and impressed one Australian merchant so much that he arranged to buy every last pot.
As new varieties were added the distinction between jams made with home grown fruit ‘conserve’ and foreign produce ‘preserve’ was made. Tiptree products continue to be manufactured in the countryside village of Tiptree in the south eastern English county of Essex, by the Wilkins family since 1885. The family has held a Royal warrant continuously since 1911, first awarded by King George V. HRH The Queen awarded a Royal warrant of appointment in 1954 shortly after her coronation.
Probably the product for which Tiptree is best known is its jam ‘Little Scarlet’, an intensely flavoursome conserve made from the rare, small fruit variety of strawberry of the same name. It is unique to Tiptree, the company being the only growers of the variety in Europe. A favourite of jam connoisseurs (and 007).
The Wilkin family have farmed their land at Tiptree for centuries and began fruit growing in early Victorian times. A price list from 1901 stated that the company had over 8,000 customers and that all the goods were delivered directly. Over 600 acres of land has been planted with unusual fruits, including, gooseberries, cherries, damsons, quinces, crab apples, plums and Loganberries. In 1905 the company was renamed ‘Wilkin & Sons Limited’ to avoid confusion with 25 other companies trading as ‘Britannia’. The company’s trading success saw the introduction of a minimum pension scheme and company housing which many employees to this date still live in. Continuing to this day, shares in the business are gradually being bought back and passed to the employees through a trust. This means that the employees have a stake in the business and are owners in a very real sense.
In 1911 when ‘two gentlemen of official standing’ visited Tiptree to advise Mr Wilkins of the award of a Royal warrant from King George V, they were taken to the store house and shown jam ready for dispatch to Khartoum, Nigeria, Rangoon and the Falkland Islands. Over the ensuing years exports became and remain an important part of the business, helping to spread the reputation of Tiptree products to 60 countries world wide. By 1920 they had over 200,000 direct customers and sales of £100,000.
During the first world war, 73 employees joined the forces and the company sent 8,000 boxes of Tiptree jams and marmalades to the front to boost morale. On the home front in 1916 an enemy Zeppelin passed over Tiptree with its crew throwing equipment overboard in a desperate attempt to gain height. The factory became surrounded in equipment most notably the great airship’s log book and a heavy machine gun complete with its ammunition.
The second world war period saw a great shortage of labour and the very real threat of invasion and bomb damage. In 1941 the company was forced to deal with retailers as the company was forbidden by the government, due to rationing controls, to deal with the public directly. Stocks ran low due to harvest reduction and lack of plant personnel and as war continued with its food rationing it was impossible to make a profit from the business. With the ending of hostilities in 1945 the business once again began to flourish and by 1947 profits were at their highest. Consumer demand was so strong through retailers, there was no going back to direct sales only. Exports grew by 62% in 1950 and have continued to grow up to the present.
In recent years turnover is in the region of £25m and the company employs over 220 full-time staff with many more during the fruitpicking season. Wilkin & Sons Limited also operates three tea rooms in Essex, a specialist bakery and patisserie producer (Raven at Witham) and sells fresh fruit grown on the Tiptree estate. The Wilkin & Sons Visitor Centre in Tiptree features a tearoom, shop, and museum about the company’s history, jam-making, and village life. The visitor centre and museum are located on the ground floor of the actual jam factory.
Wilkin & Sons have expanded the Tiptree product range which not only includes its famous conserves, preserves and marmalades, but also beautifully packaged and highest quality honeys, fruit jellies, savoury sauces, relishes, chutney’s, teas, Christmas preserves and puddings, lemon curd , organic and reduced sugar range and interesting food and non-food gifts.