Malcolm Ferris-Lay

Malcolm Ferris-Lay Personal Tea History - March 2021.

 

My Twining`s Days

 

I joined the Tea Trade on 30th January 1968.

My letter of acceptance from;

Twining Crosfield & Co Ltd

Ibex House

Minories

London

EC3

 

With reference to your call at our offices today we confirm that we will take you on our Junior Saleroom Staff at a salary of £7.0.0d per week plus Luncheon Vouchers to the value of 3/-d for each working day.

Your salary will automatically be increased by 5/-d if you are still in our employment at the end of three months and there after that you will qualify for the six months wage increase.

In the current year you will have a fortnight’s holiday and after you have been in our service for twelve calendar months you will be entitled to three weeks holiday per annum

Please report to Mr Roxburgh on Monday, February 5th at 9.30 a.m. and on all subsequent days you will be in our offices at 9.a.m.sharp.

Yours sincerely,

H.R. Hughes

Director.

 

My new place of work was on the third floor of Ibex House which is an Art Deco building and was awarded a grade 2 listing in 1982.

On climbing the stairs I proceeded through two glass swing doors into what was the Saleroom of Twining Crosfield. My initial reaction was the smell. For those of you who have been surrounded by tea you will understand. The smell of tea was almost overpowering and something I shall never forget.

The Saleroom itself was well over a 100 feet in length and consisted of benches with draws below which all contained tins of tea. To the side were gas rings which held banks of 3 copper kettles. In total 12 kettles were in use at any one time. 

I was introduced to Joe Roxburgh who was to be my new boss. Joe or “Rockie” as he was affectionately called was born at the Elephant & Castle London and swore with every other word. To describe him as a character would be an understatement.

Joe wore a grey lab coat and I too was given a grey coat. All the tasters wore white coats. I was introduced to some other young lads who were batch boys which is what I was going to be trained to be. Basically a batch boy made the teas for the tasters and took notes when the tasters tasted.

My first job I was given was to empty what was hundreds of tins containing tea samples. Each of these tins held about 6 ounces (150 grams) and I was to empty them into two massive black metal chests. One was marked Broken and the other Fanning’s. I was shown the difference between these two grades of tea and then set to emptying them with some errors I recall.

At 11.00 a tea trolley was brought around by Gladys who again was more than capable of using some choice words! On the trolley was a massive aluminium tea pot and cups and saucers. This was our tea break. I was asked if I took sugar and I said yes, the reply from Gladys was “well you are the only one then”. I said I would take it without sugar and to this day after over 50 years in the trade I have never taken sugar in my tea.

As the days and weeks progressed I learnt to make the tea for the tasters. This involved filling a 12 pint copper kettle with fresh water which was then placed on a gas ring. We had trays made of wood which held 24 small cups and bowls with lids. Into the cup was weighed 3 grams of tea (6 grams for the larger cups) and when we put the boiling water into the cup a lid was placed on top.

Once the tea had infused which was for 6 minutes you knew when this happened as you set an alarm clock you then “turned” out the tea. Quite often with the smaller leaf teas you had to clean the bowls to allow a clear liquor. On top of the bowls you placed green baize to keep the tea hot and then informed the taster “sir your batch is ready”.

Sometimes the taster would come from their office immediately or continue to do something else. On occasions they would come out and taste the first tea and say “water over boiled put them on again”. This was the moment of dread; you then had to take all the trays off the counter and place them in a large trolley and take them out to Gladys in the wash room.

In those days dishwashers were unheard of and as a consequence everything was hand washed in a very large lead lined sink in what was called the “pot room”. Gladys knew very well that the teas had not been tasted and she swore at you telling you that you did not have a father or some other choice words.

As the weeks progressed I had my first visit to Plantation House which was a wonderful looking building. Plantation House was situated in Mincing Lane although it could be accessed through massive brass doors at each entrance which were Fenchurch Street, Plantation Lane and Rood Lane.

As you entered the building I were taken aback as to the size of the structure. All around the top of the walls were coloured plaster reliefs of rubber trees, cocoa, sugar, tea and in fact anything related to plantations hence the name Plantation House.

I was going to the tea auction for the first time. I think I was accompanied by Geoffry Round-Turner who was a batch boy with some two years’ experience. The reason for our visit was to pick up from our Assam buyer John Wade his catalogues to start to process any teas he had bought in auction.

In those days London was the home of the tea trade and up to 90,000 packages (tea chests) passed through the London Auction every week. This would be at the height of the season but if you consider most chests held about 110 lbs of tea (50 kilos) that was a huge quantity of tea and it was from all countries of origin.

Mondays was for the sale of predominately Indian teas, Tuesday teas from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Travancore teas (South Indian) and Wednesdays were teas from what we would describe then as Africa.

The auction room was situated on the top floor. You got there via some rather fancy and large lifts. The auction room itself was formed of a terraced amphitheatre with leather seats facing the “box” which was where the auctioneer sat with market men either side of them. On the front of the box was an area where the auctioneers name was placed.  I confess to being amused as I so recall the first name I ever saw; Timothy Vavasour Carter of the tea brokers Thompson Lloyd Ewart.

Both Round-Turner and I waited at the back of the auction room where there was standing room until we were called forward to pick up the catalogues when we could see what teas we had purchased.

After the collection of the catalogues from the buyer we then preceded back to the office. Once back Joe would go through the catalogues to see what teas had been purchased by us (Twining`s). The next job was to call the warehouse where the teas were kept. You would ring them and bear in mind no STD in those days. It would be a number like Royal 3542. Once through you would request a 2 pound sample of the tea purchased.

Once through to the warehouse you had to state the following. Lot number, Garden name, Ship and Rotation Number and who you were. Whilst this sounds easy, for me who was unused to making business calls and finding names particularly of the tea gardens particularly difficult to pronounce it was daunting or was then. Once you requested the tea you were promptly sent to the respective warehouse to “draw” the samples.

Before you left the office you would proceed to the large bins where I had emptied samples into earlier and take as many 2 pound samples as required. The process was whatever tea you took from the warehouse these samples would replace. On occasions you might well have 15 different teas to collect. We had canvas bags with the name Twining’s printed on them. There could be as many as five lads going out to various warehouses to pick up samples.

Going to the warehouses could be fun particularly in the summer months. You might go via Tower Hill which was always entertaining with the various people doing all sorts of things. There would be religious zealots, escapologist and a host of other forms of entertainment including a filthy looking individual with two rolled up newspapers made to resemble binoculars who used give an imaginary commentary of a horse race. He really was good.  

One gentlemen in particular I remember was The Revered Lord Donald Soper. He was undoubtedly the most brilliant of speakers and sometimes referred to as Doctor Soapbox. When being heckled Soper always had a swift retort and could put most down. He was a Labour Peer and his life revolved around Methodism, Socialism & Pacifism.

From Tower Hill you would proceed through the gardens of the Tower of London. During the hot summer months it would be heaving with tourist looking at the Yeoman of the Guard (Beefeaters to most!) and visiting the Tower itself. Walking along the footpath by the River Thames was also enjoyable and on the odd occasion you would see Tower Bridge being raised to let a large vessel through. The water between Tower Bridge and London Bridge is known as the Pool of London. There too was Hays Wharf and ships would tie up there and offload their cargoes.  

On reaching a warehouse which may well have been in Wapping High Street you entered in and would be met by a warehousemen. You would hand over a request form and the samples and hopefully you obtained the correct tea you had requested via the phone call earlier.

During these forays you may well have been met with abuse from the warehousemen or generally be given the round around. All pretty harmless fun although sometimes time consuming.

The warehouses themselves were always cool despite the outside temperature and again the smell of tea was overpowering. The floors were all of wood with comparatively low ceilings. Cast metal columns held up the each floor and on each floor there would be a “port” where there would be a crane to lift the teas into the warehouse.

All the warehouses had one wall facing the River Thames where the chests would be offloaded either from barges or in some cases directly from the vessels.

The tea chest were “slung up” normally six at a time. A rope with a loop would be placed around the tea chest. Three at the bottom then two and finally the one on top. Whilst this sounds efficient in those day many accidents occurred with the chest slipping and falling to the ground. Sometimes these were not accidents but deliberate acts of theft as the tea would be swept up and sold. (I will discuss this later)

It is ironic that these same warehouses in and around Wapping High Street and Tooley Street are now luxury apartments. Those “Dockers” and families who for so many years lived in and around these warehouses have long since been displaced.

On returning to the office the samples would all be entered into a Stock book and given a tin number into which the tea would be poured.

The next step was the tea would be re-tasted against the initial samples from the auction. At the same time further teas would also be placed against them for tasting. These other teas were blends which made up the Twining’s range.

 It was at this point the Technical Director H.R.Hughes who had initially interviewed me would come out and taste the purchased teas. He with the buyer would select different teas for different purposes. There was almost a frenzy of tasting going on as other gentleman from an adjoining office would also come and taste.

Twining’s had a number of smaller companies who traded tea. It was these gentleman who represented companies with the names of Tuke Mennell & Co, T. Bass & Son, Fincham Matson & Moffatt who were now tasting and would be taking samples to send to their customers in the country.

H.R.Hughes or “Ronnie” as he was known to some but certainly not us lads was very old school. An immaculate man with clipped moustache educated at one of the premier public schools which I believe was Stowe? He had the habit of saying “what what” after virtually every sentence.

Hughes and Roxburgh came from totally different backgrounds and yet they shared so much in common. Roxburgh would always talk about Ronnie and what a **** he was and yet there was something special between them. I later discovered that they both joined Twining’s on the same day albeit at different ends of the hierarchy.

Hughes during the war was an officer in the Royal Artillery and was stationed on Orkney. Roxburgh too was called up and also in the Royal Artillery. When Roxburgh was sent to his new station it was on Orkney and to his chagrin his Commanding Officer was none other than H.R.Hughes!  As Roxburgh said to me “I have to work with that **** and then his my F*****G CO for the next 5 years! Life can be funny sometimes.

I was now out of my probation period and felt quite at home with all that had been going on. I was summoned and informed I would be working in the Export department. My immediate boss was E.G Sanderson (Emmerson George) or as his colleagues called him George. Twining’s export depart was big and very busy and we were continually making up trial blends for all parts of the world.

On many occasions large carboys of water would come in from overseas so a blend suitable for a particular location could be made. Being in the export department was so different to the rest of the company. Not only did we see teas from the auction but rare teas from China, Japan and Formosa. Having such a vast array of different teas was to help me in later life although did not know it at the time.

George had a foul temper and the way he spoke to the lads would never be tolerated in this day and age. Fortunately for me he liked me which was a good thing which he demonstrated one day. I was handed a small box which was gift wrapped complete with bow. On opening it contained a tasting spoon and had been engraved on the handle. “ Malcom from E.G.S.”

George then said “you have a spoon and you will now taste with me” What a lovely gesture and as a consequence I never had the heart to tell him there are two l`s in Malcolm!

I remember so very well the first time I really got to be tutored in the art of tasting tea. I had put a batch on and George told me to taste all the various teas. The one I remember picking out was what we termed a PEA. Portuguese East African or Mozambique as it know is. The reason I had picked it was because it did not take the roof of my mouth off! In fact it was virtually tasteless when I look back. George told me it was rubbish and I ask why? Just remember the taste and when you come up against it again you will know it is “rubbish”.

Tasting is really just that; remembering different tastes and as you progress you begin to understand a little more. After 50 years I am still learning.  

It was in the export department I learnt how to blend teas. For those who have no idea tea is very much a seasonal product. As a consequence there were times when you would have to use three or perhaps 4 teas to replace one that was not available.

If we were making up a replacement blend you were start by tasting the original. All the blends were entered into huge leather bound Stock books. You had to insert a key into the side of the book and unwind to open it to replace paper. Sounds funny now but this books were very large and had wooden front and back covers and then covered in a leather fabric. Every tea that was purchased was logged in these as indeed were all the blends.

When you put on the blend to be replaced you also put on teas similar in both appearance and taste. This can only be done with experience and in some cases a certain amount of common sense. If a strong Assam is the base for a blend you would not consider putting a light Sri Lankan tea to replace it!

After selecting teas which would be appropriate for the blend you then proceeded to make a hand bulk. I cannot remember what proportions were but let’s say 1 once equalled 100 pounds (bear in mind this was Imperial weights at the time). You weighed up the trial blend and generally speaking you would do perhaps three different ones. All this was very Heath Robinson as you just hand bulked on brown paper. Once this was done you placed the trial blend in tine to “marry” overnight.

When in the morning you came to taste the new “trial” blends it was always in the large half pint cups and bowls. Two samples of each tea were weighed up and liquored. What we then did would be to mark each bowl with a letter by using a felt tip pen. Examples being AA, BB, CC, DD. The bowls were then all mixed up with the markings being hidden.

The taster which in this case would be George or Sir as I addressed him would come and taste. The object of the exercise was to re-pair the teas. If this could not be done then you had a pretty good match for the blend replacement. CUM or colour under milk was also used in this exercise as it is one thing the teas tasting the same but they also had to look the same too.

Lastly it is one thing being able to replace the blend but you also had to consider costs. Again you would refer back to these big Stock books which had all the details in of weights, cost, mark (name of tea) and where the tea was being held as in which warehouse.

Twining’s like most other tea companies always had a hosts of visitors coming through the door. Most of these were Market Men from the various Tea Brokers and most could read upside-down and were generally nosey as to what teas were being used as they wanted to sell you their tea. Hence being able to read upside-down.

To counteract giving too much information away tea companies employed codes. With us at Twining’s the cost of the tea might read CK in the book. This would equate to 4 shillings 5 pence as our code was BLACKSMITH; B being 1 and so on.

My life continued very much with putting on teas and then tasting them with either George or sometimes other members of the Export Department. I continued to go to the auction to pick up catalogues of the various buyers and generally acquired a good grounding in all things tea related.

One of our duties and I mean all of us batch boys was cleaning the spittoons of a Friday afternoon! You only have to imagine upwards of 12 people tasting sometimes in the region of 500 teas each how full these things got!

Our spittoons were round standing about 1 metre high with a lovely copper funnel top. They stood on a base with casters and we would often place one foot on the base and scoot along with them rather than just pushing it along.

Friday afternoons were generally very quiet so cleaning and playing around tended to be what happened as tasting was done for the week.  We would hold chariot races using the spittoons and race up and down the length of the saleroom. On one occasion Murry Cameron came charging along and slipped. The result was the contents of the spittoon went all over him. Need I say more?

One Friday I was called into the office and there was our Chairman W.S. Callander. He asked me if I would be prepared to go to our new factory in Andover to deliver a tin for approval. He told me to take a taxi to Waterloo Station and then the train to Andover where I would be met. You do not turn down opportunities like that so off I went.

On arrival at the station I was duly met and then shown around what was a brand new factory. Twinning’s had been acquired by Associated British Foods in 1964 which was and remains a Canadian owned company. This was my first opportunity of seeing a tea factory in operation on this scale. It was at that time the most sophisticated tea factory in the UK and had only recently been constructed.

The tasting room was certainly nothing like ours in London. It was very light and airy. On the front of the counters there was a small stainless steel channel with a spittoon attached which slid up and down whilst water ran continually along the channel keeping everything hygienic. Tasting there was very different to what we did and they certainly could not have chariot races!   

The warehouse facilities were stacked with pallet racks and contained vast amounts of tea chests. What I was told was that when it was designed and constructed the architects had not allowed for the turning circle of the fork lifts trucks which operated in that area. As a result the warehouse could not take nearly as many chest as originally it had been built for!

My time as a Saleroom Assistant was enjoyable. I had good working conditions and was learning a great deal about tea and it was fun until one Friday.

ABF had what I was to learn later a “Hench Man” or call him a trouble shooter. This particular man was named if I recall correctly John Parkin. He arrived at the office in a chauffeur driven Mark 10 Jaguar and proceeded directly into Ronnie Hughes office. Within minutes there was shouting and a general uproar. The whole episode was heard by all of us lads and it was very unpleasant. Ronnie’s office was immediately on our saleroom so we could not fail to hear.

Parkin left in no time at all and then the tasters and one or two of the other Directors went into Ronnie’s office. The upshot of all this was that our Technical Director H.R.Hughes had been sacked and told to leave the office with immediate effect. Ronnie by all accounts had been with Twining’s almost man and boy and was kicked out without ceremony. On leaving we saw him crying and a very sad ending to anyone’s career.

On the Monday immediately after Hughes`s dismissal we were all told that the London operation would be closing down and everything would be moving to Andover and that we too would be losing our jobs. All this and just before Christmas.

What the powers that be had forgotten was that teas still need to be tasted in London during the transition period and as such us lads would still be required. We were all pretty shocked by what had happened and some thought of their own positions and said they would leave at their earliest convenience.

 Whoever came up with the idea of paying us what in effect was redundancy money to stay on I am was grateful too. I was offered £75 to stay and work until after the Christmas break. This money actually paid for my driving lessons. What was even more ironic is that I was approached by Bill Walesby   who was a taster for Tuke Mennell a subsidiary of Twinning’s and offered a job.

The result in all this is I left Twining’s with £75 on the Friday and started work in the same office on the Monday.

Staff at Twining’s as I can remember;

W.S.Callander; Chairman.

H.R.Hughes; Technical Director. Dismissed.

E.F.Mader; Export Director and I believe possibly Swiss. Spoke a number of languages and was away travelling a great deal.

Chris Circuit; Export Manager and taster.

Andy Cooper; the Ceylon buyer who had been off sick with cancer and only worked with him for about 4 months. He had a wonderful walrus moustache and owned a 4.5 litre 1920 Supercharged Bentley. He once told me that when his wife drove the car she would duck down below the dashboard and have to change gear using both hands. Sadly he died soon after this time.

John Wade; the Indian tea buyer. A small man always polite but would if reading his paper come out of the office when told his batch was ready and say “water over boiled” put them on again. When it came to tasting Wade had a very good “spit”. He seemed to be able to hit the spittoon with a long stream of tea from several paces away. I recall on one occasion Wade without looking turned and spat tea out and one lad was leaning over the counter and it when straight into his ear! I promise you that is an entirely true story.

Sid Mumford; John Wades assistant and went on to be a major player in the Twining’s tasting team in Andover. Sid had a wicked sense of humour together with long sideburns. He was a very accomplished footballer at Amateur level and played for Barking Town.

Emmerson George Sanderson; have fond memories of George who helped me develop a great deal. He went on to work in Andover and retired from Twining’s.

Joe Roxburgh; Saleroom Manager and character. Never married and lived in Hastings where he commuted from daily. Sadly no idea what happened to him after the closure of the London office.

The Batch boys or Saleroom Assistants.

Geoffry Round-Turner; small and very feisty who worked predominantly for John Wade. Left the trade.

Alan Mullinger; worked in the export department with me and then was offered a position in Andover. He later joined the NAFFI who had a tea department in Amesbury Wiltshire and produced all of the forces tea. Left the trade eventually.

Steve Jones; a very well educated young man who even at that time had a hobby of collecting pocket watches of which he had many. Always impeccably dressed. Went on to join Brooke Bond as then was and remained with that company until retirement.

Murray Cameron; the same age as me and joined the trade as his father was a taster with another company. As far as I know left the trade.

Tony Judd; used to wear suits with big winged collars rather 18th century in appearance. Tony joined Harrison & Crossfield in Great Tower St. Left the trade.

Gladys; our tea lady and washer up. Whilst swearing at you she had a heart of gold really.  

 

Tuke Mennell Days

As previously mentioned it was rather like business as usual. On the Friday Twining’s today Tuke`s in the same saleroom.

I had two bosses one being Bill Walesby a devout Baptist and the other the Managing Director Horace R. Last who was again very devout but this time a Methodist. This made no difference to me as they were both good men who taught me so much over the next 18 months.There was a third taster (trainee) and that was Nick Bunston brother of Mike Bunston a partner in the broking company of Wilson Smithett. Nick went on to work for Brooke Bond and later Unilever as one of their senior buyers.

The business that Tuke`s carried out was entirely different to that of Twining’s as they did not have their own brand. They were predominantly traders and blenders.

As discussed earlier there used to be other tasters joining the Technical Director immediately after the auctions. It was Horace Last and Bill Walesby who were amongst them. At the time I had no idea that they too had placed bids in auction for their own use and to offer others in the “Country”.

One of my jobs was to go through the forthcoming auction catalogues and look for Orthodox Assam’s. As I went through I would place an X by the lot number which meant we would request a sample of that particular tea. Whilst I had now about 10 months experience and recognised tea garden names and grades I probably missed a few!

When I give talks now 50 years later I still say I was weaned on Assam teas and still enjoy that rich malty character. Gardens names I recall from those days were Bukhial, Behali, Corramore, Majulighur and many more. What I did not know that later in my career I would know these gardens so very well.

When the teas required had been selected we would get small brown envelopes of the selected teas from the Tea Clearing House which was an organisation run by the tea trade. It was originally designed to facilitate the exchange, clearance of payments and securities involving specific transactions for specific commodities in this case Tea.

The Tea Clearing House started in 1888 and closed in 1970. The system used revenue stamps which can still be seen on stamp collecting web sites.

I previously mentioned Orthodox Assam’s and their selection. This was for the specific purpose of sending samples to Ireland where they particularly like this kind of tea. From my understanding teas were very much “steeped” on the hob and would remain there until the pot was exhausted. Frankly they must have tasted dreadful at that point but then each nation has its own way of brewing tea.

One of the “fiddles” that I know used to go on (although I promise I never did this). If an orthodox Assam had a fair amount of tip (Golden pieces from the bud) you could improve it still further. The method used was to get a pencil or biro pen and rub it on your sleeve to create static electricity. You would then hold the pen over the tea and the tip would attach to it. You would then add it to the sample. Generally speaking the more tip the better the quality and a higher price.

I would be charged with sending small 2 oz samples to various customers together with details as to quantities and valuation. At this point the tea would be coming up for auction in the forthcoming week. On receipt of the sample we would often be asked to purchase the tea on our customer’s behalf.

The customers Tukes had were up and down the entire length of the UK and consisted of small grocers and independent tea blenders. Samuel Kaye & Son Ltd in Huddersfield used to specifically like Ceylon BOP`s, Matthew Algie & Co Ltd based if I recall in Glasgow, Namosa Ltd in Ireland and part of R.Twining & Co Ltd always required orthodox Assam teas and then Melrose in Edinburgh to name but a few. Many years later I had an interview with Melrose with a view to moving to Edinburgh and taking over their tea buying!

This was a period of my training when I really encountered “Market Men”. When the auction was conducted invariably there would be one or two men sitting in the auction box either side of the auctioneer. Their job was to purchase teas on behalf of companies who could not attend the auction. Which as I said earlier was then a three day affair.

Friday was the day that Market Men from their respective brokers would come into our office to take any orders we had. In this era unlike todays (2021) we would be expected to dress in a manner befitting the city i.e. booted and suited in dark suits. There was one exception and that was Jim Tant from Ewart Kerr Hope who was the most immaculate man. Tant always appeared to have a tan which was probably because he spent so much time on the golf course! He would just wear a two piece suit and as he was so successful I guess he got away with it.

We then had Graham Donald from Gow Wilson and Stanton. Donald always wore a three piece dark suit with a rose or carnation in his buttonhole. He was the epitome of what we perceived as an English Gentleman. He always reminded me of Bertie Worcester complete with his rolled umbrella. “Tommy” Thompson was another from George White Sanderson who I shall mention later as I worked with him for 14 years. “Mac” Mclean another three piece dark suited man who I also ended up working with and yet never got to know his Christian name although I think it could have been Charles. Finally Brian Writer from Thomas Cumberledge & Inskip. Our paths would cross 40 years later.

I think at this point I should explain just how the tea could be purchased in auction then things become clearer! A lot (being what was to be auctioned) of tea could in those days consist of say 60 packages (we know as chests of tea) These 60 packages would be made up 5x12 tea chests so when bidding you bid for the entire 60 chests. This naturally made things difficult for the small tea companies who perhaps could not use or indeed afford to purchase all 60 chests. To this end at the discretion of the bidder he (no woman then) could divide the 60 chests up if he wished.

In reality the big buyers could help the little companies purchase tea. In the auction itself it was the market men who would ask the bidder if he could have some of the tea he was bidding on. I know very confusing if you were not involved. In many cases the bidder would refuse the request and then the only option open was for the market men to bid higher. Whilst this sounds good if your customer i.e. Tuke`s only wanted 12 chests you could find yourself with all 60. Whoever bids for the tea bids for the entire lot.

I will cover Market Men later but for now my life continued with preparing teas and tasting alongside my two bosses who helped my no end. I was so very lucky to have had such experience and in all probability had I been allowed to stay at Twinings I would not have gained nearly as much knowledge.

As time progressed Nick Bunston left the company. Due to Nick leaving I then shared an office with my boss Bill Walesby where I got to grips with entering up information in our ledgers and took some responsibility as to what teas I would send out to prospective customers.

Horace Rupert Last (1908-1995) was the Managing Director of Tuke Mennell and a very interesting man. He was short, balding and very “proper”.    

We used to receive a reasonable number of small packages address to Horace all of which contained beetles, spiders or some kind of bug. These packages would come from various tea companies who had found these intruders in their tea chests! It transpired that Horace was a Fellow of the Entomological Society and his hobby since childhood was the study of bugs.

In the office Horace had a small card index box and he would enter up the details of the various packages he received and make notes as to what they contained. These notes were always done in blue ink from his fountain pen. They were always so very neat and I remember it well.

As I am writing this I thought I would try to find out a little more about Horace Last on the internet. Amazing what you can find. Like me Horace was born in Walthamstow and there the similarity ends (although my parents too were strict Methodists). He left school at 14 and joined the Boys Brigade and as was mentioned was a devout Methodist. His interests in entomology was stimulated by a Rev G.H.G Raynor of Brampton, Huntingdonshire. There is so much I could write about this but he had over 31,000 specimens (not all from tea!) had 154 publications and found 582 new species. On his death he left the entire collection to the Manchester Museum. In 1946 Trogophloeus Lasti was named after him. He was a world authority on Entomology and used this skill within the tea trade.

It might be worth mentioning at this point that in those days tea sorting and manufacturing is unlike today in the 21st century. Teas came in tea chests and sorting and cleaning was very basic and many things could go wrong with the quality of teas which I will come too later.

In the early summer of 1970 Mr Walesby said he thought I needed to progress further with my tea training. To this end he suggested that perhaps joining one of the tea broking companies would be a good move.

Tea brokers were still very much dominated by the old tea families. If you did not go to Stowe, Harrow or your father was not an ex planter or something along those lines you had little if no chance of progressing up the ladder to become a partner. I confess I almost dismissed the idea, however, Walesby had other ideas and said he could get me an interview with the tea broking company George White Sanderson Ltd.

Unbeknown to me he had already had a conversation with Mc McLean about my future and a suitable date for an interview was arranged. It may sound if Tukes wanted rid of me but that certainly was not the case. Walesby was to be the first of a number of people who would give me a leg-up in the trade.

As my interview date was approaching I asked what kind of salary I should be asking. Walesby said go for £1000 a year!