The Story of Vicars

Around a year ago, I compiled from different sources a history on one of Earlestowns oldest firms, T & T Vicars, somehow, the article has been lost from the database, probably when the website changed Servers some months ago, for those interested, here again is the missing history article The year 1849 has been generally accepted as the foundation year of the firm of T & T Vicars, but it is possible that the partnership was formed even earlier than this.

The story began when Thomas Vicars, son of an old yeoman family of Eskdale, in Cumberland, left his home at Gillbank and travelled by stage coach to Liverpool

Farming, due to the depression at that time, offered no livelihood for young Thomas who had decided that engineering offered much greater opportunity.

He took modest premises at 29 Seel Street, Liverpool, naming it ?The Wheatsheaf Foundry? and invited his cousin, also named Thomas Vicars to join him in this new venture.

Thomas Vicars

Thomas Vicars

Their first products were suited to the requirements of the Great Port, they made dockside fittings, windlasses, cranes and also some structural ironwork for the world?s earliest passenger railway – the Liverpool – Manchester Line .

At that time a number of small bakeries, were established in the cellars and basements of warehouses around the Liverpool dockside, where, on wet days, the steam rose from the roadways due to the heat from the ovens below. In these ovens were made ?hardtack?, hard baked ships biscuits known as ship-bread.

These biscuits were hand-made under the crudest conditions from white flour and very little moisture, the dough being pounded very tight to produce almost white biscuits, so hard they require a hammer to break them. Such fare was necessary to provision the sailing ships which took many months to reach the distant ports of the world. ?Hardtack? kept for long periods without becoming rancid and were most invulnerable to insects and vermin. For this reason they became the mainstay of the men in the services and the crews of merchant ships.

Baking conditions were crude and simple and the Vicars enterprise soon realised that here was an opportunity to design and build machines to give quicker and easier production.

The Vicars cousins realised the opportunity to design and make machines for quicker and easier production of these biscuits and became established as partners under the title of T & T Vicars, Biscuit Machinery and General Engineers.

They produced and patented Underfeed Stackers for Lancashire boilers and supplied them to firms in pairs along with coal conveyors.

For biscuit making they designed hand operated dough mixers, dough brakes, biscuit cutting machines, brick built ovens and very soon were supplying the bakeries with the new machines.

Thus came the ?Army bread?, ?Captain?s biscuit?, ?Cabin bread? and ?Pilot Biscuits? produced mainly on the docksides of principal ports by the early pioneers of this type of biscuit production.

Those manufacturers at Liverpool included Eills and Gething, Muir, Bley and Fawcett, Ewins, Wrights, Old Calabar and on the Thames side, Walkers, Harrison and Garthwaite, Clarks, Spratts, Spillers etc., John Close of Hull, Wrights of South Shields, and others on the Weir, Tyneside and Clydeside, St. Malo, Cherbourg, and the coast of Spain. T & T Vicars equipped most of these factories with machines and in some cases with engines and boilers from their Liverpool works.

The advent of the steam ship, replacing the old sailing ships, cut down the time spent between ports and so reduced the need for biscuits with keeping qualities.

This was a challenge to the biscuit manufacturers who found it necessary to produce other, more dainty types of biscuits thus the ?fancy? hard sweets type of biscuit came into being and the public also became aware of this new, but expensive, sweetmeat.

The new trend made a lot of the earlier machines almost obsolete and Vicars began to design and produce machines that could make biscuits at a faster rate than hitherto and these were known as soft dough cutting machines.

Many of the machines used for shipbread production later came back into use with the introduction of the dog biscuit and some of the pioneers continued solely on production of dog and puppy biscuits and biscuits which were ground into meal for cattle and fowl food.

Others specialised in the production of the new fancy biscuits and as the interest of the public became keener many other biscuit makers joined them in this lucrative field. This greater demand for biscuits boosted the sale of the Vicars machines which were even then recognised as the best in the world, particularly the new mechanical cutting machine for ships biscuits produced in 1852, which was one of the earliest mechanical biscuit producing machines.

The cousins were always looking for new ideas and ways to improve the biscuit making process and soon their portfolio grew to include hand operated dough mixers, dough brakes, simple biscuit-cutting machines and brick-built ovens.

The boom in this particular industry couldn?t last forever and with the advent of the steam ships meant reduced voyage times which in turn resulted in less need for ?hardtack? or hard ?long life? biscuits.

This created a new challenge for the Thomas?s – how to continue growing their business in this changing market ? this is a situation many of us reading this know only too well in today?s business environment!

The answer was to innovate and design equipment to produce other types of biscuit; initially they concentrated upon sweet biscuit varieties, which were a novelty to the public.

Faster and faster applications became the order of the day and Vicars established a reputation for the quality of its soft dough cutters, although demand for hard biscuits (for pet food) continued.

By 1856 they had also designed and built the first coal or coke-fired travelling plate oven for fancy biscuits and later a travelling chain oven some 180 feet in length, with a brick chamber about 60 ft long by 8 ft wide through which two or three pairs of chains travelled, each pair carrying flat pans or wire trays on to which the machine had automatically fed the biscuits. The pans were taken from the machine by hand and placed on the chains, which after travelling through the baking chamber were removed by hand at the oven exit, and placed in a cooling rack. At this period its cutting machines were capable of processing 1.5 tons of biscuits a day.

The following is an extract from an early booklet describing a typical plant of 1857 :-
?The dough mixers are of large capacity, capable of holding 250 lbs. each, the flour being fed to them by ?shoots? from the floor above, the milk, water, butter, eggs and other ingredients are added and the mixer is then closed and its contents subjected to the action of a series of large heavy knives revolving inside the drum where the mass is thoroughly kneaded into dough of the requisite consistency.

When sufficiently mixed, the dough is thrown out into a trough and conveyed to the rolling machines which are so contrived that the upper roller can be raised three inches with the greatest ease, or lowered so as to grip even a sheet of paper, the action of the rollers is also reversible. In the rolling machines the dough is passed backwards and forwards, doubled and re-doubled until it acquires a beautifully fine, smooth, shining ?face? when it is brought to the standard gauge, suited to what it is intended for and cut up into convenient sized sheets. It is then passed over to the cutting machines. These machines are really marvels of ingenuity and mechanical skill, and to watch their well timed motions and see the curious contrivances by which they requisite results are achieved is matter for actual wonderment. The sheet of dough entering at one end, passes between a succession of steel rollers and being thus brought to a uniform thickness proceeds under the cutters, where the biscuit is cut, stamped with the name of the firm and perforated, the ?scraps? or parings being here mechanically separated, and after taking an upward trip along an incline, fall into baskets to be worked up again into the smooth sheets of dough. Meanwhile the stamped and perforated biscuits continue their course until they are received by a tray of woven wire which emerges from below at the exact moment when its services are required; the whole proceedings being regulated with great nicety. At this stage in the history of our biscuit, youths seated one on each side of the machine to correct any such irregularity as one biscuit trying to shelter its immediate precursor from the heat of the oven by getting on top; and now the biscuits, being fully formed are ready for that most important and delicate part of the business – the correct and uniform baking.

Each cutting machine is capable of turning out 1? tons of biscuits in the ordinary working day. These machines possess in all respects the latest appliances for performing their peculiar functions, and are extremely interesting to watch in operation; they are really marvels. The trays are now lifted on to the baking ovens; not the ordinary ovens of everyday lift, but most carefully constructed, delicately managed pieces of machinery. Each oven is a structure thirty feet by twelve feet broad, solid at the sides, but with an opening at either end sufficiently large to admit of the passage of endless chains carrying the trays, and travelling through the oven more or less slowly as the will of the guiding spirit directs. The unbaked biscuits enter at one end and so nicely can both their rate of movement and the oven heat be adjusted, that they emerge at the further end ?done to a turn? in a manner sufficient to set the mouths of all the cooks in Christendom a watering.?

Such were, then, the ?marvels? of the day but much better ?contrivances? were to follow.

The Liverpool factory now became inadequate to cope with the increased home, Colonial and Foreign trade and in 1867 larger premises were taken at Earlestown on the main railway line, midway between Liverpool and Manchester.

These new premises were taken over from a Mr Titterton of London who had built the foundry about 1855 as a Zinc works.

The two factories were kept working until 1887 when the firm decided to close the Liverpool works and concentrate on production at Earlestown.

In 1877 T & T Vicars was granted Patent Number 623 by Queen Victoria?s Patent Office for ?Improvements in and connected with ovens used in the bakery of biscuits and the like?. This was an extremely prestigious document attached to Queen Victoria?s official seal – a wax ring some 7 inches in diameter, we still have this impressive document:

Mainly due to the reputation for innovation and good solid engineering international trade was by now booming at T & T Vicars so the company relocated to a much bigger factory some 10 miles away, our present site in Earlestown.

By around 1890 Vicars had designed and built the first machine which could automatically sheet both hard and soft doughs and within a decade it had added another first, an embossing and cutting machine, capable of 80 cuts a minute. These had the effect of widening the company?s product range and created even more demand for Vicars? equipment.

Garibaldi biscuits also benefited, as did wafers: from the single hand tong application grew the first mechanically-operated oven by the close of the century. The first travelling Wafer Oven was introduced in 1899 and wafer saws and wafer creamers followed in due course.

Development and experiment culminated in 1902 in the production of a new machine which practically revolutionised fancy biscuit making. This was the Vicars Biscuit Embossing and Cutting Machine, capable of doing 80 cuts per minute, whereby biscuits for the first time could be embossed with an overall pattern in an unlimited range of designs, the embossing and cutting being achieved by two independent movements in the cutter block.

Some of the many biscuit designs produced over the years

A further improvement made it possible to alter the depth of design impression by adjustment whilst the machine was running is a feature never possible before in ordinary machines.

The Embossing and Cutting Machine, by widening the biscuit design range and improving their appearance increased biscuit sales and the demand for the machine in all parts of the world led to further expansion of the Earlestown works.

In this machine and in some of the larger cutting machines, the cutting webs and scrap webs moved intermittently by pawl and ratchet wheel and all speed variations were made by coned pulley or change wheel.

This entailed considerable ?gear? over the machines or housed in the basement below to drive the machine.

Vicars turned their attention to the elimination of this cumbersome gearing and eventually the cone type transmission was dispensed with in favour of the new disc type transmission, making the machines self-contained with all speed variations within the unit.

The company?s Rout press machine could produce extruded lengths of varied design by forcing dough shapes through apertures in a brass bar; wire cutters imparted a ripple to the biscuit (as an option) and fig bar equipment was yet another

The First World War put an end to biscuit machinery production apart from Army Bread contracts and the next improvement of note came in 1922 with the introduction of a gas-fired travelling oven to replace the coal fired brick ovens. These old type brick ovens consisted of a brick chamber heated from below by coal or coke which was kept alight continuously, day and night, to retain the temperature required for baking. The first brick oven was designed with jointed plates on to which the cut biscuits were placed by hand, and the plates then travelled slowly through the baking chamber worked intermittently by a pawl ratchet lever.

At this time, T & T Vicars formed a close co-operation with Peak Freans – the major British biscuit manufacturer of the day to ensure industry required designs, and together they enhanced the automation possibilities of all its machines.

In 1924 the partnership of T & T Vicars was changed to a private limited company.

In 1928 the fruits of this liaison led to the introduction for the first time of an automatic and continuous running, high-speed cutting and embossing machine linked to the new gas-fired oven with two steel bands, along with biscuit cooling, stacking and packing.

The aim of the company was now complete automaticity and in the years 1928-30 in conjunction with Peek Freans, they designed the continuous running, high speed cutting and embossing machine, linked with the new gas-fired oven with 2 steel bands, biscuit cooling, stacking and packing equipment which was a great step forward to the full automatic plant of today. Shortly afterwards the 32? steel band oven became standard.

Through T & T Vicars the era of true automation for the Biscuit industry had arrived.

By 1935 Vicars had completed an automatic swiss roll plant to add to its list of achievements. A re-organisation was prompted by the Second World War and this saw Vicar?s tooling and machinery utilised for less peaceful products. with large scale batch production of high standard precision engineered weapons and necessitated considerable extensions to machine tool and assembly bays as well as administrative departments.

When the hostilities ended there was a boom in the requirement for biscuit equipment world-wide and as a result we are extremely proud of the fact that Vicars equipment has been supplied to virtually every country in the world.

Although the company produced the industry standard reciprocating and embossing machine, developments were made to reduce noise and maintenance. These developments led to T & T Vicars introducing the first rotary cutting machine for cracker and hard biscuits, this is still the basis of today?s machines.

The Company celebrated its centenary year in 1949 when Mr E Lynton Vicars was Governing Director and his son, Mostyn Vicars was Managing Director. A tragic period for the Vicars family began in 1950 when Mr Mostyn Vicars died suddenly at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool at the age of 36. This happened on December 22nd shortly after the announcement of his engagement. Less that two years later, his sister Hillary, who had been appointed a Director of the company, died on the 18th July 1952, at the age of 44, and six months afterwards, on 31st January 1953, Mr E Lynton Vicars died aged 72 years.

Mrs E Lynton Vicars was now the only surviving member of the family and as she had never taken any active part in the affairs of the company, she decided in the interests of the firm and its employees to sell to the Garfield Weston Group. This was done in 1953, and production of biscuit machinery continued with the addition of bread making machinery.

To further complete automaticity of production, the company took over the engineering firm of R.W. Barraclough Limited of Southport in 1954. This company specialised in the manufacture of packaging machinery and also made the ?Quality? Biscuit Sandwiching Machine for Vicars. In 1960, they left the Group but still continued to make biscuit sandwiching machines for Vicars. In 1960, R W Barraclough was taken over by B.K.P. Engineering who have continued to make various units and machine parts for Simon-Vicars.

We now come to the later activities of T & T Vicars Limited, who started in such a modest manner in Liverpool, but who now have a factory at Earlestown covering over five acres of land with many more acres adjoining for further expansion and employ about 600 people. In 1960, they became a Member Company of Simon Engineering Limited a group comprising many and varied companies manufacturing a wide range of products, One being a food division, which over the next 25 years allowed Vicars to further advance their technological edge.

In 1961, T & T Vicars formed two Associate Companies – Simon Vicars Limited for the manufacture and sale of biscuit, bread, Swiss roll, wafer and confectionery equipment and Simon Waldron Limited for the manufacture and sale of continuous web processing equipment for coating and processing of metal with paint and plastics, for paper coating and chemical processing of metal with paint and plastic manufacturers and converters, tyre manufacturers and many other web processing purposes.

All these machines are made in the same factory at Earlestown besides other equipment made for other members of the Simon Engineering Group such as dust filters, presses for the production of cattle and poultry food in pellet form, pellet ovens and various other types of machines.

In 1966 a new Division was formed called ?Simon Compactors? Division of T & T Vicars Ltd. This deals with the making and selling in the UK of units which automatically feed and compact into large containers all types of compactable waste such as paper, cartons, wooden and metal containers etc. When full the containers are disconnected from the compactor and taken by specially adapted vehicles to the tipping area where the waste is deposited and the container returned and reconnected to the compactor.

Simon-Waldron Limited were transferred to the Parent Company at Stockport, Cheshire in May 1968.

During this time the number of firsts continued and includes the patented ?Sprag? mixer developed with the Flour Milling and Baking Research Association. Which greatly improved dough consistency and speeded up the mixing process? The patented Weighmix system which enables the ingredients to be weighed extremely accurately within the mixer itself thus eliminating ?in flight? losses of ingredients and therefore ensuring that the baker starts the process with a consistent dough mix every time, and the patented Vertical Cut Laminator was introduced in 1970 and again was a major breakthrough in space saving and product weight control

The next big development came in 1991 when the Bakery Business Area was formed; this comprised many well-known and respected British company names including Spooner, Vicars, Asser, Oakes, Jahn and Klimatank. This combined expertise enables us to produce equipment for the biscuit, bread, cake, pie, pizza, quiche and snack industries.

In April 1992 this Group became a part of SASIB.

T & T Vicars were fully integrated with four other illustrious names those of G P A Orlandi of Verona Italy, Meincke of Copenhagen Denmark; Ricciarelli of Schio Italy and SPS of Navaro Italy, thus forming the Biscuit & Snack division of SASIB Food & Beverage machinery, to serve all the needs of the industry.

2001 saw the disbanding of the Sasib Group, and the name of Spooner Vicars was re-launched; the same high standards are maintained, with every item of equipment thoroughly tested, mechanically, electrically and with dough, before dispatch to the customer.

Spooner Vicars are committed to the customer, with a sales force trained and able to advise on all the companies? products, for the manufacture of a wide range of finished products, including fermented goods (bread, buns and rolls), snack products, biscuits, crackers, wafers, pizza, cake, savoury pies and fruit pies. From a unit machine to a complete production line every enquiry is treated with the same commitment – the best solution – the best equipment.

Transcribed and edited by Steven Dowd, compiled with the help of Steven Baldwin from sources provided by Spooner-Vicars. Published on the Newton-le-Willows website with permission of Spooner Vicars

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