The squire of Tyne biscuit making

editorial image

Queendrops, cracknels, ratafias, macaroons, Savoys ... forget your custard creams, these were the dainties that would adorn the Victorian tea plate.

They are also part of the mouth-watering world we’re afforded a glimpse into by this intriguing card, which was posted in the autumn of 1872, franked Hebburn New Town, and from what was known as the North Durham Biscuits Works, Hebburn.

It comes from Kevin Blair, and initially it seemed there was nothing more to know beyond its message: “Our Mr JG Squire will have the pleasure of waiting upon you on Thursday the 19th when the favor (sic) of your commands will be much esteemed. Your obed.t servants, Thos Squire and Son.”

As you can see, it had been posted to a Mr Murray, grocer, at Swalwell. But then after Kevin posted the images on a Hebburn message board, it began to emerge that there is almost certainly a connection with a much better known biscuit concern – the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle, now an art gallery.

It has since been learned that, in the 1871 census, Thomas Squire is listed as living at 18 Tennant Street, Hebburn, and that he employed four men, two boys and two girls.

Mr Murray, at Swalwell, was a provision dealer.

A contributor to the Hebburn messageboard, Ross Dyer, then turned up a reference in the book Victorian Panorama, by Alan Morgan, to the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle having been in operation since the 1860s and being run by Thomas Squire and Son until just before the First World War. Is one to assume, then, that it had its more humble origins in Hebburn?

Up to now, the only biscuits works I’ve been able to find in Newcastle in the 1860s is the Tyne Biscuit Works, which was owned by a Messrs Salkeld & Co Ltd.

The aforementioned queendrops, cracknels, ratafias etc come from a description of the workings of the factory from that period – although it also made ship’s biscuits, in the same way as Wright’s Biscuits did in Shields – fancies and ‘hard tack’ together, as it were.

But Salkeld’s concern went into liquidation in 1870, when there was a great auctioning off of its fixtures and fittings, including 10,000 biscuit tins and a quantity of horse harness.

But whether this was the same concern that later came under the control of Thomas Squire I wouldn’t like to say, as I tend to think it may have been in a different part of the city.