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Norwich Heart, Heritage Economic & Regeneration Trust

Jeremiah James Colman

Jeremiah James Colman 1830- 98 

Walk through the Crome Gallery of Norwich Castle Museum and you will see a bronze bust of Jeremiah James Colman by Thomas Brock.  He bequeathed twenty major works of art to Norwich Castle Museum on his death in 1898.   This is the man who transformed mustard from a luxury item into a popular condiment.  The Company's profit, it is said, derived from the mustard people left on their plates.

A keen and diligent scholar, his lifelong interests included reading, botany, astronomy and music.  Later in his life he acquired some important book collections on Norwich and Norfolk that he left to the City.  He shunned self publicity and politely declined the suggestion of a baronetcy in 1893.  He regularly attended St Mary's Baptist Church, Norwich, later moving to the Congregational Church.

Stoke Holy Cross

The Company J & J Colman began at Stoke Holy Cross in 1823 with his great-uncle and his father.  Best known for mustard, the Company made flour, starch, laundry blue and cornflour.  By 1856 the firm began moving its operations to a new site that had been purchased at Carrow from the Norfolk Railway Company. It had rail and river access making it convenient for transportation of goods and raw materials.

Jeremiah James Colman's genius lay in the marketing and publicity of his products.  He arranged for Doultons to supply cafés and restaurants with mustard pots displaying the famous bull's head trademark.  The Company railway wagons bore the logo and were painted yellow.  Promotional objects also made Colman a household name. Products like mustard and flour, formerly supplied to retailers in bulk, were packaged and labelled individually thus reaping the benefits of publicity and additional profit.

The Carrow Works

The Carrow site expanded to supply nearly all its requirements.  Packaging, labelling, barrel making, printing, and stationery workshops were created there.  A paper mill used rice bags and rags to make the packaging material. It had a foundry, a smithy, engineering and tin shops and a store for all the raw materials.   It had its own artesian well, post and telegraph office, and fire brigade.

Nothing was wasted at Carrow.  Rice fibre and gluten left from starch making became animal food.  The husks of mustard seed, crushed to produce oil, made a lubricant and a treatment for rheumatism;  the husks themselves producing a corrugated manure cake sold to farmers and especially sought by French vineyards.

Jeremiah James married Caroline Cozens-Hardy, daughter of a Norfolk landowner, in 1856.  They settled into an 18th century house overlooking the Carrow works and in 1878 Jeremiah James purchased Carrow Abbey, the remains of a twelfth century Benedictine nunnery.  The couple also bought a house at Corton, near Lowestoft where they entertained such prominent guests as Mr Gladstone.

Driven by concern for the wellbeing of his employees, he set up a number of saving schemes, including compulsory accident insurance.  He built and financed a school for workers' children on Carrow Hill.   The pupils received instruction in normal school subjects and in the practical skills they would need to earn a living.  The Norwich School Board took over its management in 1900. Caroline Colman installed a canteen at Carrow in 1868, where workers could get a hot meal at minimal cost.  Phillippa Flowerday - probably the first industrial nurse in Britain was appointed in 1878.

By the 1880's 2,200 people worked at Carrow and another 4,000 earned their living directly through the Company.

Politician

Aged 29 he was elected to Norwich Town Council where he served for twelve years.  He became Sheriff, Mayor, Magistrate and Justice of the Peace for Norwich and Deputy-Lieutenant for Norfolk.  He was elected Liberal MP for Norwich in 1871 and on six occasions thereafter.  In 1870 he launched the Eastern Daily Press as a Liberal paper for East Anglia.  His great grandson, Timothy, continued the association by becoming Chairman of the Eastern Counties Newspapers group.

In 1999 the Company merged with Benckiser NV and became Reckitt Benckiser. Colman's mustard is still made at Carrow, while The Mustard Shop in Norwich's Arcade sells a variety of mustards and souvenirs and incorporates an exhibition.

Sources

  • Jeremiah James Colman, a private memoir written by his daughter Helen Caroline Colman
  • "Enlightened Entrepreneurs - Business Ethics in Victorian Britain" by Ian Bradley
  • "Norwich Since 1550" edited by Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson.

Kirsty Way

November 2007