Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 14, 2019
Webpage updated: September 17, 2019




Messrs Brown, Wills and Nicholson Limited was founded Mr John Burnell in 1797.  His two sons joined his grocery business and it became Messrs Burnell and Sons.  He took onto his staff a young lad by the name of Mr Eldred Roberts Brown, who then became a partner in addition to Mr Thomas Nicholson, another grocer in the Town, so that the business became Messrs Burnell, Brown and Nicholson. 

On June 25th 1853 the partnership as wholesale and retail grocers was dissolved by mutual consent and the business was continued solely by Mr Eldred Roberts Brown and Mr Thomas Nicholson.

There was another wholesale grocery business in the Town, Messrs Millward and Wills, at the Abbey Stores, in Finewell Street.  This was a partnership of Mrs Elizabeth Emma Millward, Mr Daniel Millward and Mr Joseph Wills (1804-1872).  On or about March 5th 1854 Mr Millward died and the liability for debts and receiving monies due was transferred to Messrs Brown, Wills and Nicholson, who took over the Abbey Stores building as their new headquarters.  The partnership between Mr Joseph Wills (1804-1872) and Mrs Elizabeth Emma Millward, the widow, was dissolved on July 3rd 1854.

It is not yet known if Mr Wills joined the partnership prior to March 1854 or if that was the date of the foundation of Messrs Brown, Wills and Nicholson itself.

Mr Joseph Wills died on March 30th 1872 in Plymouth.  He was 68 years old.

In 1879 Mr Joseph Pearce Brown came to Plymouth in to join the business.

Mr Thomas Nicholson ceased active participation in the affairs of the business in 1881 and became a sleeping partner.

Mr Eldred Roberts Brown died on February 4th 1885 after five years of suffering.  He was 75.

The business then remained solely in the hands of the Brown family.

Mr Thomas Nicholson died on Friday January 30th 1891 at his home, number 7 Alfred Place, Plymouth, at the age of 87 years.

The 1901 census shows that 23-years-old Mr Kenneth Arrowsmith Brown was assisting in the running of his father's business while 21-years-old Harold A Brown was at Cambridge University.

A decade later Mr Kenneth Arrowsmith Brown was in charge and lived at Linkins Lodge, Yelverton.

In 1921 the business moved to the old Bedford Brewery premises in Alexandra Road, Mutley, which became the Beechwood Factory.

On Thursday September 1st 1927 a reporter from "The Western Morning News" was given a tour of the Beechwood factory.  Within its walls were produced Devonshire bacons and hams as well as fresh and preserved 'table dainties' in tins and glass jars.  In a separate building was the refrigeration machinery, consisting of a large ammonia plant driven by a 30hp engine.  There was a smaller plant worked separately.  A steam bakery had recently been installed.

Upon first entering the premises, a carcase is placed in a large chill-room, where the animal heat is taken out of it.  The carcases could be moved from one part to another by means of overhead tracking, which included some complicated point work, and then into a double-insulated area where the walls were filled with cork, silicate of cotton and other non-conducting materials.

In the curing rooms, where the temperature was kept at between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit by means of brine circulating through drums, the carcases received treatment over a period extending to four or five weeks before being taken to another building where they were washed, dried and smoked.  That process was done in specially built houses where oak and other hardwood dust was burned and lasted for some 48 hours.

Although bacon was imported in great quantities from America and Europe, a large trade was done in Devonshire bacon, with two or three tons of it being despatched weekly to Scotland.  Further quantities were sent to London and as far away as India and Singapore.  The famous "Beechwood" sausages were made in a separate plant where nine machines divided into three units, could turn out several tons of them each week.  Large quantities were regularly supplied to the Royal Navy.

On the second floor was the preserving rooms, where cooked meats were sterilized and sealed in tins and jars.  Above that floor was a machine for washing the glass jars and getting them thoroughly clean before despatching them to the kitchen below to be filled.  The cooking was all done by steam, in large iron or steel pans and tanks.  All the staff engaged in food preparation had to wear white coats or aprons and the women also had white caps.  These were issued three times per week, or more frequently if required.  

On July 14th 1936 Mr Joseph Pearce Brown CBE JP died at his home, "Chievely", Seymour Road, Mannamead, Plymouth, at the age of 87 years.

There were five sons: Mr Harold A Brown; Mr Ralph Robert Brown; Mr James Arrowsmith; Brown; Mr Kenneth Arrowsmith Brown;  and Mr Charles Pearce Brown.

In 1957 Messrs Aplin and Barratt a subsidiary of Messrs Cow and Gate Limited. purchased the factory.  In 1959 it came under Unigate Dairies ownership when they took over Messrs Cow and Gate.  The plant was subsequently sold to Messrs Bowyer's of Wiltshire.  They opened a new factory on the Newnham Industrial Estate in 1979 and the old factory was demolished.  The famous chimney was taken down on the morning of May 15th 1980.