Friday, 10 September 2010

Horlicks: no night starvation in Slough

Slough, west of London, isn't really thought of as a heritage hotspot. Its reputation was hardly helped by the Betjeman poem which begins, 'Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!' However, the Heritage Open Days this weekend highlight places worth seeing in this maligned town, not least the Horlicks factory which opened to the public for the first time today. I was lucky enough to join one of the tours.

Horlicks has something of an Anglo-American heritage, although its biggest market today is India. The drink was first produced in the USA by two English brothers, William and James Horlick, in 1873. By the 1890s James had established an office in London, and the Slough factory was opened in 1908.

Initially the drink was targeted at infants (it's no longer recommended as a baby food), but by the early twentieth century it had found a new market. Compact, nutritious, and made using only water rather than hot milk, it was popular with arctic and antarctic explorers. However, its 1930s advertising campaign really shaped perceptions of the drink: promising to stave off 'night starvation', it firmly associated Horlicks with a good night's sleep.

The company boardroom dates from that same period, and has wonderful Art Deco features. My very favourite was the fireplace with inbuilt clock and calendar (the numbers for day and month, on glass, are stored in a box just behind the display). The ceiling is pretty stylish too.

The furniture was made by Robert Thompson, famous for including a mouse on every piece. The chairs also bear other decoration including the Horlicks arms - appropriately enough, they include a cow and a sheaf of grain.

Both boardroom and archives are treasure troves of old products and packaging, as well as photographs and other memorabilia. Among the most evocative were the staff magazines.


Adam said...

Gossiper! That's a great name for a staff magazine!

What are these offices used for today?

CarolineLD said...

They're still the Ovaltine offices, but they seem to be housing Lucozade as well now.

John said...

Hello Caroline
They can't be Ovaltine offices as Ovaltine is a competitor of the Horlicks. Ovaltine used to be made at Kings Langley in Hertfordshire until 2001 I think, when production was transferred to the Swiss factory. The former Ovaltine site is now a housing development.
With regards

CarolineLD said...

Oops - I meant Horlicks, of course! Not sure where that came from, I don't even like Ovaltine.

Scottie said...

Just a note.

They're not only offices here. It's actually the site of the factory that supplies all of the UK and some export markets with Horlicks.

It's been producing here since 1906, still going strong!

CarolineLD said...

Absolutely - and since the tour, I've been drinking much more of it! We only got to see the offices though.

Rafael said...

My grandmother worked in the Horlicks factory for a time, and I never got to tour it like you did. What an amazing day that must have been. :)

Hertfordshire Office Furniture said...

That's a great name for a staff magazine!

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