UK's Oldest Family Businesses: Still Going Strong After Hundreds of Years
23rd September 2015
As the UK’s oldest family business celebrates its 500th anniversary, we take a look at some of the family firms which have not only survived multiple generations but multiple centuries!
Despite their great age, the oldest family businesses prove that family firms know how to innovate to survive and stay relevant in the modern world. While other businesses have been and gone these family firms have thrived for hundreds of years, demonstrating a degree of stability which others look upon with admiration.
The ten oldest family businesses also demonstrate the great variety within the UK’s wider family business sector. They cover all industries, come from across the UK, and represent all sizes of businesses.
The list of the oldest family businesses, researched by the Institute for Family Business, includes a local butcher’s shop in Bridgeport, the inventors of the Bowler hat, and one of the oldest banks in the world.
IFB Director General Mark Hastings said: “These companies all demonstrate what is great about family business. Their commitment to their customers, to quality, and to building on success for generations to come is something which we see replicated in family firms across the UK.
“Their longevity and enduring success are testament to their innovative and long term outlook. Family business is a great British success story, and the UK’s 3 million family firms are the backbone of our economy.”
The ten oldest family businesses in the UK are:
- R J Balson and son - 1515
- John Brooke & Sons Limited - 1541
- R Durtnell & Sons Limited - 1591
- C. Hoare & Co. - 1672
- Morning Foods - 1675
- James Lock & Co. – 1676
- Grosvenor - 1677
- Toye, Kenning & Spencer - 1685
- CPJ Field - 1690
- Folkes Group – 1697
Just outside the top ten there is strong showing from Royal Warrant Holders, and brewers and cider makers. The Royal Warrant Holders include wine merchants Berry Bros and Rudd (est. 1698), retailer Fortnum and Mason (1707) and brush manufacturer G.B. Kent & Sons (1777).
Brewers Shepherd Neame (1698), Brakspear (1711) and Hall and Wodehouse (1777) are joined by iconic cider makers Aspall Cyder (1728) further down the list.
The Oldest 10
R.J. Balson & Son – 1515
In 1515, John Balson began trading meat at the local market in Bridport, Dorset and the family have been trading from the same shop since 1880. The shop is still run by the Balson family and sells over 20 different varieties of sausage with many culinary awards between them. www.balsonbutchers.com
John Brooke & Sons Limited – 1541
Starting as a mill in 1541, in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, this company has provided uniforms for the armed forces, including the Napoleonic wars and both World Wars. During the Second World War this inlcuded a heavy felted cloth sandwiched with rubber placed around the fuel tanks of Lancaster Bombers. The company’s focus has changed in recent years, moving from manufacturing to creating an entrepreneurial development park in the firm’s old mill buildings. www.brookesmill.co.uk
R Durtnell & Sons Limited – 1591
Britain's oldest building company - the first recorded mention of building is 22 July 1591 and the company head office, in Westerham, Kent, stands on land that the family has occupied since 1496. Projects undertaken by the company have included restoration and extension work on Clarence House, and they constructed pill boxes and tank traps during the war years. www.durtnell.co.uk
C. Hoare & Co. – 1672
Based in London, this is the last survivor of the English private deposit banks that were originally established in the 17th and 18th centuries and is one of the oldest private, independent banks in the world. The family’s pride in close customer relationships and meticulous service has attracted famous customers, including Samuel Pepys, furniture makers Thomas Chippendale & Son, Lord Byron, Jane Austen and various prime ministers. www.hoaresbank.co.uk
Morning Foods – 1675
Morning Foods, is the longest established miller of oats and cereal in the UK and its cereal products include the Mornflake brand. They have been milling oats in the South Cheshire countryside since 1675, and 15 generations later, they are still independently owned and managed by the direct descendants of the original miller, William Lea. www.morningfoods.com
James Lock & Co. Ltd – 1676
Lock & Co has been based in St James’s, London for more than 300 years and is a family-owned business providing ladies’ and men’s quality hats and caps with a high standard of personal service. The Coke, more commonly known as the Bowler, was created at James Lock in 1850 for William Coke, a progressive farmer from Holkham in Norfolk. www.lockhatters.co.uk
Grosvenor – 1677
Now an international property company Grosvenor has gone through many guises before emerging as the company it is today. It began with Mary Davies and 500 acres of land in what is today Belgravia and Mayfair. Since then it has developed into a leading property group, with involvement in projects such as Liverpool ONE, Europe’s largest city centre redevelopment project. www.grosvenor.com
Toye, Kenning & Spencer - 1685
The company, based in Birmingham, has manufactured military and civilian accoutrements for over 300 years and is an approved British Ministry of Defence supplier whilst also supplying specialist ribbon to military organisations in the USA, Canada and Australia. It is sole supplier of medals such as the CBE, OBE and MBE. During the coronations of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937 the velvet cushions on which the Royal Crowns were carried into Westminster Abbey were made by Toye, as was the train of the dress that Queen Elizabeth II wore when she was crowned in 1952. www.toye.com
CPJ Field - 1690
The Field family entered the funeral profession in 1690. The Field family, who still actively manage the business, were called up to assist with arrangements for the Duke of Wellington’s funeral in 1852, and of Queen Victoria and Edward VII. The family now operates over 30 funeral homes across the Home Counties. www.cpjfield.co.uk
Folkes Group – 1697
The company began by making chain mail and swords. Now in addition to making real estate investments, the company produces specialised cargo handling equipment, large crankshafts, roofing materials and other products. It is currently run by Constantine Folkes who became the youngest Chairman of a listed plc when in 1981, at the age of 28, he was appointed Chairman and he is the ninth generation of the family to run the business. www.folkesholdings.com