Samuel Gawith interview - what would you ask?

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redstar

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Feb 17, 2014
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I've been a pipe smoker for a little over three years now. When I started I discovered all the great online pipe resources out there. I've really enjoyed the interviews and articles on this and other sites covering pipe makers and blenders.
So far, I've never seen anything covering Samuel Gawith - aside from reviews, there's nothing out there. Even the company's own website looks like it was last updated in 1999 and doesn't give any real insight into such a historical and popular blender.
The company fascinates me, particularly as an Englishman, albeit now an expat living in Dubai. (The same goes for Gawith Hoggarth, I suppose, though I've not smoked any of those blends yet). It amazes me that a small company located in the Lake District continues to create such popular, high quality tobacco products in an age where tobacco is increasingly vilified and, aside from very small independent blenders, so many classic brands are now part of large corporations.
Their marketing seems nonexistent, the branding is all over the place and there is none of the engagement with their customers that a more modern company would probably see as essential.
I'd love to hear from SG, see some photos of their factory and learn about the characters that make this English jewel of the pipe smoking world tick.
What would you ask?
Here are some of my cool burning questions -
How's business? Growing?
Why is there almost no consistency in your cover art?
You have a lot of similar blends - Golden Glow, Best Brown and FVF for example. Subtle differences to be sure, but is there no pressure to cull a few lines or do they all sell equally well?
Why is FVF so bloody wet out of the tin?
Have some blends changed over the years or are you still getting the same quality from the same farmers you've done business with for centuries?
Do you have any old lines from days gone by that you're considering reintroducing?
When were some of your most popular lines first released?
Why does the cut of the flakes in every tin of FVF seem to vary so much? I've had tins with even flakes and others that vary so wildly they look they were

sliced after the machine operator returned to work after having several lunchtime pints.
Tell us about your staff - lots of new employees or diehard SG loyalists who've been there since the 40s?
Are all your lines profitable? I'm surprised to see so many ropes - it's unusual to meet a fellow pipe smoker these days, let alone someone who smokes rope tobacco,
What does the future hold?
Is there much rivalry with G and H?
If I can persuade Mrs Redstar to venture up north during our next summer holiday, do you do factory tours?
Add yours and perhaps Kevin can make some calls and get an answer or two?

 

woodsroad

Preferred Member
Oct 10, 2013
8,376
302
The answer to these questions is probably:
"We are a privately held company, we make enough money to keep the doors open, we're not keen on changing anything, we don't bloody care what anyone thinks about our tobaccos, and we do enjoy a few pints at lunch."
But, if I were you, I'd just email your questions directly to them, so that in 47 years, when they get their first computer, yours will be the first email that they receive!

 

lochinvar

Preferred Member
Oct 22, 2013
1,337
118
I guess I only have to questions
1. Can I get a cinderblock sized brick of FVF?

2. Are you looking to adopt loveable pipesters like myself.....and let us live in the factory?

 

papipeguy

Preferred Member
Jul 31, 2010
15,799
7
Bethlehem, Pa.
I have emailed SG several times with questions and comments to which they have responded in a rather timely fashion. You've nothing to lose by asking them for a comprehensive history of the business. Good luck and please share whatever you get.

 

daimyo

Preferred Member
May 15, 2014
1,461
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Why do your flakes not come with life boats attached to the tins?

 

misterlowercase

Preferred Member
May 31, 2012
4,296
2

Redstar,

as suggested, you should email them.

Bob Gregory has been very good at answering such stuff...
Dear Sir
When SG was formed in 1792, the original lines were of snuff.
SG introduced tobaccos to the market sometime about 1830 – 1840, nobody is sure about the actual date. 1792 was an original but was marketed as a plug, which was a popular way of using pipe tobacco then. It was introduced as Cob. We changed the name of the flake to 1792 in about 2000, the plug still bears the name “Cob”.
Full Virginia and SQL was introduced in about 1925, so they are youngsters so to speak.
http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/topic/sam-gawith-history
More emails answered here:

http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/topic/have-we-seen-the-last-of-gawith-blends-in-the-usa
Some great factory pictures and associated links,

seen here:

http://pipesmagazine.com/forums/topic/samuel-gawith-factory
And from the Edinburgh Pipe Club,

more SG factory photos seen here:

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qdec5i5yf9bu6br/EKkIUmS38H
A neat little slide show seen here:

http://www.stricklandgate-house.org.uk/historic-kendal/the-kendal-snuff-story
If you are really interested, there's a book on the subject of Lakeland District snuffs and tobacco called Kendal Brown: The History of Kendal's Tobacco and Snuff Industry - I've been meaning to get a copy for some time now, but have delayed. For some reason this thread prompted me and jostled a toss off into search again, I've delayed so long because the book is a bit pricey and some places charge a ridiculous amount. I just found a copy for $25 and went ahead and bought it.


One of the oldest SG tins I've seen, besides Squadron Leader or Cuckoo Snuff,

is this one:



 

jimbo44

Junior Member
Aug 2, 2010
62
0
KPC Newsletter - scroll to page 9:
http://www.kearvaigpipeclub.co.uk/KPCNL13.pdf
Don't ring them to ask about upping production - answering the 'phone takes out half the workforce!

 

misterlowercase

Preferred Member
May 31, 2012
4,296
2
KPC Newsletter - scroll to page 9:
http://www.kearvaigpipeclub.co.uk/KPCNL13.pdf
Awesome link Jim, many thanks!
Don't ring them to ask about upping production - answering the 'phone takes out half the workforce!
:)
:

:
Here's a little bit more, pretty much a straight foundational history...

The history of the company begins, interestingly, not with a Gawith at all, but an enterprising Kendalian by the name of Thomas Harrison, who, aware of the popular interest, and associated commercial potential, of snuffs and tobaccos, removed himself to Glasgow to learn the trade of snuff making. He returned to Kendal in 1792 with not only knowledge of snuff making, but the means, also.
He had bought approximately 50 tons of second hand machinery, estimated to be manufactured around 1750, and transported it via packhorse, to a mill at Mealbank, on the river Mint, a few miles North East of the centre of Kendal. Although the building disappeared about fifty years ago, some of the machinery is still intact and in day-to-day use at the Brown House today. Indeed, in 1965, the industrial trade magazine "Design and Components in Engineering" judged it to be the oldest piece of industrial machinery still in regular production use - "The reason we feel confident in accepting the estimate of (at least) 210 years as being the age of the machine is that the central drive bevel wheels have wedged wooden teeth. Had cast iron gear wheels been available they would most probably have been chosen as the central drive members, and since they were available about 1760 it is safe to assume that the machine dates back to about 1750".
But enough about machinery, and back to the people who created the company. Shortly after establishing his new business, Thomas Harrison appears to have entered business with Thomas Brocklebank, a "chymist and druggist" of Kendal. At that time chemists would frequently sell tobacco and snuff (as opposed to those today who dispense nicotine patches!), so we can presume that the partnership was split evenly between production and retail. In this same year, 1793, Thomas Harrison's namesaked son was born and effectively took over the business after his father's death. Possibly it was this Thomas Harrison who bought 27 Lowther Street, around 1830, as both family residence and factory, as was the habit of the time.
By 1837, Thomas Harrison the second's eldest child, Jane, reached 18 and had fallen in love with a "plumber and glazier" of Kendal, one Samuel Gawith. Apparently against her father's wishes, the two married "over the anvil" at Gretna Green on 15 January 1838.
In 1841, Thomas Harrison died, leaving the premises, and his share in Harrison and Brocklebank, to Jane and her sister Ann. Consequently Samuel and Jane moved into Lowther Street, the former relinquishing his earlier trade and working alongside the elderly Thomas Brocklebank.
Somewhere in the mid 1840s Thomas Brocklebank passed away, and when Ann Harrison died in 1852, the ownership of 27 Lowther Street, and by now the whole of the business, fell to the hands of Samuel Gawith.
In 1864, after serving some years as councillor, Samuel Gawith was elected mayor of Kendal, but suffered a personal tragedy also when Jane died on 3rd October. A year and six days later, Samuel followed his wife, to be buried together at the cemetery on Castle Street, a few minutes walk from the current company premises.
Samuel Gawith left the business, and the well being of the family, in the hands of 3 trustees, as Samuel the Second, already active in the business, was only 22. The trustees were Samuel himself, Henry Hoggarth and John Illingworth. Those familiar with snuff in the UK, and especially production within Kendal, will now recognise names associated with 3 seperate snuff manufacturers, and their significance will unfold in this text.
Henry Hoggarth was apparently a "land surveyor" of Kendal, indeed, of no.29 Lowther Street, so we can assume a friendship existed between him and Samuel the First, as well as some civic responsibilities that were shared between the two.
John Thomas Illingworth was the commercial traveller for Samuel the First, and had been for some 10 years at Samuel's death, himself then aged 35 years.
In 1842, Samuel Gawith (The Second) was born, and over the next 14 years 5 siblings followed.
In greater detail, the business was now to be run by Samuel the 2nd, and the next eldest son, John Edward. John was only 18 (and therefore a minor at law) at the time, and his directorship had to be sanctioned by the Lord Chancellor. The property at Lowther Street was bequeathed to the other children as a home, for as long as they required it, provided Samuel and John had access to the business section.

In 1867, J.T. Illingworth left the company to set up on his own, building a factory on Sandes Avenue in 1869 and then moving to larger premises on Canal Head (literally next door to the Kendal Brown House!). 1931 saw the company cease tobacco production and become "Illingworth Snuffs Ltd." The premises were destroyed by fire in the early 1980s, after which the company continued in Kendal for a few more years before being bought up by Joseph Wilson's.
Back to Samuel Gawith.

The partnership between the two brothers worked for some years, but, not for the first time in a family firm and surely not for the last, Samuel and John decided that they would be best served by not working in partnership anymore and on 31st March 1878 an "agreement of seperation" came into effect. The premises at Lowther Street, and the mill at Meal Bank were to be split and that Samuel Gawith was to have the choice of which to possess. Samuel chose the mill, and Lowther Street passed to John E. Gawith, Tobacco Manufacturer.
Samuel must have found Mealbank, either in location or size, deficient, as he designed and built new premises - the current Kendal Brown House, and an adjoining private house "Greenbanks" (possibly he was fond of Kendal's colours-Kendal Green cloth was famous in the 1400s, Kendal Brown is a world renowned snuff) at the terminus of the Lancaster-Kendal Canal, in 1881.
Although the "Agreement of Separation" allowed Samuel and John to both produce tobacco and snuff, Samuel concentrated on snuff, John on "twist" tobacco. John, however, soon moved into production of snuff also, and acquired a water-driven grinding plant at Low Mills, just South of Kendal. It was possibly this rapid overexpansion that contributed to John's bankruptcy in 1885, at which Samuel bought John's goodwill, trademarks etc. John died seven years later, in 1892, one hundred years after Thomas Harrison established himself at Meal Bank.
Samuel could see the financial reward of continuing tobacco production, after buying up John's goodwill, and received a license to manufacture tobacco from the Inland Revenue on 6th July 1885. He also kept the Lowther Street premises.
In 1884, Samuel's Scottish wife gave birth to their first son, Samuel Anderson Gawith (Samuel the Third-his middle name coming from his mother's maiden name), brother to four older sisters.
Sadly, two years later, on November 27th, 1886, Samuel Gawith the Second died, aged 44. Apparently, the flag on the Town Hall flew at half-mast as a mark of respect. Respect, not necessarily or solely from his success as a local businessman, but also as a member of the "Westmorland Volunteer Rifles", a precursor to the present Territorial Army. He had joined on their formation in 1859 and held every rank from private in 1860 to major in 1878, and Honorary Lieutenant Colonel "for long service" in 1886. His military funeral was a great civic occasion, with over 200 members of the "Volunteers" in attendance.
Samuel the Third was two years and five months old at his father's death, and once again the company was put in the hands of trustees, probably Samuel the Third's mother, John Edward Gawith (who died six years later) and William Henry Gawith, Samuel the Second's youngest brother.
A word here about William, who set up in rivalry to the Samuel Gawith dynasty, about the time John's enterprise failed. He set up in partnership with Henry Hoggarth, whose sister he married. Together they purchased the Lowther Street tobacco factory, and made snuff at Marble Mills outside Kendal. The firm continues now as Gawith Hoggarth TT.
Samuel the Third took control of the company about 1904/05, and saw it's production increase during the First World War to meet growing demand - as the American General J.J. Pershing put it "You ask me what we need to win this war. I answer tobacco as much as bullets".
By 1920 new premises at Sandes Avenue, Kendal were opened, and the whole of the machinery transferred from Meal Bank, and adapted to power by electricity, rather than water.
In 1929, Derek Dakeyne-Cannon, Samuel Gawith's nephew became a shareholder, and was named Managing Director, Samuel being named Chairman.
At some time in the early 1930's there was further expansion, and Samuel Gawith took over the idyllically situated snuff mill of William Nevinson at Eamont Bridge, immediately south of Penrith. This had originally been a corn mill, then gunpowder mill, then from 1835 a snuff mill.
This ran in operation until about 1936-7, when, probably as a result of the change from snuff taking to cigarette smoking immediately after the First World War, operations at Samuel Gawith's were consolidated. Eamont Bridge and Sandes Avenue were closed and the Kendal Brown House expanded. For at least it's third time, the original four-pestle mill was dismantled, moved and re-instated. A tribute, indeed, to the undoubted craftsmanship and ingenuity of it's constructors.
Samuel Gawith the Third passed away in 1953, leaving his widow Louie as Chairman and Derek Dakeyne-Cannon as Managing Director.
The latter was succeeded on his death by Wilfred Lloyd Link, in 1961, and Derek's widow Edith Dakeyne-Cannon was appointed to the board as Chairman, and continues to this day as a director. (Died 17th May 2008 aged 101 indefatigable to the end.)
In 1979, Doug Harris, who joined the firm as a boy in 1935 (and served in the RAF with great distinction in the Second World War) became M.D. on the death of Wilf Link.
When Doug retired in the early 1990s, Graham Forrest (who like many of his predecessors started as a young man fresh from school, learning his trade in all the various departments of the factory) was appointed as Managing Director.
In a shrinking world, ruled by technology, few enough products are manufactured in such a time-honoured and traditional way as the many varied snuffs and tobaccos of the House of Samuel Gawith.
Bob Gregory is the current managing director.
:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhoNrneKydw
:
:
Some old factory photos circa mid to late 20's...





An interesting "time capsule" found:

“We were aware from historical records that there was an ‘official’ time capsule buried in the College’s grounds from 1830, but finding this time capsule came as a complete surprise. It must have been placed secretly by the construction workers during the 1909 extension work, without the knowledge of the College! Considering the tin has been underground for over 100 years, it is in surprisingly good condition, as are the contents.”
http://www.museum.rcsed.ac.uk/about-the-museum/museum-news/2014/december/time-capsule-discovered-at-surgeons-hall-museums.aspx#sthash.DSPPif5U.dpuf
I love Commonwealth, it's one of my favorite Lat mixtures.

The tin art is cool too, even more so after I discovered it was depicting olde Kendal Castle.



Another newspaper article:

The Timeless Machine
Published at 10:18, Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Peddled as a medicine throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, snuff was a popular substance sold in chemists throughout the land. Fast forward to today and the tobacco industry is stringently regulated, advertising is banned in the UK and even its packaging carries stark government warnings about the dangers it can pose to health.
But despite this, for the past four years, Samuel Gawith and Co Ltd, one of the oldest firms in Cumbria, has been struggling to keep up with global demand.
The niche product is seen as a luxury brand in the snuff and tobacco market, managing director Bob Gregory explains.
“We currently export to 39 countries,” he said.
“Demand is growing, not shrinking.
“It’s a unique product that is handmade in England on traditional machinery.
“There’s a tremendous growth in snuff taking at the moment, it’s very difficult to keep up with demand.”
The USA has traditionally been Samuel Gawith and Co Ltd’s biggest buyer of snuff.
But the nation was nudged into second place this year by China.
Boxes of the tiny tins from Kendal ship all over Europe as well as to Mexico, Argentina, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Australia.
This is in addition to the domestic market, with snuff still selling in specialist retailers across the UK.
“We could operate seven days a week and sell everything we make,” Bob said.
“And of course it puts pressure on the team, we’ve got eight people now but are once again looking for an extra person.”
One member of Bob’s team, however, has become a celebrity in their own right – attracting visitors who clamour to catch a glimpse of them at work.
“She’s a lovely old girl,” Bob says of the firm’s snuff making machine, built in the north of Scotland in 1750 to produce gun powder for the Napoleonic wars.
“She is well known as the oldest working machinery in Europe.
“You have to keep your eyes on her but she never goes wrong, even now.
“Honestly, Fred Dibnah would have been in his element.”
But Bob adds: “The problem is, we get so many knocks on the door from people asking if they can have a look but unfortunately we have to say no.
“It’s not a museum piece, it’s working machinery so it’s just too dangerous for people to come in.”
The Samuel Gawith snuff assortment is wide – with scores of eccentrically named varieties including Elmo’s Reserve, Firedance and Dr Verey’s Medicated, alongside the best selling Kendal Brown and Menthol.
But the firm is quick to respond to special requests providing it can be made in a large enough quantity.
Bob said: “We were asked to make a gin and tonic snuff which has gone on to become a good seller.
“Generally, we’ll give things a go.”
While much of the business of snuff making has remained unchanged for more than 200 years, Samuel Gawith has modernised in a few, select ways.
The firm now uses a packing machine for its most popular varieties.
“Before that, we loaded up every tin with a teaspoon,” Bob laughs.
“There was nothing more technical to it than that.
“But while we’ve got the machine to do the bulk of that job now, the teaspoon still comes out for smaller batches.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
http://www.in-cumbria.com/news-archive/the-timeless-machine-1.1099646
As a side note,

back at the turn of the 19th century there was a group of romantic scribblers known as the Lake Poets,

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of them.
The poet in his lone yet genial hour

Gives to his eyes a magnifying power:

Or rather he emancipates his eyes

From the black shapeless accidents of size--

In unctuous cones of kindling coal,

Or smoke upwreathing from the pipe's trim bole,

His gifted ken can see

Phantoms of sublimity.
:puffy:

 

crusader

Member
Aug 18, 2014
228
0
Grand Island
Thanks Mr.lowercase. Lately I have noticed that many tobacco distributors have cool names, like Maxim,Sykes etc. and now I know why there are two Gawiths as well :puffy:

 
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