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16 March 2019

Fryco's (R.Fry & Co), Victoria Road, Portslade

Judy Middleton 2002 (revised 2019)

  copyright © G. Osborne
Fryco's Portslade Factory in the 1930s, 
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.  
 
In 1874 the firm was established at Brighton to manufacture mineral waters. For a short while Fry & Co. produced their mineral waters at Preston Circus inside the magnificent building complete with dome and clock faces that had once housed the Amber Ale Brewery.

On 13 February 1901 the firm purchased the Gaiety Theatre in Park Crescent Place for £6,000 and constructed a concrete floor inside the old building.

copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum, Brighton & Hove
Brighton Herald  adverts from 1909 and 1911

An idea of the sort of product Fryco’s made can be gauged from a full-page advertisement that appeared in a booklet about a local golf club. For example, their High-Class Soda Water was mentioned that was ‘crisp on the Palate, Sparkling in the Glass’. Then there was their Dry Ginger Ale (choice or aromatic) and their Ginger Ale was sweetened with honey. All their products were ‘manufactured under the control of a fully qualified analytical chemist’ under perfect hygienic conditions.

copyright © Historic England
A 1931 aerial view of Fryco's in Victoria Road, Portslade

In the 1920s it was decided to close the Brighton premises and move the industry to Victoria Road, Portslade. In November 1928 Portslade Council approved plans for the new factory; in 1933 there were additions to the site; in 1935 a brick chimney was installed and in 1948 a syrup room was added.

A School Visit

In 1933 the Science Society of the Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School paid a visit to Fryco’s and a special article was written for the school magazine as follows:

‘On arriving we were shown the Museum, in which were many types of old bottles, including a siphon used by George IV … We saw the making of Sodium Bicarbonate solution in distilled water; and then the water filtration cones; next the mixing machines for powders and the fruit juice extractors, after which we ascended to the top floor and saw the syrup being made, and the water distillery. On coming down the bottling of essences claimed our attention and then we inspected the fruit crushing plant. On the ground floor was the bottle-washing machine and many intriguing machines which bottled liquids, corked them and labelled them automatically. There were also aerating machines and siphon fillers. We then saw the carpentry shop, siphon heads being cast, turned and fitted; the power switchboard and the printing presses.’

copyright © Fryco Pictorial Easter 1952
Two wonderful photographs marking Fryco’s Diamond Jubilee in 1934. The management went to town to celebrate such a milestone, and invited leading industrialists, civic heads and well-known Sussex people to come and inspect the premises. Tea was served in the Palm Lounge, especially created for the occasion on the balcony

By 1937 the firm’s advertising slogan was ‘The Best of all Good Drinks is Fryco’ and it was stated that their Fryco Table Waters were the result of over 60 years of experience making aerated waters. Fryco’s fruit squashes were sold under a ‘Big Ben’ label and you could choose from lemon and orange, lemonade, sparkling grapefruit, tonic water and a product called ‘Lemolyme’.

copyright © Fryco Pictorial Easter 1952

Second World War
copyright © Royal Pavilion & Museum,
An advert from the Brighton Herald in 1920

Fryco’s was in difficulties because of wartime privations and the impossibility of obtaining a sufficient supply of imported oranges. Clifford Wallis, Fryco’s managing director, wrote to Lord Woolton, Minister of Food, suggesting that consignments of oranges destined for the Brighton and Hove area should go first of all to the Portslade works to be peeled and then the fruit, already peeled, could be delivered to retailers. Fryco’s only required the peel, not the pith nor the fruit. Lord Woolton was obviously unimpressed.

Clifford Wallis was obliged to come up with his own scheme He advertised for local people to bring their precious ration of oranges to Fryco’s to be peeled and they would receive two pence for every ounce of peelings. Mr Wallis allayed any fears of spoiled fruit by asserting that a properly peeled orange would keep for around four days. The public responded to this novel idea. The scheme started in October 1941 and up to 11 February 1946 over seven hundredweight of peel had been collected by the factory.

Michal and Mabel Masiewicz

Mabel Bolding (1905-1990) was born at 67 Elm Grove, Brighton, and the house stayed in the family because that is where she and her Polish husband spent the rest of their lives.

When Mabel was aged 14 she penned a letter dated 16 October 1919 in beautiful handwriting applying to Fryco’s for a job as an office girl. Fryco’s replied four days later asking her to attend an interview. Mabel spent the rest of her working life at Fryco’s and by 1949 her post was recorded as Factory Welfare Officer.

copyright © N. Bolding
Mabel’s letter of application, dated 16 October 1919.

Mabel was involved in the Fryco Amateur Dramatic Society and she carefully preserved a programme, price 1/6d, for a A Pantomime Rehearsal staged on 9 July 1949. Mabel and Alice Kindred were responsible for the costumes and make-up.
copyright © N. Bolding

The hard work that went into such an event was all in a good cause because the money raised was in aid of the Children’s Holiday Fund of the Knights of St Columba. The programme stated that this fund provided ‘holidays for necessitous and orphaned children both from this area and London’.  

Mabel remembered that during the Second World War, as part of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, all Fryco’s staff were issued with packets of seeds and invited to plant and nurture them in a piece of ground set aside for the purpose at the back of the factory.

The need to create as much home-grown food as possible was vital for the nation because imports had been badly hit by German submarines torpedoing merchant vessels.

Mabel obviously wanted to do as much as possible to help the war effort. She nobly gave up her spare time from Fryco’s, to volunteer as a nurse at Brighton General Hospital.

copyright © Sussex Photo Agency
Some of the Fryco staff – Mabel Bolding is seated second from the right

It was during her nursing duties that she met Michal Masiewicz (1912-1984) who was a patient there. She could not help but be moved by this courageous and injured soldier, especially when she learned some of the searing details of his life. Yet despite his experiences, his friends and family describe him as being a lovely chap with a wicked sense of humour but not much English, and he never complained about his injuries.

Michal Masiewicz came from Vilnius in Lithuania where his family had a farm. A happy memory for Michal was his mother beating a piece of metal, like a gong, to alert the farm labourers that she was bringing out their food, usually bread and soup, to the hut near the woods where they could eat in comfort. Apparently, the local bears soon learned to recognise the sound as meaning there was food on hand, and they would gather hopefully outside, waiting for scraps.

Then came the dreadful day when Soviet troops invaded, arriving at Vilnius on 19 September 1939. Somehow, Michal was in the neighbouring woods when the troops arrived, and he watched in horror as the soldiers lined up his grandfather, parents and sister against the farmyard wall and shot them all dead.

Michal joined the Polish 2nd Corps and served in the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division. He fought in North Africa with the Allies and was present at the Battle of Monte Cassino, which lasted from 17 January 1944 to 19 May 1944. 

copyright © N. Bolding
These two photographs are a dreadful record of how war service affected men. On the left is a youthful Michal, probably taken in North Africa where the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division was formed . The second portrait was taken after he had been blown up in a tank in Italy – his expression showing his trauma and known as the ‘thousand yard stare’. The Polish stamp on the second portrait denotes Michal was a War invalid.

copyright © N. Bolding
The document states Michal Masiewicz was awarded
 Monte Cassino Commemorative Cross. All soldiers of the Polish 2nd Corps 
who fought at the Battle of Monte Cassino were awarded the Cross. 
The medal’s serial number – 8955 signifies that Michal (Mikolaz) Masiewicz 
was serving in the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division at the time of the Battle.
 
Michal was badly injured when his tank was hit, and he was carted off to a field hospital. Although he lost one leg, a French doctor managed to save his other leg by packing the wound with maggots that ate the diseased tissue and cleaned up the injury. Michal also lost the sight in one eye, and received a liberal smattering of shrapnel so that for many years afterwards, the draining of his bath water revealed pieces of metal.

copyright © N. Bolding
Happier times for Michal when he married Mabel Bolding on 26 December 1949 at St Joseph’s Church – but he still looks older than 37

Mabel and Michal married on 26 December 1949 at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Elm Grove – the bride was aged 44 while Michel was 37. Michal found a rather naughty use for his artificial leg – when the couple returned home from holidays abroad, he used to conceal an extra bottle of scotch inside his hollow leg.

Michal found a job at Kearney & Trecker in Carden Avenue, Brighton. One day at work a heavy piece of metal fell on his leg and his workmate, standing next to him, promptly fainted at the sight. But fortunately Michal was uninjured and simply unstrapped his artificial leg. Michal became a British citizen and died in 1984.

Re-union

copyright © N. Bolding
Unfortunately no date is recorded for this important event in the lives of Fryco’s management and staff – perhaps it was the 1946 re-union

In January 1946 Fryco’s directors entertained nearly 120 staff members to a re-union and social evening in which members returning from service with the armed forces were also welcomed back. Portslade staff attended this event and there were contingents from Tunbridge Wells and Eastbourne. A happy evening was spent dancing to the music of the Western Bartlett Orchestra. If dancing did not appeal guests could play whist or other games.

In 1946 Clifford Wallis was still chairman and managing director while W.H. Chatterton was secretary and accountant, and C.R.C. Farmer was the Portslade factory manager.

End of an Era

copyright © D.Sharp
Fryco's advert from 1961
In 1957 ‘Big Ben’ squashes were still being sold in all flavours at 3/- a bottle or 1/9d for a half-bottle. There was also ‘Sunfresh’ whole orange drink made from fresh oranges at Portslade. In 1961 a new name was added to the range; this was ‘Kinnie’ described as a sparkling continental drink with a distinctive tang.

In August 1961 Schweppes Ltd took over Fryco’s. The factory at Victoria Road soon became a depot for Schweppes’s products. In 1962 came the sad day when the factory was closed down with the loss of 90 jobs. Some employees hoped to find work with Hoper Struve who proposed to market some of their products under the Fryco name.

MB Metals Technology, who had been in business operations at Portslade since 1946 took over the former Fryco building for precision engineering manufacturing until the late 1980s when they moved their business to new premises in Brighton. The building was demolished and replaced by car dealership showroom in the early 1990s.

Victoria Road in its time was the location of most of the major Portslade employers:- Fryco, Ronuk, Southdown Motor Services Garage (Bus Repairs and Coach Works), MB Metals Technology, Portslade Station’s Goods Yard and all the jobs associated with the former Portslade Urban District Council’s Town Hall. 
Today, sadly, all these many hundreds of light industry factory jobs have gone and have been replaced with a profusion of car dealership showrooms.

Sources

Fryco Pictorial Easter 1952 
J.Middleton Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Past and Present. Magazine of Brighton. Hove and Sussex Grammar School
Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum Archives Department

Many thanks to Mr N. Bolding for sharing memories of his aunt, Mabel Bolding, and her husband Michal

Thanks are due to Mr G. Osborne for allowing me to reproduce his 1930s Fryco building photograph. 

copyright © J.Middleton 2017
page layout by D. Sharp