Tuesday 24 November 2020

The other "137 Houndsditch" - Stephan Goldner's Factory revealed.


My previous post concerning the Nag's Head pub was something of a tinned herring - an appetiser intended to gently tease the readership' historical palate and leave them hungry for more. I hope it did that! Now look closely at the map above. Starting from the street outside number 137 Houndsditch, the Nag's Head, you can go through the wood ceiling-ed passage into Cock and Hoop Yard. Continuing on to the end, the number 137 appears again. This "137 Houndsditch" really is Goldner's establishment although by 1889, the date of this map, it is M'Call's Preserved Provision Warehouse. A quadrangle of buildings roughly 110 feet square, with the central courtyard covered over by a glased roof, it has by far the largest footprint of any property in the block.

The map is extracted from  Insurance Plan of City of London Vol. III: sheet 71 courtesy of the British Library.



This slightly earlier map (above) depicts the area as Goldner knew it. It shows the mid nineteenth century layout prior to the extension of the Metropolitan Railway to Aldgate in the 1870s. The quadrangle lies between Houndsditch, which follows the line of the wall of Roman Londinium, and New Middlesex Street, formerly Petticoat Lane, which is the boundary of the City of London. An article in The Builder periodical from February 1872 entitled Homes in the East of London: Jew and Christians, gives a flavour, or perhaps more accurately, a whiff of the vile stench, of the neighbourhood.

This aerial view brings home the relative proximity of Goldner's factory to the heart of the City of London. It is a sobering juxtaposition - the wealth of City institutions and individuals side by side with the grinding poverty and squalor of the poor neighbourhoods of the vicinity. A further twist is that prior to the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, the buildings which became Goldner's factory had been home to the parish workhouse of St Botolph's Aldgate. The new law allowed individual parishes to pool their resources resulting in the much larger Union workhouses with a distinctly harsher regime than the version of Christian charity previously dispensed by the parishes. Houndsditch, for all its dead-dog associations, is one of the main thoroughfares of the City so for commercial purposes the address of 137 Houndsditch has a certain cachet. To locals the address was simply "Aldgate old workhouse".

Next: A visit (or three) to Goldner's factory.

Comments welcome here or the Rembering the Franklin expedition Facebook page.

Monday 23 November 2020

The Secret of 137 Houndsditch


The painting above, dated 1889, shows the ancient Nag's Head pub shortly after some of the adjacent buildings to the South had been demolished to allow for the construction of a new road.

The detailed map below is slightly earlier and shows the layout before the demolition mentioned. The Nags Head is labelled P.H. for Public House and the numbering on the roadway shows that its street address was number 137. It is surrounded by retail shops (S), dwelling houses (D), warehouses, and hat factories.

The address of the Nag's Head pub was 137 Houndsditch in the City of London, an address famous (or, let's face it, notorious) as the location of Stephan Goldner's preserved meat manufactory between about 1839 and 1851. The old pub in the painting looks like it has stood on the site for centuries, so where was Goldner's factory really? The answer to this (hopefully) amusing conundrum will be revealed in my next post.

Monday 16 November 2020

The Official Aquittal of Stefan Goldner


The Report from the Select Committee on Preserved Meats (Navy), Together with the Minutes of Evidence, Appendix and Index,  is a weighty document of nearly 500 pages.

As the title page suggests, it documents in great detail the Government's inquiry resulting from the Preserved Meats scandal which broke in the Times on January 3, 1852.

The examination and condemnation of canned meat at the Royal Clarence Victualling Establishment in Gosport, Hampshire, which the Times reported on was just one episode in the closing stages of an official Admiralty investigation which had already been underway for the best part of a year.

Deep in the Appendices, on page 393, is the document which explicitly exonerates Goldner of any criminality.

On 27 August 1851 Thomas Tassell Grant, The Comptroller of the Navy's Victualling Department, wrote to William Frogat Robson, the Admiralty Solicitor, to ask if any of Goldner's actions rendered him liable to prosecution.

The conclusion was received the next day from Robson's deputy, H Swainson:

There appears to have been repeated quarrels between Mr. Goldner and his servants at the factory, which may account for the bad state of some canisters by the introduction of offal and filth. It is not likely that Mr. Goldner, under the serious penalties of his contract, would make himself a party to so flagrant a breach, which must fall upon himself; and unless he could be fixed with a knowledge of using or conniving at the use of some dangerous ingredients in the mode of curing or preserving the meat, he cannot be held criminally responsible for the acts of others.

But what really happened?

The report states that Goldner had been going on well between 1844 and 1849.

There had been occasional reports of improper substances in the cans but rarely were they anything sinister. On several occasions the cans were rejected for containing tongue. Tongue is classed as offal but is actually a premium meat fetching a higher price than many other parts of the carcass.

As well as these problems, the scale of the business had grown considerably since the original running contract of 1844 so the Admiralty decided to move to annual contracts for fixed quantities open to competitive tender as was done for other foodstuffs.

The real problems began with the 1850 contract which required the meat to be packed in larger pieces and in larger cans than before - 6, 9, and 12 pound cans. The men disliked their meat being served in small pieces and the larger cans were a cost saving.

An additional change was how the weight of the meat was reckoned.
The 1844 contract specified the cans to be packed with raw meat before processing, then on opening each pound of contents was required to provide 12 ounces of cooked meat and 4 ounces of gravy. This had led to many complaints about short measures so the 1850 contract stipulated that each pound must be 16 ounces of cooked meat and only so much gravy as necessary. This change necessitated the meat to be pre-cooked before canning and the cans packed tighter with less room for the liquid to circulate during the heat processing. The net result of these changes was to reduce the margins for error during processing and making under-processing more likely.

The recipe for disaster was compounded by Goldner's combative personality and abrasive management style which from time to time led some of his disgruntled, underpaid, workforce to deliberately sabotage the product.

The final element in the mix was the fact that Goldner was absent from Galatz for considerable periods, leaving his 18 year old nephew in sole charge of the critical preserving process.

The most headline grabbing part of the disaster were the 'filthy substances' found in some of the cans. It is perfectly understandable that they will have provoked feelings of disgust and anger.

Grant estimated that of the meat issued to ships, less than two one hundredth of one percent, or 2 lb in 10,000 lb, matched this description.

The bigger problem was meat which appeared perfectly sound and sweet when accepted into the stores but which spoiled far sooner than had occurred in the past. The fault was far more frequent in the 9 and 12 pound cans introduced in the 1850 contract. The six pound cans were usually satisfactory.

When, prompted by the Admiralty, other manufacturers attempted, at a higher price, to supply preserved meat to this specification they failed too.

The parliamentary inquiry revealed no systemic fault in the system of contracts for supplying the Navy but noted the difficulties with the larger cans. They reported that in the new contracts by then already in force, only 6 lb cans were being used. The report also highlighted the testimony of several witnesses that it would be beneficial to bring the production of preserved meat in-house and this was subsequently done.

Many have assumed that Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition was supplied by Goldner on the basis of lowest cost tender but the report makes clear that this was not the case.

... the arctic ships, "Erebus" and "Terror," were supplied with preserved meats bought specially for the purpose, at a price varying from 7d. to 2s. per lb., and not, as in Mr. Goldner's contracts, at 4 3/4d., 5d., and 5 3/8 d.

That special consideration was given to the preserved meat for the Franklin expedition is entirely consistent with what we know about the other foodstuffs. No effort or expense was spared in providing the best of everything. I do not know whether Franklin's provisions were canned at Galatz or the factory at 137 Houndsditch or a mixture of the two but the fact it was a special purchase makes me suspect it was Houndsditch and that it was probably inspected by the Navy's Victualling Department at the time.

The Parliamentary report clearly shows that the 1852 scandal casts no shadow whatsoever on the integrity of the preserved provisions which Goldner supplied to the Franklin expedition.

Nonetheless, it wouldn't be very long before Goldner would be reviled as a criminal, a traitor, and worse.

Stephan Goldner and the Billion Dollar Corporation

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