Huntley & Palmers was founded in 1822 by Joseph Huntley as J. Huntley & Son.
Initially the business was a small biscuit baker and confectioner shop at number 119 London Street. At this time London Street was the main stage coach route from London to Bristol, Bath and the West Country. One of the main calling points of the stage coaches was the Crown Inn, opposite Joseph Huntley's shop and he started selling his biscuits to the travelers on the coaches. Because the biscuits were vulnerable to breakage on the coach journey, he started putting them in metal tins. Out of this innovation grew two businesses: Joseph's biscuit shop that was to become Huntley & Palmers, and Huntley, and Bourne and Stevens, a firm of biscuit tin manufacturers founded by his younger son, also called Joseph.
In 1838 Joseph Huntley was forced by ill-health to retire, handing control of the business to his older son Thomas. In 1841, Thomas took as a business partner George Palmer, a distant cousin and member of the Society of Friends. George Palmer soon became the chief force behind its success, establishing sales agents across the country. The company soon outgrew its original shop and moved to a factory on King’s Road in 1846, near the Great Western Railway. The factory had an internal railway system with its own steam locomotives; one of these has been preserved near Bradford.
Thomas Huntley died in 1857, but George Palmer continued to direct the firm successfully aided by his brothers, William Isaac Palmer and Samuel Palmer, and subsequently by his sons, as heads of the company. They became biscuit makers to the British Royal Family and in 1865 expanded into the European continent, and received Royal Warrants from Napoleon III and Léopold II of Belgium. At their height they employed over 5,000 people and in 1900 were the world's largest biscuit firm. The origins of the firm's success lay in a number of areas. They provided a wide variety of popular products, producing 400 different varieties by 1903, and mass production enabled them to price their products keenly.
Palmers sent biscuits all over the world, perfectly preserved in locally produced, elaborately decorated, and highly collectable biscuit tins. The tins proved to be a powerful marketing tool, and under their easily recognizable image Huntley & Palmer's biscuits came to symbolize the commercial power and reach of the British Empire in the same way that Coca Cola did for the United States. The tins found their way as far abroad as the heart of Africa and the mountains of Tibet; the company even provided biscuits to Captain Scott during his expedition to the South Pole. During the First World War they produced biscuits for the war effort and devoted their tin-making resources to making cases for artillery shells.
In 1921, Huntley and Palmers entered into an amalgamation agreement with rival biscuit firm Peek Frean, resulting in the creation of a holding company, Associated Biscuit Manufacturers Ltd. Both biscuit firms retained their own brands and premises.
In 1960 Jacob's joined Associated Biscuit Manufacturers, and in 1969 ABM was reorganized as Associated Biscuits.
Manufacturing in Reading ceased in 1976. In 1982 Nabisco acquired Associated Biscuits. Production continued at Huyton until 1983. After the closure of the Peek Frean factory at Bermondsey in 1989, Nabisco sold the Associated Biscuit brands (Huntley and Palmers, Peek Frean, and Jacobs) to Danone.
In 2006, Huntley & Palmers resumed operations from Sudbury in Suffolk. The management team included a former marketing director of Jacobs Bakery, which once owned the company, and a founder of Vibrandt, a successful packaging design company. They targeted the speciality and fine-food sector. Since 2008, Huntley and Palmers has been owned by the Freeman family, with three generations in the biscuit business. Their aim is to bring the name of Huntley and Palmers back into the mainstream, with several product ranges focusing on different market sectors, and including once again, biscuit tins.
by Paul Green