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From a Spanish prison to an empire built on cigars and cigarettes

PUBLISHED: 09:00 05 August 2017

Making cigarettes at Adcocks in Norwich more than a century ago. Photo: Archant library

Making cigarettes at Adcocks in Norwich more than a century ago. Photo: Archant library

Archant

It was 170 years ago that Daniel “Sure Shot” Adcock arrived in Norwich... a man who, as a baby, had once been taken prisoner by the Spanish.

Sure Shot cigars on their cart at the Bess of Bedlam stables in Oak Street in this famous old picture, 1895. Picture: Archant libray Sure Shot cigars on their cart at the Bess of Bedlam stables in Oak Street in this famous old picture, 1895. Picture: Archant libray

He survived and later came to Norwich where he and his partner, Mr S Denham, opened a large factory, depot and stores which turned into a big and thriving business employing hundreds of men and women.

And it had nothing to do with shoes, engineering, motors, machines or food.

They produced cigarettes and cigars, millions of them, also tobacco and snuff in an industry which has almost been forgotten about.

Cigar making department. Photo: Archant library Cigar making department. Photo: Archant library

Around 40 men and women were engaged on producing one item alone, the Sure Shot cigar, They made an average of 2m every year which people across the world were puffing on.

The story of how the company came about is told in a fascinating series of articles produced in 1903/4 by Edward & Wilfred Burgess called Men Who Have Made Norwich.

Daniel was born in 1805 and when he was just two his parents set off for a new life in America. While on their journey they were taken prisoner by Spaniards and were stranded in Spain for a short time.

Ernest Adcock who died in 1936 aged 81. One of the first people in Norwich to own a car. Photo: Archant Library Ernest Adcock who died in 1936 aged 81. One of the first people in Norwich to own a car. Photo: Archant Library

They ended up in New York, where his father started making cigars. They returned to London and he came to Norwich in 1847 to look after the manufacturing department of Newbegin & Son in Queen Street which became Adcock & Denham.

Business flourished, and even more so when Daniel’s son Ernest took over. The company moved to new and bigger premises in Pottergate Street, a central depot was opened on Exchange Street and there were shops in the Back of the Inns and at King’s Lynn.

The raw material to make tobacco, cigars and cigarettes arrived in Norwich from across the world in hosgheads, tierces or bales. It came to the city, from America, Cuba, Borneo, Java, Turkey, Samatra, China, Japan and other countries.

Partner in the business, Mr S Denham. Picture: Archant Library Partner in the business, Mr S Denham. Picture: Archant Library

It was a huge business which employed many men and women and every day an Excise Officer arrived at the factory to “take care that the proper contribution is paid to the State for the privilege of manufacturing tobaccos.”

Apart from the Sure Shot cigars, the Black Prince tobacco was popular along with a range of cigarettes, cheroots, and snuff.

When the authors of Men Who Made Norwich arrived to inspect and tour the factory, they reported: “Cigarette making is proceeding at full swing. Nimble hands, and the turn-out at the time of our visit appears to be sufficient to supply a very large army of smokers.”

Daniel Adcock who arrived in Norwich 170 years ago – a king of the tobacco trade. Photo: Archant library Daniel Adcock who arrived in Norwich 170 years ago – a king of the tobacco trade. Photo: Archant library

They added: “The rooms are bright, airy and warm throughout, and the workers are cheerful, clean and tidy in appearance and evidently suffer no inconvenience or injury to health from the trade in which they are engaged.”

It was in 1936 that we told of the death of the head of the family firm, Ernest Daniel Adcock at his home, Glenhurst, Eaton, at the age of 81.

An artist, he showed his work at the Woodpecker Club, he had been one of the original members of Eaton Golf Club and among the first people in Norwich to own a motor car. His first was a Wolseley in 1903 before the days of compulsory index numbers.

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