Happy 190th birthday to one of Norwich’s greats, Jeremiah James Colman

Jeremiah James Colman

Jeremiah James Colman - Credit: Archant

This weekend in Norfolk of 190 years ago a boy, who grew up one of the greatest men the city and county has ever seen, was born. Derek James remembers J.J.Colman

The Colman gentlemen taken at Carrow 5 September 1882.Standing L. to R. Jeremiah Colman (Jnr) and R

The Colman gentlemen taken at Carrow 5 September 1882.Standing L. to R. Jeremiah Colman (Jnr) and Russell J. Colman.Seated L. to R. Jeremiah James Colman (founder), Jeremiah Colman (Snr) and Frederick E. Colman.Dated 5 September 1882Photograph C10420 - Credit: Archant

The date was June 14. The year 1830 and the baby who arrived that day was called Jeremiah James Colman and he helped to establish an industrial empire which was known and loved across this country and the rest of the world.

And he improved life for generations of men and women who worked at the industrial village which was Carrow Works.

Where JJ went, others followed. He was a friend of the rich and powerful but always had time for his workers and their families, men and women, who thought the world of him.

He was a giant of a man who was described as “one of the distinguished representatives of English commerce” and “an ornament to the City of Norwich which gave him all the honour it had to bestow.”

Young gardeners at the pioneering Carrow Hill School run by Colmans. The land off King Street in Nor

Young gardeners at the pioneering Carrow Hill School run by Colmans. The land off King Street in Norwich is now a housing development - Credit: Archant

JJ was also one of the founding fathers of the Eastern Daily Press and the East Anglian Daily Times putting his financial support and backing behind the papers when they were first published in the 1870s.

If there had been a league table of Norwich and Norfolk companies and they gained points for the way they treated their staff….Colman’s would be the champions.

Most Read

Today the glory days of mustard making in Norwich are gone. Carrow Works has stopped working. It is the end of an era. A new future for the site awaits.

Times change but it is more important than ever that we never forget Colmans, the family, the workers and the role they played in the life and development of the city and county and further afield.

Employers busy at work for J J Colman.

Employers busy at work for J J Colman. - Credit: Archant

Carrow Works was a self-contained industrial HQ where people tended to spend their entire lives and it is easy to see why. Some also had a home to live in after they retired

They were part of the Colman clan, and very proud to be a member. This wasn’t so much a job…more a way of life.

The story starts with “old” Jeremiah who was a flour miller at Bawburgh before arriving in Norwich during 1804 and buying a windmill by Magdalen Gates. He then headed out to Stoke Holy Cross where he leased a mill. He was a general miller And laid the foundation stones for the future of the company.

Mustard became the main part of the business and the production of starch but he was running out of room and the nearest railway station was at Swainsthorpe.

Jeremiah and his wife Ann didn’t have any children but he adopted his nephew James who became a partner in the business in 1823 with other members of the family joining the ranks.

Members of the Colman family worked long and hard building up the company but always looked after their employees. Ann ran a clothing club for them and put on parties and special celebrations at Christmas.

They respected the people who worked for, or rather with, them.

A large site by the river at Carrow in the city where far more people were looking for work had been found.

Making the move, building the factory would be a huge and complicated operation which took a dozen years and the man at the helm was Jeremiah James Colman who became the driving force of the firm following the death of his father James in 1854.

With the railway and the river nearby it was the perfect spot and it became world famous for its marvellous mustard.

The clever idea for the small, attractive containers with bright yellow labels and the bull’s head trademark was introduced in 1875. With Jerimiah at the helm the range of goods made by Colman’s got bigger and bigger. From starch to laundry blue and so much more.

In 1866, this giant of a man, was appointed Queen Victoria’s mustard maker and when asked about his success he made the famous comment that he made his money from the mustard people left on the side of their plate.

As the business boomed customers across the world were reaching out for the little yellow tins. Royal warrants came from Napoleon III of France, Victor Emmanuel II of Italy and the Prince of Wales.

Colman’s won gold medals at the 1872 Moscow Exhibition for mustard and other awards for starch and cornflour.

The company was way ahead of its time for not wasting anything. The husks of the mustard seed were made into cakes and sold as manure while the oil was refined and used as a lubricant.

He married Caroline Cozens-Hardy, of Letheringsett Hall in Norfolk, another famous name, in 1856 and they were a couple who devoted so much of their time to helping others.

The couple, both leading Liberals, moved to Carrow the following year and the good work began in earnest.

Other factory bosses looked on as Colman’s built a school for the children of their workers which by 1870 was educating around 300 pupils. It still stands proud on Carrow Hill,

There was a company dispensary along with a doctor and nurse. Allotments and playing fields were provided, a clothing club, they appointed Philippa Flowerday, the first female industrial nurse.

Colman’s had their own fire brigade which also helped the city firemen.

Housing for retired workers was built off Corton Road in Bracondale and at Trowse. The playing fields were magnificent. Annual tea and sports days were attended by more than 5,000 workers and their families.

There is a story that at one annual tea party were wasn’t enough room for everyone to sit down so he gave them a day’s paid holiday as compensation!

Clubs, libraries, clubs, reading rooms, a canteen, Colman’s was one of the first companies to introduce paid holidays for workers.

It was away from Carrow Works where Jeremiah James spent much of his time helping others in numerous ways.

First elected to what was then Norwich Town Council he sat on numerous bodies and organisations. He was described as one of the most distinguished representatives of English commerce and a typical Nonconformist politician of his generation.

He was also a Norwich Liberal MP for many years.

Former Sheriff Nick Williams in his book Norwich: City of Industries said of him: “He was a towering figure in late 19th century Norwich, a man of enormous energy who managed to run the city’s largest business while taking an active part in politics for over 40 years.”

He served as:

Chairman of the Board of Governors of Norwich Grammar School.

An Alderman of Norwich.

City Sheriff (1862).

City Mayor (1867).

City Magistrate.

Liberal MP for Norwich from 1871-1895. (A close friend of Prime Minister William Gladstone).

Chairman of the Trustees of Norwich Municipal Charities,

A Deputy-Lieutenant for Norfolk (1880).

A teaching member of St Mary’s Baptist Chapel and Deacon.

A trustee of Norwich Museum. He also bequeathed a large collection of paintings to them.

And so the list goes on.

Few people did more to help the people of Norwich, Norfolk in so many different ways. JJ did much to help preserve historic buildings in the city, such as the Castle and Blackfriars and make sure they would remain open to the public

And when he investigated corruption and bribery in local government circles many decided to mend their ways…for fear of being unmasked by JJ.

He was one of the founders of the Eastern Daily Press and East Anglian Daily Times and his faith and finance underpinned the papers in their insolvent infancy.

It was old Jeremiah who was the man behind the launch of the former Norfolk News in 1845.

Caroline died in 1895, aged 64, and in the autumn of 1898 when Colman’s was employing more than 2,000 people and one of the 100 largest companies in the country, Jeremiah James died at his home near Lowestoft. He was 68.

It was a shock not just for the city and county but the whole country. His funeral was a major event with shops closing, mourners lining the streets to pay their respects from the Congregational Chapel in Princes Street to the Rosary Cemetery where crowds were watching from the slopes.

More than 1,200 Colman employers followed the cortege through the streets