What a tonic! The tale of how Wincarnis energised a nation

Life in the factory. Photo: David Clark

Life in the factory. Photo: David Clark - Credit: David Clark

Colemans of Norwich. Yes Colemans with an e, not Colmans the mustard people... this was the factory where they made a drink which kept millions of people across the world on their toes.

Wincarnis wine label. Wincarnis is made by Broadland Wineries at Cawston in Norfolk. Photo: Archant

Wincarnis wine label. Wincarnis is made by Broadland Wineries at Cawston in Norfolk. Photo: Archant Library - Credit: Archant Library

The tonic tipple which went by the name of Wincarnis.

There was a time when thousands of men and women worked in the Norwich food and drink industry. Apart from the big factories, such as Colmans and Caleys, there was a large collection of other manufacturers.

Five vinegar plants, nine biscuit makers, six baking powder makers and so many more. Norwich Hollow Biscuits were a treat.

It was in the 1870s when a clever man called William Juby Coleman, a manufacturing chemist from Bury St Edmunds, arrived in Norwich. He opened up a business in St George's Street and bought a restaurant on Bank Plain.

Wincarnis table tennis players line up for the camera. Photo: David Clark

Wincarnis table tennis players line up for the camera. Photo: David Clark

William was a great inventor, a man with real vision, and he came up with Coleman's Liebigs Extract of Meat and Malt Wine... but it was a name which failed to tempt people to buy it; so it became Wincarnis.

And how the people loved it.

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It was to provide strength and energy to those of a nervous disposition and cure a whole range of disabilities by building up the nerve forces.

Wincarnis was a winner and people across this country and across the world couldn't get enough of it.

Wincarnis staff at a leaving party. Picture: David Clark

Wincarnis staff at a leaving party. Picture: David Clark

As their adverts said: 'Wincarnis is the key to the enjoyment of life. It gives you a strong constitution, it is the food of the blood, that life-giving fluid which carries vitality and vicacity wherever it flowed.'

It was, without doubt, a tonic drink to cure all ills... well, some of them!

While it turned out to be a household name in more than 80 countries, Wincarnis also provided many Norwich men and women with work as the company expanded.

As the Coleman's grew, more and more products were being produced, William became the managing director of Coleman & Co Ltd., and new premises were built on Barn Road to allow more expansion.

Apart from Wincarnis, Coleman's also made Cocoa Wine, Crown Imperial Invalid Champagne, Old English Jelly, Vitacup, beef cubes, BVT – another health drink – and Odel toothpaste.

Oh, and razor blades.

Business was booming. William stepped down in 1911 and moved to Brundall where he died in 1918 but the company he formed went from strength to strength.

Then, along with many other factories, it was bombed during the Norwich Blitz of 1942 and it was said more than 15,000 gallons of wine was destroyed.

Coleman's moved to carry on its business in vacant premises on Prince of Wales Road until the war was over the new premises were built on Westwick Street.

New products came along such as Wincarnis Gold Label, the only drink of its kind made with Spanish wine especially shipped to Norwich, Red Label and sherry.

By the 1960s the company was employing almost 300 people with a sales force covering this country and agents in at least 60 countries worldwide.

Remember wine in boxes? Very trendy at the time. Well, much of it came out of the Norwich factory.

Various brands of toothpaste were produced. Odel, Punch and Judy, and then there was one called Gordon-Moores which was described as ruby-red, cosmetic toothpaste which made the teeth 'dazzling white.'

Ten years ago David Clark told me that when he was a teenager in the 1950s/early 60s, he worked in the advertising department and had to explain to the bosses the 'trendy' language used on Radio Luxembourg (Fab 208) because they had put an advert on the airwaves.

'The elderly directors had a tape recording of the DJ telling listener about this wonderful toothpaste which was described as a must for 'hip cats.'

'They needed me, as a modern teenager, to explain to what cats had to do with cleaning your teeth. It was my one moment of fame,' said David.

It was later taken over by another Norwich company and eventually it closed and although Wincarnis is not made in Norwich it is still available.

And the company which took it over? Colmans – the one without an e.

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