Birmingham Industry

Cadbury – Bournville

Cadbury's - Bournville, viewed from the Cross City Line

Cadbury - Bournville, viewed from the Cross City Line

Amongst the doom and gloom that is usually associated with Birmingham’s ever-shrinking industry it is nice, for once, to report a success story and there are currently none better than that of Cadburys.

Beginning in a small shop in Bull Street in 1824, John Cadbury’s fledgling business began to rapidly expand and by 1847 brother Benjamin had been taken into partnership and larger premises sough in Bridge Street. In 1860 the business was passed to John’s sons, Richard and George, who built the business and sought new premises, settling on a greenfield site near Stirchley in South Birmingham at which they set about building a new factory in 1879.

The combination of a healthy rural environment, the Midland Railway, the Worcester & Birmingham Canal and fresh water coupled with a large undeveloped plot of land, made this the ideal spot for the rapidly expanding business. In addition to the factory, the Cadbury’s were philanthropic Quakers who believed in caring for their workers – although more cynical revisionist histories suggest other reasons for their endeavour – and constructed the 330+ acre village of Bournville around the works with large, good quality housing with gardens, swimming baths, a library and a whole host of other facilities (and educational and health-related schemes), many of which remain today!

The works developed its own internal railway, with locos, that linked with the Midland Railway’s Birmingham West Suburban Line and also crossed the line to reach their Waterside Wharf on the Worcester & Birmingham canal. Prior to the railway connection, horse-drawn carts had to traipse a mile and a half away to Lifford transshipment wharf near Kings Norton to avail the company of the rail network.

Like many of the region’s companies, Cadbury’s has been involved in numerous mergers and acquisitions of other companies. The difference appears to be the business acumen displayed through the majority of business dealings: the absorption of Typhoo, Frys, Schweppes, Trebor-Bassett and many, many more over the years has served to strengthen the company and enable movement into other markets, most of which they have exploited successfully.

At last, a Birmingham success story! They have traded longer than most of the companies in the region and have outlasted many of them – it was ‘alleged’ that a desperate call from Rover’s Personnel Dept several weeks before their ‘sudden’ closure asking if they had vacancies for ‘a considerable number’ of electrician apprentices, however, fell on deaf ears!


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