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Huntley & Palmers introduced better working conditions
By Emma Midgley
BBC Berkshire reporter

George Palmer
George Palmer established Huntley and Palmers in 1822.

For many who live in Reading, the biscuit manufacturer Huntley & Palmers is a household name.

The Museum of Reading displays 1,500 biscuit tins made by the Quaker company, which at the height of its powers was trading in 137 countries.

Palmer Park and many of the town centre's buildings are visual reminders of the company in Reading.

Quakers began trading in confectionary, chocolate and biscuits in Victorian times.

Barred from entering established professions such as law due their faith, many started successful businesses.

Huntley & Palmers was founded in 1822 and, during the next 150 years, came to be "The Most Famous Biscuit Company in the World."

As global trade and travel expanded during the industrial revolution and Britain developed the largest Empire the world had ever known, so did this famous company grow, until it became world-renowned for being "Number One in Biscuits and Second-to-None in Cakes."

Reading became known as 'Biscuit Town'.

Quaker Mafia

Paul Kingston, a Quaker Elder from Reading Quaker Meeting, told BBC Radio Berkshire's Phil Kennedy that he thought the secret was to the success of Quaker businesses was a 'Quaker Mafia', which sprang up in this period.

Quakers tended to marry other Quakers, creating a big network of businessmen from the same faith, including such household names as Barclays, Lloyds, Cadbury and Rowntree's.

"In the 18th and 19th Century, you could well have felt if you were a businessman at the time, the Quaker mafia, how do we manage against that lot?" said Paul.

Crowds view a replica of Queen Elizabeth's wedding cake at Huntley & Palmers in Reading.

"Most Quakers married other Quakers, so there was a great big network of Quakers, so if you were starting out in business, why not ask Mr Lloyd for a loan or Mr Barclay.

"If you were Mr Huntley of Huntley & Palmers and you thought you had a big opportunity to sell your biscuits rather wider than just in Reading, why wouldn't you turn to the Quakers who made tin boxes and get into business with them.

"Of course the tin boxes became rather more famous than the biscuits, and Huntley and Palmer biscuits went all around the world, made by another Quaker firm in Reading."

Enlightened employers

Quakers also gained favour with consumers due to their ethical business practises, founded on Quaker principles such as truth telling, simplicity and fair pricing.

Michael Williams, Museum Manager at Reading Museum and an expert in the history of Huntley & Palmers in Reading said that the biscuit manufacturers were enlightened employers, informed by their Quaker beliefs.

He said: "There were three partners involved in the company: George Palmer and his two brothers Samuel and William Isaac Palmer.

"William Isaac was a leader of the temperance movement in Reading. He campaigned to set up a temperance society called the Help Myself society in Reading.

"He even set up a special temperance hall, the side of which is next to the Primark in West Street in Reading.

"It's a very fine building that was originally called the Palmer Memorial Hall after William. They probably would have taught their workers not to drink.

"Part of the Quaker philosophy, this fairness, this making sure you did right by people, their Christian beliefs came through in their work, so if you worked at Huntley & Palmers, particularly in the 19th Century before the the welfare state, before national insurance, it was a great place to work.

"If you were at an other company and you went sick, you didn't get paid, if you had a large family you could starve or end up in the workhouse.

"But at Huntley & Palmers they had a sick fund, and you would get paid even if you were sick you would get paid, which was very enlightened for that period. They were such a paternalistic employer."

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