Alfred Bird

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For the baronet, see Sir Alfred Bird, 1st Baronet.
Alfred Bird
Born 1811 (1811)
Nympsfield, Gloucestershire, England
Died 15 December 1878(1878-12-15)
Kings Norton, Worcestershire, England
Resting place Key Hill Cemetery, Birmingham, England
Residence Birmingham, England
Nationality British
Known for Inventing egg-free custard and baking powder
Children Son: Alfred Frederick Bird

Alfred Bird (1811 – 15 December 1878) was an English food manufacturer and chemist. He was born in Nympsfield, Gloucestershire, England in 1811[1][2][3] and was the inventor of a series of food products. His father was a lecturer in astronomy at Eton College.[4] His son Alfred Frederick Bird continued to develop the business after his father's death.


Alfred Bird registered as a pharmacist in Birmingham in 1842, having served an apprenticeship to Phillip Harris of that city. He was a qualified chemist and druggist and went on to open an experimental chemist's shop in Bull Street.

Alfred Bird's first major invention was egg-free custard in 1837. Alfred Bird used cornflour instead of egg to create an imitation of egg custard. It was originally intended only for his wife Elizabeth who had both egg and yeast allergies. Only when the custard was accidentally[citation needed] fed to guests did Alfred Bird realise that his invention had a wider use. Soon afterwards Alfred Bird founded 'Alfred Bird and Sons Ltd', which would go on to become the famous Bird's Custard company and brand.

Bird was not content to revolutionise custard but went on to invent a baking powder in 1843 so he could make yeast-free bread for his wife. This formula for baking powder is essentially the same as used in modern baking powders.


Alfred Bird's Memorial at Key Hill Cemetery

Alfred Bird died on 15 December 1878 in Kings Norton, Worcestershire and is buried at Key Hill Cemetery in Birmingham. Famously his obituary in the journal of the Chemical Society (of which he was a fellow) discussed at length his skills and research but did not mention his other activity – the by then famous Bird's Custard. It read:[4]

Mr. ALFRED BIRD was born in 1811, his father, Mr. John Bird, being lecturer on astronomy at Eton College. In addition to practising as an analytical and consulting chemist at Birmingham, he devoted considerable attention to physics and meteorology. In the course of his investigations into the laws of sound, he constructed a beautiful set of harmonized glass bowls, extending over five octaves, which he used to play with much skill. In meteorology he devised a plan of demonstrating experimentally that the wind blows in circles. He also, in 1859, constructed a water barometer, a description of which is published in the Phil. Mag. for 1865, and which is still in perfect working order. With this he was fond of observing and showing to others the minute oscillations of the atmospheric pressure. He was well known for his originality and as the inventor of several useful appliances.

Personal life[edit]

His son, Alfred Frederick Bird, continued the work of his father. Bird junior went on to invent egg substitute powder in 1890, blancmange powder and jelly powder.

"The Custard Factory" in Digbeth, Birmingham, is now a centre providing space to artists.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ 1851 England Census Class: HO107; Piece: 2049; Folio: 84; Page: 1; GSU roll: 87459
  2. ^ 1861 England Census Class: RG9; Piece: 2143; Folio: 60; Page: 24; GSU roll: 542924
  3. ^ Baptised 25 August 1811 in Nympsfield, Gloucester, England. Parents John and Mary. International Genealogical Index batch C030651; source call no. 0425482; Printout call no. 6911781
  4. ^ a b Gladstone (1879). "Anniversary meeting, March 31st, 1879". Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions. 35. doi:10.1039/ct8793500257.