Peek Freans

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Peek Freans
Named after Founders
Successor UK/Europe: United Biscuits
North America: Mondelēz International
Other global: various
Formation 1857
Founder James Peek & George Frean
Founded at Mill Street, Bermondsey, London, England
Extinction 26 May 1989; 26 years ago (1989-05-26)
Type Public company
Legal status Defunct, brands merged
Headquarters Clements Road, Bermondsey, London
Products Biscuits including Garibaldi
Key people
James Peek, George Frean, James Carr, Francis Hedley Peek
Advertisement by Thomas Benjamin Kennington (1891)
Old tin box by Peek, Frean & Co
Pecan Passion cookies by Peek Freans
Former Peek Freans biscuit factory in Ashfield, New South Wales (2009)
The World War I memorial in Rotherhithe, SE16, greatly financed by Peek Frean and erected in 1921

Peek Freans is the name of a former biscuit making company based in Bermondsey, London, which is now a global brand of biscuits and related confectionery owned by various food businesses. Owned but not marketed in the UK/Europe by United Biscuits, in the United States and Canada the brand is owned by Mondelēz International, whilst in Pakistan the brand is owned by English Biscuit Manufacturers.


James Peek (1800–1879) was one of three brothers born in Dodbrooke, Devon to a local well-off family.[1] In 1821 the three brothers founded a tea importation company, established as Peek Brothers and Co in the East End of London.[1] By the 1840s, the company was importing £5M of tea per annum.[1]

In 1824, James married Elizabeth Masters (1799–1867), and the couple had eight children.[1] By 1857, two of his late-teenage sons had already announced that they were not going to join the family tea import business, but James wanted them in a related complementary trade, and so proposed to start a biscuit business. However, after founding the business, the two sons quickly decided on a different course (one died in his early 20's, the other emigrated to North America), and so James needed someone to run the biscuit business. One of his nieces, Hannah Peek had recently married miller and ship biscuit maker George Hender Frean in Devon, and so James wrote to George asking him to manage the new biscuit business.[1]


The partners registered their business in 1857 as Peek, Frean & Co. Ltd, based in a disused sugar refinery on Mill Street in Dockhead, East London,[1] in the west of Bermondsey.[1] With a quickly expanding business, in 1860 Peek engaged his friend James Carr, the apprenticed son of noted Carlisle-based Scottish milling and biscuit making family, Carr's.[1]

From 1861, the company started exporting biscuits to Australia,[1] but outgrew their premises from 1870 after agreeing to fulfil an order from the French Army for 460 long tons (470 t) of biscuits for the ration packs supplied to soldiers fighting the Franco-Prussian War.[1] After hostilities ended, the French Government ordered a further 16,000 long tons (16,000 t)/11million sweet Pearl biscuits in celebration of the end of the Siege of Paris, and further flour supplies for Paris in 1871 and 1872, with financing undertaken by their bankers the Rothschilds.[1] The consequential consumer demands of emigrating French expatriate soldiers, allowed the company to start exporting directly to Ontario, Canada from the mid-1870s.[1]

Biscuit Town[edit]

In 1865 Peek agreed with Carr that the business needed bigger premises. In exchange for a stake in the business, Carr gave the company 10 acres (4.0 ha) of market gardens he had recently bought on Clements Road/Drummond Road, Bermondsey.[1] Commissioning a new integrated factory, its resultant scale and sweet-emanating smell resulted in Bermondsey gaining the nickname "Biscuit Town".[1][2][3] The opening of the factory coincided in 1866 with James Peek stepping-down from the business, installing his son-in-law Thomas Stone in his place.[1] On 23 April 1873 the old Dockhead factory burnt down in a spectacular fire,[1] which even brought the Prince of Wales out on a London Fire Brigade horse-drawn water pump to view the resulting explosions.[1]

James Peek died aged 79 at his home in Watcome near Torquay, Devon.[1] After George's son James Frean retired in 1887, his family had nothing more to do with running the business. Peek's nephew Francis Hedley Peek became the first chairman of the now publicly listed company in 1901, but on his death in 1904 again the Peek family had nothing more to do with managing the business. James Carr's family however remained actively associated with the business for several more generations.[1]

In 1906, the Peek, Frean and Co. factory in Bermondsey was the subject of one of the earliest documentary films shot by Cricks and Sharp.[4] This was in part to celebrate an expansion of the companies cake business, which later made the wedding cakes for both Queen Elizabeth II and the Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer. In 1949, when James Carr's relative Rupert Carr established a new biscuit factory in York, he returned the compliment by naming the new street on which it stood "Bermondsey Road".[1]

In 1924, the company established their first factory outside the UK, in Dum Dum, India.[1] In 1949 they establishment their first bakery in Canada, located on Bermondsey Road in East York, Ontario, which still today produces Peek Freans branded products..

After 126 years, the London factory was closed by then owner BSN on Wednesday 26 May 1989.[1] Left derelict for a long period, the former premises were eventually redeveloped into what today is called the Tower Bridge Business Complex.[1] In late 2011, a tinned Christmas pudding was discovered at the back of a kitchen cupboard in Poole, Dorset. Donated to the museum at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, it was a "Peek, Frean & Co's Teetotal Plum Pudding—London, High Class Ingredients Only" from the 1900s. It was one of a thousand puddings sent on behalf of Agnes "Aggie" Weston, superintendent of the Royal Naval Temperance Society – hence its recipe being teetotal),[citation needed] (alcohol-free) – to British troops during the Boer War.


From the outset of its establishment, the company produced what were then the established form of biscuits in the Commonwealth countries, a hard, square, pin-pricked (known as "docker-holes", introduced by the baker to stop the biscuit expanding like a bread) dry style, suitable for storage on ships in passage due to its longevity.[1] However, Carr brought his knowledge of both the Scottish cake-like tradition (ie: shortbread), and experience during his apprenticeship of Dutch sweet and soft cookies. With James Peek still viewing the business as a complementary and co-marketing opportunity to the families tea company, they began introducing sweetened product lines:[1]

  • 1861: sweet fruit-filled biscuit, the Garibaldi, named after Italian general Giuseppe Garibaldi who toured the UK in 1854.[5]
  • 1865: a soft biscuit, the "Pearl". This was the first soft-biscuit introduced by a UK-based manufacturer
  • 1875: the "Marie", an Anglicised version of the Galletas Marías
  • 1899: the first chocolate covered sweet Digestive biscuit, marketed as the "Chocolate Table"
  • 1902: "Pat-a-Cake" shortbread
  • 1909: the "Golden Puff"
  • 1910: a biscuit with crème filling, launched as the "Creola", now known as the Bourbon biscuit
  • 1912: the "Shortcake"
  • 1923: the "Glaxo"
  • 1930s: Cheeselets and Twiglets introduced, with the latter developed in Canada

Like many good employers of the Victorian age, the company developed an enlightened matriarch-like approach, giving many innovative benefits to its employees.[1] At its Biscuit Town factory, much like a mini-town, as well as having: an on-site Bank, Post Office and Fire station; employees and their families had free-to-use access to on-site medical, dental and optical services.[1] The original contracted hours were 68 across a Monday-Saturday double-shift pattern, but these were reduced from 1868 without a reduction in pay, noted as highly beneficial by Henry Mayhew.[1] The directors wanted to ensure that the workers didn't indulge in "virtuous pursuits", and so formed the first of the company paid-for societies, included: a cricket club (1868); musical society (1907); and athletic and dramatic societies (both 1908).[1] Post-World War I, the company set up a tribunal, through which workers could freely express and debate their concerns. This resulted in the company gave its employees a pension plan, plus a week's paid holiday per year.[1]

Associated Biscuit Manufacturers[edit]

In 1921, Peek Frean entered into an amalgamation agreement with rival biscuit firm Huntley and Palmers, resulting in the creation of a holding company, Associated Biscuit Manufacturers Ltd (ABM).[1] However, both biscuit firms retained their own brands and premises. Jacob's joined the conglomerate from 1961. Resultantly "English Biscuit Manufacturers" (EBM) was established in Pakistan as a local joint-venture production company from 1965, which still owns the various brand rights in the country.[6]

During the course of its life, the firm's brand name changed from Peek, Frean and Co. to Peek Frean (in the early twentieth century) and then to Peek Freans (by the 1970s, the name having been used in the possessive case on products for many years).


The company was broken apart from 1982, after Nabisco bought ABM. In 1985, Nabisco was acquired by the foods division of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, resulting in the creation of conglomerate RJR Nabisco. After RJR Nabisco was bought in a famous leveraged buyout by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, to pay down the resultant debt pile, various assets were sold off. This included dividing the former Peek Freans company; the North America division was sold to Kraft Foods, the European mainly-UK division was sold to the European food conglomerate BSN (now known as Groupe Danone), and many of the international subsidiaries were sold off locally to in-country investors, e.g. EBM. As part of its cost cutting, BSN ended use and marketing of the brand in the UK, which allowed it to shut the factory in Bermondsey. In September 2004 United Biscuits bought what was by then known as the Jacob's Biscuit Group for £240M from Groupe Danone.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

In the British TV comedy The Young Ones, Series 2, Episode 1, "Bambi" (1984), Alexei Sayle announces "It's quite interesting, you know, the number of biscuits that are named after revolutionaries. You've got your Garibaldi, of course, you've got your Bourbons, then of course you've got your Peek Frean's Trotsky Assortment."

On the American TV drama Scorpion, Season 1, Episode 7, "Father's Day" (2014), Agent Cabe Gallo (Robert Patrick) mentions the biscuits. His subordinates, too young to be familiar with the snack, are puzzled by his reference to the commercial tag line (USA, 1980s): "A very serious cookie".

Peter Gabriel sings 'Peek Frean's Family Assorted...' during the fade out to Aisle of Plenty, the final track on 1973 Genesis LP 'Selling England By The Pound'.

They are also mentioned as a favourite of Dr Walter Bishop in several episodes of the cult sci-fi show Fringe.

In the 2015 television dramatisation on Danny Baker's memoirs "Cradle to Grave", Danny's mother Bet is shown working at the Peek Frean's biscuit factory.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae Geoff Marshall (1 May 2013). London's Industrial Heritage. The History Press. ISBN 9780752487281. 
  2. ^ "Peek Frean's Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey, London". Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "Biscuit Factory Makes 'Comeback'". BBC News. 8 February 2005. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  4. ^ "A Visit to Peek Frean and Co.'s Biscuit Works". Cricks and Sharp. 1906. Retrieved November 19, 2012. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ English Biscuit Manufacturers
  7. ^ "Danone sells its UK biscuits to United". The Independent. 24 July 2004. Retrieved 12 April 2007. [dead link]

External links[edit]