Colman's Connections:The War Years 1914-1918

Colman’s Mustard has been based in Norfolk ever since Jeremiah Colman started his mustard and flour business in 1814 in Stoke Holy Cross, just 4 miles south of Norwich. In 1858, Jeremiah Colman’s great-nephew Jeremiah James Colman established the production factory in Norwich which still exists there today.

Colman's Connections is Norwich HEART's exciting community research project, which has received £37,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and is helping the city's residents to become Colman's Detectives. The Colman's Connections project focuses on the history of Norwich's mustard workers during the First World War, revealing engaging real-life stories about the firm's employees and how their lives were changed by the conflict.

1912-10-01 10:13:53

Colman's Horses

The Challenging Times for Colmans and the Works Horses

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Connections with the front

The community at Colman’s kept in touch with and supported their families, fellow workers and friends at the front through letters and parcels. These connections to home were a vital reassurance for soldiers, undoubtedly providing emotional comfort to those in service. A great deal of Colman’s Mustard was sent to men on the front. A letter from Mr. D. Hotson Palmer states that ‘the Germans don’t want Colman’s Mustard, as they have seen enough of the tins it comes over in. There are thousands of Mustard tins used for hand grenades.’ The medicinal properties of mustard were also promoted to soldiers returning from the front lines, claiming that a mustard bath would ‘soak out the grime of the trenches’.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Workers at War

Between 1914 and 1918, a total of 921 Colman’s employees joined the services, initially through the volunteer recruitment drives, and later by conscription. Colman’s supported its employees who had volunteered to join up, paying a weekly allowance to families of those participating in active service - 5 shillings a week plus an extra 1 shilling per child. By 31 March 1919, Colman’s had paid out a total of £47,394. The firm also promised returning employees a paid position; creating a small level of job security in deeply uncertain times. Those who had had not volunteered by December 1915, but were later conscripted, did not receive any of these benefits. Discharged soldiers had to undergo a thorough medical examination by the works doctor before being allowed to return to work. Many note that the employee had no wounds, no illness, and was fit for employment. Others were more telling, with incidents of shell shock, malaria, gas poisoning, trench foot, wounds, hernias and amputations.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Carrow Works: A Company Magazine

Like many industrial employers at the time, Colman’s produced a quarterly magazine for its workers called Carrow Works Magazine. Conceived as a means of maintaining communication with the workforce, the first edition of Carrow Works Magazine was published in October 1907. Costing one penny, it was published quarterly in October, January, April and July.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Carrow a changing factory.

The war was a huge challenge for the factory at Carrow. Significant numbers of employees had enlisted, and there were shortages in materials and land. All of these challenges had to be faced, alongside other obstacles such as the threat of Zeppelin airship raids and the subsequent lighting restrictions which shortened hours for production and transport.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Life on the home front

Life at home changed dramatically during the war years. There was the very real threat of bombardment on home soil which, together with shortages of food, affected all. The men who joined up were not from a regular army - they left behind occupations that still needed to be fulfilled, and many women for the first time worked in roles that had previously been the domain of men.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Do Your Bit: The War Effort at Home

During the war, everyone was expected to ‘do their bit’ to help the war effort, whether through fundraising, donating items or volunteering time.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

The Colman’s Community: From Cradle to Grave

Influenced by their strong nonconformist Christian values, the Colman family are remembered for their pioneering achievements in social welfare. Colman’s set up a system of nurseries, schools, medical care, housing and pensions for their workers, supporting them from cradle to grave.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Colman's: On the verge of war

The early 20th century saw rapid industrial, economic and social change across Europe. Before the First World War, industry in Britain was facing growing competition from the United States of America and Germany, economic growth had slowed and there had been much industrial unrest. However, despite the situation elsewhere, Colman’s was a flourishing company, its factory at Carrow growing into a large industrial complex. The pioneering philanthropic practices at the firm attracted high quality staff and good managers.

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Colman’s in Conflict: World War I

1914 witnessed worldwide social upheaval, as individuals adapted to the onslaught of World War I. The Colman family, the factory and its employees were no exception to the challenges that came in its wake.

1914-04-11 13:56:12

John Henry Warnes: from Mustard Miller to Stretcher Bearer

John Henry Warnes was born in the summer of 1893 to William and Lydia Warnes, who lived in Lindley Street, Lakenham. He was the third child of a family of five children. The whole family were very much involved with Colman’s, and the 1911 census tells us that five of the family of seven were actually employed by the firm. William Warnes, John’s father, was employed as a night watchman at the Mustard Mill, a role that was to become increasingly important during the war years. Other members of the family working at Colman’s in 1911 were John’s elder sisters Charlotte and Alice, who were employed as Seed Pickers. John and his brother George were Mustard Millers. Before the war, as a young man John joined the Territorial Army, so when war broke out in 1914, he volunteered for active service and was enlisted in the East Anglian Ambulance Corps, which was part of the Royal Medical Army Corps. He saw service in the Far East and Jerusalem before returning at the end of the war. He was fortunate not to suffer any wounds. He was awarded the following service medals: Star Medal 1914- 1915 The Victory Medal The British War Medal These were often awarded together and were fondly known as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred. After the war, John returned to work at Colman’s. Colman’s had promised that all those who volunteered would be welcomed back and found employment with the company. In March 1920, John married his sweetheart Kate Eliza Lovick, whom he had written to throughout the war. They went on to have three daughters, Eileen, Ivy and Olive, and the family lived at Winkle Row, which is just off Carrow Hill, opposite the factory. Olive, who was born in 1928, also worked at Colman’s in the canteen, opposite where she lived. John lived in Lakenham all his life, and had an allotment at Cricket Ground Road. The allotment was owned by Colman’s, who owned much of the land and properties in Lakenham at that time. John worked as a night watchman responsible for security and fire safety, and his patrol of the site took three hours. He was subsequently awarded British Fire Service Medals for his service during both the First World War and Second World War. John was a loyal employee and continued to work at Colman’s until his retirement in about 1958. He passed away in 1969.

1914-06-01 00:00:00

Notable Colman's Staff - Dix Family

The Dix Family

1914-07-01 00:00:00

Notable Colman's Staff - Harrison Family

The Harrison Family

1914-07-01 10:13:53

Clubs Care & Coffins - Savings Club

Colman's Savings Club

1914-07-18 00:00:00

Employees at Colmans during World War 1

Pre War Staffing at Colman's

1914-07-28 08:39:40

Sandbags for the trenches

Colman’s workers found other ways to help soldiers at the front, giving up their dinner hours to make sandbags for use in the trenches in France. Women also helped in other practical ways by knitting socks and making garments for the men on active service. One grateful recipient sent a letter thanking the person who had sown a pair of mittens, writing that...

1914-07-29 23:07:34

Carrow School

Children were particularly affected as their home life became disrupted through absent parents and the deaths of family and friends. In school, children learned about the battles that were being fought, and the new technology used. Geoffrey Barrett, aged 10 in 1916, was a pupil at Carrow School. His exercise book is held at the Norfolk Record Office and gives a unique insight into children’s education a hundred years ago. The words regiment, squadron, hospital and exhaustion appear in his spelling test, revealing how the war was felt in even the most commonplace activities.

1914-07-29 23:07:34

Family on the home front

The loss of so many young men had a profound impact on the tight-knit communities who worked at the factory. In Trowse, most of the village’s residents worked at Colman’s, which often employed many generations of the same family, such as the Fox family of 11 School Terrace. In 1917, William Fox had worked in the gardens at Carrow for over twenty years and had five sons. Tragically two of his sons were killed in France, their names appearing on the memorial at Trowse. A third son was discharged from the Army after being gravely wounded, and a fourth son was serving in India. The fifth was at that time still employed in the Mustard Mill.

1914-08-01 23:07:34

A Changing Workforce

With so many men enlisting for the war, Colman’s began employing women in traditionally male roles to cover the shortfall, stating that 'female labour [was] only introduced in the department since the war began owing to the scarcity of male workers'.

1914-08-01 23:07:34

War horses

In the early twentieth century, horsepower was the main method of hauling goods around Carrow Works. In 1908, there were thirty-eight horses, mostly Suffolk Punches or Norfolk Shires. Animal welfare was a priority at Colman’s. All horses had to be well fed and groomed, and their harnesses removed during the lunch break. They spent summer evenings in the meadows around the works and weekends at Whitlingham. In 1914 there was a massive shortfall of horses in the military and many of Carrow’s horses were taken for service, though some were not so keen to go. Two of the horses, commandeered by the Army in 1914, escaped whilst being loaded onto wagons. They galloped back to Carrow but they were collected the following morning!

1914-08-04 21:21:43

Carrow Works Magazine

The origins of the Carrow Works magazine can be traced back as far as the late 19th Century when Caroline Colman introduced the Carrow Works Almanac, given to every employee at Christmastime. Caroline chose the picture that appeared annually and her input also included verses of poetry, prose extracts and practical tips relating to food and hygiene. The almanac also detailed the classes, clubs and various other agencies carried on at Carrow. October 1907 saw the first edition of Carrow Works Magazine. Like the almanac before it, the Magazine contained editorial items, information regarding the various clubs and societies at Carrow, household hints, puzzles, birth, marriage and death announcements, extracts from literature and Young Carrow for the children of the workers. The tome, costing 1 penny was published quarterly in October, January, April and July each year. The cover, with its Art Nouveau styling, implied a magazine of cultural worth. The merit of Carrow Works was further boosted by a letter from Buckingham Palace, reproduced in the second issue, stating that the Queen (Alexandria) was ‘looking forward with much interest to perusing the first issue of the Carrow Works’ Magazine.’ The ethos of the magazine was envisaged thus; - ‘We desire that our columns should not only prove interesting and entertaining, but that they should also tend to elevate and instruct. Further that articles dealing with ‘Religion and Philanthropic work, Science, Art, Music, Photography, Gardening, Holiday Trips, Sports and Pastimes, and a number of kindred subjects will from time to time be inserted.’ The aim was to be both ‘recreative and educational in character.’ These types of periodicals were not unusual in large organisations; railway companies for example, produced similar magazines during this period. The editor from the magazine’s inception and throughout the war period was Francis Ruben Widdows. A professional man, he had been elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society in 1908. Previously, in 1892, he had become a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. This was around the same time that Norwich Technical School was opened. As well as his day-to-day work for Colman’s Widdows prepared the plans of the engineering workshops for the school, as well as attending to all the surveying needs required. Additionally he supervised all the engineering and other manual classes at the Technical School. Mr Wild, Deputy Mayor of Norwich at the time stated ‘it must be thoroughly understood that technical education was not in existence for the purpose of teaching trades. ’ This, along with the paternalistic attitude of Colman’s as a company, in some way may explain the educational intent of the Carrow Works Magazine. Today the buildings of Norwich Technical School are the home of Norwich University of the Arts. The Technical School became Norwich City College moving to the Ipswich Road site in 1941. Francis Widdows had joined Colman’s in 1877 as a draughtsman in the Building Department remaining there until his retirement due to ill-health in 1910. However, the gift of an invalid chair from the Colman’s staff enabled him to carry on in his editorial role of the magazine. He was particularly proud of his ‘By the Way’ feature which often contained journalistic oddities. Aged 62 at the beginning of the war he was a product of an earlier age and that may in some way explain the tone of the magazine, specifically in regards to class and gender. It is worth bearing in mind that Widdows was a member of the ‘staff’ and that the magazine would necessarily promote the Colman’s ideal. He was not without his humour though, which is visible throughout the publication and when he finally retired from his editorial role in 1924 due to continued ill-health he said ‘my health is all right but my joints are all wrong.’ Unlike the editor the Magazine’s official photographer changed regularly during the hostilities. These were younger men and subject to the call-up of war. They all combined their roles as clerks alongside their photographic duties. The first, Lewis Spencer Palmer, a member of the Office Staff at Carrow was an early volunteer, he served several months in France and returned to England after being badly wounded in the left leg, he received a commission to Second-Lieutenant in 1917. Palmer had been replaced in January 1915 by Cecil Randolph Corsbie. The following January when conscription was introduced he too was ‘called to the colours’. His replacement, Clement W. Hartt, also only lasted a year in the role, being called up in January 1917. Perhaps noticing a pattern the next Photographic Editor John Innes was older, aged 52 when he was appointed. He remained in place throughout the rest of the war until his until untimely death, aged 59, after falling while onto rocks while on holiday in Cornwall in 1924. Innes had previously worked at Cannon Street joining Colman’s in 1880, transferring to Carrow in 1907.

1914-08-08 21:21:43

Colman's Horses

The Story of the workhorses of the Carrow Works.

1914-08-11 23:07:34

A call to arms: Carrow responds to Kitchener’s call

Field Marshal Kitchener was made the Secretary of State for War shortly after it was declared on 4 August 1914. On 11 August his call to arms, ‘Your King and Country Need You’, was published. Recruitment drives followed throughout the country, including at Carrow.

1914-08-18 00:00:00

Notable Colman's Staff - Herbert Dakin

Herbert Dakin- the Clock Man

1914-08-18 11:47:54

Workers at the Beginning of the War

How did the Workers Cope financially during the War?

1914-09-01 23:07:34

Parcels from home

Many parcels were sent out to the front throughout the war by Colman’s workers, including practical items such as clean shirts and vests, and Boric acid ointment for the treatment of wounds. The parcels also contained items to provide comfort, and remind soldiers of home, for example copies of local newspapers, a new testament, and a motto card. This contact from home helped keep the connection with the men of Norwich and Colman’s whilst they were at the front. A letter from Colman’s employee Ernest Nichols, written just days before his death stated that ‘There is not a day goes by that I do not think about the good old Firm[…] although not with you in body, I am with you in mind and thought’.

1914-10-01 03:30:45

Carrow Works Magazine Onset of war

by Helen Evans

1914-10-01 23:07:34

Wounded Soldiers And Military Hospitals

Wounded soldiers became a common feature of life in Norwich, and Colman’s workers were quick to offer their support, many volunteering with the Red Cross, or helping at local hospitals. Serious casualties were treated at the military hospitals, supplemented by a network of Auxiliary Red Cross Military Hospitals in village halls, public buildings, and large private residences. Colman’s offered premises at Bracondale Woods for an Auxiliary Hospital and made the grounds of their estate at Crown Point available for those convalescing.

1914-10-23 23:07:34

Businessman's Battalion

As a tide of patriotism swept the country, many Colman’s employees joined the Armed Forces in response to the call to arms. Four active directors joined the services, together with those employees who had joined the Carrow Works Territorial Field Artillery when it was formed in 1912 and those volunteering for Kitchener’s ‘New Army’. Many of the workers joined the 8th Norfolk’s (Service) Battalion, which had the nickname ‘Businessman’s Battalion’ due to the large number of shopkeepers and workers from the county which made up its number.

1914-10-23 23:07:34

Clubs, Care and Coffins

With a workforce of around 3,000, Colman’s was a community in itself. Workers were able to enjoy a thriving programme of social and sporting activities based at the Carrow Club House and grounds. On Sundays, the First Day Schools were held, and on other days activities including billiards, skittles, draughts, football, and gymnastics. For women and girls, there were classes in cookery, sewing, dancing and gymnastics. T he Colman family also encouraged their workers to 'help themselves' clubs dedicated to good works, thrift and money saving, such as a clothing club, savings bank, coal club, and a pension scheme, one of the first of its kind. Colman’s were pioneers in providing employee healthcare. Workers received free medical advice and medication, as well as health insurance and access to a doctor. Colman’s even arranged and paid for the coffins of deceased staff, with an intricate or plain coffin depending on their position within the company!

1914-11-01 10:13:53

Colman's Horses during the War

Life got more challenging during the war years for man and beast.

1914-12-01 00:00:00

Charity Events

In December 1914, it was decided to donate gifts to the 250,000 Belgian refugees who had come to England after Germany’s invasion. Collections were held for these refugees at Carrow Works, with clothes, toys and money to buy boots. The Sunday School children did their bit too, raising money for war orphans in Serbia. An egg collection held in April 1918 saw 400 eggs accumulated for future winter use and for the wounded soldiers in the hospitals of the district.

1914-12-25 23:07:34

Christmas time

Early in the war, efforts were made to provide comfort and normality to those children whose fathers had joined up. In 1914, Mrs Colman invited them to ‘Tea and Christmas Tree Entertainment’ at the school. However, by 1915 the war had become firmly enmeshed in everyday life:

1915-01-01 22:19:36

Female Workers

Colman’s had always employed women, but their roles tended to be confined to box-making or packing. In August 1914, none of the 615 female staff employed by the company worked in the office. By the war’s end, fifty-seven women and girls were classed as clerical staff. However, extracts from Carrow Works Magazine reveal that some found it hard to adapt to these dramatic changes. This extract appeared in the magazine’s October 1916 edition. DEPENDS ON HOW YOU LOOK AT IT “Here is an anagram describing something women should know how to use” said the puzzle giver. “It is O-T-S-V-E.” “I know,” said the suffragette happily. “It is VOTES.” “No,” growled the anti; “it is STOVE.” After the war, men returned to their usual employment. Whilst some women remained in previously male-dominated areas, others returned to their traditional roles as starch and mustard packers.

1915-01-13 23:07:34

Carrow School

Decades before education became compulsory for children in England, Colman’s set up schools for their employees’ children. However, by 1914, the school on Carrow Hill had become too small, and there were plans to move it to new premises on City Road. With the outbreak of the war, the new school building was requisitioned for use as the Lakenham Military Hospital. It wasn’t until 1919 that the school finally moved to its new location. The official opening ceremony took place on Armistice Day with members of the Colman family present.

1915-02-01 00:00:00

Buckingham Palace letter

The cover, with its Art Nouveau styling, implied a magazine of cultural worth. This was further boosted by a letter from Buckingham Palace, reproduced in the second issue, stating that Queen Alexandra was ‘looking forward with much interest to perusing the first issue of the Carrow Works Magazine’.

1915-03-01 00:00:00

Employees at Colmans during World War 1

Employee Changes at the Beginning of the War

1915-04-01 22:25:13

Food and comforts

Carrow workers also maintained a constant supply of food and ‘comforts’ for recovering soldiers, through weekly collections. The women of the Starch Packing and Paper Box Departments decided that something non-perishable ought to accompany food items, and a gramophone was dispatched to Lakenham Military Hospital together with a supply of records.

1915-05-01 23:07:34


By May 1915, demand from the front started to outstrip supply of volunteers, and men were encouraged to voluntarily register, on the understanding that they would only be called up when absolutely necessary. However, even this was not enough to counter the casualties suffered on the battlefield. By January 1916, conscription for single men between eighteen and forty-one was introduced. The following article appeared in Carrow Works Magazine in January 1916, the month that conscription was introduced. Seemingly an article about Santa finding his way in the blackout, it also reveals attitudes towards those who had not yet volunteered to fight.

1915-06-01 17:51:40

A Family Business

As a family firm, Colman’s often employed many generations from one family. An example is the Dix family. William Senior served forty years, and was one of the first carpenters employed by Colman’s. His son Charles followed, working for Colman’s for sixty years. Grandson William Dix served for fifty-five years and was manager of the Mustard Mill during the period of the First World War. Great-grandson Charles W. Dix managed the Mustard department and retired in 1943 after forty-five years’ service. There were so many of the Dix family at Colman’s that they had their own cricket team!

1915-07-01 10:13:53

Clubs Care & Coffins - Clothing Club

Colman's Clothing Club

1915-09-01 23:07:34

Norwich in Darkness: Lighting Restrictions

The first air raids in Britain took place in January 1915, when Zeppelins attacked King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth. Lighting restrictions and blackouts were imposed as a result, hampering production at the factory. Long before the working day finished, the yard was in complete darkness, especially during winter, making movement of trucks and goods difficult. In response to the lighting restrictions, revised working hours were introduced and a special corps of Night Watchers was formed to meet any emergency that might arise.

1915-10-01 10:13:53

Clubs, Care & Coffins - Pension Scheme

Colman's Pension Scheme

1915-10-01 11:00:00

War Horse Poem

The October 1915 Carrow Works Magazine printed a poem sent by sent by Bombardier Fenton, 39th Battalion, R.F.A.

1915-10-01 23:07:34

Francis Ruben Widdows

Early issues of the magazine contained paternalistic messages, so that the magazine ’should not only prove interesting and entertaining, but […] should also tend to elevate and instruct’. The first editor was Francis Ruben Widdows, who had joined Colman’s in 1877 as a draughtsman. Although Francis Widdows retired from work due to ill health in 1910, the gift of an invalid chair from the staff enabled him to carry on his editorial role for the magazine. Aged 62 at the beginning of the war, he was a product of an earlier age which may explain the tone of the magazine, specifically with regards to morals, class and gender. He was not without humour though, which is visible throughout the publication. When he finally left the magazine in 1924 he remarked, ‘my health is all right but my joints are all wrong.’

1915-11-09 10:22:24

Edwin Batterbee Southwell: The first non-family director of Colman’s 60 Bracondale

Edwin B. Southwell was born in Wisbech in 1855. He first joined Carrow Works in 1875 and worked in many different departments. Well-educated, hardworking and conscientious with a great interest in mathematics, he was made a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge as a result of a paper published by the Royal Society. After twenty-three years, he was promoted to first assistant manager, and in 1901 to General Manager. In November 1913 he became the first non-family member promoted to the Board of Directors, albeit reluctantly, as he was hoping to retire. Southwell had two visions for the company; firstly to maintain the standing and integrity of Colman’s as a business. Secondly to ensure every worker earned his rightful place. He made every effort to develop a ‘unique atmosphere’ where the relationship between employers and employees ‘never failed to call forth a response of loyalty.’ Southwell was largely responsible for gaining the employees trust so that they accepted the new Works Council in June 1918, and not view it as a means to replace the trade unions. On 9 November 1915 Southwell was elected Lord Mayor of Norwich. As in business, he applied the same interest and conscientious approach. In addition to his special interest in finances, he cared about child welfare. Due to the pressures of war on families, he suggested funds be diverted into saving infant life, rather than the hospitality expected of the Lord Mayor. Not only was he praised for his diligence in carrying out his duties ‘during a very trying year’ in office, but also his wife, the Lady Mayoress, for her support and good works with Red Cross nurses, wounded soldiers and hospitals. Following retirement in July 1919, Southwell was appointed a magistrate for Norwich.

1916-01-01 23:07:34

Captain Geoffrey Colman

Enter story info The Colman family also suffered from the conflict, as Captain Geoffrey Colman was seriously wounded in January 1916. Whilst building a machine gun dugout, he was hit - the bullet damaged his lung, a blood-vessel, shoulder blade and two ribs.

1916-01-01 23:07:34

The War Years

The war had a great impact on the magazine’s content. The October 1914 edition, the first since the outbreak, published the names and departments of those who had volunteered for service. When conscription was introduced in January 1916, Carrow Works Magazine stopped publishing the lists. The names of all those killed were documented in the Roll of Honour, consisting of a photograph along with an obituary of those who had given the ultimate sacrifice.

1916-01-01 23:40:02

Employees at Colmans during World War 1

Further Staffing Changes by 1916

1916-05-19 00:00:00

A Soldiers' Tea Party

On 19 May 1916, a party of soldiers were invited to a tea party in the garden at Carrow Abbey. On another occasion, works manager Southwell organised a ‘treat’ at the Norwich Hippodrome to which he invited wounded soldiers, nurses and Red Cross workers. The Eastern Daily Press reported that ‘a sufficient number of tramcars had been chartered to bring the party from their different points, and also to convey them back after the performance’. The end of the show prompted a deafening cheer, followed by the ‘Jolly Good Fellow’ chorus.

Colman's Connections:The War Years 1914-1918

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