Researched by Bill Ricalton
Many people know that it was at the village shop in Longhorsley that Be-Ro flour was invented. It was however not the shop on the east side of the main road but the building, which was most recently the Post Office on the west side.
Thomas Bell, born in 1848 into a large family, had two brothers and six sisters. His parents William and Ann Bell owned the Grocers shop, which was, until recently, the Post Office at No 1 South Road. His father died when he was only a few years old leaving his mother Ann to run the family business, which included a bakery, to provide for the family.
Thomas experimented with rising agents in flour during baking and from that produced (It is claimed) the world's first self-raising flour. (However In 1851 Henry Jones a Bristol baker took out a patent on his flour which was some 25 years before Thomas Bell's flour)
In 1875 Thomas's mother purchased two old cottages on the other side of the road, had them pulled down and rebuilt as a house and shop with a meeting room for religious services upstairs, she called the property Belmont. At the same time, Thomas Bell left and set up a grocery and tea company in Newcastle.
Thomas Bell started in his own right, in small premises in the yard, of the Blackie Boy pub in the Groat Market in the centre of Newcastle. He founded the Bells Royal works, which sold the Bell's Royal Flour. As well as manufacturing baking powder and self-raising flour he produced a health salt, which he later discontinued. He also packed and marketed dried fruit, cereals, tea and coffee using such names as T B Royalty, Black Diamond and Belsun.
An Invoice from the Bell family shop
A common misconception is that Bell's Royal became Be-Ro because after the death of King Edward Vll it became illegal to use the name Royal. Indeed it was because an American company, trading under the name of Royal's Baking Powder, was too similar to the Bell's Royal name that it was changed. The Be-Ro trademark patent was filed in 1906 whereas King Edward Vll died on the 6th of May 1910. The name Be-Ro, chosen by Thomas Bells' wife, had been existence a decade before the trademark was applied for, and registered, under the Trade Marks Act of 1905.
The Company then moved into larger premises in Low Friar street and later to Bath Lane. Thomas Bell died in 1925 and his descendants continued to expand the area covered by the Company, to include Carlisle and the whole of County Durham, as well as Teeside. Depots were later built at Leeds, Edinburgh, Sheffield, and Birmingham and in 1931 they decided upon Nottingham as a base from which to expand into the Midlands. Several dozen more depots were either built or acquired, throughout England and Scotland.
In 1958 the business was acquired by Rank-Hovis Ltd, which later became part of the newly formed RHM in 1961. Rank-Hovis-McDougal is now part of the Premier Foods so Be-Ro is now a Premier Food brand alongside such names as:-
Angel Delight, Ambrosia, Atora, Batchelor's, Bird's Custard, Bisto, Branston, Cerebos, Crosse & Blackwell, Frank Coopers, Gale's, Hartley's, Hovis, Mother's Pride, Mr. Kipling, Paxo, Quorn, Robertson's, Sarson's, Sharwood's and Typhoo to name but a few.
So what started out in the Longhorsley village Corner Shop, if not a world-first, it certainly became an iconic brand. The Be-Ro recipe book, first produced in 1923 with nineteen pages, is still in print. Thirty-eight million copies later the recipe book has now developed into the 40th edition, with eighty-six pages of tried and tested recipes