Britain's 10 oldest family businesses

Family businesses will contribute £218bn a year to the UK economy by 2018. As these firms show, keeping it in the family can be a recipe to success.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 12 Apr 2016

New research suggests that family-owned SMEs currently contribute £180bn a year to the UK economy - and this will increase by £38 billion by 2018. According to the report by Barclays Business, there are now 2.42 million family run firms – the highest level since the recession took hold in 2008.

The Institute for Family Business says family firms have an annual turnover of some £1.1tn, and contribute almost a quarter of total UK GDP – more than double the contribution made by the FTSE 100. To celebrate their contribution, the IFB has highlighted the UK’s oldest surviving family firms, which date back more than three centuries...

1. R J Balson and son – 1535

Established in 1535, this Dorest-based butchers shop was around before the first published account of the discovery of North America. Since then, dozens of family members have passed their butchery skills down through 25 generations, making R J Balson and son Britain’s oldest family business.

2. R Durtnell & Sons – 1591

The UK’s oldest building company dates back to 22 July 1591, when John Dartnall married Ann Hearst, registering his profession as 'carpenter', synonymous with 'builder' at a time when most houses were of timber-framed construction. The company's head office in Brasted, Kent stands on land the family has occupied since 1496.

3. C. Hoare & Co. – 1672

Founded by Richard Hoare in 1672, the world’s fifth oldest bank once counted Samuel Pepys as a customer and is currently managed by the 11th generation of Hoare's direct descendants. The bank's clients are typically high-net-worth individuals and it has two branches in London. It introduced online banking in 2008.

4. Mornflake– 1675

c1950. Photo: Mornflake

The Cheshire-based oat mill firm traces its roots back to 1675 when William Lea started milling oats at Swettenham Mill. Fifteen generations later, it is the longest established maker of oats and cereal in the UK.

5. James Lock & Co.  – 1676

For centuries, Lock & Co. has been the place to go for a top hat. The shop has supplied headwear to the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, and Lord Nelson and holds the royal warrants for the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh.

6. Toye, Kenning & Spencer – 1685

Toye, Kenning & Spencer c1950

Located in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, the firm specialises in insignia and regalia, such as the ribbons and medals presented to awardees of OBEs and CBEs. The firm started as artisan silk weavers before it began decorating soldiers in the mid 1800s.

7. CPJ Field – 1690

This undertaker has conducted funerals for the likes of monarchs and national heroes over the course of three centuries.

8. Folkes Group – 1697

Specialising in commercial property development and investment, this West Midlands-based company is now run by the ninth generation of the family.

9. Berry Bros & Rudd – 1698

Britain's oldest wine and spirit merchant has traded from the same shop on St James Street, near Green Park, since 1698. When Prohibition was established in 1920s America, ‘Berry Bros.’ products became popular in the Bahamas, a popular stop for smugglers. Today the firm also has a presence in Japan and Hong Kong and was the first major UK retailer to give wines from China a permanent place on its shelves.

10. Shepherd Neame – 1698

The Dove Inn, Dargate c1910. Photo: Shepherd Neame

Britain’s oldest brewer produces 230,000 barrels a year and now has 360 pubs in the UK. The company was given a boost in 1789 when Julius Shepherd, then-owner, bought the first steam engine to be installed in any brewery outside London. It revolutionised production - grinding malt and pumping water, wort and beer around the brewery - work previously done by horses.

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