The History of Ben Shaws & Where it is Now

What is Ben Shaws?

Ben Shaws is one of the biggest names in British soft drinks. Originating from Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, their drinks can be found all over the UK.

Find out how the son of a farm labourer from Huddersfield became one of the biggest names in British soft drinks.

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The Beginning of Ben Shaws

It all started when a man called Benjamin Shaw was born in 1837. He was the son of a farm labourer at Fenay Bridge in Huddersfield.

While Benjamin was growing up, his father didn’t have constant work. This meant that Benjamin didn’t always go to school because his family couldn’t afford it.

When Benjamin was thirteen he got a job to help support his family. He worked as a low paid spinner in the local mill.

In 1871, Benjamin Shaw and his brother George decided to start their own business. This was all down to Huddersfield’s new found prosperity.

As a result, the brothers left the textile trade behind. At first they bottled and sold natural Pennine mineral water.

They decided to call themselves the ‘Shaw Bros’. Their business was based on manufacturing non-alcoholic beverages.

The very first drink they produced was a non-alcoholic version of porter. They bought the recipe for a total of £5 which is roughly £627 in today’s money.

Another drink they started to produce was ginger beer. This, however, was made from an old family recipe which they matured in old spirit barrels.

Soon after, Ben began pushing his wheelbarrow around town. He would deliver bottles of their drinks to businesses.

ben shaws lemonade
A Ben Shaws lemonade Picture credit: Jonathan Rudd

One of their first customers was Thornton’s Temperance Hotel. At the time this was a regular haunt for those who were known as teetotal radicals.

Within a few months of selling their drinks, they’d made enough to buy carts and harnesses. These were for the family’s four shire horses called Bonny, Blossom, Cherry, and Dick.

Ben and George’s business was creating a lot of profit and demand was increasing. This meant that the brothers could now expand their distribution area to cover a large part of Yorkshire.

After five years, Ben became the sole owner. He bought his brother out of the business for the sum of £317-3s-6d which is roughly £21,000 in today’s money.

Twelve years later, the business has outgrown its original premises at Elm’s Yard in Charles Street, Huddersfield. It moved to a larger building in Upperhead Row on the corner of Westgate.

The business was rapidly growing and this soon became too small. Ben leased a large plot on Willow Lane in the Fartown area of Huddersfield and built a large factory in this area.

Ben Shaw kept an office in the town centre which enabled him to telephone orders through to the factory. This was one of the earliest uses of the telephone.

How Ben Shaws became what it is today

During the 12th Century, Ben Shaws embraced new technology which included the radio. Factory workers were allowed to listen to the programme ‘Music While You Work’.

Soon after, the traditional horse and cart were replaced by wagons. These changes continued well into the 1980’s.

Saturday mornings became a time to look forward to for children. They would wait eagerly for the pop van to arrive on the street.

When it arrived they rushed out to buy large glass bottles of their favourite flavours. If they gave their empty bottles back they would get a refund.

Over the years, Ben Shaws kept up with the changing tastes of their customers. They introduced new flavours such as orangeade, limeade, and their famous lemonade.

Throughout the 20th Century, they continued to keep up with demand and experiment. This led to them expanding their range of products further.

This included cordials, soda water, and the drinks they became known for. Some of these were dandelion & burdock, bitter shandy, cloudy lemonade, and cream soda.

Ben Shaws became the first company to sell canned drinks in Europe. This led to the business expanding their distribution to cover the whole of the UK.

In the 1970’s, the company became known locally among the female population. They held an annual competition to become “Miss Ben Shaws”.

The winning lady had to show the company’s principles in their pictures. These were hard working, honest, and fun.

The winners would gain the coveted title of Miss Ben Shaws. They would also receive a crate of Ben Shaws drinks every month throughout the year.

Where is Ben Shaws Now?

In 2005, the business was taken over by Cott Ltd. The new owners promised to uphold the traditional brand of Ben Shaws along with its family values.

Since then, Cott Ltd have introduced new drinks to their range. These include flavoured soda water and mixers for alcoholic drinks.

The brand has undergone a massive change throughout the past ten years. Their distinctive cans are a common sight in shops and chippies over the country – especially in Yorkshire.

Ben Shaws is one of the UK’s largest suppliers of post-mix drinks and wine. It continues to be a favourite across the whole of Yorkshire.