Week by week, we will be delving into the back stories of some of the greatest Yorkshire companies – finding out about the people behind them, their humble beginnings, how they became household names, and where they are now. Today we take a look at Seven Seas, finding out how cod liver oil was brought to the masses.
The benefits of cod liver oil have been well known to Nordic and Scottish fishermen for centuries. Scientific research endorsed its medical properties in the eighteenth century, stating that it could help combat the effects of malnutrition, and it was first used as a medicine by Dr Kay of the Manchester Infirmary.
The original oil was a dark liquid with a fishy smell and taste, made by seperating the cod’s livers and leaving them in a barrel to rot until the oil separated. In the 1850s it was discovered that by steaming the livers a greater yield could be achieved with a paler colour, although still with a nasty taste and aroma. By the 1920s it was discovered that the reason for cod liver oil’s health benefits was that it contained Vitamin A, Vitamin D, and polyunsaturated fats, leading to health professionals recommending it as prevention rather than cure.
In the early 1930s, Boyd Line Ltd, Hudson Brothers Ltd, and Hellyer Brothers Ltd – a group of trawler companies operating out of Hull, experimented with boiling the livers on board the trawlers out at sea while they were still fresh. The oil was of such a high quality that the companies decidecd to form a cooperative – British Cod Liver Oil Producers (Hull) Ltd.
The company’s first chairman was Owen Hellyer, and he was aided in the production of oils by Ernest Dawson, John Spencer and Charles Spencer who had been drafted in from Isaac Spencer & Co (Aberdeen) Ltd; John F Ward from Crookes Laboratories; and Professor John Drummond who all brought their own skills and expertise in oil production.
Originally, the company produced a range of oils for use in the rolling of steel, tanning of hides, and animal feeds. It was the production of cod liver oil where the company focussed most of its efforts, and in 1935 they began producing vetinary quality cod liver oil commercially under the name Solvitax. The company soon outgrew its original offices on the south side of St Andrews Dock in Hull and moved to a new refinery at Marfleet on the edge of the city.
Later the same year, Ken Moxley, a former employee of the Hull Fish Meal and Oil Company, came up with the idea of marketing cod liver oil in attractive display bottles. By
1936, pharmaceutical quality cod liver oil was being marketed in small bottles as Seven Seas.
This year also saw a huge marketing campaign with the company creating ‘King Cod’ – a large wooden and canvas fish which was placed on top of wagons along with a loud-speaker playing ‘A Life On The Ocean Wave.’ This was driven around the country to promote Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil. Later that year, cod liver oil was distributed free of charge to pregnant women, new mothers and children under 5 as part of the Ministry of Food’s Welfare Food Scheme.
During the Second World War demand grew so much that trawlers from Hull and Grimsby could not supply enough oil, so supplies were imported from Iceland. Demand continued to increase throughout the second half of the Twentieth Century with expansions into making margarine and industrial products, as well as other vitamins and health supplements.
A study carried out on Inuits in Greenland by Danish scientists Band and Dyerberg in the md-1970s suggested that a high diet of fish oil containing a chemical known as Omega-3 would reduce cholesterol in the bloodstream and therefore reduce the risk of a heart attack. This new, although inconclusive information helped Seven Seas to develop their products further. In 1982 they launched a range of natural fish oils available on prescription. Cod Liver Oil meanwhile was being tested on arthritis patients and was found to help ease their condition affecting their joints. This was proven and widely agreed by scientists in 2002.
In 1996, Seven Seas Ltd was purchased by German pharmaceutical company, Merck KgaA, but still operates from its Hull offices supplying health supplements across the world.
In the next post in this series, we will look at Smith and Nephew.
Further reading for this article:
If you have any questions or feedback for the author please leave us a comment below: