Ben Shaws – Made In Yorkshire | Volume 9

What is Ben Shaws?

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

The Beginning

Benjamin Shaw was born in 1837. He was the son of a farm labourer at Fenay Bridge in Huddersfield.

His father couldn’t always get work. This meant Benjamin didn’t go to school all of the time because they couldn’t afford it.

Benjamin got a job when he was thirteen. He was a low paid spinner in the local mill.

In 1871, Benjamin Shaw and his brother George started their own business. This was thanks to Huddersfield’s new found prosperity.

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

They called themselves the Shaw Bros. Their business was a manufacturer of non-alcoholic beverages.

The first drink they produced was a non-alcoholic version of porter. They bought the recipe for £5.

Another drink was ginger beer. This was made from an old family recipe which they matured in old spirit barrels.

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

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

One of their first customers was the Thornton’s Temperance Hotel. This was a regular haunt for teetotal radicals.

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

This was good news for the business. The brothers could now expand their distribution area to cover a large part of Yorkshire.

After five year, Ben became sole owner. He bought his brother out of the business for the sum of £317-3s-6d.

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

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

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

Becoming what it is today

In the twentieth century, Ben Shaws embraced new technologies, this included the radio. The factory workers were allowed to listen to the programme ‘Music While You Work’.

Soon, the traditional horse and cart was replaced by wagons. This continued well into the 1980’s.

Children waiting eagerly on a Saturday morning for the pop van to arrive on the street. They then rushed out to buy large glass bottles of their favourite flavours. If they gave their empty bottles, they would get a refund.

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

Their range expanded further throughout the twentieth century. This included cordials, soda water and the drinks they became known for – dandelion & burdock, bitter shandy, cloudy lemonade and cream soda.

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

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

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

Whoever won the coveted title won a crate of Ben Shaws drinks every month throughout the year.

In 2005, the business was taken over by Cott Ltd. They promised to uphold the traditional brand of Ben Shaws and its family values.

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

The brand has undergone a renaissance through out 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.