The History of Waddingtons & Where it is Now

What is Waddingtons?

Waddingtons is a famous British games manufacturer. They have produced many board games and playing cards that are still used to this day.

Find out how an apprentice printer became Britain’s biggest games manufacturer.

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The Beginning of Waddingtons

In the late 1800’s, a man called John Waddington had just completed his apprenticeship as a printer. Full of aspiration, John decided that he wanted to start up his own business.

John’s friend Wilson Barrett was the manager of the Leeds Grand Theatre. Together they decided to join forces to create a business called Waddingtons Ltd.

They produced colour posters and advertising material for theatres. This print shop was located on Camp Road, close to where Leeds University currently stands.

Due to a clash of personalities, Waddington and Barrett decided to go their separate ways. Waddington ended up going it alone but soon ran into financial difficulties.

Frederick Eley was the manager of the local branch of the National Provincial Bank. He bailed Waddington out and suggested that he form a private limited company which he did in 1905.

John Waddington persuaded his other shareholders that they needed lithographic equipment. As a result, he hired Victor Watson as lithographic foreman.

In 1913, Waddington again encountered money problems. He ended up resigning from the company however his name lived on.

The other directors wanted to fold the business. However, Victor Watson convinced them to continue with himself as the manager.

Watson managed to make the company a success. The following year, they moved to a bigger premises on Elland Road close to the football ground.

On Good Friday in 1915, this factory burnt down. Watson was undeterred and the following day bought another printing firm which was going out of business.

In 1919, the company joined the Master Printers Federation. Two years later in 1921, they became a public company.

Within that same year, Watson became the joint managing director. Eley, the bank manager, became chairman when the company moved to a new site in Hunslet.

The company was already well known nationally. Their new techniques in photographic printing enabled them to produce first rate playing cards and cement a reputation internationally.

Their first cards incorporated advertising on the back. This included their Beautiful Britain series of playing cards subsidised by the Great Western Railway Company.

During the 1920’s demand for standard playing cards was incredibly high. The business was doing so well they built a factory in Keighley and produced 30,000 packs of cards with single colour back.

During the 1920’s, business was booming. The demand for standard playing cards was incredibly high and showed no signs of slowing down.

The business was doing so well they built a factory in Keighley and produced 30,000 packs of cards with single colour backs. They also remained one of the biggest printing companies in Britain.

In 1924, they produced the largest poster ever created. This was a 10ft by 40ft advertisement for the British Empire Exhibition.

Watson invested his own money in Satona Ltd during the 1930’s. They were a manufacturer of cartons treated with paraffin wax.

Waddingtons decided to buy the company. Together they started to produce orange juice cartons to sell in cinemas.

How Waddingtons became what it is today

Their venue for board games began in 1935. The Parker Brothers sent Waddingtons a sample copy of their new game, Monopoly.

Watson asked his son Norman to have a look and see what he thought. Norman played it constantly throughout the weekend and was immediately hooked.

On Monday morning, Norman knew what he needed to do. He persuaded his father to make their first trans-atlantic phone call.

As a result, they were granted a licence to produce the game. Dollars were replaced with Great British Pounds and the names were changed to London Streets and landmarks.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Waddingtons were asked to produce low denomination bank notes to replace coins. These were valued 2d6s and 5s.

This turned into an extremely high security operation with very few people knowing about it. However, the notes never entered circulation and at the end of the war were destroyed.

The business did however produce foreign banknotes. This was under an agreement with De La Rue in London whose factory was bombed.

Famously, Monopoly sets were sent to prisoners of war held by the Nazis. They secretly contained maps, compasses, and real money in order to help them escape.

In 1943, they opened a new factory in Gateshead. It’s here that they began to produce plastic backed playing cards including a design by Picasso.

By the end of the war, they were also working with Cadbury. The business was producing Easter Egg cartons for them.

In the 1950’s, a subsidiary company was created. This was purely to be used to sell their board games.

Waddingtons also formed a joint venture with an American company. They formed Eureka Waddington.

Their primary aim was to produce trading stamps. As a result, this led to Waddingtons printing their famous Green Shield stamps.

In 1951, the company passed into the hands of a third generation. Watson’s grandson, also called Victor, joined the business and remained there until his retirement in 1993.

In the meantime, the Waddingtons have produced many of the well known board games. These are still enjoyed by families across the world.

One of these games is ‘Cluedo’. It was based on a game developed during the war years by a man called Anthony E. Pratt.

Some minor changes were made from the original. Instead of having only six suspects, this was increased to ten.

These included the names Mr Brown, Mr Gold, Mrs Silver, and Miss Grey. However, these were permanently excluded from board game history.

Other character names were changed. For example, Colonel Yellow became Colonel Mustard and Nurse White changed to Mrs White.

Even some of the weapons were also excluded from the game. These included an unexploded bomb and a red hot poker.

These changes haven’t fully disappeared however. Some of these have since appeared in spin-off versions of the game.

In 1949, the first UK edition of Cluedo was launched. Since then it’s become a board game classic enjoying several new editions throughout the decades including a TV series.

A bored game created by Waddingtons, Photo credit, Pixaway, No Attribution Require, Public Domain
A board game created by Waddingtons, Photo credit, Pixabay, No Attribution Require, Public Domain

In 1977, the business began to change. Victor Watson was made chairman of Waddingtons.

Famously, he was known in business circles. Victor was the man who managed to fend off the advances of Robert Maxwell who attempted a hostile takeover in 1983.

During the 1980’s, TV game shows were becoming incredibly popular. This led to Waddingtons producing board game spin-offs like Blockbusters (1986), and Wheel of Fortune (1988).

Where is Waddingtons Now?

In 1994, Waddingtons was bought by Hasbro. By this point they had produced many games which have since become household names that are both original and under licence.

These include Risk, Subbuteo, Cluedo, Sorry, and Lord Zen’s Card Game. The latter which was rebranded as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

Currently, Waddingtons are continuing to produce new games. This is still done under the famous Hasbro name.

More recently, they have brought their games to online platforms. However they continue to create their traditional board game formats.

Sadly in February 2015, Victor Watson died aged 86. He was the last remaining connection to this famous Yorkshire firm.