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In 1826, as the business grew, the two men bought a site on Lowesmoor, although Foregate Street still remained their main office for a while. Lowesmoor already had a history of vinegar production, as a Stephen Wilkins had opened a vinegar factory there in 1781, which ran until his death in 1818.
The area of Lowesmoor, outside the old city walls, was ideal for Hill & Evans to expand into. Previously, the area had consisted of garden plots before Wilkins had set up his factory, and a soap boiling manufactory and charcoal works had been established.
As well as six types of vinegar, Hill & Evans produced fruit wines, including raisin, gooseberry, cowslip, orange, elderberry and ginger beer. The company also produced quinine, used to combat malaria, which was shipped abroad.
Through the Victorian era, Hill & Evans expanded, buying up adjoining land. After using the existing buildings on the site, it started constructing purpose-built buildings in a distinctive brick style.
The Great Filling Hall was built in 1870, which helped make it the largest vinegar brewery in the world by 1881, producing more than two million gallons of vinegar a year and employing more than 100 people.
In 1903, the Worcester Daily Times said of it: ‘The filling and dispatching room is an enormous hall . . . it is one of the largest single rooms in the kingdom . . . the great vats . . . are probably the most conspicuous and impressive parts of the equipment. One of these vats, standing among many of slightly smaller size is 100 feet in circumference and 32 feet high having a capacity of 114,821 gallons’.
A total of 130,000 gallons of British wine were also produced each year. The biggest vat measured 12 metres high and could contain more than 100,000 gallons.
Many other vats were located here as part of the process and the site was built up with a granary (which could store 80,000 bags of barley), mills, a brewhouse, fermenting shed and vat rooms, all carefully sited by each other to aid the process and maximise efficiencies. Water was taken from a well on the site and a depot in London was also created at this time.
A potential scandal emerged in 1852 when The Lancet journal alleged Hill & Evans used sulphuric acid to speed up the vinegar-production process. The company not only denied this, it asked leading scientists to come and check, forcing The Lancet to back down and admit it had mistaken natural sulphate of lime for sulphuric acid.
William Hill and Edward Evans were both non-conformists, with a reputation for being generous local benefactors; they were regarded as model employers, as were their sons who joined the firm in the 1840s. When the sons in turn retired in 1872, they shared out more than £1,000 (around £73,000 in today’s money) between the 118 employees.
To help bring in English barley and fruit, Hill & Evans had a branch line created directly to its site from Shrub Hill Station, which bridged the Worcester to Birmingham Canal, and crossed Pheasant Street.
Although the company obtained an Act of Parliament for this in 1844, it took until 1872 for it to be built. This allowed trains to come right up to where they were needed to offload grain and fruit for storage. A sign was installed to warn drivers where the train crossed the road, but after some near misses, a man with a flag was introduced to stop the traffic when it passed. Known as the Lowesmoor Tramway and, to others, the Vinegar Express, it operated until the site closed in 1964.
At the start of the twentieth century, Hill & Evans continued to boom and became a limited company. Other significant local men, such as Charles Dyson Perrins, joined the board. A short distance away, Lea & Perrins used Hill & Evans’ vinegar in the production of its Worcestershire Sauce.
The Hill side of the business eventually died out and the Evans family members had less direct involvement in the firm. As the century progressed, a lack of investment and innovation, and the increase in size of competitors such as Sarsons, meant Hill & Evans couldn’t compete. It sold out to British Vinegars in 1964 and, although it was meant to be a going concern, closed soon after, bringing to an end vinegar production in Worcester.
The site remained derelict for many years, until the area was developed as part of St Martin’s Quarter, with Asda the biggest tenant. Today, many visit the shops or go through the site on the way to town and you can still see some of the remaining buildings, which are part of Worcester’s industrial heritage. The Great Filling Hall, which was Grade II-listed in 1974, is now used by 214 (Worcestershire) Battery RA and is home to the archives of the Mercian Regiment Museum (Worcestershire). Named Dancox House, it keeps alive the memory of Private Fred Dancox, who won the Victoria Cross during the Battle of Passchendaele in October 1917.