The Trebor Story by Matthew Crampton, Muddler Books, 2012.
£12.08. On sale in bookshops or at muddlerbooks.com
Review by Ben Derbyshire
Matthew Crampton is a historian, a modern day wassailer, and a person who communicates infectious enthusiasm for diverse obsessions such as the music hall, and, in this case, the alchemists who turned raw sugar from east London's Silvertown refinery into delicious sweets and in so doing transformed an East End micro-business into an international giant. I suspect we will be hearing more from Mr Crampton at The London Society, and look forward to the full range of his storytelling and musical accomplishment on these subjects and others in the near future.
Excuse the spoiler, but in his own words: "Trebor is a story of Britain's industrial past. Its founders rode a wave of new technology, explored fresh ways of working and pioneered new sales techniques and export activities. They coped with two world wars. They coped with the ensuing peace. They coped with times of plenty and times of poverty. And when it became hard for a private company to compete with global competitors, they sold the business, as decently as they could and much more decently than they needed."
That's the gist of the tale, but Crampton tells it with an eye for detail and with a personal intimacy that stems from the fact that it was his great uncle who was largely responsible for this 20th century tale of British industrial success, begun in the new east that grew up in the century before as the railways bridged the rivers Lea and Roding, and reached out towards Essex.
Crampton's childhood nostalgia pervades the book, and his recollection of the taste and smell of his favourite brands (remember Refreshers?) is echoed by my own childhood memories, which this lavishly illustrated edition brought back. It is uncannily evocative of the Eagle annual - exactly the same size, red colour, and stiff card binding, with story telling ("A Day in the Life of Norman Normal") and technical explanation in much the same combination.
This delightful and well-priced record of how three Londoners' simple entrepreneurial beginnings led to such permanently lasting international brands is much more than a pictorial archive - it evokes that 'made in London' spirit of invention that we shall surely see again.