Humble beginnings of family firm that grew into a major employer

FRED Needler was only 18 when he became interested in making sweets. He had to do something to make a living – his father had died tragically young from typhoid, leaving him, his mother and three other children to make ends meet.

She took in washing, while he went to work for a small confectionery business at the corner of Midland Street and Osborne Street, near the Paragon Railway Station.

But the business got into trouble and Fred was offered the equipment – stoves with slabs and rollers for making boiled sweets – for 100.

Luckily for him, his mother had saved up money and in 1886 he set up shop in Anne Street, with a sugar boiler, a lad to help out, and a horse and cart for deliveries.

At the time sweets were made by pouring the hot mixture onto a slab cooled by waterpipes, and then they were either broken up or pulled into a rope, like seaside rock.

Working all hours, and helped by his younger sister Lucy, he went into wholesaling and moved into bigger premises.

In 1900, the firm’s total turnover was 15,000, with a profit of 781 – from 38 lines of boiled sweets, 40 lines of toffees, 35 different health sweets, 14 pralines, and 15 different types of rock, not to mention the 65 different varieties of Spring Sweets.

In 1906, following further growth, land was bought in Sculcoates Lane, and a purpose-built factory was created called Needlers Ltd.

In the 1920s the depression hit profits hard and many people could no longer afford chocolate. Instead, they ate more boiled sweets but that hit the profit margins.

So when Fred Needler died in 1932 his son Percival inherited an uncertain legacy.

Things only got really better after the Second World War when sweet rationing ended and consumption spiralled.

In 1958, Needlers went public, although the family retained a controlling interest.

On the retirement of Percival Needler in 1970, he was succeeded as managing director by his son, Raymond.

Hillsdown Holdings made an offer for the firm in 1986, which was accepted, and a year later Raymond Needler retired, ending 100 years of family leadership in what had become one of Hull’s major companies.

Needlers became part of the Blue Bird Confectionery Group in January 1996, which moved its operation at Hunnington, near Birmingham, to Hull.

In 2000 it was renamed Needler Blue Bird Confectionery Group.

It was acquired in January by Ashbury in a multi-million pound deal.

n The information comes from How It All Began in Yorkshire Volume 2 by Maurice Baren, published by Dalesman Publishing, Stable Courtyard, Broughton Hall, near Skipton, North Yorkshire.