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Shhh! Secret lemonade drinker's habit uncovered in Barking 100 years later

PUBLISHED: 12:11 27 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:23 28 January 2020

Be First'‘s heritage engagement manager, Simone Panayi, with site manager Rob Finbow. Picture: Andrew Baker

Be First''s heritage engagement manager, Simone Panayi, with site manager Rob Finbow. Picture: Andrew Baker

Andrew Baker

Do you remember the secret lemonade drinker?

Could the lemonade have been bought at this tea room in The Rookery part of Upney Lane (not far from Sebastian Court)? It shows a sign advertising R White’s Ginger Beer. Picture: Eric FeaseyCould the lemonade have been bought at this tea room in The Rookery part of Upney Lane (not far from Sebastian Court)? It shows a sign advertising R White’s Ginger Beer. Picture: Eric Feasey

Site manager Rob Finbow was at work last week where Sebastian Court once stood in Meadow Road, Barking when he unearthed a stone vessel, dating back to 1890 to 1930, produced by fizzy drinks firm R Whites and Sons, whose TV ad featured a man with a clandestine late night lemonade drinking habit.

Rob said: "We were surprised to find it in such good condition - it's certainly captured the interest of our team in the local area's history."

The bottle is a piece of Barking history, with the town being home to R White's until the 1970s.

In 1890, R Whites and Sons bought HF Van's drinks business which began in a coffee shop in Heath Street.

A lemonade bottle has uncovered a bit of borough history. Picture: Be FirstA lemonade bottle has uncovered a bit of borough history. Picture: Be First

Van, the son of a chemist and worker at Beckton Gas Works, began making his own mineral waters which proved a hit.

He built a factory close to Axe Street which became known as the biggest for mineral water in the capital.

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The main building was 120 by 70 feet and covered by a slate roof on the southern face. It was built so vans could enter, unload empties, pass into the stock room, reload and leave for the next delivery, according to local historian William Holmes Frogley's Barking manuscript.

Be First'‘s heritage engagement manager, Simone Panayi, with site manager Rob Finbow. Picture: Andrew BakerBe First'‘s heritage engagement manager, Simone Panayi, with site manager Rob Finbow. Picture: Andrew Baker

By 1887, R Whites and Sons had grown from its origins making ginger beer in Camberwell from 1845, to selling 40 different flavours of drinks and cordials.

Frogley wrote: "Around the late 18880s, R White's had a plant capacity of 600,000 bottle of mineral water and 38,000 gallons of ginger beer per 12-hour day, which probably made them one of the first mass producers in the business."

Sid Wade, writing in 1991, recalled the bottles of the 1920s: "We had mineral water bottles sealed with a glass marble. And ginger beer in stone bottles with corks secured by wire. You unravelled it at arm's length and out shot the cork like a missile leaving a Polaris submarine."

R White's Barking factory was demolished in 1972-3 after they moved to a bigger site in Beckton.

But the firm's legacy lives on with its lemon and lime colours incorporated in the Lemonade Building overlooking Barking Town Square.

Site managers at Jerram Falkus have donated the bottle to a National Lottery Heritage Fund project to share with borough schools.

Historian, Simone Panayi, who will be using it in the work with schoolchildren said: "I am really excited by the find, it's a really important part of Barking's, industrial heritage, so I'm so pleased that Jerram Falkus have donated it to us.

"Lemonade is something I am absolutely addicted to but to paraphrase Ross McManus - I've been trying to give it up but it's one of those nights!"

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