Box from the Illawarra Museum being used to store a donation of various photographs and glass negative plates.
Yes, I’m very busy but there’s always time to research for a blog post!
I’ve been interested in packaging since I was young; and I started collecting stuff when I was about eight years old. In fact I remember when I was just three; my father was very excited on Christmas day to present me with a pedal-powered toy police car. This enormous package was carried out – and I had help unwrapping as the toy was lifted out. ‘’I love this BOX!” I exclaimed gleefully. Much to his gross disappointment.
So when I’m looking for things in the Illawarra Museum collection, I tend to get distracted by actual boxes while I’m rooting around in cupboards. The way the collection has been amassed and catalogued over the years, by several different curators with different ways of doing things – means there’s all kinds of weird and wonderful containers that items are squirreled away in, from tobacco tins to hat boxes – to items like this bulk packing box for smaller packets of Q Ban jelly babies which would have been delivered in a shop order. Often I think things probably just stayed in whatever they were delivered in and accessioned to the museum!
I also keep a keen eye on vintage Australian confectionery ephemera and I had not heard of this one before. So curiosity got the better of me and before I knew I realized, this humble sticker on an old cardboard packing box, probably dating from the 1950s, became the blog’s object of the week.
The Snows Confectionery Pty Ltd business (it’s often quoted as Snow’s) was founded by a man named Harry Eli Walter James Hughes who was born 1892 in Elizabeth Street, Waratah, in the Newcastle area of NSW to Eli and Elizabeth Jane Hughes née Bacon. Harry’s father was also born in Waratah in the 1850s so there was quite a family history there.
Harry started off in the early 1920s making molded, hollow sugar animals in his inner-Sydney kitchen (a very similar story to Melbourne’s MacRobertson). I’ve no idea what his background was previous to going out on his own, or who he had worked for. Before long he moved to whipping up batches of toffee for the rapidly growing business in his back yard – and by 1929, the business was quickly becoming successful and a factory was opened at Alma Street in Darlington (the area between Redfern, Camperdown and upper Newtown) by 1930.
Johnston Street, Annandale earlier this year showing the Snow building still standing; from left number 61, the Hughes’s factory at number 63, and at right, a one level house. Image courtesy of ‘1930s Annandale – A Short Walk’ by Marghanita da Cruz, 2015.
Sometime during this period he married Emily Florence (I was unable to find a marriage record) and they had their first child in 1927, Ralph John Hughes, who later succeeded his father as managing director. They also had one daughter Pamela Emily Hughes, but probably much later, towards the end of the 1930s. The Hughes family moved regularly during this time – from Coogee to Croydon, then to Bondi where they stayed for most of the 1930s.
With Harry’s slogan ‘I Cook With Glucose’ becoming well known, Snows made chocolates, nougats, fruit jellies, hand decorated and striped fudges, toffees, jelly babies, chocolate éclairs, butterscotch, caramels, liquorice, boiled lollies, and later on were proponents of sugar free confectionery. I wasn’t able to find any further references to the ‘Q Ban‘ brand and have no idea what inspired it, or what it means.
In the late 1940s the Hughes family had a spell in Kingsford before finally settling in Bellevue Hill through the 1950s and 1960s. It’s interesting that even though their factories were based in Western Sydney that the Hughes family lived in all the east/south-east beaches popular with Jewish people.
Generally it was common for people to live close to their place of work; but its likely that the Hughes family were well off and owned a motor car, which were becoming more accessible and popular at this time, rather than purely a luxury item, which was previously the domain of only the wealthy. Given Eli is also a Hebrew name it makes me wonder if there was a Jewish background. This is the same areas my relatives lived in, who all changed their names to quite Westernized, innocuous ones like Mann, Green, Meadows, Taylor and Morris.
After Darlington, Snows was based at 63 Johnson Street, Annandale by early 1934; council records of 1937 show renovations and expansions to premises. Subscribers of 1939 show the main shareholders were Harry, a Walter L. Wells, and another Hughes, Leslie M. I suspect this family member born in Gulgong just north of Mudgee, NSW, was a cousin. At this time they were also supplying sugar-milled and pastry products. They stayed at this location likely through to at least the early 1960s.
Life was fairly uneventful for Snows at their new location for the most part – except for an early 1940s court case, in which they were fined by the NSW Board of Health for “very neglected condition…floors thickly covered with black dirty material, sugar bins containing dirt, and boiling cans thickly covered with dirty wet material…an area covered with cobwebs.” Delectable!
L: Hugheses in cars seems to be a theme; here’s a photo of Harry, still managing director of Snows at this time, from an unknown publication of the 1960s. R: Various headlines implicating the business over the years.
Harry’s son Ralph was the payroll clerk for Snows, when he became the subject of newspaper headlines Australia-wide in October 1954. Returning from the Parramatta Road branch of the Bank of NSW around 11 a.m. on that day, he pulled up outside the factory premises in Annandale with the cash to fill the weekly pay packets. As he alighted from the car he was confronted with a levelled pistol, when a grey sedan roared up beside him out of nowhere. He quickly threw the two leather satchels he was holding, in the back of his vehicle and locked it. However once he heard the click of the weapon being cocked, he decided not to stand in the robbers’ way. As one of the two thieves leaned in to retrieve the bags, Ralph threw a punch which didn’t connect – but knocked the hold-up man’s grey hat to the ground as he leaped in the getaway car. Within minutes, police radio had six patrol cars to the scene and had cordoned off the entire area, blocking escape routes. However the syndicate had employed an ingenious ruse of multiple getaway cars – the first was abandoned in Skelton Street, Leichardt, where they were joined by a third driver and changed to an old-model tourer. This was later swapped again for a high-powered American model car. Road blocks were established on all main exits from Sydney and there was a serious investigation with raids and many known criminals investigated. I’m not sure if the crime was ever actually solved, but the mysterious grey hat became the main clue in the investigation, and Ralph’s bravery was not unnoticed, to say the least.
Think you’ve never had Hughes in your gob? You probably have and you just didn’t know it. The bulk of their business in the last few decades was with Woolworths for the Home Brand, as well as for Franklins, Coles and Aldi. If you’ve ever nibbled on self brand products from any of those supermarket chains, you have indeed eaten a Snows product. They had also built up an international business in North and South America, Asia and New Zealand.
Harry passed away in 1970 and Ralph succeeded him as managing director. The company moved to Davis Road, Wetherill Park, NSW around 1990 and remained family owned; run by Harry’s grandson Colin L. Hughes and his great grandson Nathan Hughes. They acquired the 1958-established business of Kronos Fine Foods Pty Ltd chocolates in 2004 and soon after were working on an entirely new environmentally efficient water system, so they were definitely making plans for the future. Earlier in their history they had been the Australian instigator of the continuous vacuum cooker with the Baker Perkins Hi-Boil Depositor; so they were innovative and forward-thinking which accounted for their longevity in an industry that had seen many businesses come and go. Further to that they won the Alfred Stauder Award for Excellence in Confectionery Manufacturing in 2006; things seemed to be going exceedingly well.
So it was a surprise when everything suddenly fell apart. It was one of Australia’s biggest confectionery manufacturers when the business collapsed at the end of 2010, due to cash flow problems leaving them unable to fulfil large orders. At the time Snows employed nearly 100 people and the annual turnover was more than 24 million dollars per annum. Snows was put into administration, and offered for sale. It was subsequently acquired by Sanchez Group Australia, owners of Pryde Confectionery Holdings.
‘1930s Annandale – A Short Walk’ by Marghanita da Cruz
Food Australia: The official journal of CAFTA and AIFST Council of Australian Food Technology Associations.
National Library of Australia’s Trove digitized newspapers