What’s in a bottle? Uncovering a Victorian business bust-up

Work placement student Ruth Headlam discovered a rocky business partnership while researching nineteenth century mineral water manufacturers at Abbey House Museum

Harston & Co. glass bottle about 1890.
This photograph was taken by Norman Taylor for
Leeds Museums and Galleries and is licenced under
Creative Commons BY NC SA)

Often research starts from just a few clues on a museum object, such as an inscription and may reveal unexpected links between objects in the collection.

I researched various Victorian companies and individuals during my six week placement at Abbey House Museum. One of the companies I did extensive research on was Harston & Co. Surprisingly, the origins of this company start with the mineral water manufacturer Barrett & Co. 

Barrett & Co. stoneware bottle about 1900. 
This style of stoneware bottle was originally intended for ink,
but Barrett’s used them to sell mineral water. (P
hotograph by
Norman Taylor for Leeds Museums and Galleries)

A lucky discovery

When faced with the task of researching Barrett & Co. I came across various obstacles. Trying to find information about this company resembled extracting blood from a stone! 

When I was about to give up and move on to another company to research, I came across a pdf online. It consisted of two pages of the London Gazette from 1873, stating the dissolution of the partnership between George Alfred Harston and John Simpson, the owners of Barrett & Co. This dissolution may have led to the creation of company of Harston & Co.

Extensive research in Leeds Central Library and online, revealed that George Alfred Harston decided to carry on Barrett &Co. alone. He then decided to create his own mineral water manufacturer aptly named Harston & Co. in 1881, and ran it alongside Barrett & Co. Harston & Co. acquired Barrett & Co. in 1899 and continued to be in business until 1955. 

Although I had a rocky start with regards to the research, I was still able to find out more than I would have imagined, which delighted me as a lover of history. 
By Ruth Headlam, work placement from Leeds Trinity University.

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