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“An Ideal Factory producing an Ideal Food”

The Shredded Wheat factory in Welwyn Garden City is still a landmark, despite being much reduced. It was opened by the 4th Marquess of Salisbury on March 16th 1926. The Welwyn Garden City News – forerunner of the Welwyn Hatfield Times – reported the ceremony at length. Lord Salisbury, who had sold some of his land to Ebenezer Howard for the new City, declared that the factory was “a splendid augury of what was coming”.

The Chairman of the Canadian Company boasted that it was an “ideal factory producing an ideal food”. They had chosen Welwyn Garden because of the clean, healthy and pleasant surroundings, which were a perfect fit for the image they had created of their pure and healthy product.

Its design, by Louis de Soissons, was at the cutting edge of Modern architecture, rivalling the Bauhaus in Dessau which was opened in 1925. One newspaper described it as: "A palace of crystal, its great walls of glass held together by slender white tiled columns of concrete".

The construction of the silos used hydraulically jacked sliding shutters for the first time in this country.

Its staff enjoyed conditions that were unheard of. They did not work at the weekend. They were allowed 15-minute breaks in the morning and afternoon. They had a free canteen for lunch. Although most operations were mechanised the packing of biscuits was not. There was an annual award for the fastest packer, the first going to Kate Potter who packed an incredible 32,400 biscuits in a working day.

Because of its outstanding architectural merit and importance to the development of Welwyn Garden City the factory and original set of silos were Listed Grade II in 1981.

Above: The souvenir given to the Marquess of Salisbury following the opening of the Shredded Wheat factory in March 1926. Picture: Holly Robertson, Hatfield House.

At the Opening Ceremony the Marquess was presented with a silver cigarette case, surmounted by a shredded wheat. This magnificent piece is still in Hatfield House and displayed at important occasions. The Heritage Trust fervently hopes that one day there will be another ceremony – perhaps by the present Marquess – when this iconic building is brought back to life.

Above: Shredded Wheat factory photographed from footbridge - showing Nabisco logo. Image donated to the WGC Heritage Trust archive by Cereal Partners UK as part of the 'Where Do You Think We Worked?' project.

The above article by Geoffrey Hollis for the WGC Heritage Trust was originally published in the Welwyn Hatfield Times on 18 May 2022.