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Jones Dairy, Henry Jones & family

April 12, 2010
by the gentle author

Henry Jones, with his wife Sarah and family, who came from Aberystwyth in 1877 to found Jones Dairy.

There are probably more Henrys in the Jones family than you will find in all of Shakespeare’s History plays. The enterprising gentleman pictured up above in the apron who founded the venerable dairy in Stoney Lane, off Middlesex St, was the first recorded Henry Jones in this particular branch. His proud grandson on the right of my portrait of this current incarnation of the Jones family business (now based around the corner in Middlesex St) is another Henry Jones and the grinning great-grandson standing behind him on the left is the most recent Henry Jones, a fourth generation dairyman, who is destined to carry the line onwards into the future with his sister Lucy. Henry senior with his wife Catherine (in the centre) and brother Trevor (on the left) are the current partners in Jones Bros, where Catherine and Henry’s children Henry and Lucy work today.

The first Henry Jones had eleven children, so it is not impossible there were other Henrys along the way but, as a consequence of all those siblings, the Jones family is not unlike Rabbit’s family in “The House at Pooh Corner,” with so many cousins and uncles and aunts that the margins of the clan blur into obscurity, which means we cannot ascertain for sure the exact number of Henrys. What is certain is that during the marathon that was the twentieth century, it was Henry Jones and his family dairy who stayed the course – through two World Wars and negotiating all the obstacles history threw in their path – running a relay over successive generations, and still delivering pints today after more than one hundred and thirty years when other Welsh dairies fell by the wayside. No-one else, it seems, could keep up with the Joneses. In Middlesex St alone there were once Morgans’ and Lewis’ Dairies, and at least two other Jones Dairies in Puma Court and Ezra St (no relation) have gone – not to mention Barker’s Dairy in Toynbee St where Isabelle Barker grew up and which is believed to have closed in World War II, Henry had never even heard of that one.

Out of all the Welsh family dairies in the East End, only Jones Bros exists today, which is a triumph for the family. What is the secret of their longevity and of those eleven children? Is this the source of the myth of the legendary virility of the milkman? Dare I say it, perhaps there really is something in the milk?Today, the resultant Jones dynasty comprises its own hereditary monarchy of dairymen and women. They are the kings and queens of dairy and, should you require confirmation of this, the current Henry Jones senior is also a freeman of the City of London and you will see Jones Bros marching in the Lord Mayor’s Parade this year.“I even think of myself as English now,” admitted Henry with startling candour.

It was my pleasure to meet Henry in his office up above the shop in Middlesex St where he runs the business and keeps the family photograph collection in a large album. Originally, the Joneses were dairy farmers who saw the opportunity to drive their cattle from Wales to supply fresh milk. It seems incredible now to even imagine the drovers bringing cattle from all over the country to London, but you only have to look around the streets of our capital to see the evidence of this in the form of the old stone cattle troughs that remain today on all the major roads.

When the first Henry Jones died in 1921, it was up to his wife Sarah to run the dairy with the help of her eleven children. A task that cannot have been easy, witnessed by the 1929 letter reproduced below from the clerk of the Public Health Department complaining about the behaviour of her young ones – a document that is a comic anachronism now but which must have caused heartache to Sarah. No wonder she chose to take a break from the arduous task of being a lone business woman and single parent to eleven children, by sitting on a milk churn to catch her breath while a photo was taken. Yet Sarah was a popular and magnanimous figure, who became an East End legend when two hundred people turned up at Euston Station to sing hymns, giving her an honourable send-off when she finally returned to Aberystwyth in her coffin.

Once Sarah died in 1937, the legacy was divided between all eleven children, but sons Eric and David bought out the business, becoming Jones Bros. It was Eric who married Nellie and fathered Henry and Trevor Jones, who were born on the premises and run the business today. But once World War II came, Eric and David were sent off to fight in India and Africa, and it was up to the Jones sisters Gladys, Bessie and Elsie to step in and do the milk rounds for the duration, which brought unexpected glamour to the dairy and became a national news story.

Then, forty years ago, Stoney Lane was demolished and a monolithic concrete housing development was built on the site, in which Jones Bros opened their new shop in Middlesex St. Henry and Trevor both joined the business at fifteen years old, once they left school. “When I started, we got up at four to do the milk round and then work in the shop, seven days a week. Sunday trading was very big then and we used to open until midnight on Saturdays too.” explained Henry. It was touching to hear Henry speak of Jones Bros because it was always personal, the business and the family are one and the same for him. In one moment, he spoke of how the transition from iron to lightweight plastic crates doubled the capacity of a milk float and, in another, of waking up in his mother’s bed at five years old to discover she had died.

In Henry and Trevor’s time as dairymen, both the trade and the nature of their lives have changed as residential deliveries diminished, dairy products became widely available at other shops than dairies and supermarkets sold cheap milk as a loss leader. In the eighties, the business could have folded but instead they expanded boldly, opening a warehouse in Stepney and widening operations to cover Canary Wharf, the City of London, the West End and South Bank too. Yet still there are obstacles, Henry remembers the IRA bombs at St Mary Axe and Bishopsgate, which took away his customers in a flash. Then last year, the dairy’s major supplier went bankrupt in the recession and Henry had to find a replacement overnight, only to discover that without a credit rating he would now have to pay weekly, creating a cash flow crisis that again might have brought the business down.

With all these crises safely in the past, Henry junior and his sister Lucy came in to join the family photo shoot and were excited to see their father had brought out the old photo album, envelopes of pictures and boxes of ancient round books. It became an impromptu party as we all crammed into the office, turning over these artifacts in shared fascination and choosing which ones to show you. Then we walked out together into the dazzling sunlight of a happy April morning to enjoy taking the photos that comprise the next chapter in the long-running family drama of Jones Dairies.

Sarah takes a moment’s rest from running the dairy and caring for her eleven children.

The notorious letter.

The famous tribute.

Eric with two of his fellow milkmen.

David and Eric Jones outside the dairy in Stoney Lane.

The glamorous Jones Sisters.

Nellie Jones with an assistant at the dairy counter, with young Henry sneaking into the photo too.

After World War II, Eric and David bought the premises next door and expanded.

Trevor Jones outside Jones Bros dairy

Henry Jones could not wait to get behind the wheel of a milk float.

The current partners, Trevor, Catherine and Henry Jones.

Henry and Lucy Jones, the next generation.

18 Responses leave one →
  1. April 12, 2010

    would you make a comment on the unfortunate riots in brick lane last week. it seems it was a sample sale for american apperal. thank you. another great post. i hope its sunny there

  2. the gentle author permalink
    April 12, 2010

    I was walking down Hanbury St on Good Friday at ten in the morning when I saw the queue fifteen deep and stretching from the Truman Brewery round to Commercial St. In Commercial St I could see hundreds more running from Liverpool St Station to join the line. Several hours later, I came back around one and the place was swarming with riot police who formed a human chain to block off Brick Lane. So they closed the sale down and for the rest of the day every vintage store had a line with a one-in-and-one-out policy. Once upon a time we had race riots in Brick Lane, now we have riots over shopping. I think this is progress of a kind.

  3. April 12, 2010

    wow!! i thought it was a publicity stunt. thank you for writting back.

  4. Mary Green permalink
    January 9, 2012

    Ther photos of Jones Bros Dairy are fabulous! Thank you so much. I am interested as my father’s family came up from Ceredigion in the late 19C and started a dairy business in the Hackney and Bethnal Green area. Their last one was in Mape Street – Edwards was the name – and they were bought out in the early 1950s. My uncle Dave was the last one remaining in London in the dairy business; he had three dairies, one in Cambridge Crescent, one in Viner Street and one somewhere else, but after getting mugged for the third time he sold up and ended his days in Hackney, dying in 1984. I heard many tales from the family about the joys of bottling up at 3am! As the family historian I am now a custodian of all those stories and of course the old photos.

  5. glyn morgan permalink
    July 9, 2012

    I am trying to find out about my father his name was Thomas John Jones Morgan. He was born in 1909 and stated that he delivered milk when he was a boy for his father, who had a dairy near Columbia road and also went to school in Columbia road. I notice that there was a dairy named Morgan do you know if a Jones married a Morgan.

  6. Nicola Morgan permalink
    July 16, 2012

    I am so pleased to have found this website.
    Sarah Jones (nee Morgan ) I believe was my Grandfathers aunt and, if I have the right Sarah Jones she came from Brynbala Farm, Borth, Nr Aberystwyth. I visited Stoney Lane last month
    just so that I could say that I had been there.

    Do you have many old photographs of the dairy? Or possibly any old photos of Sarah.

    If I have worked out my family history correctly
    Sarah and Henry had a son Richard Morgan Jones who died aged 1 on 14th October 1900.

    Sarahs brother John was my great grandfather

  7. Richard Naylor permalink
    November 10, 2012

    For 25 years (1981 – 2007) I owned and ran another Jones Dairy, the one referred in the commentary to as being gone, in Ezra Street, just off Columbia Road. There was no other Jones Dairy in Ezra Street, but there was an unrelated one in Old Bethnal Green Road. I purchased the Ezra Street Jones Dairy from brother and sister, John and Megan Evans who had owned and run it ever since their mother, Sarah, had died. Sarah, whose maiden name was Evans, had come to work for John Jones who had taken over the shop in Ezra Street early in the century (see later), he also having a shop in nearby Turin Street (now demolished). Whilst working there she met a David Evans (no close relation, I think, least I hope not) and marrying, went to live with him in his shop (or a shop owned by a Wright’s Dairy) in Chelsea. They had three children: Megan, David and John, but shortly after John’s birth, husband David died, leaving Sarah Evans with a dairy shop to run and three very young children to bring up (similar to Sarah Jones of Stoney Lane). If that wasn’t hard enough, the War soon made it harder, and shortly after, Sarah married her former boss John Jones and went with (presumably) the proceeds of the Chelsea dairy and Megan, now 14, David, 10, and John, 8, to live in Ezra Street. All grew up and worked in the business. The reorganisation of agriculture and particularly the formation of the large wholesale and retail dairies for the Second World War made most small dairies and certainly cow-keeping in the city unviable, and David left, working first for the Post Office and then for the Civil Service, opting to go with decentralisation and choosing to live in Norwich. David and Megan stayed.
    In 2005, I sought out John, who had retired with Megan to Aberystwith (mother Sarah had been born in Llanon nearby) and David, still living in Norwich. Megan had died some years before.
    Some years after I took over Jones Dairy, I had to replace the shop-front paintwork. I traced the existing and stripped off what was left of the paint before restoring it to how it was. The name was actually (and still is) ‘S JONES’, but I did not know then that the ‘S’ stood for Sarah. Below the paintwork that I stripped off, and this might be of interest to Glyn Morgan, was the name ‘Morgan’. The building was built probably around 1898 or 1899: John Jones went there in 1902 I believe, therefore, just enough time for the shop to be under the ownership of Morgan. It and it’s neighbour, which housed the bottling and hand-cart store, were spared demolition in slum clearance at the end of the seventies and are still there. Google: ‘Jones Dairy’.
    Incidently, the cows were not driven down from Wales to be milked: the poor dears would have been too exhausted. As in other dairies, the cows were kept in the attached sheds for the six-month lactation period and then exchanged with animals from farms in nearby Hertfordshire. These were often walked in and out. The Dairy Keepers were mostly Welsh immigrants of the nineteenth century and maintained their Welshness through the language, Welsh Centres, Chapels and Sports, and contact with relatives back in Wales. The cattle driving from Wales occurred between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries to sell as meat at Smithfield to feed the expanding late medieval Metropolis: it was this driving of cattle (money on legs) that brought the (mainly female) first wave of immigrants as cheap labour to work the market gardens and to finance the (mostly male) Welsh entrepreneurs in the City. The development of the city dairies came about only when the city had expanded too far for the milk to be brought in from the retreating countryside and had to be produced within the city itself: this second, nineteenth century wave of immigration is what constituted ‘The London Welsh’ and coincided with the decline of mixed farming in Wales.

    Richard Naylor 10.11.2012

  8. Megan Hayes permalink
    April 4, 2013

    I am currently researching for a book to be published next year on the LW milk trade during the last century – a narrative which is fast disappearing into myth. There is a publisher and we hope for a grant from the Welsh Book council. This web site is more than interesting and will be valuable. Where appropriate and possible anything used will be acknowledged.
    What is really needed are pictures of cows in the byers attached to the dairies.
    Can any one helped?
    Megan Hayes

  9. April 25, 2013

    What a wonderful website! My great-great grandfather, Edward LUCAS, went to London from mid-wales (Parish of Llangurig) to open a dairy in Upper Cleveland Street in the 1830s. He had been a sheep farmer and was no longer young, but the new business seems to have thrived, passing to his wife in 1844 and their daughter in 1854. She ran it, with her niece, until her death in 1885. The shop has not survived, being more or less where the Post Office Tower is now, so I was fascinated and delighted by your pictures and stories.
    Thank you.

  10. Ann Millington permalink
    April 28, 2013

    Hi I am looking for any records from the early 1900 my Grandfather Thomas Parsons was a milk carrier and I am trying to find out if any records exist to enable me to find out who he worked for, my father remembered riding with him on a horse and cart with the milk churns on the back, so it was around 1900 to 1908 approx. My grandmother originally came from Aberystwyth with her family. any help with this would be appreciated.

    Thank you

  11. Maureen Marshom (nee Firmin) permalink
    April 30, 2013

    My father Sammy Firmin had his own milk round. My parents had a shop in Sidney Street and ran the milk round from there. My brothers and I used to go with him on Sundays to collect the money plus deliver newspapers and bagels with their milk. This was in the 40′s and 50′s. On Sundays during the summer months after collecting the weekly monies, we used to deliver milk and groceries etc to the hop fields in the country where most of our neighbours went on holiday to earn extra money. They always were grateful seeing my father there as he was such a happy go lucky chap and extremely generous. He sold his milk round when he was 58 to United Dairies.

  12. frank hadley permalink
    September 14, 2013

    I knew the jones boys as we lived in herbert house off goulston st. they were a nice family. i remember bumping into them on a day out with my dad and brothers in brighton, what a surprise. all this was in the 1950s. happy times. good luck to you all.

  13. Raju permalink
    November 4, 2013

    Oh well, next Sunday (10th November 2013) could be the last day of Jones Dairy Cafe in Ezra street. Not sure what is happening. New owners are taking over. Thanks Richard Naylor and the rest. 24 years 6 months of my sundays since May 1989 spent washing up…hahaha also meant this sruffy and scrawny east end nipper did not starve for 24 1/2 years!!!! hahaha great memories and stories. I also have pictures. I will sort them over the next few months Richard (if you get to read this).
    Thanx once again.

  14. Leebanks permalink
    February 11, 2014

    To henry it is lee banks tony son i hope you are ok can ring me on my mobile wich is 07852851367 from lee banks tony son

  15. Barbara Fisher/ Kantor permalink
    April 24, 2014

    I was born in 1945 and lived in Artizans Buildings. I remember the dairy . There was a sweet shop next door. I moved away when I was 5 or 6, so don’t remember a lot. It was a wonderful story to learn about the family.

  16. Ivor P Morgan permalink
    January 24, 2016

    Very interesting history this. There is no mention here of the Morgan family of Willesden Green and Cricklewood. And on my other side, there was a Jones Dairy in Danbury street and Clarendon Road (Islington). This Jones family retired to Silian, Ceredigion before WW2. I spent some of WW2 as a young lad in Silian and most of the rest of WW2 in Cricklewood (for all the wrong bits). But later, my brothers and I spent all of our Easters and summers in Ceredigion. The milk round in Cricklewood went in WW2 and the shop in the early 1960s.
    I live in the USA and my older brother in Australia. My late younger brother was in Glasgow. This is how the Welsh moved around the world.
    Best wishes. I shall read the book on the London Dairy Trade.

    Ivor PM

  17. Angela Harris permalink
    July 31, 2016

    My ancestor was William Williams who brought his cows to London from Cardiganshire before 1841. He was born in 1815/16 in Aberystwyth district and lived for a time in Clerkenwell before moving across the river to Fashion Street in Bermondsey where he was a cow keeper and dairyman. The family story is that he was ruined when his cows caught foot and mouth and died in the Infirmary. He is buried in Abney Park cemetery but I do not think he was a non-conformist. I think it was a family connection. All the records suggest he was established church. If anyone knows about foot and mouth in the time around 1881, or anything about Bermondsey dairies that would be fantastic. His father was John Williams and was a farmer and cattle dealer.

  18. Nancy Evans permalink
    August 30, 2017

    Apparently, my G Grandfather Tomas Jones was a cowkeeper, lived at 21 Fairbank Street and apparently had a dairy in Dean Street?????

    Any connection with any of these wonderful Jones’?

    would just love to know.

    My Grandmother Annie Hughes also had a store in this region – not sure where

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