Sarsaparilla & Mineral Water Sellers
By coincidence, two readers – Christine Osborne & Janice Oliver – both sent me photographs of their ancestors who produced and sold soft drinks in the East End – Brandon’s Mineral Waters of Virginia Rd, Bethnal Green, and Moody’s Sarsaparilla of Rathbone St Market, Canning Town
William Brandon and his mineral water business, 112 Virginia Rd, Bethnal Green c.1887
“William Brandon is my great-great-great uncle, born 10th August 1840 in Bethnal Green as the youngest of seven children. In 1881, he was living with his wife Matilda and their nine children at 112 Virginia Rd where he was a Mineral Water Manufacturer.
I am fascinated by the large framed photographs hanging up on the outside of the building – the one in the centre might be an advertisement as it looks like it says ‘W. Brandon’ and I can even make out ‘Brandon’ stamped on the crates under the table. If you look at the sign at top right of photograph it shows a picture of a bow tie and I believe this is his trademark, as I have obtained an old bottle dug up from a Victorian dump in Stratford with the name ‘Brandon’ and a bow tie symbol.
When William died in 1905 he left £2343 and Matilda took over the business. A newspaper obituary referred to “William Brandon, who was a mineral water manufacturer of note” and recorded his funeral “was of an imposing character.” He was a self-made man who lived all his life on the edge of the Old Nichol, but he must have had a good life compared to most people living there.” – Christine Osborne
Annie Moody of Moody’s of Rathbone St Market, Canning Town c.1910
“My grandfather, George Moody, was born in Ramsgate in 1879 into a long line of seafarers, and became an Officer in the Navy and travelled the world. After marrying my grandmother, Annie Andrews who was born in Broadstairs, they moved to Canning Town in 1909 where he opened a Herbalists in Rathbone St and started making potions for everyday ailments, using knowledge of herbal medicine he had acquired on his travels. He also offered Homeopathy and local people came for consultations. I remember as a child helping to put ’Rathbone’ skin ointment into tins, and there was also ‘Rathbone ‘ cough mixture and various other concoctions.
Soon he formulated a recipe for making a Sarsaparilla drink – sarsaparilla is a medicinal root which is reputed to help purify the blood. This was sold outside the shop from a stall which was equipped with barrels of the cordial and a water urn. It was served hot in the winter and huge blocks of ice were put into the water barrel to chill it in aummer.
As a girl I used to ’wash’ the glasses, which merely entailed dunking them into a bucket of cold water after use and leaving them upturned to drain. My mother told me that a famous drinks firm had offered money for the recipe but my grandfather would not part with it and I still have it until this day. So many people have requested it but it remains a family secret. My grandfather George died in 1945, but my mother and then an uncle continued with the business until the late seventies.” - Janice Oliver
Vera Moody of Moody’s of Rathbone St Market, Canning Town
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