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Sarsaparilla & Mineral Water Sellers

January 11, 2015
by the gentle author

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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11 Responses leave one →
  1. Bee (Tingey) permalink
    January 11, 2015

    Had to smile at the family portraits hanging on the outside wall in the Brandon photo. What a lovely touch.

  2. January 11, 2015

    Good photos and stories of times gone by! Valerie

  3. Bee (Tingey) permalink
    January 11, 2015

    Wondered if Moody of Rathbone Street Market, Canning Town, were anything to do with Moody Pie and Eel shop in Chrisp Street, Poplar.

  4. January 11, 2015

    Fine story — and actual they had a sence for effective advertising !

    Love & Peace

    *** JE SUIS CHARLIE ***

  5. Gary Arber permalink
    January 11, 2015

    In the 1950’s I printed bottle labels for a man named Cyril Pomm who made a fizzy drink called “Pomzone” in a small factory in Tredegar Terrace, Bow, E.3.

  6. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    January 11, 2015

    I can vaguely remember Moody’s at Canning Town, I also remember a little further down the road at the Abbey Arms was Baldwins who also sold sarsaparilla and still to this day have their main shop in Walworth Rd South London, my late father would often take me in there to buy me a glass of sarsaparilla, years ago it was very popular, I also can remember a number of street markets around the East End that had stall’s selling sarsaparilla in fact my own market, Sclater St (club row) use to have a stall very close to my pitch that sold cordial drinks including sarsaparilla and it was still there right up until the late 1960’s I remember being fascinated by that stall they would have a long line of bottles lined up in dispenser’s like optics in a pub in all kinds of exotic looking colour’s and in the winter they would sell the drinks hot, I remember “nagging” my dad to buy me a drink from that stall, I picked out the most garish colour cordial they had, it tasted absolutely “orrible”, but the colour was lovely ! ! I do miss the old day’s.

  7. Peter Holford permalink
    January 16, 2015

    Unbelievably there is still an old temperance cafe producing its own sarsaparilla and dandelion and burdock in Rawtenstall in Lancashire – a genuinely unique survival!

  8. Ron Pummell permalink
    January 16, 2015

    I used to buy my sarsaparilla drink from a shop known a Ross Reamons located in Virginia Row at the junction with Austin Street, Bethnal Green. This shop was opposite the entrance to the Mildmay Mission Hospital. Incidentally who remembers having to sit through a short church service before receiving medical attention.

  9. Elaine Pomeransky permalink
    February 7, 2015

    Message to Gary Arber, that was my late father Cyril Pomm.

  10. Tony Wickham permalink
    May 12, 2015

    Memories! At the age of 11 to 14, that is 1956 to 1959 I worked Saturday’s at Moody’s, my job was to make the undiluted sarsaparilla inside the herbal shop which the stall stood in front of. I still remember the formula and I remember stirring in the sugar in cold water which seemed ages to dilute. I also remember the famous “Rathbone cough mixture” made to a secret formula by the past Moody. I now look at the old photos of Canning Town and the place comes alive for me again. I can still see my father coming home with his docker’s hook under his belt.

  11. ELAINE POMERANSKY permalink
    February 28, 2023

    My great grandfather had a soft drinks business in Stepney. One of his son’s ran a soft drinks company in Hackney under the name of Wellers, and the other, my grandfather had a soft drinks company in Bow called ‘Pomm’s Table waters’ London E3 based in Tredegar Terrace.

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