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Foster Brothers

Thomas Nelson Foster and his brother Richard Gibbs Foster established an oilseed crushing mill on Bakers Quay in 1862, and the mill continued to be managed by three generations of the Foster family until 1945. This page gives brief details about Foster Brothers' business, and another page features their
oil & cake mill.

Early Years
     Following a fire at their former premises at Evesham, the two Foster brothers set up a new mill and warehouse at Gloucester in 1862 to take advantage of direct access by sea-going ships. Batches of imported linseed and cotton seed were crushed, heated and then pressed to extract the oil, and the residue was sold as cattle cake. The products were mainly sent out by rail from a siding adjoining the mill. In the early years, they had about ten employees.

     A major expansion of the premises was carried out in 1891-93 to provide more milling capacity and warehouse space with a detached boiler house and a tank house to the east. The output capacity was 600 tons per week, and the workforce increased to over 100, including some working shifts. Working conditions were not pleasant due to the heat applied before pressing. In 1899, the business joined with sixteen other similar firms around the country to form British Oil & Cake Mills Ltd (known as BOCM).
     Another phase of expansion took place in 1910, including the installation of a second mill and a de-odorising plant in the eastern part of the premises, and the capacity rose to 1000 tons per week. In the 1920s, a large shed was erected on the north side of Monk Meadow Dock to contain oil storage tanks, and the oil was transferred from the main site by a small tanker barge. In 1925 BOCM was taken over by Lever Brothers, but the mill at Gloucester continued to be managed by members of the Foster family until 1945.

Raw Materials and Products
     During the 1920s and 30s, Foster Bros mainly processed linseed (from Argentina, India and Canada), cotton seed (from Egypt, Bombay and Greece) and groundnuts (from the west coast of Africa). Most of this material came by large ship to Sharpness and then by barge to Gloucester, although some was brought round the coast from Hull by steamer. The word soon spread when a barge containing groundnuts arrived, and local lads became experts at collecting handfuls when the firm's watchman was not looking.
     Much of the linseed oil was sold to paint and varnish manufacturers and some was used in making linoleum. Cotton seed oil was sold for fish frying and soap making, and groundnut oil for making margarine. It was all sent out in barrels made on the premises. Much of the residual cake was sold as slabs direct to farmers, while some was mixed with grain and certain additives to produce a range of balanced animal feeds sold in hessian sacks.

End of Oil Seed Crushing
     In the early 1950s, BOCM installed a big new oil extraction plant at Avonmouth, using a continuous process rather than the previous batch operations. This led to the closure of the mill at Gloucester c1955, and the building was later sold to West Midlands Farmers. At the same time the Monk Meadow building was converted to a distribution depot for products made at Avonmouth. However, following the development of the motorway network and the opening of the Severn Bridge, the need for the distribution depot at Monk Meadow declined as customers could readily collect from Avonmouth, and the depot closed in the mid 1970s.

Sources: Glos Chron 26 Jul 1862, 3 Sep 1910, 3 Feb 1923; Glo Jnl 21 May 1892; Glos Coll JV 13.1, JR 13.8, NQ 15.8; memories of former employees.

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