Five men and an idea - 100 years in chocolate!
While Russell & Atwell celebrate our 1st year, this October also marks 100 years for Giles (Atwell's) family working in Chocolate.
Back on 20th October 1921 with the very first order of a 7lb chocolate block, 'Lesme Ltd' was Founded by my grandfather (Leslie Atwell, later OBE) with '5 men and an idea' on Scrubbs Lane in London. The business and the factory remained and thrived there until the early 1980s when my Dad (David) ran it, moved it to Banbury and led it to become the single largest UK manufacturer of couverture chocolate. Eventually the company became part of the Barry Callebaut global chocolate business in 1990.
While you are unlikely to have heard of the brand, you probably ate their chocolate. That's because Lesme made 'couverture' chocolate that went into and onto foods like the first Walls Choc Ice in 1927, Maryland Cookies in the 1950s and lots and lots of other products sold in bakeries, chocolate shops, restaurants, cafes and many major supermarkets in the UK and across the world.
The chocolate was supplied in blocks initially, then in chips in the 1950s and latterly in liquid form in chocolate tankers from 1958 for larger customers - imagine a tanker with 15 tons of liquid chocolate!
I have vivid childhood memories of charging down the corridor to barge into my Dad's office on a Friday evening at Scrubbs Lane and sample the latest flavours, despite being instructed to wait outside; of the beautiful hand-made eggs we would receive at Easter and, above all, of often discussing and never running out of chocolate at home!
It's kind of wonderful to be writing this all these years later, sitting at my Grandfather's slightly battered desk and with the little Lesme toy tanker I played with as a child keeping me company as Steve and I build our new business.
It was also very special to be joined on our stand when we exhibited at the Fine Food Show a couple of weeks ago by my Dad, who had both parental and professional curiosity as to what we were up to!
Having by chance ended up working in Cadbury, where I stayed for 14 years, and then Godiva, I had long had a dream to start my own business in chocolate. So, it was with 'Two men and a fresh Idea', that Steve and I hatched Russell & Atwell almost 100 years after Lesme began.
If you've read this far, on what is a somewhat self-indulgent and certainly nostalgic blog - thank you!
Here's to the next 100 years in Chocolate...
If you'd like to read our 1st birthday blog - click here:
And for our second birthday blog - click here
Bernard Devaney —
I worked at Lesme Scrubs lane 1960 as electricians maté there were about eight maintenance people at the time and all the other operatives were mostly West Indian origin had a lovely time there When I went for my interview it was at Cadby Hall Which was Lyon’s at the time There was a Unigate depot next to Lesme
Alan Balcombe —
Please forgive my ignorance – I am ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of S & A Lesme, nor Callebaut, before visiting the Banbury site in about 1994, before we (VEGA) supplied pressure/level transmitters for the production area. However, the taste of the chocolate in the gift packs we were given was a major revelation for my taste buds, and I have been singing your praises ever since. These days I have to restrain my sugar consumption, so I’ve become a bit of a nerd on the subject of ‘no added sugar chocolate’. However, I wish R&A the very best of luck / success in the future – and although I know it makes me look cheap, I’d like to volunteer for any product testing that’s going! AB
John Jeffrey —
I remember the sign Lesme make friends with the coco bean or something like that. Brings back a lot of memories, I was about 13 then. Wow
Peggy keane —
My dad, Jim Humphrey worked for Lesme for 40+ years and moved with them to Banbury. I remember going to Scrubbs Lane as a child and like you having a never ending supply of chocolate as a child. He was Chief Engineer when he retired and sadly he passed away 14 years ago and your dad very kindly came to the funeral. A few weeks ago my mum and I were in a restaurant in Plymouth and she knew the taste of the chocolate immediately and was so happy when the chef told her it was Barry Callibeaut. This article has brought up so many memories of my dad and many of his colleagues. Congratulations on your new adventure and long may it last .
Jane T —
My memory of Lesme is, as a child, seeing the sign from the train or tube when going to visit my grandmother who lived in Kensal Green in the sixties and early seventies.