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Mary Farrow

Mary Farrow (nee Cragg) developed the ketchup brewing / ketchup manufacturing business of her husband Joseph Farrow (1850 – 1939).

She died on May 22nd, 1926, and Sir Richard Winfrey (Liberal MP for South West Norfolk (1895 to 1924) had this to say in a personal reflection after her passing:

The Late Mrs Joseph Farrow – An Appreciation By Sir Richard Winfrey  


It is now over forty years since I first came to know the late Mrs Farrow, and as years have gone by I have more and more come to appreciate what a remarkable personality she was – quite one of the most remarkable women I have ever met. Brought up a small farmer’s daughter at Sutton St James (I remember her father and mother Mr and Mrs Cragg, quite well), she achieved by most determined industry and considerable intellectual ability, spread over many years, a position for herself in the industrial world, which was the admiration of all who knew her.

She started her married life with Mr Farrow, who was a saddler and harness maker at Whaplode Drove, and it was there I believe, she began to make ketchup sauce from the mushrooms which abound on the grass lands of that district. When I came to know her first in 1885, the family had moved to Holbeach, and there in a building which had once been a brewery, both she and her husband extended the ketchup business until it became quite and important trade with customers all over the country. The connection thus made with condiment retailers led to the pregnant idea of also manufacturing mustard.

I remember so well on my first visit to them (in company with Mr Halley Stewart, who was just commencing his election campaign, and he had no more enthusiastic supporters than Mr and Mrs Farrow), with what pride Mrs Farrow showed us in an outhouse the first stamp erected for the crushing of the mustard seed. At that time she had one man working, and she was quickly learning from him (I believe he had once been employed by Colman’s) all the methods of mixing and making the mustard of commerce, as we know it on our tables. “Why” said Mrs Farrow “should Colman’s and Keen’s have the monopoly of mustard?”

It will be easily understood that the initial difficulties of manufacture, and the subsequent efforts of getting the article on to the market in the face of the keen competition of established firms, with a large amount of capital and prestige at their backs, was no little achievement. But by steady perseverance and very hard work, Mr and Mrs Farrow achieved their object, and in a few years the premises at Holbeach became too small for their expanding business. They then purchased a large house and granary at Boston, which was converted into a factory, and progress became even more rapid.

On one occasion I remember calling, and found Mrs Farrow setting up type from a printer’s case, with two or three boys around her. She said “ I am tired of paying the price printers charge me for my labels for the mustard tins, so I am starting my one printing” and she herself first learnt all there was to know about the art of printing, and then taught her staff. The next time I called she was installing machinery to make her own mustard tins. She said: “I am tired of paying the price they charge me for this!” and so by her energy and foresight every department was developed and extended.

Mr Farrow did his part “on the road” and soon they had their own commercials touring not only this country, but also abroad. Both Mr and Mrs Farrow travelled extensively on the Continent, and in America breaking fresh ground for Farrow’s Mustard.

Afterwards came the building of the large and well equipped factory at Peterborough, and Mr and Mrs Farrow took up their residence at “Westwood” on Thorpe Road. Into the more modern development of this great business I need to enter, for the present generation have watched its growth as I have, with admiration.

The pea business, which is now so extensive, was I believed, added in the Boston days; anyway when one comes to look back on those small beginnings at Holbeach forty years ago, it shows that it was in those early days that the “master mind” was in evidence. It was the determination to master all difficulties by hook or by crook through long and patient months and years, that success was in the end achieved.

Mrs Farrow was certainly not an eight hours a day person, and amidst all her business activities she found time to help many good causes. She was an ardent temperance reformer, an active member of the Baptist body, and a convinced Liberal politician. I believe she used to say that she and I made our first political speeches together, at Sutton St James, in 1885. Certainly both she and Mr Farrow drove Mr Stewart and I on many journeys both in Fen and March during that memorable election.

Her family may well be proud of her distinguished record and achievement. She has lived to enjoy some years of retirement at Bowthorpe Hall, Wisbech, surrounded by her family and friends, to whom she has been ever so generous and kind.”

Mary Farrow’s estate was valued for probate at the sum of £41,408 15s 10d – about £2.5m in today’s terms.




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