Showerings Limited of Shepton Mallet, Somerset
IN THE EARLY 1950s PEOPLE in the Bristol area became the first in the world to sample a new champagne perry drink. Neither they nor the makers, Showerings Limited of Shepton Mallet, could have realised that this small-scale marketing was to be the beginning of a staggering success story.
In 1953 the drink was launched nationally, backed by massive advertising and linked with an imaginary little chamois which had a quizzical expression and a bow round its neck. The drink was Babycham.
It changed the drinking habits of a nation and turned the small brewing and cider-making business at Shepton Mallet into a concern of world wide importance. Still controlled by the Showering family, the company has grown to the size where it now holds a major interest in the £17,000,000 group brought about by the merger of Showerings with VP. and Whiteways.
The Showerings family have been brewers and cider makers at Shepton Mallet for over 200 years, and in the Board Room at the factory there is a picture of the old market place which shows that a Showering was proprietor of the Black Swan well over 100 years ago.
The great grandfather of the present generation of Showerings built a brewery in Kilver Street, and this site still forms part of the present factory. He showed considerable business acumen by acquiring the land in 1843 while the building there was in flames and his own employees were working a bucket chain helping to put the fire out.
The real emergence of Showerings from the small-town class of company came in the 1920s when the four Showerings brothers, Mr. Arthur, the brewery expert who retired from the Board in 1953 when brewing was given up by Showerings, Mr. Herbert, now chairman, Mr. Francis, the production expert, now managing director, and Mr. Ralph, the sales director, came into the business.
In 1932 Showerings Limited was incorporated as a private company and the expansion began. In the late 1930s Mr. Francis Showering started research into developing new techniques in the production and fermentation of fruit juices. In late 1946 this research resulted in a new champagne perry of outstanding quality which took premier awards in the next few years in every national competition in the country. It even took the award of the Royal Agricultural Society of England Championship, the only championship offered for perry since the war.
The success of the drink decided the company to produce it on a large scale commercially and to market it under a registered name. Together the brothers hit on the name ‘Babycham’, and it was placed on sale to the public at 1 shilling & 3d, per bottle. Since then, despite rising costs, the vast scale on which Babycham is produced has enabled Showerings to raise the price of it by only 1d., and this in-crease did not come until July of this year.
Babycham met with an instant and massive demand. The main problem from the start was how to keep production abreast with orders but by the autumn of 1954 the pre-Christmas rush exceeded all available supplies. Rather than reduce the quality of the drink, Showerings decided to introduce a quota system, which had to be continued for 20 months before sufficient supplies of Babycham were available to meet the ever-increasing demand.
The chief raw material is pear juice and the company now buys most of the total United Kingdom production of pears suitable for perry and also has valuable sources of supply on the Continent. To prevent a possible crop failure hitting production, the firm always carries a stock of pear juice sufficient to meet more than 2 years’ requirements. In addition it has embarked on a policy of establishing its own orchards and now owns more than 3,000 acres of them at North Petherton, Durston, Bishop’s Lydeard, Milverton and South Petherton.
Babycham is popular abroad as well as here, with more than 5 of total production being exported.
Although the fortunes of Showerings Limited have been based on Babycham, the company’s interests have diversified over the years. R. N. Coate & Co. Limited, a company incorporated in May 1925 which had become a well-known Somerset cider firm in its own right, became part of the Showering Group in March 1956 and its chairman, Mr. Redvers R. N. Coate, is now on the Showerings Board.
In September of 1956 the Magna Cider, Fruit and Farming Company Limited of Marston Magna, Somerset which had also carried on the cider-making business, was acquired by Showerings. Showerings’ own cider production at Shepton Mallet was abandoned so that the works there could concentrate on the production of Babycham and Coates took over the group’s entire cider production.
The premises at Marston Magna have now been converted into a winery for the production of the ‘Magna’ range of British wines.
In February 1959 Showerings itself became a public company and the offer of 2,400,000 ordinary shares of 5 shillings. each, at 16/- per share, met with a tremendous response. Since then the Group has continued to grow and diversify.
The old-established London wine firm of James Duval & Co. Limited was acquired in November 1959, and in June 1961 William Gaymer & Son Limited of Norfolk, Britain’s oldest cider making firm and holder of a Royal Warrant, was also acquired with its associated wine company, Vineyard Winery Company Limited. News of the merger with Vine Products Limited and Whiteways Cyder Co. Limited, the Devon cider and wine firm, came in September 1961, and it means that virtually the whole of the British wine-making industry and nearly half the cider industry is concentrated in one group.
The fifth generation of Showerings to join the company since its foundation at Kilver Street is now represented on the Board. Mr. Keith Showering, who is Mr. Herbert’s son and 31 years old, became a director in 1951.
The resources of Showerings Limited are now enormous. Its road fleet of lorries is known all over the country. It has depots in London and elsewhere and total storage capacity of 11,000,000 gallons. It employs in this country and in Ireland 1,650 people.
The drinks it produces include, besides Babycham, a full range of ciders under the Coates and Gaymers labels, and a range of British and imported wines marketed through Jules Duval Limited. The latest additions to these wines are the Magna Gold Label wines - Magna Golden Cream and Magna Old Tawny produced at Marston Magna from imported grape juice by a unique fermentation method perfected by Mr. Francis Showering.
These wines were launched in October 1961 and a novel feature is that they may be bought in half-gallon carafes which are smaller, specially-designed versions of the highly successful half-gallon pitchers introduced in the early summer for the marketing of Coates ciders.
There is naturally a certain sentimental attachment at Shepton Mallet for a baby chamois deer wit an angelic face and a bow round its neck. No such creature ever existed in nature but the Chinese water deer is perhaps as near an approach to the trade mark as nature manages in temporate climates.
Some years ago the Showerings bought three of these deer, which stand only two feet high, and placed them in a paddock at Shepton Mallet. Fortune has smiled on them no less than on the firm, and they have grown into a herd of 18.
October 2002 - Sale of the Showering Family Home
Princes Lodge designed for and lived in by Sir Francis Showering of Babycham fame, was brought to the market by Savills Bristol office on behalf of Peter Aikens, former Chairman of brewers Matthew Clark plc, last year. His son, Mike Aikens recommended the team to his father following their successful sale of his Georgian townhouse in Redland, Bristol, which sold at the time for a record price for the road.
The purchaser was a London buyer looking for a country home with some land. He saw amongst others six properties through the Savills' Bristol and Bath offices before securing Princes Lodge - the guide price was £950,000.
Set in 32 acres including 6 acres of formal gardens the main house included 4 bedrooms with further accommodation of 2 bedrooms provided by a guest/staff cottage. In the grounds was a tennis court, large pond, under terrace shooting range, an orchard, woodland and paddocks.
Babycham is the trade name of a light, sparkling perry invented by Francis Showering, a brewer in Shepton Mallet in Somerset. Launched nationally in the UK in 1953, the drink was possibly the very first 'alcopop', marketed with pioneering television advertisements to appeal to women.
Popular through the 1960s into the 1970s, the brand's appeal waned with the rise of wine and ready-mixed spirit drinks. The current owners are trying to reverse this, with some success, following the reinstatement of its leaping fawn trademark, a giant version of which used to adorn the Shepton factory where it is produced.
Possibly indicative of its status at the time, it appeared as the butt of many jokes in the 1993 BBC comedy series The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer, suggesting that it was a suitable drink for babies. It is also referenced by several characters in the '80s TV comedy The Young Ones . In addition a series of television advertisements for Babycham are referenced in the 1988 film 'The Firm' (directed by Alan Clarke) in which a football hooligan jokingly tells his friend who is ordering drinks at the bar 'Hey, I'll have a Babycham'.
Babycham can also be used as a mixer for brandy. The resultant 'brandy and Babycham' was particularly en vogue in Blackpool during the 1980s.
Similarly, in central Scotland, Babycham has in recent years been used as a mixer for the fortified wine Buckfast. This potent blend is known as 'Buckcham' or 'Babyfast'.
Baby Cham is also a Jamaican dancehall artist. Pete Doherty, frontman of UK group The Libertines, named his next musical project Babyshambles, the connection to Babycham evident in not only the portmanteau of 'Babycham' and 'shambles,' but also in light of Doherty's fondness for indulgence.