29th March 1854

Biscuit king Robert McVitie is born

Were it not for Robert McVitie, we might not have Jaffa Cakes, Digestives or Hobnobs. Born in Edinburgh in 1854, he set up and ran what has since become one of the world’s foremost biscuit manufacturers.

McVitie’s father, also called Robert, had been a small-scale baker and miller, operating in Edinburgh, who took it upon himself to bake biscuits. These proved popular, and helped the business to expand, but things really took off when Robert took over. In a short retrospective upon the announcement of his death, the Bristol Times and Mirror of 18 July 1910 wrote that “the late Mr McVitie was largely responsible for the growth of the firm. He started a factory in London eight years ago [and] the firm supplied the christening cakes for each of King George’s children.”

A partnership is formed

Robert McVitie employed Charles Price as a salesman, but the latter was so successful that the two eventually went into partnership to form McVitie & Price. Price had at one point also been a sales representative for chocolate-making firm Cadbury’s. Although born in Shropshire, Price was elected as the Liberal MP for Central Edinburgh and was described by The Tenby Wells Advertiser on 1 March 1910 as “one of the rare instances in which a Southerner has competed successfully in business with Scotsmen in their own country”.

It wasn’t always an easy ride, though. McVitie and Price’s Edinburgh factory, which grew to cover two and a half acres, was burned to the ground in 1894. The Lincolnshire Echo reported on 15 February that the buildings had been safe when left at eight o’clock the previous evening but that “shortly after nine the left wing was seen to be on fire, and soon the whole building was in flames. The fire burned fiercely for several hours. The damage will be about £25,000, and 300 people will be thrown idle”.

Death in England

The biscuit innovator died at his home in Berkhamsted on 15 July 1910 and was described on his memorial stone at Edinburgh’s Dean Cemetery as “a workman that needeth not to be ashamed”. 

He had been ill, and cancelled some appearances in the month running up to his death at the age of just 56. These included his attendance at a meeting of the Harlesden Conservative Association of which the biscuit-maker was president.



Other events that occured in March

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