Peek Freans Logo
© Denzil Green
Life and Times
Peek Freans is a brand of cookies.
In the UK, the brand name is owned by United Biscuits, though they aren’t presently using it as of 2010.
In the United States, the Caribbean and Canada, the brand name is owned by Kraft, which makes the cookies in those areas.
The Canadian factory is in Toronto, Ontario — as of 2010, you can go in and buy broken biscuits / cookies.
Varieties made for the North American and Caribbean markets include:
- Assorted Crème
- Assorted Tea
- Family Digestive
- Family Shortcake
- Fruit Crème
- Pecan Passion
- Ginger Crisp
Peek Freans also offers a “Lifestyle Selections” category of cookies, with various options such as sugar free, high fibre, flax, green tea, etc.
James Peek was born 8 June 1800 in Dodbrook Devon, to a relatively well-off family.
In 1821, Richard, William and James Peek set up a tea company, called “Peek Brothers and Co”, in London. The company was very successful; in 1865 alone, they imported over five million pounds of tea.
In 1824, James married Elizabeth Masters (1799 – 1867) at St Stephens on Coleman Street, London. The couple would have 8 children.
By 1857, two of his sons Charles (age 17, 1840 – 1860) and Edward (age 16, 1841 – 1898) did not want to get involved in the family tea business. James wanted, however, to get them started in a trade of some sort, so he thought of biscuits instead for them.
By this time, one of his nieces, Hannah Peek had married George Hender Frean back in Devon. James wrote to George, saying that he was setting up a biscuit business for his sons, but that he needed George to manage it, as he still had commitments with the tea business. George agreed. The business was set up with James and George as co-partners, with the two boys working under George as they were still quite young. The factory was established at Dockhead, London in 1857.
The sons were apparently unhappy with the arrangement. Edward joined the church; Charles went back to Devon and died there shortly after in 1860, aged 20.
James and George pressed on with the business, as trade was promising. Wanting the help that he had hoped for from Jame’s sons, Frean wrote to a John Carr, of the Scottish biscuit making family. Carr had apprenticed in the family business up in Scotland, but didn’t like it. Still, Carr accepted the offer in 1860 and came down from Scotland to join the company in that year.
Timeline of Peek Freans Company
- 1857 – Company founded in Dockhead, London
- 1860 – John Carr joins the firm
- 1861 – First exports (to Australia)
- 1866 – James Peek stepped down from Peek, Frean, aged 66, installing his son-in-law Thomas Stone in his place
- 1866 – The company built and moved to a new factory at 100 Clements Road in Bermondsey, London. The land there before had been market gardens, 10 acres. One of their plants there is now the Tower Bridge Business Complex. They kept the old factory at Dockhead still going.
- 1868 – Cricket club for the employees established
- 1870 – Got order for 460 tons of ship biscuits from the French government during the Franco-Prussian war, with the order being processed through the Rothschildes. They also supplied flour to Paris in 1871 and 1872.
- 1870 – The Bermondsey plant, taking a cue perhaps from the Cadburys, was becoming a mini-village, with medical care and dentists for the workers, as well as its own fire brigade and post office. Working hours were 6am till 5:30 Monday to Friday and 6 till 2pm on Saturday, standard for those days in factories.
- 1870s – Export to Canada starts
- 1872 – The management kept everyone on the same salary but decreased the work hours required for that
- 1873 – The Dockhead factory was destroyed by fire on 23 April 1873. The fire, which started around 2 am in the morning, did not touch the administrative offices, but was so wide-ranging that the Prince of Wales come out to watch the fire fighting, and 5 barges in the water were burnt down to their water lines. The fire was so intense that ingredients exploded out of factory windows, and baked hard on the surface on the streets. Production and all workers were transferred to the new factory in Bermondsey, with production there being ramped up to compensate.
- 1879 – James Peek died on 23 January 1879, aged 79, at Watcombe, Torquay
- 1887 – Frean retired from the firm
- 1901 – The firm becomes a limited company. Francis Hedley Peek, James’s great-nephew, becomes the first chairman
- 1904 – Francis Hedley Peek dies, ending all family involvement of Peeks or Freans in the company. Carr family involvement would continue for several more generations.
- 1904 – The company sponsored a festival at the Crystal Palace in London
- 1907 – The company started a musical society for the employees
- 1908 – The company started a dramatic society for the employees
- After 1918, they introduced a week’s paid holiday for everyone, and a pension fund, and tea breaks
- 1924 – First international factory: Dum Dum, Calcutta, India, by acquiring The Britannia Biscuit Company Limited in India
- 1935 – Factory on Frederick Street in Ashfield, New South Wales, Australia (sold in 1975 to Arnott’s), set up by Richard Carr in a purpose-built art-deco building
- 1949 – Factory opened in Toronto, Canada on Bermondsey Road there, set up by Rupert Carr
- 1987 – Peek Freans was bought out by the American firm, RJR Nabisco
- 1988 – Nabisco was bought out by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts in a leveraged buy-out. To pay down all the debt accrued in the buy-out of Nabisco, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts began asset sales, selling Peek Freans UK operations to Danone. North American operations were sold to Kraft.
- 1989 – Danone ceased Peek Freans British operations and closed the London factory, saying the overheads were too high. The Bermondsey factory was closed on 26 May 1989
Timeline of Peek Freans Cookies
- 1861 — Garibaldi biscuit (see separate entry)
- 1865 – Pearl Biscuit, a plain cookie created by Carr, was an innovation. Previously all other commercially sold biscuits had been very hard. His was soft and crumbling, yet crisp. It was made without “docker-holes”, such as you see in the Garibaldi, designed to stop the biscuit inflating in the oven.
- 1875 – Marie (see separate entry on Galletas Marías)
- 1899 – Chocolate Table (the first chocolate coated cookie made commercially)
- 1902 – Pat-a-Cake shortbread introduced. Sold 3,000 tins in its first week on the market
- 1909 – Golden Puffs
- 1910 – Bourbon (was called “Creola” at first)
- 1923 – Glaxo
- 1930s – Cheeselets and Twiglets for the cocktail era (the Twiglets were invented at the Toronto plant)
Literature & Lore
In the fall of 2008, Peek Freans Canada sponsored an eight-part web soap opera series called “As the Cookie Crumbles.”
Great Fire at Dockhead. Hobart, Tasmania, Australia: The Mercury. Monday Morning. 30 June 1873. Page 2.
Pavia, Will. A peek at Peek Freans. London, England: Southwark News. 13 May 2004.
Records of Peek Frean. university of Reading, Library Special Collections Service. Document URL MS 1216. August 2007.