Just around the corner from the British Museum is a building with a very distinctive architecture which usually causes people to stop and stare for a moment, even if only to wonder how a Pizza Express has ended up occupying what is proudly claimed to be an outpost of the The Dairy Supply Company Limited.

The Dairy Supply Company

The building – which was built in 1888 – can indirectly be traced back to 1864, when a certain George Barham founded the Express Country Milk Supply Company, which transformed the milk supply industry by bringing milk into the Capital by railway from rural farms, rather than relying on city-dwelling cows.

His timing was fortuitous, as most of London’s bovine supply was cut off by a mass cull of the cows in 1865 due to an outbreak of cattle plague. His business prospered, and by 1885 the “Express Dairy Company Limited” was bringing 30,000 gallons of milk into the capital every night.

He was also an inventor – he invented the milk churn – and set up a separate organisation, The Dairy Supply Company to specialise in selling milk related hardware.

After his death in 1913, the two companies were handed to his sons, and Colonel Arthur Saxby Barham got the London outpost.

In 1917 three companies, Wiltshire United Dairies, Metropolitan and Great Western Dairies, and The Dairy Supply Company merged in an attempt to cope with distribution problems caused in the London market by the loss of men, vehicles, and horses to the war effort.

In 1959, Cow & Gate and United Dairies merged to form Unigate, but they then sold the milk businesses in 2000 to Dairy Crest. Amazingly, Dairy Crest is now the major competitor to the UK’s other major milk supplier, Express Dairies, the company managed by the other brother from 1913.

So in a round about way, two companies founded by George Barham now dominate the supply of  milk to the country.

Quite when Unigate ceased to use the building by the British Museum is unclear, but current occupants, Pizza Express certainly took over in 1967. I’ve not been inside, but they are said to have preserved the tiling used the line the walls.

The patented churn

Incidentally, The Shadows bass guitarist, Jet Harris, who died earlier this year, worked at The Dairy Supply Company as an apprentice welder, making milk churns at their Park Royal factory.

Links:

Jet Harris obituary

Cream of Bloomsbury

Milk – Dairies and Creameries

Unigate sells its milk operations to Dairy Crest for £220m

Directors Plaque

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13 Comments

  1. As well as many period features being preserved inside, they have decorated with a strong nod towards the building’s past, including a silhouette milkman on the wall of the men’s toilets and light fittings which look like they have been made out of lots of old glass milk bottles. (See photo at http://www.markpack.org.uk/23305/pizza-express-coptic-street/)

  2. William Dudley

    My father worked for Dairy Supply, just after the last War. I have a catalog Which might be of interest

    • Dave Ellison

      A long time since your posting but I have only just found this interesting site.
      If you still have this catalogue I shall be really grateful if you can contact me by email. I am researching into the manufacture, supply and distribution of old ceramic dairy cream jars and your catalogue could well include valuable information.
      Regards
      Dave

    • Bruce Clydsdale

      I am trying to find out more about United Dairies which was the outcome of various amalgamations. I am particularly interested in one of the Directors, John Hopkins.

  3. Kevin Davies

    I have a small enamel sign aprox 18 inch by 2 inch saying dairy supply co limited London w.c just wondered if you knew anyone who might be interested in buying it .

    Kevin Davies

    • SB

      We’d be interested if your sign is still for sale

  4. Helen White

    My granddad Joseph Stockwell worked for Dairy Supply, and his apprentice was Jet Harris!

  5. Brian Hobbs

    I also worked at Dairy supply in Park Royal London NWI0 from 1958 to 1964, also remember Joe Stockwell. I have been aware of the Museum Street offices from those early days, retained as the Registered Office and very much of architectural interest. My engineering career took shape alongside Jet Harris as an apprentice trainee working my way through to the Drawing Office. Innovation seemed to be the order of the day – the “Silent Revolution” where noisy milk bottle deliveries in metal crates were replaced by the first UK plastic crate, plus DESCO (trade name) also led the field and development of bulk farm tanks.

  6. Doreen Watson

    I have a cast iron plaque about 8 inches x 6 inches.which I think may have once been attached to a churn.The inscription reads:-
    “Champion Churn”
    used by the
    Champion Churn
    Buttermakers of England and Scotland

    Dairy Supply Co Ld
    London, Edinburgh and Cork

    Is it of any value and who would be interested in buying it?

    • pete smith

      Hi Doreen – do you still have the plaque?

      Pete

  7. pete smith

    Doreen – I’d be interested in your plaque

    Pete Smith

  8. Juliet

    I have a cream jug originally from the dairy supply company marked on the base of the jug. The sides of jug have swiss cottage dairy written on them. Any info greatly appreciated

  9. Ken Evans

    I have a letter that I was going to put on ebay, but then I found this site.

    Letter from Express Dairy Company Limited, 20-30 Tavistock Place, London WC1. Dated April 1923.

    Explains to a potential customer that they now have installed the latest American bottling and pasteurising equipment, and that they will be only to pleased to instruct their representative to wait upon them.

    Signed by GH Watts, Company Sec

    Must be of interest to someone who might be reading this site.

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