If asked to name a crisp manufacturer, most people would say Walkers. This Leicester based business is today one of the largest snack manufacturers, and over 4000 people are employed by the company (mainly at the Beaumont Leys factory) but did you know that the firm originates from a popular city butcher.
Henry Walker moved from Mansfield to Leicester in 1880, and set up a shop on the high street, selling high quality meats. His business boomed, and in 1912 he moved to larger premises on Cheapside – where his shop remains to this day one of the most popular butcher’s shops in Leicester.
During the war, meat was severely rationed, and he often found that his shop was completely sold out by mid morning. His factory (where he produced pork pies, sausages etc) was only able to run at half capacity, and, when rationing was still in place in 1948, he decided that he needed to find something else to produce to keep his business afloat.
The factory manager, a Mr Gerrard, wanted to make ice cream, but they were not allowed to handle dairy products and raw meat in the same areas. It was then that they hit upon the idea of making crisps, using potatoes which, importantly, were not rationed.
At first, the crisps were hand cut and fried in a normal deep fat fryer. They were an immediate success, and soon Walker set up a production line solely for the manufacture of crisps. Different flavours were tried, and sold.
Today, Walkers (now part of the Pepsico group) manufacture a wide variety of crisps and other snack foods, including Doritos and Monster Munch. Among their newest brands are Walkers Sensations and Walkers Sensation Nut Clusters.
The famous tv advertisements starring Gary Lineker include at least one filmed in Leicester. In the 1995 “No More Mr Nice Guy” ad, Gary is shown walking from the station through Leicester. The final section, where he steals the crisps off the young child, is filmed at a bench on a footpath near the Upperton Road/Western Boulevard junction, with Piggot and Sons Scrapyard in the background. To see the clip, click HERE. (http://www5.corpex.com/walkers/welcome.asx)
The Cheapside butcher is still thriving, and the business now has several other shops around the county.
Article by Daniel Spencer