architecture, family history, Kandos businesses

Let Me Tell You About the Cordial Factory

See yourself, for a moment, as a bird flying down Angus Avenue. You perch on the roof gutter of Ray Odger’s hotel and look across at the playground. Note the empty space between the playground and the first building in the street (now Terry Burrows studio/home). That’s where the cordial factory was, down the end of that block, lot 16 section 8. And that’s what I want to tell you about.

I’ve learnt quite a lot about cordial factories, and that one in particular, since Hank Hofman first asked me, at the launch of this website just before Christmas. You probably think of cordial the same way I did: a coloured syrup (bright red or green in my day) which you poured into a glass, up to about a centimetre, and then topped up with ice cold water. But, then you would have to ask, as I did, if that’s all a cordial factory produced, why would most small towns have had one? In 1924 there were at least 230 in NSW alone.

What I discovered was that the cordial in cordial factory had a lot to do with that other meaning of cordial – warm or heartfelt. In fact, cordial comes from the Latin word cordi meaning heart. The drinks produced in cordial factories in the late nineteenth century were said to invigorate the heart. Think medicines, tonics, alcohol and fruit juices. So those old cordial factories produced a disparate range of wines and vinegars, fruit syrups and juices, ginger beer and ginger ale, bitters and tonics, soda, seltzer and mineral waters, sarsaparilla and eucalyptus wine and carbonated/aerated drinks like cola. At a time when water was often full of impurities, is it any wonder that “cordials” were purchased for thirst as well as health. By the 1920s most local cordial factories were producing a much smaller range of drinks, mainly carbonated.

But let’s fly back to Kandos, January 1919. There in town is John William Symonds, a returned serviceman, originally from Queensland, wounded in war, unmarried and unable to continue in his former occupation of hairdresser. He wants to establish a cordial factory in Kandos, with the help of the Repatriation Department. Symonds hires Mr Kelly to build two shops of Lithgow bricks, on the Angus Avenue frontage, each shop measuring 12 by 14 feet inside; and also a weatherboard building at the back of the block for the cordial factory. The Mudgee Guardian rep is impressed, noting Symonds’ “pluck and enterprise…under very discouraging circumstances and in the face of obstacles that would daunt many a more timid investor”.

It seems Symonds was under a cloud of rumour and innuendo, what for we will never know.  His application was refused initially by the Rylstone Repatriation Committee, but later his case was reopened by the department. He was finally able to start his business in November that year with department assistance, and the Mudgee Guardian rep urged the community to “loyally rally” to support him. Which they obviously did

Jack Symonds ran the cordial factory until 1923 and then left Kandos to settle in his home state. His buyer W D Glynn, was experienced in the business of running a cordial factory in Cessnock. In the two front shops he opened the “Railway Fruit and Greengrocers” selling aerated waters off the ice as well as choice fruit and high class vegetables at cheap prices. Within a couple of years the cordial factory had new owners, Mr and Mrs Higginson, who ran a Cash & Carry general store as well as the cordial factory.

That’s about the extent of my knowledge. The truth is, Kandos cordial factory has faded into the past. Bruce Fleming lists another eight owners, but nothing else. Trove (National on-line newspapers) has a few references to donations of cordial to Rylstone Hospital, Kandos Museum has an interesting assortment of bottles branded with the names Glynn, Higginson and Symonds and most long-term locals remember there was a cordial factory (a few remember there was a second one in Fleming Street behind Beau Sharrock’s garage).

But history is not just about what we know. It’s about making educated guesses, reimagining and recreating. So let’s fly down now to that small timber building at the back of lot 16.

I’m guessing it’s a single unit factory in a longish building. Up one end there’s probably an office section with a desk and chair for the boss, next to a store of filled bottles ready to go out to customers. Bottles are delivered on horse and dray, by Mr Symonds himself, who yells to a young lad to unload the empties, check them for chip necks (which will have to be thrown out), and count them and store them at the other end of building. Then he should start soaking and washing the bottles. During the busy summer season, the boy gets one-third of an adult wage and works the same 48-hour week as an adult. But perhaps he’s employed on casual rates at about six pence an hour because business slows down in winter.

I’m also guessing that the roof is high and there is a gallery on the back wall of the building. This is for storage of raw materials, such as sugar, essences, mineral salts, acids, juices, preservatives and flavours. Further along the gallery is where the syrups are made up so they can be drip fed into the carbonating/bottling machine below. It requires particular skill to maintain the aerator at the right pressure. You don’t want to end up with leakers and flats or worse still, have an explosion. Mr Symonds does both of these jobs, on different days, with the lad’s help.

So where have all the cordial factories gone? And why? By the mid 1930s the cordial factory was being challenged by milk bars and soda fountains. “We have as much chance of killing soda fountains” said own factory owner, “as the ice works have of stamping out home refrigerators.” With more efficient and expensive machinery big business moved into production and small factories couldn’t compete. And so we have Cottees, Schweppes, Coca Cola etc. But guess what! I sense there’s a return to hand-made cordials and fizzy drinks. Ever heard of kombucha (check out Crave Natural Mudgee)? What about Hello Lovelies (at Mudgee)?

coridal factory bottles 3 copy
Owners were protective of their bottles. Most had this type of message imprinted on the bottle: “This bottle remains the property of A H Higginson and its use by others is illegal”                  (Photo Mike Oakey for Kandos Museum)

 

 

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