The fascinating past of Hull's Garden Village and its big business link
The former Garden Village shopping centre now converted into flats
By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 15 Apr 2019
Sir James Reckitt is a name which will be known to many in Hull.
The co-founder of historic Hull business Reckitt & Sons today has a street named after him in east Hull, along with a former library in Holderness Road.
Fewer people, however, may know that in 1907 a letter written from the son of Isaac Reckitt to an equally well-known Hull MP would create an entire area of Hull.
Sir James decided he wanted to make a difference to the lives of people working at Reckitt & Sons.
In a letter addressed to Hull MP Thomas Ferens, he wrote: "Whilst I and my family are living in beautiful houses, surrounded by lovely gardens and fine scenery, the workpeople we employ are, many of them, living in squalor, and all of them without gardens in narrow streets and alleys.”
It was Sir James’ vision to create a better place for staff to live, which would lead to the construction of Hull’s Garden Village.
He set aside £150,000 of his own money – at the time a vast amount – to make the idea a reality, and also formed a private company called Garden Village (Hull) Ltd.
The growth of Garden Village
To start with, the response from workers to the new Garden Village was disappointing.
The area still resembled a building site. There were very few public amenities, and rents were higher than the homes they currently lived in.
Over time however, the perception changed. Garden Village continued to evolve, and included a club house, shopping centre and several almshouses.
When Sir James died in 1924, his son Philip became chairman of Garden Village Ltd.
The Garden Village Company continued until 1950, when it was voluntarily wound up and ownership of the 626 houses, flats and shops were bought by the Bradford Property Trust.
Though the area was heavily damaged during the air raid of the Second World War, the character of Garden Village has remained largely unchanged.
Its houses still hold great interest to architects, and The Oval which hosted games of tennis, bowls and croquet is still at the heart of the community.
But what of Reckitt & Sons?
Reckitt & Colman's rapid rise
For the first nine years of the company’s history, Reckitt & Sons sold only starch from its factory in Dansom Lane.
Fast forward to 1854 however, and Reckitt & Sons sold more than 20 different products, including laundry blue, metal polish and washing paste.
In 1886, the firm began to expand across the world, and opened a new base in Australia. Two years later, it was launched on the London Stock Exchange.
The creation of Garden Village for Reckitt workers in the early 1900s was followed shortly after by a partnership with Norwich-based mustard and starch manufacturer J & J Colman.
Reckitt and Colman staff working in Hull in 1978 (Hull Daily Mail)
By the 1930s, the pair had merged to form Reckitt & Colman Ltd.
The new business continued to grow and develop new products. As its reputation across the world increased, in the 1980s the firm purchased The Airwick Company.
In 1995, Reckitt & Colman sold Colman’s food business portfolio, and in 1999, the company completed another merger which would create the global name we know today.
A global giant, but still rooted in Hull
As the business had been expanding, German household name Benckiser had also been sweeping across the marketplace.
Expansions into countries including Italy, Spain, the USA and Canada were soon followed in the 1990s with moves into the Far East and Baltic countries.
Little surprise then, that Reckitt Benckiser is today a truly global giant in healthcare and consumer goods.
Despite its vast scale though, RB remains rooted to its site in Dansom Lane, where Isaac Reckitt bought his starch factory almost 200 years ago.
In fact, in the coming months RB is expected to unveil its new £105m Centre for Scientific Excellence– the single biggest investment in the company’s history.
Fitting then, that the record-breaking investment be made right here in Hull, where the Reckitt journey began.