Industries: Tobacco

Page 179

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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Tobacco is said to have been introduced into this country in 1586; it was placed under a duty of 2d. a pound in Elizabeth's reign. The duty on Virginian tobacco was raised to 6s. 10d. by James I. Under this sovereign the industry became a monopoly, and the Virginia planters were limited to an export of 100 lb. a year. Tobacco is said to have been first smoked at the 'Pied Bull' at Islington, and the number of tobacconists' shops in London in 1614 is estimated by Barnaby Rich as over 7,000. (fn. 1) In the MS. notes left by Sir Henry Oglander of Nunwell in the Isle of Wight he records among other expenses in the year 1626, 'for eight ounces of tobacco five shillings'; this was procured for him in London. Tobacco was also sold by apothecaries, (fn. 2) and prescribed as a drug; it came into very general use for this purpose during the time of the Great Plague.

What we call smoking was then termed 'drinking' tobacco, the smoke being inhaled and allowed to escape through the nose. An anonymous writer in 1636, speaking of dissolute persons who spend most of their time at taverns, says: (fn. 3) 'Men will not stand upon it to drink either wine or tobacco with them who are more fit for Bridewell.'

The signs of tobacconists' shops in the 18th century generally consisted of a large wooden figure of a black Indian, wearing a crown of tobacco leaves and a kilt of the same material. He was usually placed at the side of the door, above which hung three rolls, also cut in wood. The decorated cards or shop-bills of tradesmen at this period were often designed by artists of repute. Hogarth in his early days designed one for 'Richard Lee at ye Golden Tobacco-Roll in Panton Street near Leicester Fields,' which much resembles his Modern Midnight Conversation. Another curious tobacconist's sign consists of three hands issuing from an arm; the first holding snuff, the second a pipe, and the third a quid of tobacco; attached to this are the lines:-

We three are engaged in one cause; I snuffs, I smokes, and I chaws.

This distich is sometimes found on painted signs, beneath figures of a Scotchman, a Dutchman, and a sailor.

The manufacture of tobacco is carried on very largely in East London and Hackney, which contain seventy-six factories for the production of tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, and snuff. In all London there are about one hundred and eighty factories in this trade, and in the whole of England, the metropolis included, there are about four hundred and thirty, so that in the number of its tobacco factories East London occupies a conspicuous position. The cigars produced in English factories are known as British cigars, and vary considerably in price and quality. Those made by the best firms are infinitely superior to some of the lower grades of imported Havanas. The importation of sham Havanas from Belgium and other countries has been checked by the 'Merchandise Marks Act,' but the British manufacturer suffers severely from the competition of cheap Mexican cigars.

The process of manufacture begins with 'liquoring,' in which the leaf is treated with pure water to render it soft and pliant for the hands of the 'stripper.' The process of 'stripping' consists in stripping the leaf by taking out its midrib. The leaf when stripped is handed to the 'cigar-maker,' and in this branch of the trade many female hands are employed. (fn. 4)

Tobacco as distinct from cigars is also largely manufactured in East London, but fewer hands are employed in its preparation by reason of the extensive use of machinery. After undergoing the process of 'liquoring' and 'stripping,' the leaf is, in the case of cut tobacco, handed over to the machine-men. It is next passed on to the 'stovers,' who first place it on a steam-pan to separate the fibres, and then on a fire-pan to make it fit for keeping and to improve its smoking quality. The final process is that of 'cooling,' where a current of cold air is passed through it to drive off the moisture. By other processes are produced the varieties known as 'roll' or 'spun' tobacco, and 'cake' or 'plug.'

The manufacture of snuff involves various complicated processes, which space will not permit us to describe. The ingredients consist largely of the shreds, stalks, and other leavings resulting from the processes above mentioned.

Some thirty years ago the London tobacco manufacturers comprised, it is estimated, about one-fourth of the whole of the manufacturers in England. Some old firms still exist, as that of Richard Lloyd & Sons, of Clerkenwell Road, which has been in existence for over two centuries.


  • 1. The Honestie of this Age, 26.
  • 2. Dekker, Gull's Horn-book. Quoted by F. W. Fairholt. Tobacco, its History, &c. (1859), 49, 56.
  • 3. Vox civitetis, or London's Complaint against her Children in the Country (1636).
  • 4. Booth, Life and Labour of the People in London (1902), (Ser. 1), iv, 225.