July 19, 2013

A Royal Connection!

A post by author, Michael Smedley

On 8th June 2013 I went, with my wife Marjorie, to Cambridge and was presented with the Local History Book Award for 2013, for my book “What Happened to Smedley’s?”
Following all the press publicity, I went to Wisbech and met Charles Gap, two years older than me, who remembered our playing together as boys in the park in Wisbech, over seventy-five years ago. Both our fathers worked in the nearby Smedley’s Canning Factory.
Some years later, as an apprentice, I was taught about sterilising pea cans by his father, also Charlie Gap, who my grandfather had recruited from Evesham for his new factory at Wisbech in 1925. He even gave me the original letters from my grandfather.
The press publicity, and a local man with many Wisbech contacts, encouraged a local Wisbech shop, Etcetera to obtain copies of the book. They ordered copies of “What Happened …” and of my first book, “A Canner’s Life”.  I sent them some publicity material to make their window display more colourful.
I got York Publishing to print the first copies of “What Happened to Smedley’s?” in time for me to give hardback copies to my children and some grandchildren on St George’s Day 23rd April 2012, when my wife celebrated our Diamond Jubilee. 
H.M. Queen Elizabeth was celebrating the diamond Jubilee of her accession to the throne with a Jubilee party on the Thames, so I wrote and offered her a copy of my book!   Smedley’s had been the first company to offer a range of quick frozen fruits and vegetables in Britain and also to supply the Royal household. Those first frozen foods were packed at the Wisbech factory.
My offer was accepted and I sent a book, with a note highlighting the reference to our supplying a range of frozen foods to the R.N. Battleship that took King George VI, his Queen and the two Princesses to Canada early in 1939. I received a very nice reply which said, “Her majesty and The Royal Family have long enjoyed the association with Smedley’s and your continued loyalty and kind support are warmly appreciated by The Queen and her family.”


  1. I love these social history stories and books, we are going to loose so much of our history if we are not careful, well done Mr Smedley and YPS Publishing

  2. Age 16 I left home after an argument with my mother who was prone bouts of bad temper and on occasion violence. I set off for London by thumbing lifts and ended up on the A1 at Normans Cross. I heard that you could obtain a causal job in Wisbech picking fruit and this did appeal to me, I could see myself climbing apple trees and filling straw baskets with ripe apples. A dream of sorts. Arriving in Wisbech there was not an apple tree in sight, even so by asking around I Iearnt that Smedley Canning were employing casual day labourers in their fruit canning factory. The procedure was you waited outside the factory gates about 8-00m each morning, and the Managers came out and picked who they wanted. I was picked on day 1, and stayed in Wisbech working for Smedley's for the happiest 6 weeks of my life. I had no money so slept in the park opposite wrapped up in the small tent I had, (the forerunner of the very first sleeping bags) without boasting I am, and always have been a good worker, and being strong was engaged to straighten up cases of canned food that had been stacked higgledly-piggedly during rush hours in the factory. The first time I did this the Manager was certainly impressed with the straight lines and uniform appearance I made to the huge rows of boxed cases. I expect this is why he chose me each morning in preference to others. Another memory was the canteen, for just a shilling you could purchase a lovely dinner which was my only cooked food for these 6 weeks, and those workers meals alone deserved a Royal Warrant themselves. I returned home with £105.00 which was a lot of money in those days, Even today over 50 years later I remember my days in Wisbech and at Smedleys, with great pride and affection. I should have asked for a permanent job and stayed, I honour the name Smedley and all those connected with it. Thank you Mr Smedley and family. R Wilson, Middlesbrough, N.E England.


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