RETRO: Turning peas into pounds

Batchelors Foods Head office on Clay Wheels Industrial Estate, Wadsley Bridge - 7th November 1979
Batchelors Foods Head office on Clay Wheels Industrial Estate, Wadsley Bridge - 7th November 1979

Processed peas first appeared in Britain in 1928 when Batchelors perfected a method of soaking dried peas, canning and cooking them in a factory... right here in Sheffield.

Batchelors was one of Sheffield’s biggest success stories and it was all thanks to the determination of one city family.

Batchelors Foods Sheffield'Picture shows Mrs Ellen Foy (in white overall), who is in the canning department and also works guide with a party during a visit - 17th February 1958

Batchelors Foods Sheffield'Picture shows Mrs Ellen Foy (in white overall), who is in the canning department and also works guide with a party during a visit - 17th February 1958

In 1955 a million cans of peas, beans, fruits and soups were produced in the city every working day. Even more surprising might be the fact that in the same year Batchelors’ total turnover equalled that of another great and prosperous industry vital to Sheffield - the UK cutlery industry including knives, scissors, pen-knives, spoons and forks.

The firm then employed 4,500 people in its four factories and various stores and depots across the country.

You could spot the 250 salesmen and executives by their Batchelor tie - it was designed in the firm’s colours of bottle green with a diagonal silver stripe edged with maroon. Colonel Batchelor was the first to acknowledge that its success was down to the Sheffield men and women who served the firm so well throughout the years.

Batchelors was very proud to run ‘the happy factory’ and take real care of its employees.

Batchelors Foods Sheffield'One of Batchelors Agricultural reps, R. Hirst, speaking to Batchelors, Cobcroft Vining Station from a field of peas being cut several miles away.

Batchelors Foods Sheffield'One of Batchelors Agricultural reps, R. Hirst, speaking to Batchelors, Cobcroft Vining Station from a field of peas being cut several miles away.

But that didn’t stop it making the most of the newest technology on offer.

Batchelors boasted the world’s largest pressure cooker, the Carvallo.

Standing 40 feet high and weighing 35 tonnes, it was described as being similar to an iceberg because it extended well below ground level.

It was installed at Batchelors’ Wadsley Bridge factory after a year’s patient building and testing by experts.

First they had to dig a pit 30ft deep in the factory floor and line it with concrete piling. Then the steel superstructure needed 35 tonnes of machinery to hoist and manhandle it into position. The King of Cookers cooked 200 cans of processed peas in one minute - taking just two days to produce a can of peas for every person in Sheffield in 1955.

It also used an ‘electric eye’ which watched over the 124 million peas which passed by in 24 hours.

Peas were whisked up from a centrifugal tray on a wheel by suction and carried through a photo-electric beam at a rate of 60 a second.