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Horlicks Factory – Slough

The Horlicks Factory is located on the north-west edge of Slough town centre, north of the railway on Stoke Poges Lane.  The 4.95 hectare site is visible from the road and rail and the Horlicks sign has been a well-loved site for those living and passing-by for many years.

Horlicks Building from Stoke Poges Lane looking north

Horlicks Slough - Building 2 (Google Earth)

Late in 2019 approval was given for the redevelopment of the former Horlicks factory in Slough. The site includes the factory building and the Horlicks War Memorial; the memorial is Grade II listed but the request to list the iconic factory was rejected by Historic England when requested in 2018.  It may be a building that only an industrial archaeologist could love, but it is sad that Historic England’s view was that ‘the level of integration and holistic care displayed at the site in the early 20th century is not unusual for a food manufacturer of this date and although the site is associated with a nationally recognised product, this is insufficient to overcome the lack of architectural special interest’.

The Horlicks malted milk drink was developed by two British brothers William and James Horlick who hailed from Ruardean in the Royal Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire.  James joined a homeopathic chemist who made dried baby food and with their father’s interest in brewing James wondered if a malted drink would be suitable for infants. They experimented in the granary at Ruardean mixing fresh milk with wort, a liquid extracted from malted barley and wheat during the brewing process. The mixture was then reduced to granules by slowly removing its moisture in a copper bain-marie floating in a boiler.  They joined their cousins in America and started a company, J&W Horlicks, to make a malted milk drink called ‘Diastoid’ and advertised as ‘Horlick’s Infant and Invalids Food’.  In 1890 James went back to London to set up an office to manage the importing their product from America. By 1906 the UK demand was large enough to justify Horlicks establishing its own plant in Slough. Since then Horlicks has been exported and drunk around the world including on polar expeditions.  The recipe combined dried malt and wheat flour with milk to produce a dried powder which could be made into a hot drink. It was marketed as being nutritional and as such was supplied to North and South Pole expeditions. The ‘Shed’ in which they first developed the technique of producing dried milk with malt, in the 1860s, still stands behind the Malt Shovel public house on the high street, Ruardean.

Original Horlicks ‘Shed’ courtesy of 'Made Up Britain – Horlicks'

Horlicks Slough - Horlicks Granary Ruadean

The Slough factory was designed by the Horlick’s company’s engineer A G Christiansen with the initial southern area being built in 1908 at a cost of £28,000; which would now be over £3.5million.  The external design was based on the company’s factory in Rascine, USA. The building used an iron frame and was faced in brick. It was laid out as a large three-storey rectilinear block, seven bays long, and included a crenelated clock tower, large factory chimney, single-storey boiler room, water tower with garage below, and a warehouse to the south-east of the site.  It was built on land purchased from Eton College in 1906 by James Horlicks and was chosen for its proximity to the railway and road network.

Horlicks Factory 1931 courtesy of 'Pocketmags'

Horlicks Slough - 1931 (pocketmags)

A detailed article on the nearly completed factory was included in the Windsor and Eton Express of 25th January 1908.  Among the many aspects discussed it describes the huge gold inscription of ‘Horlicks Malted Milk Factory’ running the entire length of the building – a building described as an almost square structure with no pretensions to style or architecture….splendidly adapted for the purpose intended being strong, with light lofty and well ventilated rooms.  There is detail of the bathing regime noting that a condition of working at the factory is to have a bath before commencing work and to this end there are baths and lavatories for the workforce, heated by electricity generated onsite.  To ensure the product is kept clean the floors are mainly cement and where they are wooden they are caulked to reduce crevices.  Interestingly the paper cites that the floors are washed every week implying that this was an unusual practice in food factories.  It appears that no expense was spared in providing the building and the machinery with the factory inspector describing the boiler house with a trio of 333hp Galloway boilers being one of the best in the country.  The ground floor machine room of 80-ft square holds four huge vacuum pens on each side, used for low-temperature boiling at preserve the foods qualities.  The next floor up managed the packing in to bottles, with a stress on these always being new and never reused.  The bottling was partially automated but also relied on the female workforce, who were required to wash their hands every time they returned to their station – again this appears to not be a common practice for the time.  It also stresses that no food is allowed to be consumed on the working premises.  The top floor of the building was for storage of the product prior to distribution with a lift in place to raise the boxes.  There is also mention of a ‘light railway’ that ran throughout the building to aid movement of goods.  The article mentions too the external railway sidings that run from the general main line route straight to the doors of the factory.  Outside a 450ft well had already been sunk in to the chalk surroundings to provide fresh water for the product, this was to be supplemented by surface wells that were for cleaning purposes.  Stressed is laid on the workforce being drawn from the local population with only a few specialist posts being filled from America, also that the milk supply was to be local until Horlick’s English dairy farms are established and could take over provision.  Not mentioned in the article, but Horlicks did established an dairy farm which was located in Ilminster in Devon; it closed in 2001.

Horlicks Building from Stoke Poges Lane looking south

Horlicks Slough - Building 5 (Google Earth)

Chimney during building ‘demolitions’ in April 20 courtesy of 'Preserve Slough Horlicks Facebook'

Horlicks Slough - Building and Chimney (23 apr 20) (Preserve Slough Horlicks Building Facebook)

Horlicks Factory about 1920 courtesy of Slough History Online

Horlicks Slough - 1920 (Slough History Online)

The industrial process required raw products – malted barley, wheat flour, and fresh milk – hence the need to closeness to the road and rail routes. It also needed significant amounts of fresh water and to provide this wells were drilled on the site to feed the water tank.  The malted barley and flour were milled and the resulting mash matured. At this point the milk was added and the resulting mix evaporated and baked, then milled again into a fine powder ready for bagging and distribution. The company accepted the raw materials and distributed the end-product via a fleet of Horlicks lorries and trains which used a dedicated railway siding, which can be seen on the 1923 Ordnance Survey map below.

1923 OS map 'Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland'

Horlicks Slough - OS Map 1923

The factory was expanded in 1929 with the original 1908 block being extended westwards by seven bays.  About a year later the boardroom was fitted with decorative panelling, a fireplace and fitted cabinets. Expansion continued throughout the 1930s and changes were made during World War II.  The northern range buildings were further expanded in the late 1950s to accommodate the production of around 14 million kilograms of Horlicks annually.

Inside the Horlicks Factory care of Callum Cromwell

Horlicks Slough - Inside Building 2 (Callum Cromwell)

Inside the Horlicks Factory care of Callum Cromwell

Horlicks Slough - Inside Building 1 (Callum Cromwell)

Inside the Horlicks Factory care of Callum Cromwell

Horlicks Slough - Inside Building 3 (Callum Cromwell)

The former water tank and vehicle garage is also designed in a stripped and functional style. It is located adjacent to the boiler house, and is a tall structure of four storeys, surmounted by a cast-iron water tank.

The large illuminated red Horlicks lettering is located on the parapet of the main building, but this is not the 1929 original instead one added in the 21st century.

The Horlicks Signage (Jo Alexander-Jones)

Horlicks Slough - Building 1 (Google Earth)

Inside the 1908 building the floors are mainly large open-plan industrial spaces separated by cast-iron columns., some of which are stamped with the company name ‘Edward Wood & Co Ltd of Manchester’. There is a set of stairs that can be removed to form a shaft for moving large equipment between the floors.

In 1969 Horlicks was acquired by the Beecham Group, which in 2001, became GlaxoSmithKline. The owners decided to sell the Horlicks UK brand in 2017 and the factory closed in June 2018.  The site is now destined to house hundreds of new homes and facilities that are described by the developers as being ‘set around the restored Clock Tower, the 47 metre Factory Chimney and the existing War Memorial’.

The Horlicks Signage (Jo Alexander-Jones)

Horlicks Slough - Horlicks Quarter New Development (Berkeley Homes)

Bibliography and Sources:

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