John Horniman (1803 – 1893) established ‘Horniman’s Tea Company’, a tea trading and blending business using mechanical packaging. He then passed the business onto his son, Frederick John Horniman (1835 – 1906) in 1869 when he retired.
In the early 19th century, tea was only sold as loose leaf, enabling unscrupulous traders to add other items, such as dust and hedge clippings to the product. John Horniman developed a mechanical method of filling tea packets which could then be sealed. Tampering with the tea was now impossible.
A further testament to the quality of Horniman’s tea came following a series of articles in The Lancet magazine in the 1850s about the adulteration of food. The editor, Thomas Wakeley, arranged for food samples to be tested for purity and Horniman’s tea was ‘extremely praised as passing the tests in triumphant fashion’. The business flourished following this article, which subsequently led to the Food and Drugs Act of 1860.
In 1891, it was said to be the biggest tea company in the world!
When Frederick John Horniman took over the family business and in the course of his business travels in India, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, Burma, USA, and Egypt, he began collecting ethnographic objects, natural history specimens, and musical instruments. He went onto collect over 30,000 objects. Initially he turned the family home into a museum, but then in 1898 commissioned an architect to build a purpose-built home in the Arts and Crafts architectural style for his collection.
Before he died, he donated it as a free gift ‘to the people in perpetuity’ and The Horniman Museum in Forest Hill continues to this day.