Thursday, 10 July 2014

Into the archives - McVitie's

One of the exciting things about a trip to the National Records of Scotland is that you never quite know what you’ll discover. The other day we were delving into court records from the mid-1800s, many of which exist as small brittle bundles of notes and relevant documents tied up with string. One such bundle, pertaining to a case of land ownership, yielded a few pages from an old newspaper – the relevant information outlined in pen.


General Register House © Ceris Aston

Our eyes were drawn, however, to the advertisements – one Mrs Carstairs, Fruiterer and Florist, announcing her upcoming move to ‘those Central and Commodious Premises in the ROYAL EMPORIUM’. Another: James Carstairs, Poulterer & Game Dealer, respectfully intimating that his new premises open ‘THIS DAY… with a complete Stock of the very best POULTRY, GAME, &c.’

We delighted in the formality and archaic language of the adverts – even in the capitalisation of the nouns. These 19th-century shopkeepers were savvy though, with Mrs Carstairs being quick to address the announcement to ‘her numerous Customers’, and James Carmichael invoking loyalty and respect for tradition as the ‘Grandson and Successor to the late Mrs Janet Young’. Modern advertising still uses some of the same techniques – just not in quite such a polite manner!


Delving into the records © Maxwell Ancestry
Then we glimpsed a familiar name.


ROBERT MCVITIE, BAKER, 5, CHARLOTTE PLACE,
begs gratefully to acknowledge the very flattering amount of patronage which he has received since he entered the above Premises; and at the same time respectfully intimates, that having had his accommodation increased, he has commenced the CONFECTIONARY in connection with his LOAF-BREAD BUSINESS, and assures his Friends and Patrons that they may rely on everything produced being of the very best quality. (North British Advertiser, Jan. 1st, 1853).

We looked it up – how could we not? And it was he. One Mr Robert McVitie, born 1809, taking his first steps towards a future which would give the world the McVitie’s digestive biscuit. The baking dynasty which he founded still flourishes today and digestives are arguably the nation’s favourite biscuit. As we sit with a cuppa and a nice dunkable digestive, we reflect that McVitie’s 1853 decision to expand into confectionary was, all things considered, a good move.



It’s fascinating to find records of such moments, especially when we are familiar with the stories or legacies from long ago events. We’re looking forward to our next find – see you next #throwbackthursday!

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