Remember Phillips’ Lemonade? I can — just about. It was in interesting bottles and you saw adverts for it all over Medway.
Some of my school chums, however, were rude about it. One in particular, later president of one of the truest-blue Tory associations in Britain, used to refer to its boss as “Old Flat Lemonade Phillips”.
Such puerile rudeness aside, Cllr Jack Phillips ran the Strood company until its closure.
I spotted this advertisement for the company when browsing through the booklet to celebrate the mayoralty’s 500 years in 1961. Cllr Phillips was mayor of Rochester at the time, an era of great civic pride.
Charles Dowden, another former Math lad (but emphatically not the true-blue type mentioned above), with alacrity: “Phillips’ Strood factory was roughly where the supermarket car park now is at the back of the Post Office in North Street.
“As a counter clerk I worked in the unreconstructed post office there and the buildings of the factory formed an even more depressing backdrop to the unrelenting misery that was Strood town centre. A number of quite interesting buildings were knocked down to permit the building of the supermarket.”
Mr Dowden adds: “Walter Dove started business in the city about 1877. Dove used the drawing of a lady as a trademark. Dove amalgamated with Phillips in 1909 to form the new company of Dove, Phillips and Pett, which traded until 1971.”
What happened then is still a mystery to me. Charlie wonders whether changing tastes accounted for the firm’s demise. He asks “How much of a market was there, even in our youth, for dandelion and burdock or ginger beer?” Good point.
A private supply
Brian Weeden, of Berkeley Close, Rochester, confirms Phillips’s supermarket site and adds: “One day back in the 1950s I was walking by the factory and standing just outside was Mr Phillips and we knew each other.
“As part of the conversation I asked where all the water came from for the making of the lemonade and that perhaps it made quite a drain on the public water supply. ‘No not at all,’ said Mr Phillips. ‘I will show you’.”
Mr Weeden, then a policeman, was wondering if the factory’s supply might have been conscripted into use by the fire brigade in case of emergency. He adds: “We walked to about 12 yards into the premises and he showed me a manhole cover with pipes coming from it. ‘There is a river running under here,’ he told me, ‘and we get all our free water from that!’
“This conversation has returned to me over the last several months and wondered what the river was or is; and does the water authority know about it? No doubt the reason for the lemonade factory being there was because of the free supply of water.”
Grapefruit crush and a greensand well
That poser was solved by the Gillingham historian Richard Green. “Commuting to London in the late 1950s and early 1960s,” he writes, “after the Cannon Street train crossed over the Strood-Maidstone line, there was visible to the left, a round concrete tank which bore the legend ‘Dove Phillips and Pett’s Mineral Water drawn from a greensand well 150ft deep’.
“From memory it was next to a church built of stone (and possibly flints as well). The graveyard had been cleared and the tombstones stacked against the church wall.”
Mr Green, a great Gills fan, adds: “At Priestfield Stadium in the mid-1950s the tea bar used to sell grapefruit crush in a brown-coloured bottle made by the firm.”
Freddie Cooper, a former Mayor of Gillingham — sadly no longer with us — told what happened next: “Jack Phillips sold the Dove Phillips and Pett works and went into the fire extinguisher and services businesses and moved to a farm house in Lenham, later changing that with his daughter’s smaller house on the same farm.”