The lemonade springs that flourished in Strood

A poster for Phillips' lemonade in its heyday

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’.”

Jack Phillips as mayor of Rochester

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.”

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10 Responses to The lemonade springs that flourished in Strood

  1. Judy Miller says:

    Walter Dove started business around 1877 at 172 High Street Rochester in the Eastgate Mineral Water Works. Later, c 1886, a factory was built below St Margaret’s Banks which still stands today (adjacent to the railway bridge crossing the High St).

    In 1902 W. Dove became a limited company as W. Dove & Co Ltd and in 1905 merged with B.R. Phillips of Chatham to become Dove & Phillips Ltd. In 1909 Thomas Pett of Chatham joined them to form Dove, Phillips & Pett Ltd and business continued from the Banks factory until 1938 when it was moved into the old Budden & Biggs brewery buildings in Strood. They sold out in 1973 to Taylormade of Sittingbourne.

  2. Gary Smith says:

    I vaguely remember, as a lad in the late 1940s, a school trip to lemonade factory in Strood that drew its water from the Green Sands under the River Medway via well many, many feet deep. Am I correct? Gary S

  3. Margaret Just says:

    I have a Dove, Phillips & Pett’s jug. Any idea how old it might be?

  4. dave tutt says:

    Just a little question. On the Kent photo archive there are a number of pictures of th old Strood waterworks. These include pictures of the tunnels giving access to the wells and pipeworks some metres underground. The waterworks was supposed to have been in London road but of course there seems to be no sign of it today.

    So I was wondering if the Lemonade factory got its water from the same source as the rest of the water supply on that side of the river and also if there is still access to the workings and tunnels by the water companies or if they are all redundant.

    • Bruce anderson says:

      The waterworks are still there and in operation…right opposite the coach and horses..I worked for southern water,they opened up the tunnels in the early 90′s for 3 days,very interesting,they lowered you down on a crane !!

  5. Margaret Collishaw says:

    My grandfather was James Pett and as a child staying with my grandparents at times in Chatham, my grandfather would arrive home for his lunch with Mr Goodhew, who drove the horse and cart for Dove, Philips and Pett. I was allowed to help with putting the horse’s nosebag in place containing hay for the horse.

  6. John Flynn says:

    My maternal grandmother was a Phillips; daughter of Benjamin Robert Phillips (ref. BR Phillips of Chatham). It was interesting to read the amalgamation details as I had assumed the three names started D,P&P together. Must now research Phillips of Chatham.
    BR’s son Percy continued to run the company, and I can remember a trip to Strood in about 1948-50, to sample the wares!! I remember every time that we came down from the north, grandma always had a crate of “Gold Seal” lemonade waiting for me.
    Earlier, in approximately 1920, my mother had visited Strood and sampled the ginger beer. The bottles were a version before the screw stopper variety, employing a marble sealed against the bottle by the pressure of the ginger beer. She got the trick of pushing down the marble and gain herself a free “beer” from the faulty bottle!

    Have been trying to find Jack Phillips’s date of birth and connection with Percy, but to no avail; Can you help me at all.

    Finally, I’m looking for details is my Grandfather Joe Grubb who was a deep sea diver in HM Dockyard. There is an image of him in his full diving kit holding his helmet on board the equipment boat. I had a copy but have mislaid it. I would like any info If Medway Memories can help.

  7. Allan Haynes says:

    Greetings to all living, or formerly living, in the (almost) autonomous enclave of the lower Medway basin.
    I’ve only just found this site, and I would like to add my four pen’orth.

    I, too, commuted through the 1960s to Cannon Street and Victoria and daily passed by Phillips’ lemonade works and the circular blockhouse containing the well head. I thought it said it was more than 150ft deep, I have in my mind a figure of 272ft, but that might be 172ft. (?).

    Our wonderful geography teacher at the Math, George Thornhill, had years before explained why the borehole was that deep. The public water supply to the people of the Medway towns comes out of the chalk aquifer at a depth of only a few feet. (Someone can probably tell me how few feet). But as we all know from the state of our kettles, the water is very hard, full of calcium. Phillips needed water that was much softer and had to bore down to the lower greensand strata to find it. And of course as it was their own well, it was free.

    There you are. End of Geog lesson. Thanks George, for your excellent tuition all those years ago. In fact I abandoned geography the next year in favour of doing German – but that was George’s other subject anyway.

    And a related PS – does anyone know the whereabouts of George Thornhill’s son Richard who was “one of us” at Glencoe Juniors and then at the Math? I’ve located some 65 of our alumni from 1954 so far, but have failed to find Richard.

    Best wishes to all.

  8. Allan Haynes says:

    Anent my previous post on 21 st August, my name seems to have gained an extra “a”. Dunno how that happened, but I am Allan Haynes. Though in common with other Allans in the world I will also answer to Alan, Allen, Alun, Alain, and the vernacular Norfolk version Aln. I’m putting that on my car number plate.
    And thanks to Mr. Moderator (who is that ?) for making the minor corrections to my copy caused originally by my getting only 65% in GCE English Language. (1959.)
    Best wishes to all Chathamites, Rocastrians, and Gills, from the middle of Norfolk.

    • Allan Haynes says:

      Probably getting fed up with me by now.
      Anyway, we’re all wrong. Found my school geography note book from Form 2A, 1955. It says the Philips lemonade well in Strood was all of 664 ft. deep. The normal town hard water supply was found at 80ft. down.
      Haven’t been past on the train for many years, can’t see any signs of the circular blockhouse now on Google satellite, most of the Strood hinterland seems to be a car park.
      My 1955 notes also say there were other greensand wells, at the Dockyard (900 ft.), Chattenden (1,100 ft – it’s on a big hill of course), and Luton (not specified).
      That is the end of the Wet News.

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