R. White’s Mineral Water

R Whites Factory, Neate Street, Cobourg Road 1969
R Whites factory, Neate Street, 1969, looking west from the junction with Cobourg Road. This factory opened in 1887, on the previous site of a floor cloth manufactory; it stood where the floodlit football pitch is today. Demolished 1970s. Photo courtesy of SLHLA, P5987.

R. Whites began in 1845, with Robert and Mary White selling ginger beer in stone bottles from a barrow. Eventually it would engulf local rival Rawlings, with seven premises around the area. Locals recall the clatter of horses and carts used for distribution, and bottles bursting on hot days at the storage depots.

Burgess Park can fairly claim to be where the nation’s favourite lemonade first fizzed…

London, 1845: Nelson’s column has just gone up, and the 25-inch Tom Thumb is P T Barnum’s latest attraction in fashionable society. Here in Camberwell, a more humble new arrival – 21-year-old Robert White and his wife Mary begin home-brewing R Whites Ginger Beer, selling it themselves in stone bottles from a barrow, at 8d a pop. A one horse, one cart operation.

The business prospers, with lemonade soon added to the offerings – “made with real lemons”. In 1871 they open a factory in Cunard Street – where the multi-cultural garden stands today, behind Chumleigh Gardens.

By then the area was filling fast with industrious new streets – packed with willing workers and thirsty customers. Testimonies fondly recall the clatter of horses and carts used for distribution, 1d back on returns, and on the hottest days, bottles bursting in the sun at the storage depots.

Photos of ceramic ginger beer bottle, Codd Bottle c 1880s, R Whites bottle crates
L – R: Ceramic ginger beer bottle, Reliance Codd Bottle c 1880s, R Whites bottle crates. Photos courtesy of Jacko McInroy R Whites facebook group

Over the next 150 years R White’s would go on to engulf local rival Rawlings, and have factories and depots all over the area – two on Albany Road, Harling Street, two on Neate Street, New Church Road, and the last at Glengall Road in the 1990s. Their factories employed hundreds locally.

In 1880 the Sons of R. White – Robert James and John George – joined the family business. 
Although ginger beer was still the leading product, the 1887 temptations included Jubilee Tangerine (capitalising on Queen Victoria’s 50 years on the throne), Jubilee Lemonade, Champagne Cider, and Seltzer Water, all available in Codd’s patent glass bottles.

photo of Rawlings Factory on the Surrey Canal 1970s
Grand Surrey Canal, 1970 seen here looking east from Wells Way showing the huge canal-side Rawlings factory, built circa 1880 and taken over by R Whites in 1891 (demolished 1986). Photo courtesy of SLHL.

The 1890s saw the Rawlings take-over, limited company status attained, and new factories open in Camberwell and Barking – becoming the group’s main headquarters. Business was booming. Over 50 years, Robert White had grown the operation from the back of a barrow to a business empire with over £500,000 capital. Finally, in 1901, at the ripe old age of 77, he passed away.

In the 1930s, already dealing a lot with corner shops, R Whites began making their own crisps at Albany Road, and sweets in New Church Road. Wartime bomb damage and sugar rationing would eventually do for sweet production. Ironically, elsewhere, residents recall R Whites lemonade being used to put out incendiary bomb fires at Neate Street, when water wasn’t quickly to hand.

As with all their bottled wares, distribution was by horse vans. 50-70 might service a single yard, delivering direct to consumers. In summer, additional coal vans would be hired, while demand for coal was slack. R Whites proudly boasted “Any order of any size, delivered by Friday”.

Petrol vans eventually displaced horse drawn vehicles. The timing wasn’t ideal. Introduced in 1938-9 on the eve of war, in 1940 much of the Bedford van fleet was promptly commandeered by the government for the war effort, being remarkably similar to army utility vehicles.

photo of wall next to the astroturf
The last vestige of R Whites’ premises; the perimeter wall demolished in 2013.

After the war, steady growth, modernization and mechanisation continued. In 1961, the Barking factory became the biggest prototype plant in Europe, producing 4 bottles every second.

Secret Lemonade Drinker

So what ultimately became of R Whites?  It was bought by Whitbread brewery in 1969. It still had 21 premises in the South East and Midlands. The celebrated 1973 TV ad campaign made a household name of what had already become one of the UK’s most recognised brands. 1986 saw it absorbed into Britvic Ltd. Production had moved out to Beckton in 1972, where it continues to this day.

Though the bottle may have changed, R Whites lemonade still contains real lemons – it is made with nearly the same recipe as 169 years ago.

Advertisement for R White & Sons, 1885

Fragments of R White stoneware bottles found by the Thames

Comprehensive history of the company


Benedict O’Looney contacted us with this image of R Whites bottles which were found in Peckham Rye Station


They were discovered lying on bare soil beneath the floorboards during the recent restoration of north wing of the station, presumably discarded by no-longer-thirsty builders!

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44 thoughts on “R. White’s Mineral Water

  1. Could you please say when the R Whites depot in Eastern Road Brighton was closed?

    1. Nash’s red lemonade was made in Newcastle West, Co Limerick 40yrs ago. Now I see the same product. Where is it made?

    1. Of course – you’d be most welcome. If you could include a link to our site, that’d be even better! And thanks for drawing attention to the interesting IWM site. And another connection is to our page on the Zeppelin raid in 1917

  2. I am interested to learn more about the early history of R.Whites for a TV documentary and would be interested to hear from anyone with a knowledge or early R.Whites memorabilia.

    1. Hi. We bought a cottage which is 120 years old and we found a sign of R white lemonade – maybe a shop sign.

  3. What number Neate Street did the R Whites premises occupy please. Was it any
    where near number 133 – 137 Neate Street please?

    1. Somewhere between 129 & 145 according to the Post Office London street directory for 1910

  4. I have a clay R White bottle that I found while working in Elstree in London. It has a few chips but is intact. I wondered if it is worth anything?

    1. Do you have a picture you can send us (friendsofburgesspark@gmail.com)? It might be worth a few pounds now. We recently bought quite a few on eBay – it’s worth doing a search there. They’re not uncommon at all, and broken ones are found all over the park now, as soon as any soil is turned – see here

    2. I am 90 and , my sister and I remember when we were children, in the 1930s White’s crisps had a tiny packet of powdered cheese. Smiths had salt. We loved White’s crisps. No one is old enough to remember now but we would be pleased if you can say we are right.

  5. Lived in Neate Street 1942-1963 when we were moved out from prefabs to make way for the so called next Hyde Park. Remember also Haycock Press and the tent factory. Our prebab no was 42 .

  6. I lived in St Georges Way. My Aunts family lived in Neate Street.
    I regularly collected your bottles for the refund along with paper etc.
    I remember well the horse and carts delivering.
    My Uncle Bert Lambert owned the grocers shop on Neate Street.
    I am 83 now.

  7. My great grandmother worked there in the early 1900’s. Isabella Eliza Wright nee Brown. Can’t find any trace of her after 1901 census or her husband Edward Robert Wright. My grandfather Edward Daniel Wright, born in 1899, always said he had no family but as a family we have always wondered what happened to his parents. Only document we have of both of them being together is their wedding in September 1899. Then he vanishes and Isabella is living back with her son at her parents home the Browns. We found this in the census, where it states her occupation as a bottle washer at the R Whites factory.

  8. A friend just gave me 5 ginger beer stone bottles! What a pleasure! Apparently her husband who works as a contractor found them in a pub in London Bridge when demolishing / refurbishing the area. One of them still has the original cork!

    I am quite excited to display them at home!

  9. Some R White’s bottles are stamped ‘R.White/ London/ (C&L)

    Does any one know what the C&L stands for? Camberwell and something? Or not?

  10. Found this bottle this morning in Hindhead on the site of an old cafe The Golden Hind, on the A3 just down from the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Still half full, but only ground water!

  11. My grandmother was injured by the 19th October Zeppelin bomb on Albany Road where she lived. She was near the Fish and Chip shop when the bomb hit. She was carried by a police officer to the safety of R Whites. That police officer later became my grandfather. My grandmother told my mum that her friend was killed during this raid, I think it might have been Alice Glass.

  12. My great uncle Thomas Kirtland was a Mineral Water Salesman in 1911. He lived in Windsor. I am not sure who he may have worked for. I believe R. White’s is a possibility. Does anyone know ot any records that might help me to determine this?

  13. Did any of the White family live in a large house at the top of Logs Hill, Chislehurst, Kent? Possibly two sisters of this family lived there.

  14. Today I found a glass bottle on the shore of the Waddenzee, near Wierum, Friesland, the Netherlands. It has R. White on it at the top of the bottle. At the bottom it has the following mark: 1457H REGD No 888325 R. I would like to find out some information about it. For example when it was manufactured and what kind of drink it contained. Would you be able to help me?

    1. Today I found a glass bottle where an old hedgerow had (unfortunately) been dug up in Hertfordshire UK. It has the same mark as your bottle. After some google searches the Reg D means registered design for glass/metal/pottery. I think the No. 888325 was made between 1950 and 1960.

  15. My great grandfather, Frederick Harman, was a bottle washer according to the 1911 census, living at 35 South Street. His father was a carman (mineral water) at the same time. I know it’s a long shot but I wondered if there are any employment records from then?

  16. I was told my grandma Ivy Gates lived in as a servant at the R Whites home. This must have been around 1918 to mid 1920s in her late teens and mid twenties. Are any of the family around to ask if any stories etc were passed down from generation to generation or if any diaries were written?

    I’ll have to wait for the 1921 census to see if grandma was mentioned on there and where she lived.

    1. I would guess that the R Whites depot must have been damaged in 1944 when the V2 rocket fell on Bagshot Street. My sister’s friend was killed in that explosion, and I remember it well although I was only 4 or 5 years old, and lived in Mina Road. We were so lucky although a lot of damage was done. All my family survived with no injuries. I am sure the R Whites yard must have been badly damaged but can find no information.

  17. I regularly used the pedestrian iron footbridge over the canal in your 1970 photograph of the canal near Wells Way. We would walk from Walworth school off Albany Road at lunch time, to an old chippy nearby that gave you lots of crackling bits for nothing!

  18. Has anyone got photos of the prefabs in Cunard Street. SE 5. I was born in one and lived there until I was 17. I’d love to see one. I used to live at 31

  19. Hi I have some r whites stoneware salt glaze bottles, I was looking for some help with dating them and value. If anyone can help with that?

  20. Hi my son found an R. Whites bottle today on the beach in Great Wakering (near Southend).
    I was wondering if you knew what year it was from. He collects old bottles and glass we like to know the history of each one.
    Any help would be much appreciated.



    1. We’re no experts in bottle identification, I’m afraid. If you can email us a picture, I can add it to your post, and someone out there may recognise it. Failing that, there are forums of bottle collectors on the internet you could try?
      Thanks for contacting us!

  21. I just bought a R. White stoneware bottle (in Holland). Unlike others I see on internet it has only R.White on the neck of the bottle. The bottle has a paper label with the text: Blend of Guinness’s Extra stout & porter blended & bottled by John Dobson Imperial Bar Lurgan. (Actually the label might be stuck on the text normally inscribed on the lower half of the side of the bottle). Reuse of the (ginger beer?) bottle by another company for stout or porter? Any ideas between which dates these stoneware bottles were used by R. White? My bottle looks like second from left on the picture with the four bottles above.

  22. My grandfather, Thomas William Finch was a manager at the Tonbridge, Kent factory in the early 1910s. Also, when living in Gillingham, Kent in the 1920s & 1930s, his occupation was still a manager at R. Whites. Two questions:- Where in Tonbridge was their factory. And when he was living in Gillingham where was the factory? It would have been too far for him to travel from Gillingham to Tonbridge in those days.

  23. I never knew that R White’s had a factory in Neate St.
    My grandmother Rosina Grasby and her family were living at 66 Neate St at the time of the 1911 census.
    Her brother (my great uncle) Will went to Aske’s School and joined the army in the First World War as a bicycle messenger, then became a captain in the Machine Gun Corps. He survived the war, despite being wounded and won the Military Cross.
    As a kid growing up in South East London I used to love the whole R White’s range, especially Cream Soda !

  24. I find 19th century R.Whites lemonade Codd bottles while out mudlarking on the river thames. They are all complete with marble. I also find the stoneware R.Whites bottles as well. My primary school was St Albans which sat on the original site of the R.Whites factory Viburnum Road. I remember we used to find loads of marbles from the Codd bottles next door to the school in the rag and bone mans yard and the leather works. The canal was my playground growing up in the 70s around old Kent road and Peckham. I’m now a boat engineer working on the London canals and river thames boats. Great memories

  25. I worked across the road from the R. White’s factory in Barking in 1966/67 building the three tower blocks (Boo!) across the road. Can you please tell me the name of that street, as I’d like to use street view to explore the area that I came to know quite well? Thank you.

  26. Thanks for this most informative piece.
    I spent so many years teaching football at Burgess Park in the 90s and never realised I was playing/teaching on the same ground my favourite lemonade was made back in the day.

  27. We got bombed out of 29 Harling street and R Whites’ yard was at the back of us. All you could hear was bottles popping off from the fire that was well ablaze. I am 89 now and remember R Whites in Cunard Street was damaged too.

  28. According to the 1921 survey my great grandfather and 2 of his daughters (my great-great aunts) worked in R Whites and lived right nearby 105 New Church Road.

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