Overseas Trading

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Horse-drawn transport

The Overseas Trading Corporation was registered as a limited liability company in Jersey on 31 January 1920 with the purpose of blending and packaging teas, in expensive wrapping, for high-class retailers and for export to half the countries of the world. Lemon tea to France, Blackcurrant tea to Sweden and Camomile tea to Spain. And, of course Earl Grey to almost everywhere else.

250 varieties

At one time Sun Works (the company's factory) made up 250 different kinds of packages, which were exported to 40 countries. In its formative years it also took on the manufacture and packaging of grocery items such as Jersey Lily tomato sauce and Lyonaize salad cream.

The striking factory gates with sun symbol
The first export tea-packing trade in Jersey had been established in April 1876 by Thomas Cook, an export merchant from Reading, with flourishing markets in South America and the Far East. He rented premises in Commercial Buildings, St Helier, from where business was launched. Cook was killed in a hunting accident in 1890 and the business passed to Joseph Walker who, with his five sons, continued to enlarge the firm.

Most of Walker's sons established themselves in Buenos Aires, building up a reputation for tea sold throughout Argentina under the brand name of Te Sol, which had been registered as a trademark by Cook in 1880. The distribution centre in Buenos Aires originally operated under the name of Compania Te Sol, but in 1912 it converted to a limited company known as Walker Hermanos Limitada.

When Joseph Walker's business rapidly outgrew its premises in Jersey in 1900, the company bought a large plot of land at First Tower and constructed a modern factory there. Joseph Walker named it the Sun Works (this name was also reflected in the Argentina brand, Te Sol). The following year the business was converted into a limited company (J J Walker and Sons Ltd) but in 1912 was subsequently renamed Walkers Ltd.

While Thomas Walker (one of Joseph Walker's sons) and William Bruce Douglas, a director of W H and F J Horniman and Company (now in the hands of Lyons), were homeward bound on the same ship from South America in 1920, they discussed the possibility of a merger between the two firms. This culminated in the formation of the Overseas Trading Corporation with 51 per of the enterprise owned by Lyons and the balance by Walker.


Lyon's Tea, packaged in Jersey

By the outbreak of war in 1939 Overseas Trading had become one of the largest companies in the island. When Jersey was occupied in 1940 the company's valuable tea stocks were confiscated by the Germans. By the end of the war the tea stocks had been exhausted, much of it having been given away to visiting senior army personnel as gifts.

Post-war

After the war the business was restarted and in 1968 Lyons bought out the remaining shareholders and thus it became a wholly owned subsidiary. By the 1980s it was employing approximately 170 people and by then most of the tea was shipped out as teabags but, unlike the UK market, most of the teabags were tagged.

There were also flavoured teas, with exotic tastes such as mint, chocolate, apricot and nutmeg becoming popular. Despite this trend, Earl Grey remained the most popular. In the early 1990s the Sun Works in Jersey were closed and the Overseas Trading Corporation relocated to Greenford in England.

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