When Samuel Smith O.B.E. began trading as a tea merchant in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1907, he was not to know that one day his Company and its delivery vehicles would be a familiar feature in countless cities, towns and villages stretching from Edinburgh to Peterborough.
Established in 1907, Ringtons is a family business that started life when Samuel Smith moved from Leeds and began selling tea from a horse and carriage to the households of Heaton in Newcastle upon Tyne. Sam began with an initial investment of just £250 from business partner William Titterington (the name Ringtons was formed from the latter part of Williams surname and the 'S' from Smith). Contrary to popular belief, there never was a Mr Rington! Merely a year later, Sam needed two horses and four assistants to help cope with what was a rapidly expanding enterprise.
Samuel bought out Titterington's share of the company in 1914 and Ringtons became a true family business when Sam's son Douglas joined the firm as a tea delivery boy. However, it was to be a tough year for Ringtons as many employees were sent to fight in the First World War and rationing and sales laws were put into force. When the war ended in 1918, the 12 surviving service men returned to Ringtons.
In the early twenties, Ringtons bought two motorised vehicles to assist with deliveries, but it seemed the Geordie housewives preferred their brew to be brought by traditional horse and cart as it wasn't until over 40 years later that Monty, the last horse finally retired! This modernised, post-war era also saw the opening of a new Head Office on Algernon Road in Byker and the expansion of the Ringtons range; including the introduction our popular Chinz and Willow patterned ceramics.
The 1930's saw more growth for Ringtons when Sam returned to his native Leeds, demolished his former home and built a brand new Ringtons factory! The building still stands today as a Sikh temple and original Ringtons engravings can be seen on the exterior. During the thirties, Ringtons staff enjoyed day trips to Scarborough; the outings were a thank you from the Smiths and judging from photos in our archive, looked like a jolly good day out!
In the forties Ringtons was again seriously affected by the Second World War. Over 400 employees, including Samuel's four grandsons, were called up to fight and by 1943, 200 vans were taken off the road. Once again, determination and the Ringtonain spirit triumphed and the business kept going. The surviving servicemen, including Sam’s grandsons, returned to work for the company.
Samuel Smith passed away aged 77 in 1949 and his sons took on the business. This was only the beginning of Smith generations following in their parents’ footsteps. With Douglas now running the business, his sons Douglas Jnr, Norman and Johnnie joined him at the helm and by 1954 all but one of Ringtons door-to-door deliveries were made by motor vehicles.
In 1972, Douglas’s son Johnnie took over at Ringtons and when he began this new role his eldest son Nigel also joined the business as a Trainee Buyer. In 1975, Ringtons won an account to supply to Marks and Spencer (which we continue to do today). The decade was rounded off by a VIP visit to Algernon Road from none other than 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher in 1979. The Conservative leader told of her preference for tea bags, noting they are "much more convenient" (for a lady with such a busy lifestyle, we’re not surprised)!
Throughout the 80's, Nigel's brothers Simon and Colin joined the business and were able to gain valuable and expert knowledge from all over the world. Over the next 30 years, the fourth generation of the Smith family brought in many changes, including the introduction of innovative vacuum-packing techniques (to deliver a truly fresh cuppa from the tea gardens of Kenya) and the construction of a custom-built factory in North Tyneside.
Now, 105 years after Sam Smith began his business, we continue to deliver door-to-door to over 280,000 customers throughout the UK, and many more worldwide via our online store. We also provide the nations’ superior cafes, restaurants, hotels and workplaces with the best tea and coffee via our successful wholesale division, Ringtons Beverages.
If, like us, all this talk of tea has made you thirsty, why not pop the kettle on and drink to another successful hundred years of Ringtons!