Finding information on Chapelat-Humpries was not easy, as there is little information out in the public domain about this fascinating bit of confectionery manufacturing history. We finally managed to contact the family of both the firm’s founder, Frank Humphries, and its subsequent owner, Issy Blumberg, all of whom were very kind in sharing with us memories and documentation that we could use to compose this article.
The sweet story of the Chapelat-Humphries confectionery group started in working class London near the end of the nineteenth century when twelve-year-old Frank Humphries lost his father and had to go out looking for a job to support his family. The ever inquisitive and bookish Frank soon found himself working as a toffee maker in the famous Clarnico factory in Hackney. He spent his weekends and evenings doing what he loved most – visiting bookshops and reading. A few years later, during a visit to a book dealers\’ establishment, he met the young Florence Ward, or ‘Cissy’, and they fell in love. The two were soon married and Cissy fell pregnant with their first child, Winnie. Working class life in London was hard with little prospect of escaping its conditions. When Frank saw an advertisement in a local newspaper for a fondant maker at a Cape Town confectionery company, JJ Hill, he decided that this was his opportunity for a better future for him and his family. The advertisement stated that to apply, samples of the applicant’s work needed to be submitted and so Frank, being a toffee maker, went to a local confectioner and bought some fondant, which he sent off together with his application. On 9 February 1911, a letter arrived offering him the job, so he and his pregnant wife set sail for South Africa, paid for by his new employers. The couple settled in Melbourne road in Woodstock, Cape Town, where their second child, Ida, was born.
In 1914 Frank met another Humphries – Oliver, from Ireland, but no relation of his – and together they decided to start a confectionery company, Humphries Ltd. Under the command of these two partners their business enjoyed huge success right from the start. Frank, with his experience in confectionery production, developed a series of products that were highly successful in the South African market and instantly became household names, such as their Sunrise Toffees, which they launched in the early 1920’s. Due to their business’ success and unabated growth the two Humphries were always on the lookout for bigger premises. Throughout its existence, from 1914 to 1989, the business changed production plants five times. The first factory was in the heart of Cape Town, in Hope Street, but soon moved to a double story building in Buitengracht Street. In 1927 they moved to even bigger premises in Rosebank, which had previously housed the Lion Match factory. Besides producing their confectionery, Humphries also started printing their own packaging. The City of Cape Town then decided to widen Main Road because of the increase in traffic to the southern suburbs, which would mean that the factory building had to be demolished, and so the city reached a settlement with Humphries, who moved to even bigger premises in London Road, Salt River. By this time Oliver Humphries had sold his shares to a Mr. Williams who, in turn, sold them to Frank Humphries, making him the sole owner. By now the brand was a household name, not only in South Africa, but in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South West Africa (Namibia) as well.
World War II brought trying times. Raw materials, particularly sugar, were rationed, the importation of machinery was stopped, and there was a general shortage of staff due to enlistment. Still, Frank managed to keep going and maintain the quality of his products. He even managed to further entrench his brand in the local market. In the end, however, he ran out of resources and urgently needed a capital injection to keep the company afloat.
In 1940 Frank joined forces with Israel Blumberg, who bought shares in the company and joined as Financial Director. Blumberg’s parents were among the Jewish immigrants who came to South Africa from Eastern Europe between 1880 and 1914 to escape the pogroms there. Israel was a quiet, confident man with immense entrepreneurial skill and vision and his arrival at Humphries, at the age of 32, marked the next chapter of the company\’s success story.
The war ended and favourable manufacturing conditions returned, and so, under Blumberg’s guidance, the company was back on the road to growth and expansion.
Frank’s second daughter Ida had married a Greig White, and, upon his return from the war he joined the firm and was responsible for many product additions and upgrades to production lines over the years.
In 1947 Blumberg engineered the most far-reaching event in the history of the firm. Controlling shares of Humphries Ltd. were sold to Doornkop Sugar and Food Industries, a subsidiary of the mining house Transvaal Mining and Finance Corporation, today’s Gencor. This merger made available almost unlimited capital to expand the business on a scale never envisaged before. The funds allowed Blumberg and Humphries to build the largest state-of-the-art confectionery plant in South Africa in the industrial suburb of Ndabeni at Sunrise Circle. With the factory relocated to its new premises Israel Blumberg orchestrated another visionary alliance, this time with the famous British confectionery brand Pascalls, owned by Cadbury. A manufacturing tie-up was signed, which gave the firm access to the latest manufacturing expertise and significantly increased its product offering. Blumberg continued forging many more such lucrative alliances with other international brands such as the Swiss company Suchard that allowed him to introduce Sugus to the South African market. He was also responsible for acquiring the Chapelat factory in Johannesburg, and with it came the famous Chappies bubblegum brand. After this the company was known as the Chapelat-Humphries confectionery group.
When Blumberg joined Humphries Limited in 1940 the business consisted of a single plant, in Salt River, employing forty people and selling its products on the Southern African market. By 1969 he had transformed the business into an empire consisting of two large plants, one in Cape Town and the other in Johannesburg, which jointly employed 1250 people who daily converted forty tons of sugar into about seven milllion sweets under a host of different brands such as Prestige, Wicks, Chappies, Suchard, Sugus, Bensdorp, Sunrise and Clarnico. The company had an annual turnover of several million rands, exporting their sweets to Europe, Africa and the US.
Frank Humphries was getting on in years and he started to take a back seat letting Israel Blumberg run the company as Managing Director. He officially retired from the company in 1957 and his son-in-law Greig became a director. Greig contributed hugely to the expansion of Chapelat-Humphries and was responsible for setting up two confectionery plants overseas for members of the Blumberg family; one in Tel Aviv and one in Mauritius. Israel Blumberg retired in the 1970’s and his son Kenneth took over as MD. He ran the company as successfully as his dad had done, and during his time installed new machinery, computerized many of the existing systems and introduced new products. In 1989, when Cadbury offered to buy the company and Kenneth realized there was no-one in his family who was interested in succeeding him, he decided to sell. Upon acquiring Chapelat-Humphries, Cadbury closed the facility in Ndabeni and moved production to Port Elizabeth, Swaziland and Botswana, and so ended the story of Chapelat-Humphries.
The Chapelat-Humphries company produced hundreds of tins during the company\’s existence, with various themes, which highlighted trends and important events, not just locally but also internationally.
The tins on the left featured here depict circus scenes, illustrated typically in the fashionable drawing style of the 1950s. This kind of illustration was used in adverts and animations. The expressive, two dimensional characters feature bold designs and colours. The red and yellow combination was also popular for kitchens and diners at the time. The arrival of the Boswell Wilkie Circus in South Africa in the 1950s may also have been the inspiration for these beautiful tins!
The round tin, front and centre, is a great example of a Sunrise toffee tin, which was produced in Salt River. Because the tin has the pace of manufacture printed on it, we can estimate that it dates to around the 1940s. Poppies were typically symbolic of remembrance at that time, this would have been an ideal gift for a special occasion!
The large Prestige tin middle-right was produced around the 1960’s, South Africa had just begun to trade natural resources with Japan and so influences from the East became prevalent in fashion and design.
Lastly, as we now know that the factory had been producing toffee to supply internationally, the Humphries factory had also produced a number of British Royal keepsake tins, this one marks the coronation of the Queen in 1953 is one of hundreds of collectable Royal paraphernalia.
It is truly wonderful to add to this fascinating history of confectionary in South Africa, and we hope that we will do our Grandfathers of toffee proud in the next chapter of toffee.