Wolverhampton has been home to many well-known and well-respected businesses, whose products became a household name. One of the longest running of them was Reade Brothers and Company, manufacturing chemists, whose patent powders, pills, creams, and medicines were a source of comfort and relief from pain for many generations.

The business began in the late eighteenth century, at a time when medicine was in its infancy, and visits to the doctor could only be afforded by wealthier members of society. The firm can trace its roots back to Mander, Weaver, and Company, founded by John Mander in 1773. He started his business in King Street, and soon moved to the eastern side of Victoria Street (then called Cock Street), roughly opposite where Beatties stands today.

His premises had a large frontage, and a small factory at the back. He manufactured chemicals for sale at home and abroad, including mercurial preparations such as calomel, which were sold for medicinal purposes.

He was joined in the business by Mr. Bacon, a wealthy businessman, and the firm began trading as Mander and Bacon.

Several years later John Weaver joined the business and it became Mander, Bacon and Weaver. John Weaver was a talented and energetic businessman who worked hard to increase sales.

A little later, John Mander and Mr. Bacon retired. Benjamin Parton Mander became a partner, and the firm traded as Mander, Weaver and Mander.

Around 1833 Mr. Mander retired, and John Weaver carried-on alone, trading as Mander, Weaver and Company. After John Weaver’s death in 1849 his son Frederick took over, and ran the business until 1873 when it was taken over by Thomas Reade and his brother William.
The two Reade brothers, then in their mid thirties, had been in business for fourteen years at a shop in High Street, Wolverhampton. William specialised in the production of varnishes, and Thomas specialised in the production of patent medicines.

The firm’s early medical treatments included Egyptian Salve, which became a popular ointment for ulcers, abscesses, burns, scalds, bad legs, gathered breasts, inflamed eyes, erysipelas, eruptions, and skin diseases. It was available in pots of three sizes, selling for 1s.1½d., 2s.9d., and 4s.6d.

After the move to Victoria Street, the business went from strength to strength, and became so successful that within a few years the small factory behind the shop could not cope with the demand for the products. In order to satisfy the demand, the brothers acquired a shop with a small factory behind, across the road, near to the Giffard Arms. The shop became a retail chemist’s, and sales continued to grow.

The business was starting to become well known for its innovative products. Reade Brothers received an Honorable Mention for creative chemistry at the 1878 World’s Fair in Paris.

In 1879 the partnership between the two brothers ended. William decided to leave the business in order to concentrate on varnish production, and so Thomas ran the company alone. The following notice appeared in the February 7th, 1879 edition of the London Gazette:

Notice is hereby given that the partnership heretofore subsisting between us the undersigned, William James Reade and Thomas Reade, both of Wolverhampton, in the county of Stafford, varnish manufacturers, wholesale druggists, and manufacturing chemists, trading under the firm of Reade Brothers, at Wolverhampton aforesaid, was this day dissolved, as from the 29th day of June 1878, by mutual consent. And that the business of a varnish manufacturer will in future be carried on by the said William James Reade, on his own account, at Monmore Green, Wolverhampton aforesaid, who will receive all debts owing to the said late partnership in respect of the said varnish business, since the said 29th day of June, 1878, and will pay all claims due from the said late partnership in respect of the said varnish business, which have been incurred since that date.

And that the business of a wholesale and retail druggist and manufacturing chemist will in future be carried on by the said Thomas Reade, on his own account, at Victoria Street, Wolverhampton aforesaid, who will receive all debts owing to the said late partnership in respect of the said wholesale druggist and manufacturing chemist business, since the said 29th day of June, 1878, and will pay all claims due from the said late partnership in respect of the said wholesale druggist and manufacturing chemist business which have been incurred since that date.

As witness the hands of the said William James Reade and Thomas Reade, this

4th day of February, 1879.

William James Reade.

Thomas Reade

On 1st December, 1893, Thomas Reade bought the large building in Cleveland Road, opposite the hospital, now known as the Dixon’s building. He purchased it from carriage maker Forder and Company Limited, which was having financial problems.

In the following year Reade Brothers and Company, Limited was formed, and the company moved into the Cleveland Road building.

Although the firm’s manufacturing activities were soon concentrated in Cleveland Road, Reade’s were not the sole occupants of the building. The basement had been leased to the Staffordshire Brewery in 1890 for five years, and Forders continued to use part of the building for some time.

In November 1900 Thomas Reade was elected as a member of the Wolverhampton School Board. After its dissolution in July 1903, he was elected as a member of Wolverhampton Council.

In 1903 Thomas was joined in the business by his two sons. The younger of them, Charles James Reade had a good head for commercial matters and was destined to run the business in later years. In 1908 the Cleveland Road building was passed by conveyance to Reade Brothers.

The firm continued to produce a range of chemical products until 1919, when Charles was taking over more of his father’s duties, and shaping the firm’s future.

Thomas Reade, one of the founders.

By this time Thomas was seventy four years old, and relied more and more on his son’s abilities. Charles sold the Victoria Street premises, so that the business operated solely in Cleveland Road. At the same time production of the chemical products ended. A few of the firm’s better known medicines which sold as remedies for all kinds of ailments, were as follows:

Indian Cerate, an all-purpose skin ointment which became extremely popular. Although other manufacturers marketed it as a clear jelly, Charles found a way of producing it as a pure white cream which was more effective, and more attractive to use.

Express Powders, a safe and sure remedy for headache, influenza, feverishness, and rheumatism, were introduced in 1913.

Chest Balsam, one of the firm’s popular ointments was introduced in 1911.

Surgical Boric Lint, a safe and reliable antiseptic dressing for application to wounds, abrasions, sores etc.

Medicinal Liquid Paraffin (exceptionally pure). Used internally for habitual constipation.

Effervescence Citreous Saline.

Other products included a bug destroyer, insect powders, disinfecting liquid, and garden fertilisers. Many product labels carried a trademark consisting of an old steam railway engine because Thomas was a railway enthusiast.

As Thomas grew older, Charles took-on more responsibilities, and was running the firm by the late 1920s. In 1930 Thomas finally retired at the age of eighty five, and Charles became Managing Director. At the time he was an extremely fit and energetic forty seven year old, who in his youth had been a passionate sportsman. He now concentrated his energy on developing the firm, and ensuring that it had a good future. Sadly Thomas’s retirement was brief, he died in 1931 at the age of eighty six.


Charles Reade.


Derek Reade.

The Cleveland Road premises. As seen in 2002.

Luckily the younger generations of the family would continue to play their part in the family business. In 1933 Charles’ son Derek, who was twenty one years old, became a joint-partner in the firm with his father.

The range of proprietary medicines greatly increased, including many of the old favourites such as Reade’s Express Powders, Egyptian Salve, and Indian Cerate.

There were also many new preparations including cough mixture, embrocation, liniments, health salts, toilet preparation, brilliantines, medicated confectionary such as Vapomenth, pastilles, linseed liquorice, and chlor lozenges.

Other products included food flavourings, gravy colouring, fruit drinks, and also household polishes, household ammonia, insect powders, and disinfecting fluids.

The introduction of the National Health Service in 1948 greatly changed the patent medicine industry, and eventually led to a decline in sales.

The industry was soon dominated by large drug companies, who could spend vast amounts of money on research to develop ever-complex and expensive drugs.

Reade Brothers hoped to survive by concentrating on less serious illnesses and ailments, the sort of thing which would be considered to be too trivial for a visit to the doctor.

Another view of the Cleveland Road premises.

Wrapping Reade's Express Powders.

The packing bench.

The firm decided to sell the Cleveland Road premises and move into a smaller building in nearby Sharrocks Street.

In 1959 the Cleveland Road building and the adjoining houses, also owned by the company, were put-up for sale. They were acquired by S. J. Dixon & Son Limited in September 1960.

Charles James Reade died on 1st January 1965, leaving three directors on the board. They were his son Derek Reade, his cousin Mr. T. B. Reade, and Mr. J. L. Scott, an experienced chemist who was in charge of research and development.

By this time the company had eighteen employees in the Sharrocks Street factory, continuing to produce their long-surviving range of remedies, and toilet preparations.

The factory contained modern machinery and had first-class laboratory facilities.

Reade Brothers continued producing patent medicines at Sharrocks Street until their chemist retired, and production came to an end.

The firm had been producing patent medicines for over two hundred years, and must have been one of the longest-running companies of its kind.

Mixing hand cream.

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