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Keeping it in the family: The oldest family businesses in Britain

For some family businesses, navigating the financial crisis has been tough, but perhaps they should take a look at the business philosophy of the likes of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, makers of Big Ben.
Big Ben, made by The Whitechapel Bell Foundry in 1858
© DS Pugh

For some family businesses, navigating the financial crisis has been tough, but perhaps they should take a look at the business philosophy of the likes of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, makers of Big Ben.



The company, which has seen the reign of 27 monarchs, is the oldest family business in Britain, according to a list released by Family Business United. It says Britain's 10 oldest family firms have been in business for a combined total of 4,027 years, averaging 400 years each. 



London-based Whitechapel Bell Foundry can trace its roots back to 1420, and Kathryn Hughes from the family business reckons its success is due to the fact that “bells are still relevant”. As well as making Big Ben, the company was behind the bell used in the opening ceremony of the London Olympics.



But Dorset butchers RJ Balson and Sons, which opened its doors in 1535 and is currently ranked as second oldest, might have a claim to the top spot. It's still in the hands of the founding family, unlike the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which was bought by the Hughes family in 1884.



Meanwhile, third on the list is John Brooke and Sons, which set up shop in 1541, followed by contractor R Durtnell & Sons (1591).



Also included are tailors Tissimans (1601), independent private bank C Hoar & Co (1672), Morning Foods (1675), milliners James Lock & Co (1676), Toye & Co (1685) and property developers Folkes Group (1697).



Perhaps it is enduring the UK's reformation, civil war, the industrial revolution and two world wars, to name but a few, that makes these businesses so serene in the present financial climate.

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