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UK’s oldest family businesses, a history of longevity

They were all founded between 1535 and 1728, but the UK's 10 oldest family businesses are showing no signs of ageing, such as slowing down.

They were all founded between 1535 and 1728, but the UK's 10 oldest family businesses are showing no signs of ageing, such as slowing down.

Instead, companies like RJ Balson and Son show impressive levels of stability and longevity, according to a study by the Institute for Family Business.

The research, conducted to mark the 10th anniversary of the IFB, found that the oldest continuously trading family firms in the UK are still successful and have been boosting the country’s economy since they were established.

Britain’s oldest family business is RJ Balson and Son, a Dorset-based butcher founded in 1535, when Henry VIII was King of England. Still run by the Balson family, the firm won many culinary awards during  its 476 years and recently expanded its operations to the US.

Also R Durtnell & Sons, a Westerham, Kent-based construction company, was established during the 16th century. The firm is currently managed by 13th-generation Alexander Durtnell.

C Hoare & Co is one of the oldest private banks in the world. Founded in 1672 in London, it served famous customers such as Lord Byron and Jane Austen.

Both Morning Foods and Aspall Cyder – respectively founded in 1675 and 1728 – are familiar names in Britain. The first is a miller of oats and cereals, which is still owned and managed by the descendants of founder William Lea. The latter is a well-known Suffolk-based manufacturer of apple juice, cider and vinegar, currently in its 8th generation.

The oldest 10 also include Lock & Co, a hat maker famous for its bowlers; Toye, Kenning & Spencer, a military manufacturer that supplies metals and ribbons to military organisations in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, and names such as real estate Folkes Group, wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd and Salts Healthcare, which makes surgeons’ instrument.

But one family business missing from the list, perhaps because it converted its wool mill into a business park in recent years, is Huddersfield-based John Brooke and Sons, which traces its history back to 1541.

According to the IFB, there are three million family businesses in the UK, accounting for 65% of the country’s private companies. Together, they provide jobs to 9.5 million people, accounting for 40% of private sector employment.  

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