Sam Twining on life in Hampshire, work and his family’s dynasty
PUBLISHED: 09:02 13 July 2015
From his home on the Isle of Wight, Sam Twining reflects on his family’s dynasty over a cup of tea with Peter White
Sam Twining vividly remembers his first visit to Hampshire, even though it was more than 75 years ago. As a young boy he and his family left their home in Paddington, and moved to Alton to avoid the bombing atrocities London suffered during the Second World War. It was a blessing they did, for within weeks of their relocation, their London home suffered a direct hit from a German bomb and was totally destroyed.
So perhaps it was fitting that many years later Sam not only returned to live in Hampshire, but also played a role in bringing the Twinings Tea and Coffee Empire to Andover, where nearly 500 workers are now employed - with their famous products exported to more than 100 countries worldwide.
Sam Twining is the ninth generation of the oldest and arguably most famous tea company in the world, founded when Thomas Twining bought Tom’s Coffee House on London’s Strand in 1706.
Although now retired and living with his wife Anne on the Isle of Wight, Sam has fond memories of his many years in Hampshire. He said: “I was born in Paddington, but not the station! I then spent the whole of the Second World War in Alton where my parents had taken a house. My father travelled to London to run Twinings every day, and also commanded the Alton Home Guard.
“I remember as a very small boy during the blitz being taken out at night in my father’s arms, and I could see the glow of London burning in the east, and Portsmouth and Southampton burning in the south. It was horrendous, and I have never forgotten it. I went to school in Alton, and returned to London as soon as the war ended, living a couple of doors away from the original house that was bombed.”
Although a member of the Twinings dynasty, Sam initially had no wish to join the company. He recalls: “At the age of six I saw the Royal Marines, and from that day I kept telling my family I wanted to be one of them. When I was 16 my father asked me if I still wanted to join the Marines, and I told him I did.
“So in 1950 I went off as a boy to the Royal Marine training centre, where I had basic training and was given a uniform, and I returned home very proudly two weeks later as a Second Class Royal Marine volunteer. When I got called up for National Service I went straight into the Royal Marines.”
Sam eventually joined the family business when he was 23, but said: “I was never made to think that I had to go into it. For me that is the most dangerous thing that a boy or girl can have happen to them when they want to do something else.”
Prior to joining the company he spent several years abroad, coincidentally visiting tea gardens in Ceylon - now Sri Lanka - and India, before returning to England on January 2, 1956. He continued: “I started in the business as a pot boy for the tea tasters, and then worked with them, including going to the auctions. After two years I was allowed to actually go and buy the tea at an auction in London.
“But because Twinings started as a coffee house that specialised in tea, I then had to go and learn about coffee for a year, which was quite different. I had seen coffee growing in Africa and India, so having learned that, I began learning about other parts of the business, and worked my way up.”
The company’s move to Andover took place in 1966, and was five years in the making. Sam explained: “We had two factories in the East End of London, one for tea and the other for coffee, employing several hundred people. One day, the Greater London Council came to us and said they wanted to build high-rise flats where the factories stood.
“The GLC said they would buy the factories, and gave us the option of five towns to move to, including Andover. Aylesbury and Avonmouth were also on the list, but as tea came in from Liverpool, Avonmouth and London, and because even in those days the company was very much into export, it seemed natural to be between Avonmouth and London, and close to Southampton, so Andover became the obvious choice.
“I was part of a team that laid the foundations for what happened to the company. There wasn’t 100 per cent agreement that we should move, but the majority decided it would be the right thing to do. It was a chance for the company to expand, and it has been a huge success. I was happy because I knew the Andover area well. I had an aunt who farmed north of the town, and I had stayed with her many times, so I knew it was a beautiful area of the country.”
He continued: “When the move to Andover took place, 80 families of employees came with us and only two went back to London because their teenage children found a little country town a bit quiet for them. The GLC did everything - if you had a large family they gave you a house with enough bedrooms, but if you lived alone you had a one or two-bedroom flat.
“For various reasons some families couldn’t move so the GLC had a waiting list of people in London who wanted to move out of the city through their skills. Many applied to join us, and we got some very good people that way.”
Sam, Anne, and their three children settled in Middle Wallop, quite near the old airfield. He said: “I was invited by the Army Air Corps to become the chairman of the Development Trust for the museum, which I did for seven years and I was a parish councillor for Over Wallop for 34 years, from 1967, including chairman for three years. I got involved because I had time to put things back into the community, and it was a privilege.
“There was a wartime gym for the RAF Airfield, which the Parish Council converted into a village hall. We did it up and kept it going, and shared it with Nether Wallop. I understand it is still going well to this day. I chaired that project, so I suppose that was one of my achievements in the county.”
Sam Twining did many different jobs within the family business, and for the final 15 years was corporate relations director - before that export director. It took him all over the world. He said: “My wife hardly ever saw me, as the business was building very rapidly. I learned how to sell tea in the UK, which is the toughest market in the world. If you can sell tea here you can sell it anywhere.”
He worked until he was 70, and saw many changes during his time with the company. None more so than the advent of the machine to make tea bags in 1956. “That was a revolution, one of the biggest changes without a doubt,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with a good tea bag, but there is a time and place for everything, and when you have company loose tea comes into its own. You can make 240 cups from a pound of good loose tea, which beats everything else.”
Sam pinpoints three reasons for the company’s success. He revealed: “First of all, always stay with what you know how best to do. Twinings have always stayed with tea and coffee, and not moved into other things.
“Secondly go for quality and maintain it. The day you start fiddling about with quality you are finished. And thirdly our family stayed on site and ran the business hands-on, while delegating other employees to go abroad.”
Twinings produce more than 600 blends of tea. They employ 1,500 people globally, with factories in China, Poland and India, as well as Andover. One-third of all the tea they sell comes from China, and is then tasted and evaluated by their team of tea tasters, before instructions go back to the Far East for the tea selection to be finalised.
Sam and Anne’s son Stephen is the 10th generation, and holds the position of director of corporate relations of Twinings, who have won the Queen’s Export Award twice – the first tea company to do so. They also hold the Royal warrant, and have done so since the first year of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837.
Sam is now happy to sit back and watch the company continue to flourish, drinking anything between six and eight cups of tea a day. He reckons his wife makes the perfect cuppa, with Anne explaining: “I was a nurse and a great tea drinker, so I learned quite early on.”
Since his retirement Sam has carried out much charity work, and is very involved with the two churches in St Lawrence on the Isle of Wight. He was a church warden for 25 years, and reflects: “I have done lots of things, and I don’t think there are any unfulfilled ambitions.”
• 12 of the best afternoon teas in Hampshire - Treat yourself to lunch and tea with a visit to one of these fantastic Hampshire tea rooms.