St Bruno pipe tobacco was first marketed by Thomas Ogden in 1896.
In 1996 its centenary year it had a market share of 23 per cent and sales of 235 tonnes a year. Over 30 years earlier in 1860, Ogden opened the first of many tobacconists’ shops in Park Lane, Liverpool.
During Victoria’s reign, Liverpool flourished as a port and trading centre. With his retailing venture proving so successful it was perhaps inevitable that Ogden should diversify into manufacturing.
I am often asked who sells St Bruno on-line. I usually refer them to McGahey the Tobacconist. Established since 1880, McGahey’s stock a wide range of rolling tobaccos, cigars, pipes, cigarettes and snuff. Friendly and knowledgeable staff, always on hand to help whether you’re buying online or in their Exeter shop.
Ogdens first factory was opened in St James’s Street in 1870. St Bruno was introduced in 1896 and St Julien in 1898. By the end of the century there were six small factories and a snuff mill in Cornwallis Street.
By 1899 all manufacturing and warehousing operations were under one roof in Boundary Lane – still the home of Ogden’s.
By this time Ogden’s was a private limited company, Thomas Ogden senior having been made chairman in 1890, although within a few months he had died and was replaced by Mr R H Walters.
At the onset of the tobacco war in 1901, the American Trust Company made an offer for Ogden’s which was accepted in the September of that year. The Americans, with a huge budget for the times of £6m, tried to take over the UK tobacco market.
Successfully challenged by 17 British companies who had come together to form the Imperial Tobacco Company, the Americans accepted a settlement in which both parties agreed to operate solely in their own countries. As part of that settlement Ogden’s was incorporated into Imperial Tobacco.
Although the history books serve us well with dates and events, the origin of the name St Bruno appears to have been lost in the mists of time. The following theory is my own, based on my researches.
Bruno is a common German name (it means brown) and there have been a number of Brunos canonised in the history of the church. The most notable St Bruno was born in Cologne in 1030 and died in southern Italy in 1101.
In 1084 Bruno and six others requested of the Bishop of Grenoble that they be allowed to lead an ascetic and solitary life. He directed them to Chartreuse, a mountainous spot near Grenoble in south-eastern France. This small community was later to become the foundation of the Carthusian Order which has since been attributed to St Bruno.
His followers obtained papal leave in 1514 to celebrate his saint’s day on October 6.
In 1150 Henna de Massey, third Baron of Dunham, bequeathed land on the Wirral to the Benedictine monks. On this land they built Birkenheod Priory. Although the order was dissolved in 1536, the ruins are still there and possibly visible from the other side of the Mersey at the time when the Ogdens were establishing their tobacconist shops. The crossing at that point is still sometimes referred to as the Monks Ferry.
This Benedictine order would have followed the principle of austerity that reached out and influenced many others in the 11th century. The Carthusian Order which St Bruno founded was established on well known Benedictine lines.
The Benedictine connection with Liverpool may well have been known to Ogden’s as they peered across the Mersey waiting for cargo ships to dock. St Bruno would have been an appropriate name to capitalise on this local association.
But what of the St Bernard who for many years has been peering at us with the packet of St Bruno slung under his neck rather than the brandy barrel? It may be romantic to think that St Bruno might have met a St Bernard on his travels to Rome across the Swiss Alps but it was no more than a marketing man’s ploy to continue the theme of saints in tobacco advertising campaigns.
As the slogan always reminded us. ‘St Bruno, the patron saint of tobacco’.
©John Barber – originally published Tobacco Europe Sep/Oct 1996.
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