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The Vestey Family

Derek Vestey lived at Avila in Malthouse Lane after WW2.  As general background, this page gives a brief history of the Vestey businesses. 

Edmund and William Vestey started their operations from a family business in Liverpool which had been importing provisions from North America.  William had been sent to the US by his father in the 1880’s to buy goods for shipment back to the UK, and in Chicago he soon established a canning factory, primarily for corned beef.  Soon, Edmund took over the running of the factory, while William went to Argentina in 1890.  Whilst William was there, he realised that fresh meat could be refrigerated, transported long distances, and delivered fresh to customers.  This is something we take for granted today, but the Vestey brothers were the first people to think of the idea and put it into practice.  Initially they started shipping frozen partridges. 

They quickly developed cold stores across the UK and throughout Russia, the Baltics, and Western Europe. This enabled them to supply large quantities of quality affordable meat, poultry, eggs and fish to the growing UK population.  In 1911, they expanded into meat production, processing and distribution.  Meat supply was a crucial issue during WW1, and the Vestey business thrived at that time.

They acquired millions of acres of pastoral land and meat works in Venezuela, Australia and Brazil, with additional meat works in New Zealand and Argentina. They also introduced butcher shops throughout the UK, steadily increasing to have around 3,000 shops by 1923 (Dewhurst the Butchers).  And they built their own fleet of ships (the Blue Star Line).  The business was rapidly-growing and successful.  So successful, that in 1940 it was estimated that the Vestey family was second only to the Royal family in terms of wealthy UK families. 

The Vesteys boasted that they had a stake in every stage of the meat business “from the mountain range to the kitchen range”.  They had a family motto, which was “From work comes stability”.  However the Inland Revenue took another view of the Vesteys, describing them in the 1930’s as “the most notorious avoiders of tax in this country”.  This related to highly dubious accounting practices the Vesteys had been adopting for over 20 years (which have long since been outlawed).

Both of the brothers were awarded baronetcies. William’s peerage in 1922 was vociferously objected to, on the grounds of his questionable tax arrangements.  But it went ahead nevertheless.

More recent times have been harder for the family.  A 1970’s expose of another of the Vestey Group’s tax arrangements showed that one of their schemes (which used a legal tax loophole) had saved them several millions of pounds of tax over several years.  It may well have saved the family money, but it cost them in popularity at the time.  There was another unpleasant scandal involving an American cousin of the then Lord Vestey in the 1980’s, but we will not go into the gory details here.  In the 1990’s the Group over-expanded, and some of their core businesses faced competition from new sources (for example, Dewhurst the Butchers had to deal with supermarkets selling the same products more cheaply).  Much of the business had to be sold to pay off debts.

The business still runs today in a slimmed-down way as a private company controlled by Vestey family interests.  The company website gives some information about their activities, but should not be looked at if the reader is hungry – there are a few too many mouth-watering pictures.

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