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 John Wheeley Lea

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John Wheeley Lea

Birth
Feckenham, Redditch Borough, Worcestershire, England
Death 23 Mar 1874 (aged 82)
Worcester, City of Worcester, Worcestershire, England
Burial Powick, Malvern Hills District, Worcestershire, England
Memorial ID 80034760 View Source
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John Wheeley Lea, sauce manufacturer, was baptized in May 1791 at Feckenham, near Redditch, Worcestershire, one of the three sons (there were also four daughters) of Thomas and Susanna Lea, a family of yeoman farmers. His family may have been connected on his mother's side with a John Wheeley of Worcester who is mentioned in Valentine Green's History of Worcester (1796) as a member of the town's common council in 1794; it seems likely that John Wheeley Lea was named after John Wheeley. Little is known about Lea's childhood or schooling, but in 1812 he joined the chemist's business of George Guise at 68 Broad Street, Worcester, and in due course obtained his freedom to trade as a chemist and druggist there. In 1820 Lea became sole proprietor of Guise's shop and advertised for a partner. The successful applicant was William Henry Perrins, who joined Lea on 1 January 1823. Two years later Lea and Perrins opened their first branch shop in Vicar Street, Kidderminster, under the name Lea, Perrins, and Court, Court being its manager.

On 5 June 1817 Lea had married Elizabeth Mason (1798/9–1833) of Leominster; a son and daughter were born in the early 1820s, followed by a second son, Charles, in 1827 and two more boys thereafter. In September 1833 Elizabeth died at the family home, The Hermitage, Powick, near Worcester, and John was faced with the task of raising his five children. His third son, George, died on 7 December 1833, aged three years and three months. Lea's memorial plaque to both may still be seen in the nave of St Peter's Church, Powick, where Elizabeth had been buried in a vault at the entrance to the chancel.

Lea's response to family tragedy was to become increasingly active in his business. In 1834 a second branch shop was opened at Cheltenham under the name Lea and Perrins and Osborne, the last named again the manager. During the late 1830s Lea and Perrins turned their attention to producing a distinctive condiment to accompany meat and fish dishes. The precise origin of their trademark Worcestershire sauce remains unclear, but it was being produced commercially by 1837 and quickly proved successful with placements on British shipping lines and exports to the United States by the early 1840s.

In addition to his business life, Lea also became increasingly involved in civic activities in this period. In 1834 he joined a sub-committee at Worcester Royal Infirmary set up to control expenditure. Already an alderman, in October of the following year Lea was elected mayor of Worcester, but served only a three-month term of office. In 1840 he was appointed inspector of drugs at the Royal Infirmary and, in that year, moved to 13 Lansdowne Crescent, Claines, near Worcester, in the house next to that of William Perrins. In 1849 the partners opened a third branch shop in Malvern as Lea and Perrins and Burrows. Lea was again elected mayor in this year, serving a full term, and in 1854 he was appointed president of the city and county library. Three years later his son Charles (d. 1898) joined the business as a partner. In 1860 Lea became a magistrate and in 1862 joined William Perrins in presenting £500 to the infirmary. Two years later he endowed a terrace of almshouses in Infirmary Walk for six elderly women.

John Wheeley Lea died of acute dyspepsia on 23 March 1874 at Stanfield House, Upper Wick, Worcestershire, and was buried in the family tomb at St Peter's, Powick. Charles succeeded his father, but his retirement in 1892 ended the Lea family's involvement with the company and its sauces which continue to bear his name. William Perrins's descendants retained their association and continued to sit on the board after Lea and Perrins was sold to HP Foods in 1930.


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  • Created by: Julian Tansell
  • Added: 7 Nov 2011
  • Find a Grave Memorial 80034760
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/80034760/john-wheeley-lea : accessed ), memorial page for John Wheeley Lea (8 May 1791–23 Mar 1874), Find a Grave Memorial ID 80034760, citing St Peter's Church Burial Ground, Powick, Malvern Hills District, Worcestershire, England ; Maintained by Julian Tansell (contributor 46971431) .