Last month, the museum was delighted to be invited to the Felbridge Local and Family History Exhibition, along with several other local museum and history organisations. The show was organised by the popular Felbridge and District History Group to mark the 25th anniversary of their founding. We took along lots of local material, including vintage photos, postcards and maps, but the items that prompted a lot of discussion with visitors were the kitchen gadgets we had brought, manufactured by Spong and Co.
Before the advent of electric food processors in the latter part of the 20th Century, few kitchens were without a Spong mincer or slicer, and several visitors to the show were still using theirs for mincing meat, chopping runner beans or slicing oranges for making marmalade. James Osborn Spong was the eldest son of a church minister, and founded Spong & Co in Holborn, London in 1856 when he was just 16 years old. Once the company was up and running, James married and, together with his wife Frances, went on to have seven children.
James was a prolific inventor, raising over 100 patents in his lifetime, many for kitchen equipment but also for such diverse items as fire extinguishers, portable showers and burglar alarms. By 1882 Spong & Co was selling around 200,000 mincers a year. James and his family moved home several times, in and around London, but by 1912 James had bought Warren House Farm in Felbridge to live in with his wife and three of his daughters, who were all very active in the suffragette movement for women’s rights.
The family continued to live in Felbridge until James’s death at the age of 85 – he was buried in St John’s Churchyard, Felbridge on 13 July 1925, in an unmarked grave. The photo shows the Church of St John’s in the early 20th Century. The family home, Warren House Farm, was sold on in the 1930s, and eventually demolished to make way for Warren Close in the late 1960s.
As for his company, his family continued to run and develop the business, promoting their products with the catchy slogan “You can’t go wrong with a SPONG”. But by the 1970s sales were in decline, prompting the sale of the kitchen equipment side of the business to Salter in 1980, with production ceasing soon afterwards.