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Image of page from trade catalogue
Illustration of preserving jars from 1923 trade catalogue [p 9]

Geo Fowler, Lee & Co Ltd

George Fowler was a soldier who served in the British Royal Army Medical Corps and Regular Army. Theatres included South Africa and Egypt. He was a man who had a great sense of duty, being recognised for his services in Maidstone, particularly during the typhoid epidemic. As a leading figure of the Maidstone Company, Royal Army Medical Corps, his efforts contributed to the largest number of volunteers being provided for the front during the Boer War (1899-1902). And in 1904 King Edward the V11 conferred upon Sergeant-Major Fowler the Meritorious Service Medal.

George Fowler was also the inventor of field cooking stoves used in a number of theatres of war and it has been said, though not corroborated, that he invented the Tommy Stove a small smoke-less cooker that was used in the trenches. He was a key figure in the British bottling industry in the very late 1800's and early 1900's registering new patents for a food bottling and preserving system, that subsequently became widely used in Britain. His bottles had unique spring metal clips that held a metal or glass cover with rubber ring to effect the air-tight closure. His company started in Maidstone around 1898, which then shifted to Reading where it was based for many years in Queens Road.

George Fowler gave the patents of his bottling business to his nephew, Joseph Fowler who subsequently came out to Australia in 1912 to found what eventually became the iconic Fowler's Vacola preserving and bottling business. It still operates in Melbourne today.

Q I am writing a book about both the Fowlers, uncle and nephew, and the companies they so ably led. Geo Fowler, Lee & Co Ltd and Fowlers Vacola Ltd appear to have expanded and eventually declined for similar social and economic reasons but did so in apparent isolation from one another. Very little has been written about the Fowlers and their companies, and there is little information available about the UK business. Thus I would appreciate any and all the help that I can obtain, including ephemera of course, such as the trade catalogues, advertising and possible newspaper articles.

Mark Benbow (mark.benbow[at]internode.on.net)

See this page, on the Australian Ephemera Society website, for more
on the Fowlers’ history of fruit preserving: