Our History

175 YEARS OF ELSOMS HISTORY

In 2019, we marked Elsoms’ 175th anniversary year. We have come a long way from our origins as a rope making company to establishing ourselves as the UK’s leading independent seed specialists, plant breeder and successful innovator in seed technology.

Isaac Elsom
Isaac Elsom

1844

1844

Isaac Elsom establishes the
company as a rope and twine
maker at the Ropewalk,
Spalding

1863

Isaac and his family move from Pinchbeck Road to New
Road. This serves as both the family home and business
headquarters for the next 30 years

1885

The name of the business changes from ‘Isaac Elsom, Rope
and Twine Manufacturer’ to ‘Elsom and Son, Rope and Yarn
Manufacturer, Sack and Seed Merchants’

The Ropewalk
The Ropewalk

1886

At the age of 63, Isaac hands over the business to
his third son, George, aged 25

1894

Elsoms reaches its 50th year

Isaac Elsom
George Elsom

1901

George dies of tuberculosis, aged 41, and his
eldest son, George, leaves school aged 14 to help
his mother run the business

1906

George, aged 20, takes
over full control of the
business

1910

The first Elsoms catalogue of vegetable and flower
seeds is produced

1887

George adds netting and covers to the range of
manufactured products at the Ropewalk

1918-19

Rope manufacturing ceases following the war.
Elsoms continues to trade in ropes and twines by
buying them in

1920s

Elsoms has an extensive root seed contracting
business with wholesale trade

1920 Farm Seeds
George and his youngest brother,
Bert, form a partnership and buy
a warehouse to become a cereal
processing plant
Always wanting to expand
beyond flower and vegetable
seed, George gradually adds
rootcrops, clovers and grasses
to the catalogue, followed by
cereals
Elsom House

1934 (above)

A row of houses on Broad Street,
bought by George and Bert, are
demolished and in December are
ready to use as the new
headquarters. Bert’s 13 year old son
officially opens the building, named
Elsom House

1930s

George and Bert set up the
English Sugar Beet Company

1939

Wheat stocks go on sale
and prove popular

1939

Wheat stocks go on sale and prove
popular

Farm Seeds 1939
John Keeling
John Keeling

1940s

Elsoms is still predominantly a family
business, however both George’s and
Bert’s sons had died and there was no
apparent family successor. George
contacts John Keeling, joint manager at
another seed company, to join Elsoms
instead of joining the forces – which the
Ministry of Agriculture agrees would be
in the national interest for him to do so

1943 (above)

Elsoms (Spalding) Limited is formally
incorporated on December 4th 1943
and George, Bert and John hold
equal shares

Florimond Desperez
appoints Elsoms as his UK
agent
Florimond Desperez
Florimond Desperez

1943

Work on a new warehouse starts on
Bert’s land, next to the cemetery on
Pinchbeck Road. It was later named
the Albert Warehouse, in memory of
Bert. A new cereal processing plant
is added later

Arial View of Elsoms Limited 1943

1944

Elsoms reaches
its 100th year

1947

Bert suddenly
dies in November,
aged 54

1950s

Elsoms’ international reputation
is established. Much attention is focused
on cereals

Seeds by Elsoms
The herbage department is building up a
significant export market, supplying to
France, Belgium and Germany
Elsoms’ maincrop onion seed is increasing
in popularity – which is the beginning of
what will become a major expansion of
Elsoms’ vegetable seed division
Tony Hewitt
Tony Hewitt (later becomes the
Vegetable Seed Director)
George Elsom
George Elsom (second left)

1952

Elsoms is awarded the World Rye
Championship, and on three
occasions in the next six years wins
the World Winter Wheat
Championship

George completes his 50th year with
the company
HM The Queen Mother presents the ‘Best Stand’ award to George at the 1954 Norfolk Show

1954

HM The Queen Mother presents the ‘Best Stand’
award to George at the 1954 Norfolk Show

1957

George Elsom dies in April in the grounds
of Grimsthorpe Castle while visiting a
friend with his wife

George Elsom
George Elsom

1960s

George was a founder member of the
National Institute of Agricultural Botany
at Cambridge, and served on councils for
the UK Seed Trade Association and the
National Association of Corn and
Agricultural Merchants
John Keeling becomes Chairman and
Managing Director. He sets up a policy
committee and from then on there would be
a concentration on seeds, excluding other
aspects which Elsoms had been associated
with
1960s
John aims to decentralise the company, wanting to
look into a cheaper grade of seed to be processed
where it was grown instead of being transported to
Spalding. The scheme is an immediate success. To
overcome the problem of growers not having their
own machinery, John has the idea of a mobile
cleaning plant where County Seed staff would travel
to the localities with machinery
County Seeds is formed, a
subsidiary set up by Elsoms
to meet the demand for
cheaper cereal
Seed Machinery
John Keeling (far right)
John Keeling (far right)

1963

Elsoms vegetable division further
develops – after analysis of potential
markets, main programmes of Brussels
sprouts, onions and carrots start, with
secondary programmes
in beetroot and parsnip

Joe Godber (Minister of Agriculture) and John Keeling
Joe Godber (Minister of Agriculture)
and John Keeling
Anthony Keeling
Anthony Keeling (far right)
Elsoms

1966

Elsoms forms a consortium,
Unicorn Plant Breeders, a jointly
owned company to coordinate
cereal trials and plant breeding
work

1965

Anthony Keeling becomes a director

Anthony KeelingAnthony Keeling
1969 Elsoms Vegetable Seeds

1968

A reorganised and enlarged
cleaning plant is completed
A warehouse is erected to provide a
new home for the vegetable
department. Subsequently, the
Ropewalk was closed, after more than
120 years since Isaac Elsom’s original
place of business

1969

Elsoms reaches its 125th year

Elsoms Seeds

1970s

Elsom House is closed and plans drawn up for a
new two-storey office block at Pinchbeck Road

Elsoms Seeds Ltd
New computer systems are
installed, to computerise all Elsoms’
orders, invoicing and sales records

1974

The new office block is ready for
occupation and later receives a
Spalding Civic Society award for its
simple and appropriate architecture

Elsoms Seeds
Anthony Keeling, Frank Nicholson, Victor Desprez and John Keeling
Elsoms Vegetable Seeds

1970

Following the move to one site,
John Keeling remains as Company
Chairman with Anthony Keeling as
Managing Director

After more than a decade of
consolidating Elsoms’ sites, all the
separate aspects are now on a
single site
Elsoms Seeds Ltd
Elsoms agrees a long-term
exclusive distribution arrangement
with Bejo for outdoor vegetables,
and also to work together on joint
breeding programmes

1980s

John Keeling dies, aged 71. The close and
effective working relationship between John
and Anthony enables a smooth transition

John Keeling
John Keeling
As trade in vegetable seeds steadily
increases in importance, Elsoms begins
priming in large commercial quantities
for major outdoor vegetables
From approximately 1000 plots in 1960,
Elsoms’ trials and breeding extended to
around 100,000 plots

1983

Elsoms installs equipment to begin
production of treated seed and also
treat Bejo seed for UK distribution.
Within 3-4 years, the majority of UK
onions are being drilled from seed
treated by Elsoms

The Unicorn partnership is brought to a close
Sue Kennedy (Vegetable Breeding Technician)
Sue Kennedy (Vegetable Breeding Technician)

1989

The lab is extended to permit more
sophisticated cereal testing and move
into vegetable anther culture

1994

Elsoms reaches its 150th year

Elsoms staff together for a 150th anniversary photoElsoms staff together for a 150th anniversary photo

1990s

In 1993 Elsoms receives accreditation to
BS5750 Part 2, and was one of the first major
seed companies to achieve this

Elsoms begins breeding purple sprouting
broccoli, which was later incorporated into a
joint breeding programme with Bejo
1197 Vegetables

2000s

2006

Elsoms signs a licence with Incotec, becoming
partners in seed treatment and technology

2008

After more than 10 years of breeding hybrid
swede, the first varieties from the breeding
programme are marketed

2009

Roger Keeling, Anthony’s son,
becomes Chairman of Elsoms, with
Anthony as Deputy Chairman

Anthony Keeling (front right), Rae Cook (later Head of Seed Treatment, centre) and Robin Wood (later Deputy Chairman, centre right)
Anthony Keeling (front right), Rae Cook (later Head of Seed Treatment,
centre) and Robin Wood (later Deputy Chairman, centre right)
Roger Keeling
Roger Keeling
Stephen Smith (Head of Wheat Breeding, Elsoms Wheat)
Stephen Smith (Head of Wheat Breeding, Elsoms Wheat)

2013

Elsoms Wheat is established as a joint venture
between Elsoms, Nordsaat and ASUR Plant
Breeding. The formation has tripled the size of
Elsoms’ wheat breeding programme, allowing the
breeding of robust wheat varieties for the UK

Elsoms begins to work closely with Saaten
Union, making their specialist varieties
available to UK farmers and growers

2017

Elsoms’ top selling oilseed rape
variety, Elgar, is added to the
AHDB recommended list

Elsoms Wheat’s first four varieties,
Dunston, Bennington, Freiston
and Moulton, are added to the
AHDB recommended list

2018

Elsoms Ackermann Barley is
established, securing a foundation
for the development of high-quality
barley varieties for the UK

Elsoms Wheat logoSaaten Union
Barley
Elsoms Ackermann Barley logo

Elsoms Wheat’s next two
varieties, Elicit and Elation, are
added to the AHDB recommended list
David Clay (Brassica Crop Manager)
David Clay (Brassica Crop Manager)
David Coop (Research, Development and Marketing Director) and Mark Nightingale (Oilseed Rape Breeder and Technical Manager)

David Coop (Research, Development and Marketing Director) and
Mark Nightingale (Oilseed Rape Breeder and Technical Manager)

2019

Elsoms re-enters the oilseed rape
market with a new breeding programme
Elsoms and Bejo launch Burgundy, the
UK’s first purple wholehead broccoli

Elsoms 175 years
Elsoms reaches its 175th year