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Evans, Williamfree

(1864–1934)
  • Trevor Boyns

Evans, William (1864–1934), grocer and soft drinks manufacturer, was born at Trellwyn Uchaf Farm, near Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, Wales, on 24 August 1864, the oldest of the fourteen children of Thomas Evans (b. 1842/3), farmer, and his wife, Maria Francis (b. 1844/5). He was educated at Jabez Chapel school and Pontvane School, Pembrokeshire. At the age of twelve he became an apprentice to James Rees, a Haverfordwest grocer, and at sixteen he went to work in alderman William Thomas's grocery store at Aber-big, Monmouthshire. At nineteen he became manager of the Porth branch of Peglers' Stores in the Rhondda valley, Glamorgan.

In 1885, in partnership with his former employer, William Thomas, Evans opened a grocery and provision shop in Hannah Street, Porth, a central location for serving the rapidly growing population of the Rhondda valleys. On 27 July 1886 he married Annie Jane Evans (d. 1949), a native of Aberystwyth, whose father had established a butcher's shop in Hannah Street, Porth. There is no record of any children.

In 1888 Thomas left the partnership, although the business continued as Thomas and Evans, with William Evans in sole control. From a single grocery store, the business gradually expanded. A bakery was added in 1890, followed by branch shops at three other locations by 1895. In 1897 Evans, an adherent of the temperance movement, became interested in the manufacture of soft drinks following a chance meeting with an Indian ‘quack doctor’. Production of soft drinks at Porth, comprising hop bitters, ginger beer, and lemonade, under the label Welsh Hills Mineral Waters, commenced at the beginning of the twentieth century. From these small beginnings the Corona business emerged.

Before the First World War, the expansion of production and distribution of the soft drinks was confined to the south Wales region, but following the change of name from Welsh Hills to Corona in the early 1920s, the business mushroomed. By the time of Evans's death, in 1934, there were about twenty-seven factories and fifty depots throughout England and Wales. A key factor in the success of Thomas and Evans was Evans's ability to assess the customer's needs and develop methods of satisfying them. In the case of Corona this involved doorstep deliveries, a concept he had pioneered at Porth with his grocery business. From this retail base, a notable development was the formation of a chain of small, fully stocked, local grocers' shops (the Terry shops), a forerunner of the later Spar and Mace grocery chains.

Evans did not regard business as simply a means of self-aggrandizement through profit maximization: 'In his expressed view, commerce, properly conducted, conveyed advantage not only to the provider of capital and enterprise, but also to customer and employee, and beyond these to the community at large, and the nation as a whole' (Jones, 35). In 1920 Evans made a gift of 200 acres of ground for the creation of a public park for the benefit of the inhabitants of Porth. A deeply committed Baptist, he was connected with Salem Chapel, Porth, for nearly forty years, being both a deacon and treasurer, and in 1930–31 he was president of the Welsh Baptist Union. A Liberal, in 1910 he became a Glamorgan county councillor, serving for a time as chairman of the finance committee, and in 1917 he was appointed a JP for Glamorgan.

William Evans died of a stroke at Bronwydd, Porth, his home for much of his later life, on 27 September 1934. He left £287,658 gross, and was succeeded in the control of Thomas and Evans, a private limited company since 1920, by his brother Daniel Francis (Frank) Evans (1875–1940), a business partner since the early 1890s. In the 1950s Thomas and Evans was acquired by Beechams Ltd.

Sources

  • O. V. Jones, William Evans, 1864–1934 (1982)
  • A. Mee, ed., Who's who in Wales (1921)
  • Who's who in Wales, 2nd edn (1933)
  • Western Mail [Cardiff] (28 Sept 1934)
  • d. cert.

Likenesses

  • photographs, repro. in Jones, William Evans

Wealth at Death

£287,658—gross: probate index, Llandaff, 1934

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]