Spicer's Mills and Bakery
See also Spicer Family
The Spicers were one of the most influential and important families in the life of Navan and indeed of north Leinster, for 178 years. They were successful millers and bakers, and this family tradition has spanned six generatiions. The original John Spicer was born in 1743.
Spicer's Bakery on the Boyne Rd. Navan (photo © N&DHS)
According to the 1821 Census, his son, Patrick Spicer (b. 1791, died prior to 1840), a "mealmonger" lived in Academy St. with his wife Mary, (b. 1789), who was a flax-spinner. According to the census they had 6 children. One of them, John developed the family business, carrying out a coal, corn, flour, timber and seed business in Academy St. (from 1856 edition of Slater's Directory). Incidently, the same edition of Slater's Directory lists 7 bakeries in the town, but there is no Spicer's among them.
The 1856 edition of Slater's Directory makes no mention of a mill, but he must have bought one, as shortly after his son,
John Spicer lll (1853-1922) was born, the family moved to Blackwater House, where a large mill was located.
(This mill was founded in 1783 by Conolly, Clarke and Fay, and is pictured left.)
(above) Spicer's Mill on the Blackwater 2014 (photo ©N&DHS)
When John Spicer lll (pictured below) eventually assumed control of the family business, milling was carried out by the old stone process, but the roller system had revolutionisd the industry in the USA, and John Spicer lll pioneered its use in this country.
The latest equipment was installed regardlesss of cost. With the increased capacity of the mill came increased productivity.
So John Spicer lll bought a bakery from Luke Smyth when the latter retired in 1899. This bakery, on the Boyne Rd. is pictured above. He proceded to establish branches in Balbriggan, Kells and Trim.
In the early 1880s, John married
Mary McCann, a sister of James McCann,
the sitting MP for the St. Stephen's Green Division in Dublin, and later an entrepreneur and industrialist in Navan.
They had 9 children together,
6 girls and 3 boys.
He formed his business into a limited company in 1908.
The first directors were John Spicer lll,
his wife Mary,
his son John Spicer, and John Quinn, the Company Secretary.
John Spicer (1853-1922) (Photo courtesy Philip Smith)
He owned 3 mills, the Blackwater Mill mentioned earlier, one in Ludlow St. near the Russell Hotel (now the Newgrange Hotel) and the third near his Bakery on the Boyne Rd. This mill was located behind the old Bailieborough Co-Op.
The company's many interests continued to flourish, and in 1915, two years after the Boyne Navigation Co. went into liquidation, Spicers bought the canal linking Navan to Drogheda. it was successful for a time ferrying grain to Drogheda and returning with coal and timber. His son, the next John Spicer commented that hygienc considerations were not as sensitive then as now. (This is possibly his only venture which backfired. The Spicer Family handed over the Canal to An Taisce in the 1960s.)
John Spicer lll installed a plant to generate electric light for his various premises, and expanded the plant to cater for the people of Navan. Practically all the main businesses and residences in the town were lighted by this plant. In 1920, the new UDC took over the job of providing lighting for the town, and John Spicer lll gave up his rights to the site of a HEP station at the back of Ludlow St.
The company's headquarters was in Market Sq. He sold the premises to the Munster and Leinster Bank in 1921.
But in June 1919 disaster struck. The mill on Ludlow St., which was equipped with the most modern machinery, was burned down with disasterous effects for the company and for the town. Over 40 people were employed in the mill and many others in subsidiary industries. A stroke and the prohibitive cost involved prevented him from building another mill at Athlumney.
John Spicer lll died in 1922 and his obituary in the Meath Chronicle, describes him as "the dominating figure in the business life of Meath, and one who's industrial activities extended far beyond the boundaries of his native county....he was recognised as one of the best employers in the county, possibly in the province... and the pivot upon which ...tillage hung for many years. ...a man who's memory will live long in the hearts of the people, whose monument is in the midst of the community in the great business he worked up and in the many civic enterprises which he inaugurated."
His son John Spicer lV, (pictured left) continued in his father's path.
Probably the major change under his management was the conversion of Blackwater Mill from water power to electricity in the late 1940s.
Part of the old cast iron mill wheel still exists in the bowels of the building.
After WW2, the company's drying and storing facilities were expanded and it started producing balanced rations for cattle.
John Spicer lV died in 1953. His son, also John, pictured below, described his own contribution to the company as that of "steering a steady course."
John Spicer V Managing Director of Spicer & Co. Ltd. pictured in 1984.
He modernised the Boyne Rd Bakery, set up a confectionery plant in Trim and and acquired the company's premised is in Kells from which that town's bakery operated. He instigated the production of calf and dairy nuts under the brand name "Farmore", produced at the Blackwater Mill.
He expanded the company's bread van fleet to over 50.
He was a gifted athlete, and an enthusiastic huntsman with the Tara Harriers, the Meath Hounds, and the Ward Union.
He was also a founder member of the Navan Chamber of Commerce.
The Spicer Family had the proud tradition that not one day's delivery had been lost since the Bakery was acquired in 1899. Mr John Spicer, the Managing Director in the 1980s pictured above, attributed this to the attitude of trust in the company between managers and workers. He said this was fostered by the strong loyalty of the employees. Often several generations of the same family had worked in the company and this had been a stabilising influence. He said that the company had been fortunate in the quality of its managers and manageresses, all of whom had been promoted from within the company. The company employed approximately 150 people.
Part of the Spicer workforce for many years.
(l-r) John O'Mahoney, Sandy Monaghan and
Employees at the Blackwater Mill
(l-r) Frank Mullen, Joe Rowe,
Paddy Plunkett and Tony Weldon.
Staff at Spicer's outlet in
Navan Shopping Centre
(l-r) Mary Stapleton, Lillian Mallon.
and Marie Bishop.
Staff at Spicers Market Sq. Navan
(l-r) Brenda Fitzsimons, Nancy Nugent and Baba Murtagh (manageress)
Sadly, in Oct. 2012, Spicer's Bakery became a victim of the economic collapse, and it was put into receivership, with the loss of the remaining 20 jobs in the Bakery on the Boyne Rd. Bread had been baked there for over 100 years and it was regarded as a "dark day for the town" by local representatives as reported in the Meath Chronicle.
At its height, Spicers had employed an estimated 300 people, and its fleet of vans had been an iconic sight as it plied its way around the county. A very old one is pictured below.
In 1984 there were 150 employees.
Desmond Ward was Company Secretary. He was a grand nephew of the first holder of the position John Quinn. He joined the company in 1954 when D.J. Coleman left the company. Coleman succeeded John Quinn who died in 1950. John Quinn lived in Beechmount House, Trim Road, Navan.
Teddy Walsh, Sales Manager
Vincent Byrne, Assistant Secretary
Michael O'Donnell, Production Manager
Michael O'Callaghan, Navan Bakery
Tom Markey, Trim Bakery
Michael O'Donnell, Trim Confectionery
Michael McGrane, Kells Bakery
Larry Mallon, Balbriggan Bakery
Joe Finnegan, Blackwater Mill
Margaret Murtagh, Navan Shops
Maureen Conlon, Trim Shops
Former employees included John Giles, who, for many years was secretary of the Meath GAA board. His brother was Capt. Patrick J. Giles, a Fine Gael TD in Meath from 1937 to 1961. Séamus Smyth, artist, was shop steward in the Bakery for a time.
Many sons followed their fathers into the firm. This was common in many businesses up to the 1960s and indeed was enforced by trade unions. Spicers was a family's family firm. An example is Johnny Reilly foreman in the Navan bakery in 1984. His father James "The Brock" Reilly and grandfather Tommy worked for the company.
See also: Spicer Family
Meath Chronicle Archives and Supplement to Meath Chronicle commemorating 150 years of John Spicer & Co. Ltd. 1834-1984.