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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 ElsomIsaac Elsom



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


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.


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 RopewalkThe Ropewalk


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

George ElsomGeorge Elsom


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


Elsoms reaches its 50th year


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


George, aged 20, takes
over full control of the


The first Elsoms catalogue of vegetable and flower
seeds is produced


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


Elsoms has an extensive root seed contracting
business with wholesale trade

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

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


George and Bert set up the
English Sugar Beet Company


Wheat stocks go on sale
and prove popular


Wheat stocks go on sale and prove

John KeelingJohn Keeling


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 DesperezFlorimond Desperez


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


Elsoms reaches
its 100th year


Bert suddenly
dies in November,
aged 54


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

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

George Elsom (second left)George Elsom (second left)


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

George completes his 50th year with
the company


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


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

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

George ElsomGeorge Elsom

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


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


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


Anthony Keeling becomes a director

Anthony KeelingAnthony Keeling


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


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


Elsoms reaches its 125th year


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


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

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

Anthony Keeling, Frank Nicholson, Victor Desprez and John KeelingAnthony Keeling, Frank Nicholson, Victor Desprez and John Keeling


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


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

John KeelingJohn Keeling

Elsoms agrees a long-term exclusive distribution arrangement with Bejo for outdoor vegetables, and also to work together on joint breeding programmes

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

The Unicorn partnership is brought to a close


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

Sue Kennedy (Vegetable Breeding Technician)Sue Kennedy (Vegetable Breeding Technician)


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


Elsoms reaches its 150th year

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


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



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


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


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 KeelingRoger Keeling
Stephen Smith (Head of Wheat Breeding, Elsoms Wheat)Stephen Smith (Head of Wheat Breeding, Elsoms Wheat)


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


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


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

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)


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 reaches its 175th year