J. Kitchen & Sons, The Candle Kings

From the Collection –  items from the J. Kitchen and Son collection 
Following the sale of Symex’s Port Melbourne operation and their relocation to Shepparton, records and items from their museum were donated to PMHPS. The Society is delighted that a collection so important to the industrial history of Port Melbourne will be retained within the suburb where the company operated for over 160 years.
From its infancy in Bridport Street Emerald Hill in 1856 to its forced relocation and eventual sprawling expansion in Ingles Street Port Melbourne, J. Kitchen & Sons was to become a major supplier to the candle market.

Items now held by PMHPS reveal an interesting history in the production of a household item as ubiquitous in its time as is the light globe in ours. The company records reflect the changing times and fortunes of society as well, including a reference to an urgent order for candles from a storekeeper following the ‘depredation of the Kelly Gang at Jerilderie’.

Setbacks the company faced included fires, the bank crash, the removal of tariff protection in 1894 and the Great Depression. John Kitchen, the company founder, died at 91 in August 1890 and was succeeded by his son John Ambrose Kitchen.

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This magnificent photograph of the candle making facilities at Kitchen’s was taken around 1918. Reference to a Kitchen’s price list of that year reveals a huge array of different candles, starting with various household types; standard, fluted, carriage, lamp and bedroom. Specific use types were supplied for mining, plus votive and beeswax varieties for church use.

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Art, decorative and novelty candles, available in a multitude of colours included tapered Patrician, Windsor, Belgravia and Spiralled. Christmas trees were also catered for, as were birthday cakes: perhaps one of the few candles still in common use today.

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References:

Items and documents from the J. Kitchen & Sons Collection, held by the Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society.

Comments

  1. Carole Megna says:

    My uncle Jack Mulray worked in the candle factory. My father William (Bill)Condron was the head chemist soap maker since the age of approx 16 until his retirement at the age of 65 yrs .He was extremely popular with all he worked with,so much so after a few years of retirement he was asked by the owner of Tilleys soaps for advice as they had a few problems they could not sort out .This made Dad very proud that he could use his knowledge.I have a few photos that may be of interest ,one in particular that shows Dad with Mr Kitchen (not sure which one) Hope this is of some interest. Regards Carole Megna (née Condron)

    • David Thompson says:

      Hi Carole,
      I’ll say we are interested. We have a large collection of Kitchen’s material so it would be great to have some pictures of your Dad as well. Are you in Port? Can you visit us on a Tuesday between 10am and 1pm or if you can scan them yourself you could email them to us at pmhps@pmhpa.org.au. If neither of these work for you let us know and we’ll arrange to have a look at the photos somehow.
      Thanks,
      David

      • Carole Megna says:

        Thank you David. Many Apolagies for this very late reply,I did not realise that you could reply to me on this site.I don’t live in Port but. My cousin does and it was he that found your reply today.My cousin is Fred Nicholsonyou may know him,a week or so ago I had lunch with him and as was armed with the photos in question we went to visit Pat Granger she was most interested and took copies of the photo.I have just written a short outline of Dads employment at Kitchens to be given to Pat.I was hoping to be able to visit on a Tuesday but can’t see myself being able to. Iam very keen to see the finish of the building being done on the Tv show the Block so may see you there ,I believe Sunday 30th.Thank you again for your reply to me. Carole Megna

        • David Thompson says:

          Hi Carole,
          I know Fred and it is great that you have already spoken to Pat and passed on the material to her. Pat will make sure it makes it’s way into the Society’s collection. It’s been very interesting watching The Block. Obviously they’ve had to make some compromises to turn it into an apartment building but I think they have done a great job. Uncovering and restoring the J Kitchen & Sons monogram in the terrazzo at the entrance is a fantastic result and they have restored all of the wood panelling, revolving door and stairway at the front of the building. I just pleased to see the old building coming back to life.
          David

    • i am interested

  2. Great photos of Kitchens. I have been interested in the firm since seeing ghostsigns of Electrine candles and Velvet soap (which I believe they also made) around Kensington and Carlton. Delighted to see a photo of Electrine candles at last! I mentioned them in my blog post here https://melbournecircle.net/2015/03/17/from-cattle-to-candles-kensington/

    • David Thompson says:

      Thanks Nick!
      I assume you know that the old Kitchen’s Administration Building in Port Melbourne is the location of the 2016 series of The Block. Anyway if you want to see any other material from our Kitchen’s collection, we are open on Tuesdays 10am – 1pm at Port Melbourne Town Hall in bay Street.

  3. Darren Burren says:

    Hi Im a stone mason in Malmsbury Central Vic . Im getting Stone from a mullock dump in Drummond North at the moment . Today I happened to notice an end to a timber box. Unfortunately ,as you can imagine, its been buried for some time and is in a sad state . But stamped on it , Kitchen and sons ——– candles. love it , will seal it and frame it

  4. Amber Cron says:

    we have had seven generations of our family work with J Kitchens and sons and played on the cricket team as well as the temperance group and social club. My Cron Clan worked mostly in the tallow gathering (my pop) and transporting as well as maintenance

    • David Thompson says:

      Hi Amber,
      Seven generations! That’s amazing and their involvement in the sporting teams and social groups illustrates that J Kitchen & Sons were much more than an employer. The whole family were involved in the wider life of the company and generation ups generation kept working there. If you are available on a Tuesday between 10am and 1pm you are most welcome to visit us at Port Melbourne Town Hall and view some of the items we have from Kitchens.

    • Wonderful to see these photos. I just discovered a few of my O’brien ancestors worked there , and Hannah O’brien, a distant cousin was married to Robert William Cron who must be related to Amber.

  5. Brenda Koster says:

    Does anyone know anything about a fire in the mid 1950’s in the (Edmondstone Street, Newstead) Brisbane factory of J Kitchen & Sons? Question from Facebook group Old Brisbane. I haven’t been able to find anything on Trove.

    • Janet Bolitho says:

      Hi Brenda, our focus is absolutely and completely on Port Melbourne. When I am next in the rooms I’ll have a look through some of our Kitchens material to see if I can find anything.

  6. Excellent article,
    I am bringing a Probus Club to the area early next year, I prepare notes on the interesting buildings and items of the area. J Kitchen & Son will made an interesting story, along with other notes I have prepared.

  7. Mary Searle says:

    Good to see this information. I am looking for my grandmother. She graduated from St Joseph’s school in 1892. Her mother had died years before and her father lived in Carlton. Was she living with the O’Brien Family? I was told Hugh O’Brien worked at Kitchen’s (so the family was possibly living in the area) and Mary was living with them…..
    Mary went on to qualify as a teacher at the local state school.
    I am not in Melbourne but will be keen to see your collection when I’m next in town.

    • David Thompson says:

      Thanks for you comment Mary. What was you grandmother’s surname or did she go by Mary O’Brien?

  8. Hi guys,
    I have found a small green packet of “Cake Candles 24 birthday candles J Kitchen & Sons” I can’t tell if it’s a reproduction or a box in immaculate condition from it’s era.
    Can I send someone a photo for an opinion?
    Thanks,
    Denny

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