It is said US citizen James Spratt got the idea of producing biscuits for dogs when he noticed stray dogs eating discarded hardtacks in the Liverpool (or London) dockyards. Until then most dogs ate table scraps but Spratt's genius was to convince dog owners they needed to replace leftovers with something more expensive for the sake of their animals' health. In 1861 he established a company in London to manufacture and sell his patented dog biscuits that combined blended wheat meals, vegetables, beetroot and meat. His two main targets were sportsmen, who needed to give something convenient to their hunting dogs while in the open, and wealthy pet lovers.
In 1866, Spratt recruited a fourteen year old boy: Charles Cruft. Over the following decades, Cruft rose from office boy to general manager before moving on to run his own dog show business. The marketing and advertising flair of both Spratt and Cruft ensured the success of Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes. The company made full use of its endorsement by royals and other leading public figures and relied on a wide range of supports to promote its products, from full page advertising in the specialized press to cigarette cards and billboards. From 1878 it was also organising dog shows. In the 1870s the company set up a subsidiary in the US, just as the country was embarking on a love affair with dogs.
Spratt died in 1880, a few years after selling his business to Edward Wylan. In 1885 its legal status changed when Spratt's Patent Limited was registered. The company continued to expand, offering food for each stage in the dog's life, plus a whole variety of special foods linked to the activity level of a dog and its health. In 1899 it built in Poplar, East London, what remained for decades the largest pet food factory in the world. Under Cruft's management Spratt's Patent Ltd ventured into the game bird and poultry food markets. It also produced a range of accessories for cats and dogs.
For a few decades the dog food market on both sides of the Atlantic was largely dominated by Spratt's but over time competitors appeared. Still it retained a strong position throughout the first half of the 20th century but in 1950 the US subsidiary was sold to General Mills. Then in 1960 Spratt's Patent Ltd was bought for £3.94 m by Spillers one of its main competitors. In 1968 Spillers reorganized its operations and in the process changed the name of Spratt's to Spratt's Patent (Holdings) Ltd. In 1972 it was changed again, this time to Spillers Food Ltd. In 1979 Spillers was acquired by Australian company Dalgety. However in the 1990s Dalgety was badly affected by the BSE crisis in the UK and disposed of several of its branches, including Spillers, which was bought by Nestlé for £715 m in 1997.
The Spratt's brand, which had survived in spite of these changes, was finally discontinued in 2008.
Unfortunately I haven't found any trace of A. H. Payne's food and seed stores anywhere. This may have provided some information about the age of this ghost sign. Without that, all we can rely on is the style of the lettering. My guess, looking in particular at the Payne's part, is it was painted around the last decade of the 19th century or the first one of the 20th century but I may be wrong. It any case this ghost sign is amazingly well preserved!
Spratt's food for animals wasn't the only ghost sign on this wall. Another name, written diagonally in large letters can also be seen:
Yet I haven't found what kind of business or product that was. If anyone has any information, please leave a comment.
Location: Acton Lane / Pictures taken in July 2011