Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: September 14, 2019
Webpage updated: February 10, 2020




With an address such as the Central Toffee Works, the brothers Richard Henry Lear and Sidney Lear, manufacturing wholesale confectioners, were bound to be both popular and prominent in Plymouth life.

They also ran gelatine, creams and cocoanut lines and their Grannie's Winter Favourites were ever popular.

Advert for Lear Brothers' Drake's Cushions

The history of Lear's goes back to 1836, when Mr Thomas Sullock Lear started a tallow-melting and soap making business in Old Town Street, Plymouth.  He was at that time 50-years-old and died in 1848, when he and his wife, formerly Miss Ann Lethbridge, whom he married at Saint Andrew's Church on October 2nd 1819, were living at Bilbury Street, Plymouth.  He was interred at the Ebenezer Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on March 15th 1848 but the memorial stone is apparently now at Efford Cemetery.

By 1850 his widow, Ann, had transferred the business to Whimple Street, where she was known as a tallow chandler mistress.  In the meantime, his 24-years-old son, Edward, married Miss Susanna Legg at Saint Andrew's Church on Christmas Day 1847 and they went to live in Whimple Street, where he was a tallow chandler journeyman.

Mr Edward Lear died on June 8th 1875 when only 48-years-old.   The business then passed to Mr Richard Henry Lear and Edward's widow, Susanna, retired.  On July 26th the following year (1876) Richard married Miss Jessie Powe at the Anglican Church of Saint Luke the Evangelist, Plymouth.  They set up home at 10 Laira Terrace, where he was shown as a tallow chandler employing six men and two boys.  This overlooked the fact that his older sister, Jessy, acted as the shop assistant at 37 Whimple Street.  Mr Sidney Lear, the third of Edward and Susanna's sons was employed as an ironmonger's assistant in 1881 so had not inherited any part of the business.

There was a fourth son, Mr Frederick Sullock Lear, who was born in 1862.  He served his time with Messrs Butt and Vosper but later removed himself to Exeter, where he set up Messrs Lear, Browne and Company, woollen merchants.  He still lived in Plymouth, however, but took no active part in the affairs of the Town.  Mr Frederick Sulluck Lear died on November 23rd 1911 and was buried at Efford Cemetery.

The sales of tallow and candles generally was collapsing as oil and oil lamps became more widely available so that by the time of the 1891 census Mr Sidney Lear was not only married but in charge of the business as a wholesale grocer not a tallow chandler.  In fact, Messrs R and S Lear had a shop at 65 Pembroke Street, Devonport, in 1890, where they were listed as oil merchants.  Richard was living at 15 Seaton Terrace, Mutley, Plymouth, at that time but it is not clear how he was employed.

It appears to have been at this point that they commenced manufacturing sweets as in 1897/98 they are reputed to have erected a new sweet factory.

Messrs R & S Lear were certainly tea merchants as in December 1897 they were advertising "The Three Teas" as being available from their premises at 36, 37, and 38 Whimple Street: "SPQR", (Small Profits, Quick Returns or otherwise Strength, Purity, Quality, Richness), at 1s 4d; "Regina", (Queen Tea), at 1s 7d; and "As You Like It", (Ceylon Tea), at 1s 10d.

In the meantime Richard Henry Lear's young family was growing up.  Following Miss Edith Jessie Lear and Miss Mabel Elizabeth Lear came three sons: Edward Thomas Lear, born in 1879: Richard Henry Lear junior, born in 1881, and Walter Samuel Powe Lear, born in 1882.

At the time of the census in 1901 Edward was 22 and was a cashier in a wholesale grocery business in Plymouth.  It is not known if this was Lear's or another business.  Eighteen-years-old Walter was a clerk with a spice merchants in Saint Pancras, London.  After he had studied grocery and retail confectionery in London he returned to Plymouth and started his own retail business on Mutley Plain.

Then in 1908 Edward and Walter, great-grandsons of the founder, registered their own company, Messrs Lear Brothers Limited, and took over the sweet manufacturing business of Messrs R and S Lear.  In 1929 there was a serious fire which destroyed the factory, which was rebuilt the following year.  By 1936 they were covering an area that stretched from Land's End to Bournemouth and Gloucester.

Mr Edward Thomas Lear died at his home, "Dunroamin", Torr Lane, Hartley, Plymouth, on December 5th 1940, and Walter Samuel Powe Lear took over as chairman and managing director.  A Freemason, Mr Lear had been chairman of the Plymouth Confectionery Trade Council, and was a member of both the Plymouth Mercantile Association and the Plymouth and District Retail and Wholesale Confectioners' Association.   He was survived by his widow and three sons.

During the Second World War the factory was destroyed, along with much of the surrounding area.  A new was quickly established in Commercial Street, Coxside, where their very appropriate telegraphic address was "joy, plymouth".

Mr Walter Samuel Powe Lear retired as managing director in 1958 but remained as chairman until the business was sold in 1961.  He died at his home, 19 Torr Lane, Hartley, Plymouth, on Monday February 12th 1962.  He was survived by his widow, a married daughter and a grandson.

Exactly when the factory closed down and the business ceased trading is not known.  The last record is of a burglary in October 1963 during which 33 was stolen.  Mr E P Lear was the manager at that time.