The story of the Kilner family is an interesting one. A rags to riches but back to rags again story, that began in 1840 when John Kilner invented the very first Kilner jar. His design, which hereafter became something of an icon, originally featured a rubber seal and glass plug. The idea was (and still is) that the rubber seal made the jar airtight, so keeping its contents fresh for longer. A super practical kitchen item that John Kilner would probably have never guessed would also become a design feature that was also something to display and show off in the 21st century. In recent years, the iconic design has remained similar, although the preserve jar has been updated to now incorporate a rubberised metal top and screw band, and Kilner are still pickling the nation’s fruit and vegetables to this day. But the Kilner family did not simply invent the jar, make it famous and live happily ever after on a fat pile of cash. Kilner’s rise to the top was a little more challenging than it may at first seem.
John Kilner died in 1857, leaving his budding business to his four sons, George, William, John and Caleb. The company became known as Kilner Brothers and continued to grow and flourish under the careful supervision of the four brothers, who had learned their trade on the factory floor. A warehouse was purchased in London, solely to store Kilner products to be shipped all over the world, and the youngest son, Caleb, moved to London to oversee the running of it.
The Kilner brand was at its peak, and this was recognised in 1862 when Kilner Brothers won the only medal awarded to British glass bottle makers at the Great International Exhibition in London. They continued to win various medals and awards throughout the 1870’s and 1880’s, but the early 20th century saw the first big challenge arrive for Kilner – the introduction of cheap imports. This was huge competition for a small, family run business.
Many small firms at this time were bought out or merged with others. Kilner Brothers, sadly, began to fall into decline and in 1937, their patents were bought out by United Glass Bottle, a conglomerate of six other companies.
By the time Caleb Kilner died, there was still money in the Kilner family and he left his fortune to his daughter Annie and her husband “Flash Harry”. Harry and Annie loved to spend money and in 1901 bought a motor car, which is probably today’s equivalent of owning a private jet!
Despite their extravagant lifestyle, there was still some money left when Annie and Harry died, which was left solely to their son Tom, as their daughter Gwendoline had been disinherited due to a family rift over the factory closure, during which she had sided with her cousins against her parents. Interestingly, although the Kilner family may appear to fade into history from this point onwards, their descendants still seem to know how to attract fame, fortune and success, as Gwendoline’s grandson is none other than Top Gear’s much loved controversial front man, Jeremy Clarkson.
In the year 2000, the Kilner design, patent and trademark was bought out by The Rayware Group, a company committed to developing much loved, traditional British born brands such as Mason Cash, Ravenhead and of course, Kilner.
Since acquiring the brand, Rayware have developed several new designs. Kilner jars are now available with clip tops secured by an orange rubber seal, or with metal screw bands and metal vacuum seal discs, twist tops or even with a glass push top and silicone seal.
The Kilner brand does not only produce a vast range of glass jars for all your storing, preserving and pickling but they also now have all the preserving accessories you need and even all the items needed to decorate and label your jars, perfect for making homemade gifts.
A Kilner jar is no longer a practical accessory to store away in a cupboard or pantry, it has gained a name for being a designer accessory to put on show and add to the theme and design of your kitchen. The metal clip tops and orange rubber seals are easily recognisable and give off a country kitchen “homemade” rustic vibe, while the traditional preserve jar has gained uber cool status in swanky cocktail bars and city centre restaurants. The preserve jar has masqueraded as a cool cocktail glass so many times now that Kilner decided to put a handle on it and introduce a range specifically aimed at drinking glasses, a range which is now rising and rising in popularity with no signs of stopping.
Other spin offs of the original jars which have seen incredible success are Kilner spice jars, tiny miniature clip top jars, now with the option of a rustic wooden display rack, and of course the extremely popular Kilner 8 Litre Drinks Dispenser, which is an enlarged Kilner clip top jar, with a tap, for serving up drinks, complete with the Kilner logo embossed on the front and an airtight seal for freshness. Carrying on the homemade theme, Kilner have also recently introduced a Homebrewing range, which offers absolutely everything you need to brew your own wine, beer, cider or lager.
Kilner may have been on a roller coaster ride over the past two centuries, but it seems they have firmly cemented their place in the 21st century, and will continue to be the nation’s favourite for pickling, preserving, storing, brewing, drinking and possibly lots more things in the future.