Senor Jose Molins was born in Havana and started making hand-rolled cigars there in 1874, just as Foxbury was being built. He married a Virginian girl, Ella Georgina, and took out American citizenship. They had two sons, Walter and Harold (born 1885), who were educated in the United States England and Germany.
Around the turn of the century the family moved to London. They had hopes of building a successful cigarette-making machine, but lack of funds meant they had to start by importing machines from the USA to sell to UK cigarette producers. They also acted on behalf of producers in using their imported machines to make cigarettes themselves, and selling some of them to the public. One of their earlier customers was the radical Leon Trotsky, then living in London. They also mechanised the wrapping and boxing of cigarettes which previously was all done by hand.
By 1912 their father had died, and Walter and Harold formed their own company, Molins Machine Co Ltd., which was intended to produce cigarette-making machinery. Walter was to take the lead in innovation and production, while Harold looked after the finances and administration. In its early years the company struggled, and Walter moved to Dresden to research developments there while Harold looked after the small UK operations, then based in Aldgate.
During the 1914-18 war the company became involved in the manufacture of munitions as it was to do in the 1939-45 War. This helped their finances, and put them in a position to take advantage of the post war boom in cigarette consumption. Before the war most smoking was pipe-based, but the war had demonstrated the convenience of cigarettes, and demand for cigarettes shot up ten-fold in as many years.
The brothers used the proceeds of this boom to grow the business, and produced innovative machinery for the packaging of cigarettes, including cellophane wrapping, the first time this was used for any products, anywhere. This was in new premises in Deptford, where the company was to be based until 1950. Their greatest success, however, was their first cigarette-making machine, patented in 1926. It was faster and more reliable than any rival machine, and had phenomenal market success. This enabled them to focus their attention on developing ever better versions of this machine which was sold on licence to manufacturers all over the world. Molins plc is still active today and has operations around the world. It is based in Milton Keynes, but there is no longer any family connection to the management.
Walter had died in 1935 at the age of 52. Harold became chairman after his brother’s death, and remained so until his death in 1958 to be succeeded by Walter’s son Desmond.
Harold cut something of an unusual character. “He was not an impressive looking man” said one of the Directors of the company, and was “curiously nervous”, who had fixations on food. His wife, Cora, is supposed to have said of him: “What can you do with a man like that – he won’t eat anything but chicken. I’m absolutely sick of chickens!” He was a very good tennis player according to a friend, which is presumably why he built his own court at Mulbarton Court. He was also a good billiards player and a keen theatre-goer.
He lived out some of his eccentricities at Mulbarton Court: “He had a big house on the outskirts of Chislehurst in Kent. It was a beautiful place, very large, with a splendid garden. He had one room in the house which was equipped with slot machines, and whenever he had a party and people were there, he would give each one a packet of shillings, to play on the slot machines. Also he had a television set in every room in his house, and would go from one room to another, switching off one set and turning on another.”
Nevertheless he was a man of significant financial acumen. His flair for finance and tight control ensured the company’s growth and remarkable profitability. This did not prevent him being regarded as personally generous and kind-hearted.
Harold lived at Mulbarton Court with his wife Cora (nee Parry, and pictured - middle - below) for more than 20 years, including throughout the war, moving to Barton when the house was damaged by bombing. They had married in 1929 in Paddington. They continnued to live there until the mid 1950s, but then moved out of Chislehurst. Harold died in Marylebone, London in 1958 aged 73; Cora in 1962, aged 60. They had two children, Anthony c.1930 and Peter, 1936.
The photograph of Cora as a young girl has been supplied to us by Martin Baker.
(Most of the information here from “The Making of Molins” by Richard Hall, 1977, with thanks. Martin Baker has provided additional information. Martin is a a professional Family Historian and Genealogist.